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The Beginning

During the late 19th-century, New York City found itself transformed by an influx of Eastern European immigrants. In 1880, the Louis Down-Town Sabbath School was founded by Minnie Louis to assist the daughters of the city’s poor Jewish families. As one of the first Jewish social welfare organizations established in New York, the school sought to combine formal instruction with the practical knowledge of self-care and hygiene, made necessary by the realities of urban life. Beyond the clothing and refreshments the school distributed, significant emphasis was placed on the promotion of self-respect and ambition.

Read more about Minnie Louis.

HTS Typing Class
A Vocational School

Only a few years after the Sabbath  School opened, Louis wanted to address the girls' future more directly. A "daily school” for girls 14 to 16 supplemented the work of the Sabbath school by providing technical training in areas such as sewing, bookkeeping, and typing. In establishing the Hebrew Technical School for Girls, known fondly as "Hebrew Tech," the hope was that women would acquire skills which would enable them to find steady work that could assist their families and hasten the integration process. By the beginning of the 20th-century, the school had earned a selective reputation, turning away two-thirds of its applicants in 1903. Due to the high degree of interest, the board decided to expand the school and build a modern, five-story facility. The new building’s library, gymnasium, and range of appliances motivated the Hebrew Standard to distinguish it as "the best equipped technical school for girls in the United States.” Mark Twain, President Cleveland, and President Taft all visited the school.

Read about Mark Twain's speech at the school.

Educational Foundation for Jewish Girls
A Foundation
While the Hebrew Technical School for Girls had been innovative and successful, a new network of vocational public schools created by New York City emerged as better equipped to adapt to changing industrial developments. In 1932, Hebrew Tech closed its doors, eventually selling the building to the Board of Education. Two years later, as Hebrew Tech’s board considered its options, its members chose to use the funds acquired from the sale to launch a foundation which would provide scholarships and financial assistance to talented women in need. In 1939, the Educational Foundation for Jewish Girls was officially formed to help Jewish women enter and succeed in education.

Becoming Nonsectarian; Refining Our Mission

By the late 1940s, women’s employment opportunities were expanding. As the need for women trained at the university level increased, the Foundation’s funding began to shift primarily to college undergraduates. In 1964, the board reconsidered its choice to support only women of the Jewish faith, and adopted a nonsectarian philosophy that reflected the same inclusive practices that had been integral to the Hebrew Technical School for Girls years earlier. As women began to enter graduate school in higher numbers in the 1970s and '80s, the Foundation added graduate funding to its mission. In 1976, following changes in the status of American women, the Foundation transformed itself once again to reflect the times, becoming the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women. By the 1990s, having provided direct financial assistance to over 8,000 women, JFEW began to create partnerships with community-based organizations and with schools to help administer its scholarships. Today, JFEW works primarily with schools and community-based organizations who share its commitment to helping aspiring women achieve their educational and career goals.