The observer of
conditions in the lower section of
is surprised by the remarkable intellectual interest of the Russian
Jew. Accustomed to associate a low intellectual plane with a low
economic plane, and to expect a lack of learning where there is a
lack of the order and grace of the well-clad and the outwardly
polished, he is surprised that amid the so-called "slum" population
there should be a people who have a high standard of ability, an
intense desire to acquire knowledge, and great strength of purpose
in carrying it out. To class this people as to educational ideals
with the mass of low class American residents, the foreign
immigrants, and the negroes among whom they live, is to
misunderstand their history and their aspirations.
It is the
purpose of this study to examine the attitude of Russian Jews toward
education as it is indicated in the institutions here, and to
ascertain the effect which these institutions are having an their
individual and social development.
single agency has a more far-reaching educational influence,
especially in molding ideas in accordance with the standards of our
country and our time, that the public school. It gives to the son of
the immigrant the same advantages as to the son of the native born,
and in many instances the transformation to similarity with the
latter is swift and complete.
One of the most
striking features which the free educational development of the
country has helped to bring about is the difference in habit of mind
between parent and child. The parents are usually too old, too set,
and too depressed by economic conditions to acquire the English
language and to adapt themselves to the ways of the English-speaking
people. But they give their children the opportunity; and these
seize it with great eagerness and determination.
The teachers of
the schools in the lower section of the city, are, as a rule, so far
as I have been able to gather, pleased, on the whole, with the
Jewish pupils. They are impressed with their keenness and alertness,
and regard them as better material than other pupils of foreign
parentage or birth. The Jewish pupils come to school with the
disadvantage of hearing a foreign tongue spoken in their homes. This
disadvantage once overcome, they are abreast of the best
I visited a
vocation school class in the southern section where the pupils were
as neat, clean, and bright as could any where be found. There was no
appearance of "slumminess" such as the up-town resident would look
for. The principal of the school explained that as the vocation
school was regarded as privileged, there being not room enough for
all who applied, the parents took particular pains to have their
children present a tidy appearance. The principal, for my benefit,
asked all who were Jews to raise their hands. Up went the hands of
nearly the whole class of youngsters, a showing which alike
surprised the principal, the teacher, and me. In the other classes
of the vocation school the attendance of Jewish pupils was also
large and their general appearance attractive.
Some of the
teachers of the public schools take a strong personal interest in
the pupils. Where the parents seem short-sighted they endeavor to
influence them, so that the children shall be kept at school with
regularity and shall not be taken from school till they have
completed the several grades. Where they observe special proficiency
they try to have it developed. An instance of this is the sending of
pupils to the Industrial Art School. They see much latent ability,
which owing to the rush and push of our hurried life cannot be
developed; and its possessors are doomed to eke out a humdrum
In one of the
poorest localities a principal informed me that the instances were
rare in which the pupils of her school proceeded to the higher
schools. Economic pressure apparently compelled the parents to take
their children from the schools as they reached the higher grades.
betterment of economic conditions among the
Jewish people, there has been a steady growth of attendance in the
upper grades, the higher schools, and the professional institutions.
Our high schools and colleges are enrolling a remarkably large
number of Russian Jewish pupils, who show a high standard of
scholarship, of which a noteworthy indication in the past few years
has been the securing of prizes and honors.
compilation made up of data furnished by the principals of the
respective schools shows the total number of pupils and the
proportion that are Jews, in the section bounded by Locust Street on
the north, Moore Street on the south, the Delaware River on the
east, and Nineteenth Street on the west,-- a district comprising the
greater portion of the Russian Jewish community of the city.
The result shows
that of a total of 21,485 pupils in the public schools of the
described area, measuring about two square miles, 11,683, or 54.4
per cent, are Jews.1
note: This table is not included here.**
in whose school nearly one half of the pupils were Jews, said: "A
close study for years with these children enables me to make the
statements from actual knowledge. Of all foreign children, the Jews
are to be preferred as citizens of the future." The response to the
specific queries was as follows on the part of this principal; the
questions being those put in each case where inquiry was made:
Q. "How do the
Jewish pupils compare in scholarship with those of other
A. "Very much above all others in behavior, in aptitude, and general
deportment and scholarship."
Q. "Their interest in American institutions?"
A. "Great interest in anything patriotic."
Q. "Encouragement of parents toward education?"
A. "Most liberally encouraged and urged to become proficient."
Another, in whose school a large
majority of the pupils were Jews, wrote: "Only for the difficulty in
learning English they would compare very favorably with American
A report from a school in which
nine-tenths were Jews stated: "The parents attend our school
exhibits in large numbers."
