Educator and social activist Henrietta Szold is best known as the founder of Hadassah.
Dare to dream... and when you dream, dream big.
Szold was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1860. The oldest of eight daughters of a well-known rabbi, Henrietta graduated high school in 1877. Having achieved an outstanding academic record, she began teaching at a Baltimore girls' school. For the next fifteen years, she taught a broad range of subjects, including languages, mathematics, and history.
Also during this time, she developed a night school program to help newly arrived immigrants learn English and civics. By 1898, more than 5,000 Jewish and non-Jewish immigrants had attended the program. In addition, in 1893 Szold became the first full-time secretary of the Jewish Publication Society of America, a position she held for twenty-three years, with duties similar to the position of editor-in-chief.
Her commitment to Zionism was heightened by a trip to Palestine in 1909, at age 49. Here, she discovered her life's mission: the health, education and welfare of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community of Palestine).
In 1912 she founded Hadassah (from the Biblical name for Queen Esther, one of the greatest Jewish heroines), which has since become one of the largest American women’s social action organizations. The organization is credited with having had a profound effect on the establishment of life-changing medical, educational, and social practices in pre-state Israel.
Hadassah funded hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, x-ray clinics, infant welfare stations, soup kitchens and other services for Palestine's Jewish and Arab inhabitants.
Szold persuaded her colleagues that practical programs open to all were critical to Jewish survival in the Holy Land. She founded Hadassah in 1912 and served as its president until 1926. Impressed by the beauty of the countryside, but appalled by the overwhelming conditions of poverty and disease, she returned to the U.S. determined to make a difference in pre-state Israel.
In 1920, Szold returned to Palestine to help the AZMU and spent most of the next twenty-five years there. During this time, her last significant and possibly most important achievement occurred; Szold directed Youth Aliyah, which brought more than 11,000 young people from the threats of Nazi Europe to pre-state Israel. This effort, as much as anything Szold did in her 84 years of social activism, bore witness to her oft-repeated phrase, “make my eyes look toward the future.”
Through her lifetime of service to the Jewish people, Henrietta Szold helped shape the political, cultural, and social worlds of Jews in both the United States and Israel and created a new world of opportunity for Jewish women. Even before her death in 1945, she had become an icon for the practical idealism that could build a Jewish state.