Bertha Floersheim (1865 - 1952)

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Birthplace: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Death: Died in Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Managed by: Aaron Friedman
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About Bertha Floersheim

Called Pittsburgh's most useful citizen and "the Jane Addams of Pittsburgh." '

Bertha Floersheim Rauh was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 16, 1865, the daughter of Samuel and Pauline Wertheimer Floersheim, immigrants from western Germany. Dedicating her life to ameliorating the condition of the poor, the oppressed and the sick, she first worked for over twenty years as a volunteer and for a further twelve years as Director of the Department of Public Welfare of the City of Pittsburgh. She began her community service as a teenager, participating in aid to the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In 1888 she married Enoch Rauh (1857–1919), who was born in Dubuque, Iowa. Enoch’s efforts to reform local politics earned him a fine reputation and a seat on the Pittsburgh City Council. Both the Rauh and Floersheim families were respected members of Rodef Shalom Temple, the Reform Jewish congregation of the city.

In 1904 Bertha Rauh was elected President of the Pittsburgh Section, National Council of Jewish Women, a position she held until 1919. In this respected volunteer post, she lectured and wrote, spreading the message that it was the responsibility of women to use their “leisure” time to extend mothering beyond their own children to the needy in the community. Rauh initiated several programs that were deemed necessary for public welfare and in consequence were taken over by the city. This was true of the Penny Lunches in public schools, social work at Juvenile Court, outdoor schools for tubercular children, a labor bureau to find jobs for the unemployed, and a Committee to Aid the Blind. This last committee soon formed the Western Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind, and later the National Association for the Blind.

Rauh was a founder of the Soho Public Baths, Consumers’ League, Juvenile Court, and the “Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice Association,” which guaranteed pasteurized milk and pure water to poor children in the city. With the cooperation of the National Council of Jewish Women, Rauh argued successfully for penal reform and local and state laws regulating fund raising.

Interpreting commitment to suffrage in terms of expressing “compassion and caring” for women, children and the labor force through legislation, Rauh became a founding member of the Equal Franchise Society and of the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania. She distinguished between the contribution that women and men respectively could make, believing that women would bring sensitivity to decision-making positions, private charity, the city, and the nation. In a speech that was printed in full in the widely read Jewish weekly, she criticized the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for “a glaring error…the barring of women from the directorate.” All the qualities that women would bring, Rauh continued, “constitute a unique contribution which deserves representation” in the work of all organizations, private or public, that make decisions affecting the people.

By 1919, Rauh was a member of thirty boards. In 1923 she was invited to serve on the Board of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for a one-year term until January, 1924.

Her experience in a wide range of civic projects and her proven executive ability made Bertha Rauh a highly qualified candidate for a responsible public position. In 1922, Bertha Rauh was the first woman appointed to a cabinet post, when Mayor William A. Magee invited her to serve as Director of Public Charities. His successors, Mayor Charles S. Kline and, later, John Herron, appointed her to two additional terms.

When Rauh assumed her position, a fellow cabinet member offered “congratulations and condolences,” warning that it would take at least fifteen years “to set right the department.” Bertha Rauh accomplished the challenging task in twelve years.

Her first significant move was to change the name of the department from “Public Charities” to the “Department of Public Welfare.” In addition, she immediately launched a program of reform, developing a detailed plan for department improvements of which she sent drafts to political, social service and medical leaders before the work was begun. She collaborated closely with public and private charities, settlement houses, hospitals, churches, and schools. She organized a committee of dietitians and other experienced food service people to study the frequent food riots, and to recommend changes in diet. She convened a committee of nineteen doctors to help plan improved medical facilities. By way of organizing the work of the city office of the Department of Public Welfare, Rauh established a Social Service Department, a Mental Health Clinic, and a corps of District Physicians, each to serve the sick poor in his or her district.

Rauh’s greatest achievement was the transformation of the overcrowded, understaffed, unsanitary and unsafe asylum for the insane and indigent at the Mayview Hospital into a modern psychiatric hospital. The Mayview City Home and Hospital, located sixteen miles from the city of Pittsburgh, consisted of a hospital, housing for the indigent and aging, and a working farm. The physical facilities, from infrastructure to living and service areas, were in dire need of repair and renovation. During her first year as Director of the D.P.W., she introduced new clinics and technologies at Mayview. Occupational therapy, physical therapy, hydro-therapy, oral, eye, nose and throat clinics, a new Xray department, and new laboratories were added. A genital-urinary clinic, the first in “an institution of this kind,” was begun.

Dr. Edward Mayer, a psychiatrist, headed a survey that made recommendations for improvement. Plans were drawn up from 1922 to 1927 when construction began. By 1932, when the extensive renovations were almost completed, the hospital was headed by a medical director and superintendent, and staffed by ten physicians, seventeen visiting physicians, two visiting psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. At that time the population of Mayview numbered 3,000 people. Rauh also introduced a professional social worker to help discharged patients adjust to life outside the institution.

In 1924 and 1925 Rauh successfully lobbied the State Legislature to provide free burials for the indigent poor and “maintenance care and treatment” for the indigent insane.” In response to reports of many cases of rabid dogs, Rauh asked the legislature to provide free Pasteur treatment for rabies victims and to require licensing and immunizing of dogs.

The Depression brought extraordinary demands on staff and facilities, forced the closing of the recently established Bureau for the Handicapped, and involved Rauh daily in referring applicants for relief. Associated Charities, Catholic Charities, Jewish Philanthropies, The Red Cross, U.S. Veterans Bureau, Salvation Army, Children’s Aid Society, and Family and Children’s Commission did their best to meet the requests and Rauh worked hard to secure help for all who qualified, keeping notes on each difficult case

As her term came to a close Rauh was praised in articles and letters from many people. One executive commented that greater than all of the activities of her department “was the introduction of a sympathetic, understanding spirit of friendliness in the offices of the Department.” The Director of Catholic Charities wrote, “Congratulations to you and City Council in passing the ordinance regulating the collection of money for charitable purposes. If you had done nothing else, you would have been a very successful Director of Public Welfare.”

After her retirement from public office Rauh remained active in organization and civic life. She worked for the legalization of birth control and for smoke control. She advocated for a contagious disease hospital that would care for venereal diseased persons from juveniles to seniors and urged moving the General Hospital at Mayview into the city so that the sick could receive regular high quality medical care.

Bertha Floersheim Rauh died on October 21, 1952. She was survived by a son, Richard S. Rauh, a daughter, Helen Blanche Rauh, and a grandson, Richard Enoch Rauh.

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MRS. BERTHA (FLOERSHEIM) RAUH—The names of Enoch Rauh and Mrs. Enoch (Floersheim) Rauh were linked with more than the bonds of marriage, they were joined in good works of broad scope and far-reaching effect. Death ended this working partnership that had been so generously productive of good, but the taking away of one whose life was largely spent in the service of his fellows left the need for service and brotherly effort as pressing and as insistent as ever. Mrs. Rauh, with a record of usefulness in many fields of civic, educational and philanthropic activity, has remained at her tasks with strength and courage renewed by the universal regret and appreciation voiced at the death of her husband, and Pittsburgh and the State number her among those citizens, men and women, who acknowledge a wide sphere of responsibility and who have dedicated themselves to work and service, not alone for today, but for all the tomorrows, and for the men and women of those times.

Bertha (Floersheim) Rauh was born June 16, 1865. She attended the First Ward School in Pittsburgh, the Fifth Ward School on the North Side, and the Grant School, of Pittsburgh, from which she was graduated, making the highest general average of any pupil in the entire city, and receiving a prize for her excellent record from Professor Lucky, superintendent of schools. In 1884 she was graduated from the Pittsburgh Central High School with the highest honors. At this time she came into public notice in the following manner: "Harper's Weekly" compiled statistics relating to the highest ranking pupil in each high school of the cities of the United States, and Bertha Floersheim was accorded the honors for Central High. In addition to her high scholastic achievements, it was found that she had never missed a day during her school years, and that she had never been late.

There has been no time since then, either before or after her marriage, when Mrs. Rauh has not been engaged in the service of her fellows in some manner. Her highest ambition extends no farther than to use her talents to the greatest advantage possible. Her first public service was in support of a fund for the aid of Russian immigrants, and she sang and read at many public entertainments for the benefit of these newcomers to our shores. Soon after her graduation, also, she became a member of the board of the Gusky Orphanage, then just established, and has remained on this board to the present time. So many have been the movements for which she has worked that it is difficult to single out any one for particular mention, but her efforts were particularly valuable at the time of the Johnstown flood, when her husband was a member of the Pittsburgh Relief Committee. The World War, 1917-18, brought her opportunities for great service, and as first vice-president of the Women's Division of the Council of National Defense, one of the founders and member of the Executive Committee of the Allegheny County Red Cross Chapter, member of the Executive Committee of the Women's Division of the War Savings Stamps Council, and as member of the State Committee representing the Jewish Welfare Board for the United War Work Drive, she made heavy contributions toward the success of these organizations.

Mrs. Rauh, looking on civic problems and needs with the broad vision and practical insight necessary for the correction of any undesirable condition, has found many channels for the improvement of conditions, particularly as they have affected the young of Pittsburgh. For nine years she was a director of the Juvenile Court Association of Allegheny county, which she assisted in founding, and for the same period president of the Juvenile Court Aid Society, of which she was the founder. Her work, too, has been along lines of prevention as well as of correction, and she aided the founding of the Girl Scouts' organization of Allegheny county; the Soho Public Bath House; the Public Health Nursing Association; the Hospital School for Backward Children; the Associated Charities; the Red Cross Chapter of Allegheny county; and the Palestine Welfare Society. In women's organizations she has been a leading spirit, and was one of the founders of the Equal Franchise Federation, the Consumers' League, the Travelers' Aid Society, the Women's Division of the Council of National Defense, and the Women's Division of the War Savings Stamps Council. She is a woman of broad education, quick intelligence, and wide sympathy, and it is a splendid tribute to her life and work in Pittsburgh that the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, assembled in executive session, named her, because of her many and varied services to the most important institutions of the city, "Mother Pitt." She has also been called "The Symbol of Pittsburgh."

Mrs. Rauh was chairman several years ago of the State Mental Hygiene Congress which met in Pittsburgh; has been chairman of the Endowment Fund of the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women, and at various times a member of the Health and Hygiene Committee and the Program Committee of this organization. Her practical work along this line embraces the founding of the first penny lunches and the free dental clinics in Pittsburgh. Among the reforms she has championed as a member of different committees of the Civic Club are those for the Associated Charities, the Legal Aid Society, public comfort stations, antinoise crusade, school nurses, medical inspection in the public schools, open air schools, vacant lot gardens, and immigration and Americanization work.

Mrs. Rauh is an ardent Jewess, and for a long period since Dr. Mayer's regime has been a tireless worker in Rodeph Sahlom Temple. Her unusual musical ability was a source of benefit to the congregation since, for sixteen years, she sang in the choir of this temple to save the expense of a salaried mezzo-soprano. She has held many offices in the National Council of Jewish Women, serving as president for five months and retiring because of ill health; for six years a director, for six years chairman of the Philanthropic Department; and for seventeen consecutive years president of the Pittsburgh section of the council. She is recognized by the non-Jewish world locally and nationally as a leader of indefatigable energy, and has been a potent force in the translation of Jewish ideas and ideals to the non-Jewish community. Mrs. Rauh has contributed a number of articles to the daily press and periodicals, including the Jewish journals, the "Teachers' Association Magazine," and the "Dental Journal." Among the topics which her articles have treated are: "The Value of the Higher Education," "The Jew and Prejudice," "The Conservation of Woman's Leisure," "Music and the Sunday Observance," "Woman's Service," "Free Dental Clinics in the Public Schools," "Social Hygiene in the Home," "Teaching Sex Knowledge in the Public Schools," "A Journey Up the Allegheny Valley," "The New Year—A Hope," "Christopher Lyman Magee— a Tribute," etc.

Mrs. Rauh is a patron of all the arts, and is herself a musician of great ability. As a young woman she was piano soloist at Art Society concerts, sang in Carnegie Music Hall, and in amateur theatricals appeared in the Concordia Club and the Tuesday Night Club. She was also upon the program in local theatres when amateur performances were given for the benefit of widows of members of the Grand Army of the Republic.

To name the institutions accorded Mrs. Rauh's moral and financial support would be almost to call the roll of every organization benefiting any part of Pittsburgh's population. Her official capacities are as a member of the Advisory Council of the Urban League of Pittsburgh; director of the Public Charities Association of Pennsylvania; of the Civic Club of Allegheny county; of the Irene Kaufmann Settlement; of the Soho Public Bath and Settlement: of the Associated Charities; of the Gusky Orphanage, and of the Public Safety Committee of the National Safety Council. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Girls' Patriotic League; director of the Pennsylvania Board of the National Congress of Mothers; director of the Board of Pennsylvania Prison Reform Association; honorary member of the Board of the Women's Auxiliary of the Hebrew Institute; a member of the Executive Board of the Children's Service Bureau, and the Natural Education Association; and a member of the Board of the State Juvenile Court Association and the Housing Conference of Pittsburgh. Mrs. Rauh is also honorary vice-president of the Consumers' League; honorary member of the Homewood Woman's Club; member of the Anti-Noise Committee, of the National American Civic Association; vice-president of the board of the Congress of Women's Clubs, and one. of the committee of five to draft plans for a one hundred and fifty thousand dollar club house.

On June 13, 1920, there was dedicated at the Gusky Orphanage the Enoch Rauh Dental Clinic, given by Mrs. Rauh in memory of her husband, on which occasion former associates of Enoch Rauh spoke with direct and eloquent sincerity on the life and character of the man. The gift is typical of the practical philanthropy practiced throughout many years by both Mr. and Mrs. Rauh.

While Pittsburgh has been the scene of much of Mrs. Rauh's earnest labor, and the beneficiary of her productive efforts, her reputation has extended far beyond its confines, and she has been spoken of as one of America's foremost women. Her energy and initiative are without measure, and are inspired by an all-embracing love for anyone in need. Judge Henry S. Wasson has called her "Pittsburgh's first citizen," but could she choose her own title and deserve that name to the full, her choice would simply be that of "servant," good and faithful.

-- "History of Pittsburgh and Environs" by Special Contributors and Members of the Editorial Staff of the American Historical Society, 1922. Digitized by Google Books.

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Bertha Floersheim's Timeline

1865
June 16, 1865
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1890
July 9, 1890
Age 25
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1894
1894
Age 28
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1952
October 21, 1952
Age 87
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
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