In reference to a school in which
half were Jews the statement was made that, "They manifest a lively
interest in American history and institutions; that the
encouragement of education by parents is 'active ' and that they
are, with remarkably few exceptions, appreciative of effort on the
part of the teacher."
The head of a school in which
nearly all were Jews wrote: "As a rule brighter and more studious
than other nationalities. This is particularly noticeable when we
compare them with the Italians."
The comment of a principal,
three-fourths of whose pupils were Jews wrote: "As a rule, the
Jewish children are quick at figures. They are attentive to school
work. So many, even of American birth, hear a foreign tongue spoken
that the teaching of language is difficult."
A kindergartner of whose pupils
all but three were Jews wrote: "I have always considered them very
bright and apt. They soon overcome the difficulty of the unknown
tongue and make themselves understood."
The replies were almost unanimous
in agreeing that the parents encourage education. From the teachers'
standpoint, this means that they take an interest in the school
record, attendance, and conduct of their children.
One of the matters of complaint
is the failure of many parents to enforce the attendance of children
on the days preceding holidays and the Sabbath. Evidently they are
required at home to help "clean up " previous to these special days,
and both parents and children do not seem to realize the importance
of conforming to the school routine when it comes into conflict with
some of the set habits of the home. It is suggested that parents'
meetings with the teachers would remedy this as well as some other
matters connected with school discipline. But the fact that many of
the parents do not understand English and most of the teachers know
only that language, is an effectual bar to the success of such
The following observation of a
principal should be considered : "They (the parents) encourage the
boys, but less interest is shown in the girls. The latter leave at
an earlier age." This is quite true and in accordance with ancient
orthodox custom. It does not apply to Jews who have adopted the
modem occidental point of view.
The children show a decided
interest in American institutions so far as the teachers have been
able to observe. They learn the patriotic songs and study the
history and constitution of the country with the same earnestness as
other pupils, and have a general desire to adapt themselves to the
prevalent customs and habits. The rapidity of adaptation is in
accordance with the cosmopolitanism of the Jew.
The results, on the whole, seem
to indicate that the Jewish pupils excel the other pupils with whom
they are associated in the lower section of the city, namely, the
negroes and those of foreign extraction, chiefly Italians, and that
they are fully on an intellectual plane with those of American
extraction; that the parents encourage education; and the children
show an active interest in the country, and consequently possess the
initial elements for becoming intelligent, law-abiding citizens.
In one school, where the children
outside of the Jewish, were largely of American parentage, the
Jewish pupils showed fully as high a standard of scholarship as the
latter. This was brought out by an examination of the averages of
boys in the higher grades.
The James Forten Elementary
Manual Training School, on Sixth Street above Lombard, was at one
time largely attended by negroes. Now over ninety per cent of the
pupils are Jews2.
There is a large negro
population in the neighborhood of this school, which does not
patronize it, whereas the Jewish population has taken strong
advantage of it. In fact, measured by the test of their
neighborhoods, the attendance of Jewish pupils at schools is
There is a large attendance of
Jewish pupils in several of the night schools down-town. At the
William M. Meredith, Fifth Street above Fitzwater, fully ninety per
cent of the average attendance is of Jews. In the Mount Vernon,
Catharine Street above Third, the percentage is equally large.
It is not my purpose to discuss
the efficiency of the public night schools, in this connection,
though a careful investigation would, I feel confident, reveal much
to criticize. It is certain, however, that the needs and demands of
the foreign speaking populations are not adequately considered, when
the fact is pointed out that these schools are open but from October
to February, three evenings of two hours each to the week, with
adjournment during the Christmas holidays. The foreign populations,
certainly the Jewish, are eager to learn, and the educational
authority is acting against their best interests as citizens, in not
giving them a more adequate system of education in the same spirit
as that which is accorded the pupils in the day schools. It is
because the requirements of the populations are not sufficiently
considered in public night school instruction that supplemental
teaching in other institutions is made necessary. In the district
there are a number of public kindergartens having an attendance of
Jewish children varying from two to ninety-seven per cent of the
total number of pupils. In addition there are a few private
kindergartens to be considered, among which may be mentioned those
of the Young Women's Union, the Home of Delight, and the College
Settlement (433 Christian Street), in which nearly all the pupils
are Jewish. In some respects, the kindergarten is more valuable to
the child of foreign origin than to one whose parents are native,
for correct language, in accent and tone, can be taught, so that it
will not have the disadvantage of some of the older children, whose
English is spoilt at home in a way that is sometimes difficult to
correct when they come to school.
