The Moss Family Scrapbooks from Jewish Life in America

25 March 2011

I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time studying the material in our collection Jewish Life in America, c1654-1954 and was particularly fascinated by the Moss Family Scrapbooks which provide a wealth of information for the study of Jewish life and culture in New York in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Moss Family Scrapbooks are just one of the twenty-four personal collections which form part of the collection of documents for Jewish history held at the American Jewish Historical Society, New York. Other documents include collections of organisations and rare printed books and pamphlets, ranging from the manuscript of Emma Lazarus’s famed sonnet “The New Colossus” to the records of the Baron de Hirsch Fund.

Lucien Moss was born in Philadelphia in 1831 and became a machinist there for the firm of Morris & Taws, later founding his own firm of brass workers, Wiler & Moss. After his retirement he became involved in philanthropic work in Philadelphia and was associated with many Hebrew charitable societies, in particular the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He left most of his money to the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia for the founding of the Lucien Moss Home for Incurables of the Jewish Faith.

The Moss family scrapbooks, containing cuttings from a variety of New York and Philadelphia newspapers and covering the years 1840-1895, are a wonderful resource for Jewish history. The cuttings deal with social and domestic affairs, the history of the Jewish communities in the two cities and Jewish affairs in Europe.

Articles and obituaries on prominent Jewish personalities such as David Franks, Bernard and Michael Gratz, and Samuel M Isaacs can be found. The cuttings also feature many reports on the persecution of the Jews in Russia, Poland and Rumania with news on the relief work initiated by American Jews including the Baron de Hirsch Fund. Some cuttings from newspapers in Europe and from other parts of America can also be found. An article from the London Spectator speaks highly of Jews in America.

A wide range of reports from American newspapers such as Ledger and Transcript, The Jewish Record, Daily Democrat, New York World are included - for instance: a report on annual meeting of the Hebrew Educational Association in Philadelphia; annual meeting of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites; meeting of the Delegates of Conservative Jewish Congregations to discuss improving the Jewish prayer book; meeting of the Relief Committee of the Hebrew Emigrants’ Aid Society; report on the laying of the corner stone of the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York; description of the 25th wedding anniversary party of Mr J A Ephraim; report on a meeting of the Association for the Improved Instruction of Deaf Mutes. Jewish charity work is also covered: one cutting describes the 14th Anniversary celebrations of the Jewish Foster Home, another reports on a Ladies’ Fair selling all kinds of Jewish articles.

There are also numerous cuttings reporting on the dedication of new synagogues, services held at the Congregation of Israel and the celebration of weddings.

Cuttings concerning the Philadelphia Board of Governors of the Poor, of which Moss was a member from 1882-1884, can be found in a separate volume.