Loeb, Sophie Irene (1876–1929)

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Loeb, Sophie Irene (1876–1929)

Russian-born journalist and welfare worker. Born Sophie Irene Simon in Rovno, Russia, on July 4, 1876; died in New York City on January 18, 1929; oldest of three daughters and three sons of Samuel Simon (a jeweler) and Mary (Carey) Simon; graduated from McKeesport High School, McKeesport, Pennsylvania; married Anselm Loeb (a merchant), on March 10, 1896 (divorced 1910); no children.

Born in 1876, Sophie Loeb was one of six children of a Russian-Jewish family who immigrated to the United States in 1882 and settled in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Sophie's father, a jeweler, died when she was 16, and it became necessary for her to hold a part-time job while finishing high school. She worked briefly as a grade-school teacher before her marriage in 1896 to Anselm Loeb, an older man who was also the proprietor of the store in which she had worked. Over the next 14 years, Sophie's interest in various social causes blossomed, and she began writing articles about the industrial unrest in McKeesport and sending them off to the New York Evening World and other newspapers.

In 1910, having grown apart from her husband, Sophie obtained a divorce and moved to New York City, where she became a reporter and feature writer for the Evening World. In the course of her reporting duties, she became particularly interested in the plight of impoverished widows who were forced to give up their children for adoption because they could no longer support them. Feeling strongly that families would benefit by remaining together, as her own had done after the death of her father, she used her column both to expose the problem and to promote the work of advocates like Hannah Bachman Einstein , who was seeking public support of mothers' pensions, which would help widows keep their families intact. In 1913, Sophie and Hannah Einstein were appointed to the newly created State Commission of Relief for Widowed Mothers. Under the auspices of the commission, Loeb traveled to England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, German, and Denmark to study their welfare laws, and, in the commission's report in 1914, she proposed a bill for a state-supported relief program for impoverished widows with children. Although originally defeated by one senatorial vote, the bill passed in 1915. The legislation authorized both a child welfare board in every county and the use of public money to support its work. The same year, Loeb was appointed to the child welfare board of New York. Shortly thereafter, she became the board's president, a position she held until 1923. The board not only increased the city's annual appropriations (from $100,000 to over $4,500,000 in a seven-year period) under her leadership, but kept its own administrative expenses in check. Loeb prevented any political influence in the board's grants by enlisting social workers as case investigators.

In 1920, Loeb served on the commission appointed by Governor Alfred E. Smith to codify the laws in the field of child welfare. Hoping to promote welfare legislation across the country, Loeb also published Everyman's Child (1920), and, in 1924, founded and became president of the Child Welfare Committee of America. In 1925, Loeb addressed the First International Congress on Child Welfare at Geneva, which later accepted her resolution in favor of keeping children with their families and out of institutions. In 1927, Loeb submitted a report on the care of blind children to the League of Nations.

Loeb's interests were by no means confined to child welfare. She spearheaded a probe into reports of corruption in the New York Public Service Commission in 1916, and worked for a broad spectrum of other reforms, including cheaper school lunches, lower gas rates in Brooklyn, cheaper and safer taxi cabs, health and safety regulations for movie theaters, and maternity care for indigent mothers. In 1917, Loeb settled a New York City taxi strike in a record seven hours.

Sophie Loeb refused compensation for her public service and earned only around $10,000 a year from her job at the newspaper and various outside writing and speaking engagements. In 1925, while on assignment covering the settlements in Palestine, she became a Zionist; she later donated the royalties of a resultant book, Palestine Awake: The Rebirth of a Nation (1926), to the Palestine Fund. Loeb succumbed to cancer at the age of 52. She was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Westchester Hills, New York, her gravestone carrying her favorite motto: "Not charity, but a chance for every child." A marble children's fountain in Central Park, donated by philanthropist August Heckscher in her memory, was dedicated in 1936.


James, Edward T., Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts