Minnie Louis, the founder of the Louis Down-Town Sabbath School, was born in Philadelphia in 1841 to a German Jewish family. A woman of tremendous devotion to a myriad of philanthropic activities, Louis was led to begin her work as a social welfare reformer after volunteering at New York’s Temple Emanu-El Sunday School. Her Down-Town Sabbath School was unique among other New York organizations of the day, in that few were committed to addressing the needs of the Jewish immigrant community. Teaching in English, the school staff was committed to conveying Louis’ message about the importance of living an ethical lifestyle, adopting American standards of behavior, and producing self-sufficient women who would assist their own communities. Minnie Louis was also a friend of Emma Lazarus, and would eventually recruit Lillian Wald to give her students home nursing courses, a role which first introduced Wald to the realities of the urban poor.
Throughout her time at the Louis Down-Town Sabbath School, which later became the Hebrew Technical School for Girls, Louis held overlapping positions with the Hebrew Free School kindergarten, as well as the Mount Sinai Training School for Nurses. She was a speaker at the Jewish Women’s Congress, the director of the Clara de Hirsch Home for Girls, and was influential in the formation of the National Council on Jewish Women. By the time Louis retired from Hebrew Tech in 1900, she was a well-established figure in American Judaism for her work with women and children.
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