Wertheimer, Joseph Ritter von

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WERTHEIMER, JOSEPH RITTER VON (1800–1887), Austrian pedagogue, philanthropist, and merchant. Born in Vienna of a well-to-do Jewish family, Wertheimer first served as a clerk in his father's commercial activities and soon became his partner. Though involved in the practical world of commerce, Wertheimer used his free time to study pedagogics. In his twenties, he embarked on a trip through Germany, Italy, France, and England in order to broaden his cultural background. His interest in pedagogical matters led him to take particular note of English kindergartens, and he returned home eager to further the building of kindergartens in Austria. As a first step, he translated a work on kindergarten schooling which he called Ueber fruehzeitige Erziehung und englische Kleinkinderschulen (1826, 1828). Despite vociferous opposition to the "feather-brained scheme," Wertheimer founded the first kindergarten in Vienna in 1830 with the cooperation of a Catholic priest, Johann Lindner. Subsequently other kindergartens were founded in many Austrian cities. He also established the Allgemeine Rettungsgesellschaft, a society for assistance to released criminals and guidance for juvenile delinquents.

Wertheimer was deeply involved in Jewish activities. In 1840 he organized the Verein zur Foerderung der Handwerke unter den Israeliten, an organization which enabled thousands of Jewish children to learn useful occupations. In 1843 he established a Jewish kindergarten and in 1860 a Society for the Care of Needy Orphans of the Israelite Community, which established an orphan asylum for girls. As trustee, and later as president, of Vienna's central communal body and founder and president of the Israelitische Allianz zu *Wien (1872–87), Wertheimer played a leading role in the struggle to achieve equal social and political status for Jews. In 1842 he advocated the emancipation of Austrian Jews in his Die Juden in Oesterreich … (2 vols., 1842), published anonymously, because such works were then prohibited. He also wrote, among other books, Therese: Ein Handbuch fuer Muetter und Kinderwaerterinnen (1835) and Die Stellung der Juden in Oesterreich (1852). He was editor of the Jahrbuch fuer Israeliten (11 vols., 1855–65).

Wertheimer's services were recognized by the Austrian emperor who, in 1868, conferred upon him the order of the Iron Crown and the accompanying title of nobility.


G. Wolf, Joseph Wertheimer (Ger., 1868); Wininger, Biog. s.v.; K. Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon, 55 (1887), 124–30; M. Grunwald, Vienna (1936), index.

[Morton Mayer Berman]