Low, Minnie

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LOW, MINNIE (1867–1922), U.S. social service leader. Low was born in New York City and moved to Chicago with her family when she was 10 years old. Inspired by her friend, social reformer and Hull House Settlement director Jane Addams, Low helped found the Maxwell Street Settlement House in 1893. Low's work within Chicago's Jewish immigrant community earned her the reputation as the "Jane Addams of the Jews."

While organizing the Maxwell Street Settlement House, Low supported herself financially by working as secretary to Hannah Greenbaum *Solomon, the philanthropist and activist who founded the *National Council of Jewish Women. With Solomon's assistance, Low became executive director of the Seventh Ward Bureau (later known as the Bureau of Personal Service), a position that she held from 1897 until her death in 1922. The organization helped East European Jewish immigrants who settled in Chicago to secure housing, medical care, loans, and legal aid, and sponsored a workroom that compensated female workers with coal and secondhand clothes. A critic of institutions that dispensed alms, Low advocated a scientific approach to philanthropy that promoted self-sufficiency through a combination of work and loans.

The same year that Low began her affiliation with the Seventh Ward Bureau, she also helped to create the Woman's Loan Association. Administered exclusively by women, the Woman's Loan Association provided Jewish immigrants with interest-free loans primarily to start and maintain small businesses. Low also played a prominent role within other Chicago Jewish agencies: Central Bureau of Jewish Charities, Desertion Bureau, Helen Day Nursery, Home for Jewish Friendless, and Jewish Home Finding Society (an organization that helped widows with dependent children and placed children with adopted families).

Low's social work activity extended beyond the Jewish community. In 1899, for example, she joined a group of well-known Chicago social reformers including Hull House leaders Louise de Koven Bowen and Julia Lathrop, women's club activist Lucy Flower, and Judge Julian Mack to organize the Juvenile Court of Chicago, the nation's first separate juvenile court. Soon after the court's establishment, Low was hired as a probation officer. In addition, Low's reputation was not limited to Chicago. She achieved national recognition when her colleagues elected her president of the National Conference of Jewish Charities in 1914.

Limited finances and poor health plagued Low throughout her life. Never married, Low supported herself financially through employment as a salaried professional. Low left high school during the first year because of health problems and suffered from a prolonged illness before she died on May 28, 1922. At the memorial service, Addams delivered a eulogy that chronicled their friendship and honored Low's accomplishments.


M.J. Deegan, "Minnie Low," in: R.L. Schultz and A. Hast (eds.), Women Building Chicago, 17901990: A Biographical Dictionary (2001); M. Low, "Chicago," in: C. Bernheimer (ed.), The Russian Jew in the United States (1905), 87–99; H. Meites, History of the Jews of Chicago (1924); Obituaries, Chicago Tribune (May 29, 1922) and New York Times (May 29, 1922); S. Tenenbaum, A Credit to their Community: Jewish Loan Societies in the United States, 18801945 (1993); idem, "Minnie Low," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, (1997).

[Shelly Tenenbaum (2nd ed.)]