It has been shown that Russian
Jews attend the James Forten Elementary Manual Training School in
large numbers. Manual training is regarded as especially valuable
for children who live in the densely populated districts and are
thus thrown upon the streets. And it is of particular worth for the
Jewish people. The teacher of the Sloyd work in this school informed
me that the Jewish pupils show full average proficiency, and he has
not the failures in drawing to report which were reported in the
regular schools. The mind and the hand work in harmony, and the
result is not only good finished products, but the formation of a
finer finished product in the pupil himself.3
Among the Jewish institutions
performing an important work in the educational development of the
immigrant population is the Hebrew Education Society. In its
building, Touro Hall, at Tenth and Carpenter Streets, there is a
night school for English branches, in which hundreds are being
taught our language. Such a school as this is especially valuable to
the newly arriving foreigners, who, with their utter lack of
knowledge of the language, would be helpless in most public night
schools. Industrial education is pursued in the form of dressmaking,
millinery, garment cutting, cigar making, and stenography. The
reading room, the library, and the auditorium for lectures and
entertainments are valuable adjuncts in the work of this
institution. The auditorium, which has a seating capacity for fully
six hundred persons, is used by other organizations, without cost to
them, for literary and social events. Free religious exercises on
New Year's Day and the Day of Atonement are held here under the
auspices of the society.
Also located in this building is
the Manual Training
School conducted by the B'nai B'rith fraternity. Boys from eleven to
sixteen years of age attend. The hours are arranged so that they
will not conflict with those of the public schools. Some boys who
have attended its classes are assisting in mechanical trades. The
work of this school, though small, is important in helping, if ever
little, to turn the trend of development in
the direction of manual trades and diversity of occupation.
One of the large schools of the
Hebrew Sunday School Society holds its sessions at Touro Hall, the
others in the lower section of the city being located in rented
halls at Eighth and South and Fourth and South Streets. The largest
attendance in the three schools is about twenty-five hundred
altogether. The pupils are taught chiefly Bible history.
The Young Women's Union, at 428
Bainbridge Street, is an important centre of influence. It is
developing in its personal work. Formerly devoting itself to the day
nursery and shelter for young children and to classes conducted
along institutional lines, it has been adding the club feature. The
young people are formed into small groups, usually with a leader,
whose personal contact with the club is valuable in molding the
conduct and adapting the point of view of the individuals. Then,
too, the Juvenile Aid Association, which takes charge of all matters
pertaining to the delinquent young people within the age of those
subject to the juvenile court law, has become a most valuable
feature of the Union's work. The probation officer who is given
charge of all boys and girls brought up in the juvenile court is an
appointee of this association. A part of the work of the association
which promises good results is the placing out of young delinquents.
To recur to the activities of the Union in its building, besides the
clubs and the classes, the gymnasium and the library are adjuncts of
The Home of Delight, at 426 Pine
Street, embraces a kindergarten, a library and reading room, game
rooms, savings bank, classes and clubs. The class work includes
sewing, embroidery, drawing and general elementary subjects. The
Home serves as a centre of social activity for the people in the
northern portion of our southern district. The matron lives in the
house with her family.
Among the influences particularly
for the young people none has been more important in my judgment
than the Philadelphia College Settlement, at 433 Christian Street.
The beneficiaries are chiefly Jews. I have had occasion carefully to
study and observe the work for seven years and I can testify to the
valuable results which are accomplished--not results, it is true,
that can in any adequate degree be put down in tabulated statistical
form, but which count for much in the uplifting of the individuals
and the upbuilding of their characters. Not only is the personal
contact of the residents and their associates with those who come to
the settlement promotive of refinement and culture, but the
educational value of the class and club work is of decided benefit,
especially in broadening the point of view. The games and dances,
the concerts and theatricals, the English instruction and
discussions are effective means for promoting the finer development
of the young people in the hands of the Settlement workers who
endeavor to bring into their house an atmosphere of cheer and good
breeding. The head worker of the Settlement, Miss Anna F. Davies,
has prepared for me the following appreciation: "My experience in
the Philadelphia College Settlement has led me to believe that the
Russian Jewish population furnishes the element of our congested
districts which is most responsive to educational effort. This seems
true of the wider education of a social type, the value of which the
Settlement especially emphasizes, no less than of instruction pure
and simple. Feeling and taste are sensitive, and where there is
acquaintance with good standards, will usually and instinctively
choose wisely. It is safe to assume that the Jewish applicant for
club or class may be appealed to on the mental side; that he has a
brain and will enjoy exercising it. To the teacher or club leader
who has the tact to smooth away the obstacles of a slightly known
language the returns in interest and appreciation are large and
immediate. Students who cannot be trusted with the spelling of
English monosyllables and whose composition is unintelligible except
to a kindly intuition, have read Emerson and Shakespeare, under
guidance, with keen interest. One such said on one occasion, 'That
is grand, but if I'd try to read it at home I couldn't make out at
all.' In the familiar phrase the Russian Jew needs only , 'half a
chance.' That given he will do the rest. He does need greatly wider
economic opportunities and the intercourse with the more privileged
which will form, unconsciously to himself, a finer type of social
standards than his Russian past has developed."
