Solomon, Hannah Greenebaum (1858–1942)

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Solomon, Hannah Greenebaum (1858–1942)

American welfare worker and community activist. Born on January 14, 1858, in Chicago, Illinois; died on December 7, 1942, in Chicago; fourth of ten children of Michael Greenebaum and Sarah (Spiegel) Greenebaum; attended public schools; studied piano with Carl Wolfsohn; married Henry Solomon, on May 14, 1879 (died 1913); children: Herbert, Helen, and Frank.

Was one of the first Jewish members of the Chicago Woman's Club (1877); participated in the founding of the National Council of Jewish Women and became its first president (1890–1905); co-founded the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs (1896); was a founding member of Women's City Club (1910). Author of A Sheaf of Leaves (1911) and Fabric of My Life (1946).

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1858, Hannah Greenebaum Solomon was the fourth of ten children born to Michael and Sarah Greenebaum , who had immigrated to the United States from the German Palatinate a decade earlier. A successful hardware merchant, her father was also an influential person within the local Jewish community. Her parents belonged to Chicago's first Reform Judaic congregation and Hannah attended Temple school for her early education. After completing her secondary studies at West Division (Chicago's only public high school) in 1873, she studied piano with Carl Wolfsohn, and took an interest in the local arts scene.

Solomon maintained an active involvement in Jewish social and cultural organizations, which introduced her to many of Chicago's influential women. In 1877, she and her sister Henriette Frank became the first Jewish members of the Chicago Woman's Club (CWC). Although she reduced her community activity following her 1879 marriage to merchant Henry Solomon and the births of her three children, Hannah returned to public life in 1890 to help prepare for the World's Columbian Exposition to be held in Chicago in 1893.

Solomon was recruited to organize a national Jewish Women's Congress (JWC) to participate in the Parliament of Religions for the Exposition. Uniting Jewish women from across the United States for the first time, she urged them to continue their organization beyond the end of the fair, thus creating the permanent National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). Solomon was elected the organization's first president and, under her leadership, more than 50 local chapters were established within 6 years. Together with Susan B. Anthony and May Wright Sewall , she also represented the National Council of Women at the convention of the International Council of Women in Berlin in 1904. Upon her retirement as president in 1905, the group named her honorary president for life.

Active in the formation of the Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs (IFWC) in 1896, Solomon also participated in numerous local community service projects, including provision of aid and assistance to Russian Jews and other immigrants to Chicago throughout the 1890s. Solomon conducted a survey of the needs and facilities available to Chicago immigrants in 1896, and used funds raised by the Chicago chapter of the NCJW to establish the Bureau of Personal Service, which provided legal and other support to recent arrivals. Because of the close proximity of the Jewish community to Hull House, Solomon also had the opportunity to work with Jane Addams on behalf of the community's children. As well, she was instrumental in creating the first Cook County Juvenile Court in 1899.

After retiring from the NCJW presidency in 1905, Solomon began her affiliation with the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, which was renamed the Park Ridge School for Girls in 1907. She was instrumental in relocating the school to improved facilities. Solomon continued her activities in other areas of community service, founding the Women's City Club (WCC) in 1910 to promote social welfare and improved public health. She was named chair of the new club's committee investigating Chicago's waste disposal system.

In 1911, Solomon published A Sheaf of Leaves, a collection of her speeches. She remained active in community service until the early 1920s, then she retired to travel and further explore her interest in music and the arts. She died on December 7, 1942, in Chicago. Her autobiography, Fabric of My Life, was published posthumously in 1946.


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

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan