LETITIA ROSENBERG WOMAN'S HOME
LETITIA ROSENBERG WOMAN'S HOME. In November 1888 a few "charitable ladies" met at Trinity Episcopal Church in Galveston to form a home for elderly women. Fearing that their efforts would appear too sectarian, they changed their meetingplace to the YMCA and in February 1889 drew a charter for the Woman's Home in Galveston. The women assembled a female board of seventeen directors and chose executive officers. Members to the board of directors were elected from various Protestant churches and Temple B'nai Israelqv to serve for a year. Mrs. George Finlay (see FINLAY, GEORGE P.) served as the board president from 1889 until 1904. She was succeeded by Rebecca Ashton Brown, daughter of James Moreau Brown, who held the post until 1919, when the office went to Mrs. Isaac H. Kempner (see KEMPNER, ISAAC H.).
In the first year of operation (1889) the directors rented a house at Thirty-first Street and Avenue I for $25 a month; within a year twenty-three elderly women lived there. Payment for bills came from subscriptions of the women who composed the board of directors. By donations, through small legacies, and with the help of friends, the home survived without a permanent endowment. Finally, at the death of Henry Rosenberg in 1893, the board was bequeathed a gift of $30,000 for the building and furnishing of a woman's home. Even with this legacy, fund-raising was a constant and nagging worry for the managers, and they acquired a male board of directors. In 1894 a series of teas brought in barely enough to pay postage. Donations from individuals helped some: Sarah Bell donated $50, the Trinity Church Guild gave $10, and Julia B. Southwick left $2,000 to the home in her will. The Galveston Tribune ran a series of human interest stories on the "inmates" of the home and thus advertised the appeal for donations from citizens. The newspaper offered to contribute a percentage on each new advertisement taken out in the Tribune and on each new subscription. Annual baby shows sponsored by the managers brought both good publicity and extra funds. Eventually the women found successful funding by uniting with other charitable organizations in Tag Day, a day in which teams of ladies "tagged" passersby in the downtown area for donations. A tagged person, or donor, sported a badge that demonstrated support for the cause. By taking their campaign to the Strand, lady managers began a visible advertisement. Eventually the home came under the auspices of the Community Chest, the United Fund, and the United Way.
By January 21, 1896, thirteen elderly inmates moved into a three-story Victorian Gothic stone structure, eighty by 120 feet, on Bath Avenue near Avenue O½, not far from the Gulf of Mexico. The home was renamed the Letitia Rosenberg Womans' Home, after Henry Rosenberg's first wife, and housed at least fifty-one elderly women between 1896 and 1917. Their average age was sixty-five, their average length of stay four years. Of the fifty-one inmates, thirty-six (70.5 percent) of the women were charity cases and ten (20 percent) made some sort of payment for board according to their means. Women of foreign birth predominated. Of forty-seven women with known birthplaces, more than half were not native Americans, while the foreign population city-wide was 22 percent. Moreover, twenty of the foreign women were charity cases, most from Ireland and Germany. These constituted 55 percent of all who received charity and 74 percent of foreign inmates in general.
Separated as middle-class white board members were from long-term contact with those outside their social circles, the woman's home represented an opening in cross-class association. Raising money for the home, interviewing the applicants, and visiting immigrant inmates regularly constituted a form of sustained charity work across social lines. For the lady managers there was always the possibility that the home would be a refuge for them if they needed it. In 1905 Carrie Finlay, whose husband served on the board of directors, became home matron, a job she held until 1914. When failing health prevented her from laboring at all, she and her husband were allowed a room in the home in gratitude for her work.
The Kempner family played a leading role in supporting the home. Eliza Kempner served for many years as the board's president; in 1952 the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund donated $100,000 to the home as a memorial to Mrs. Kempner. This was followed with an eight-apartment addition given by the Kempners. In 1970 the home merged with the Moody House, Incorporated.
Galveston Daily News, January 23, April 15, 1896. Rosenberg Family Papers, Rosenberg Library, Galveston. Elizabeth Hayes Turner, "Women, Religion, and Reform in Galveston, 1880–1920," in Urban Texas: Politics and Development, ed. Char Miller and Heywood T. Sanders (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990). Elizabeth Hayes Turner, Women's Culture and Community: Religion and Reform in Galveston, 1880–1920 (Ph.D. dissertation, Rice University, 1990). Vertical File, Rosenberg Library, Galveston.