Olga Bernstein Kohlberg, El Paso philanthropist and founder of the first public kindergarten in Texas, was born in Elberfeld, Westphalia (then part of Rhenish Prussia), on August 2, 1864, the daughter of David and Emilie (Aronstein) Bernstein. She was educated at the Elberfeld Seminary and married Ernst Kohlberg on June 22, 1884. She moved with her husband to El Paso, where Kohlberg, a native of Westphalia who had left Germany in 1875 to escape the draft, had founded the first cigar factory in the Southwest.
Mrs. Kohlberg soon mastered both English and Spanish and threw herself wholeheartedly into the affairs of her new home. In 1891 she helped organize a "Child Culture Study Circle" of local women to promote interest in the education of young children. The members bought equipment, hired a teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, and persuaded the El Paso Board of Education to establish the first free public kindergarten in Texas, which opened in September 1893. The study circle reorganized and changed its name to Current Topics Club, which was the forerunner of the El Paso Woman's Club, established in 1898. Olga Kohlberg served twice as president of the club, in 1899–1900 and again in 1901–02, and remained an honorary board member for the rest of her life. She was the first vice president of the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs and in 1902 was a delegate to the General Federation of Women's Clubs assembly in Los Angeles, California.
In 1892, stirred by the death of a sick man left on the platform of the railroad depot, Mrs. Kohlberg formed the Ladies' Benevolent Association, which opened the first hospital in El Paso. She was also a founder and board member of the Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium in New Mexico, which opened in 1911. Her involvement with local charitable groups included the Charity Union in 1903, the Health League in 1908, and the Women's Charity Association and the Associated Charities in 1915; the last group became Family Service of El Paso.
In 1895 Mrs. Kohlberg helped organize the El Paso Public Library, and in 1903 she became the second president of the library's board of directors. She served in that capacity until her death. The Kohlbergs helped organize the Mount Sinai Jewish congregation in 1898 and contributed to the construction of Temple Mount Sinai five years later. Olga Kohlberg also was a member of the Jewish Welfare Association. She died on August 12, 1935, at her home in El Paso and was survived by three sons and a daughter. In November 1972 the El Paso County Historical Society inducted her into the El Paso Hall of Honor.
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Password, Winter 1972. Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990). Woman's Who's Who of America (New York: American Commonwealth, 1914).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Martin Donell Kohout,
“Kohlberg, Olga Bernstein,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 13, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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