Among the Russian Jewish people
themselves the Hebrew Literature Society has developed. It has a
house of its own at 310 Catharine Street. At its meetings
discussions on religious, scientific, political, and social subjects
are held. The lectures, usually on Sunday afternoons, are given by
well qualified men from the universities and colleges, and the large
audience which is attracted is thus afforded well digested
information. There are also on other occasions addresses and
discussions in Yiddish on Friday evenings. In addition to
participation in debate, members may avail themselves of the
library, which contains volumes in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian
and German. In the discussions the language employed is sometimes
English, sometimes Yiddish. The society promotes the social life by
entertainments and dances. A gymnasium is contemplated and with it
there is likely to be developed physical training, both for the
older and the younger generation.
The Educational Alliance, located
at 516 Spruce Street, is so called because it is the result of an
amalgamation of the Educational League and the Hebrew Students'
League. Its chief work, which was organized by the former in 1903,
is free instruction to the immigrant in English, elementary and
advanced arithmetic, algebra, history, and literature. The
instruction is given four evenings each week, and the enrollment is
over 200, with a nightly attendance of about 100. This season
(1904-05) a paid superintendent has been engaged. The main result of
the direct co-operation of the Students' League has been the
availability of its members as teachers, the Students' League having
given up its own class work. It, however, retains its identity for
social purposes and for the founding of a scholarship at the
University of Pennsylvania. Its members are college students and
graduates and higher school men.
The Young Men's Hebrew Union is
the outgrowth of a number of small literary societies. It is the
most representative of the young people's societies whose members
are imbued with American social and educational ideas. The character
of its work can best be judged by reference to its debates, mock
trials, lectures, amateur dramatic performances, entertainments,
receptions and dances. Its Women's Auxiliary, which holds separate
meetings, helps in the social work of the organization. Its rooms
are at 229 Pine Street.
Literary societies come and go
among the younger people. The names change, but many of the members
are the same in a list of societies that may be made up at any time.
These organizations are a valuable feature in the se1f-educational
efforts of the young people, and though they tend at times too much
to mere dialectics, this is by no means a serious result compared
with the good accomplished.
We have, then, some large
societies, besides a number of smaller ones, promoting the
intellectual life among the Russian Jewish people themselves, as
distinguished from the public schools, the settlements, and the
educational societies organized more or less from without.
It would be valuable to have one
of the branches of the public library in this district. There may
not be a neighborhood spirit that understands how to call for it,
but there is no question in my mind that once established the
library would be most largely patronized.
In connection with the subject
under discussion it should be noted that a number of young people
take advantage of the low tuition fees of the Drexel Institute and
Temple College and are thus materially helped in their efforts to
improve their education.
No reference has been made here
to the religious education of the young people because that has been
amply treated in the chapter on the subject of religion.
This review of the
educational influences surrounding the Russian Jews of Philadelphia
should be convincing evidence of the intellectual desire of the
community and the intellectual stimulus which it is receiving--a
desire and a stimulus which make for high class citizenship.
In 1899, of the total number of pupils, 17,000 in round
figures, in practically the same territory, about 7,500, or 45 per
cent were Jews.
The nationality of the
pupils has changed in the last two years in a remarkable
degree--instead of a majority of negroes, there is now a
preponderance of Russian Jews, who must be taught English before
they can enter the regular graded classes. And this adds to the
requirements in the teachers. Even in the class now under the care
of the school, the well known characteristic of the Jews, that of a
carefully guarded family life, is evident, so that the school has
much better support from parents than heretofore, and considerable
appreciation of the benefits the children receive." Report of the
President of the Board of Education (Samuel B. Huey) for the year
ending December 31st, 1898.
See Speirs, The James Forten School, an
experiment in social regeneration through elementary manual
training. Civic Club, Philadelphia, 1901.