SISTERHOODS OF PERSONAL SERVICE:
Associations of female charity-workers who devote time to the care of the needy and the distressed. A sermon delivered by Dr. Gustav Gottheil in 1887, in Temple Emanu-El, New York city, was the direct cause of the founding of a benevolent society on principles different from those that had previously prevailed. Its leading features were expressed in the name adopted—Sisterhood of Personal Service. The work contemplated was to be done by the members themselves. Every sister was to devote a certain portion of her time to a definite task, and attend to it personally, the chief object being to overcome the estrangement of one class of the Jewish population from another and to bring together the well-to-do and the poor, in the relation, not of patron and dependent, but of friend and friend.
The example set by the Emanu-El Sisterhood has been followed by congregation after congregation, until almost every organized place of worship in the upper portion of New York city has a part of its communal work in charge of such a sister-hood. These sisterhoods thus endeavor to combine settlement-work with organized relief in the home.Classes of Work.
The following departments of work are carried on by each sisterhood, the several departments being superintended by a guide and a vice-guide: distinctively charitable work (including outdoor relief) through its staff of volunteer friendly visitors; religious schools; industrial and cooking schools; day-nurseries, and kindergartens for children between three and six years of age whose mothers are obliged to work away from home during the day; employment bureaus for a class of applicants physically unfit for hard labor and without knowledge of a trade or business; and workrooms where various trades are taught to unskilled women. In addition to these, there have been founded social clubs and culture classes for young women employed during the day, and afternoon clubs and classes of all kinds, including school-children's classes for vocal and instrumental music. The women of the sisterhoods have become volunteer agents, and assist the probation officers appointed by the juvenile court in making complete investigations of delinquent children's characters and home surroundings; and, by keeping a close watch during the period of probation, they have been the means of saving many a child from commitment. The aim of all sisterhoods is to educate and elevate those beneficiaries with whom they come in contact, and to improve their physical condition to such an extent that charity will not be needed.
Settlement houses, or "homes," likewise are being established. The Emanu-El Sisterhood, whose home is situated at 318 East 82d street, was the pioneer in this development.Spread of the Principle.
Inevitably, the many sisterhoods came in touch one with another in their various fields of activity, with the result that a union was suggested, the outcome of which was the Federation of Sisterhoods, organized in 1896, and composed of delegates from all the existing sisterhoods, which cooperate, as agents, with the United Hebrew Charities. The monthly meetings of the Federation are the most active and influential of all agencies in the introduction of advanced ideas of philanthropy. At these meetings all cases of distress that have been investigated during the month are reported, and many useful facts are brought to light. With this interchange of information it is almost impossible for fraudulent persons to impose on any of the affiliated societies. A great step in advance was made when, through the Federation, the city of New York was divided into districts, one being assigned to each sisterhood.
By this limitation of area each sisterhood acquired a thorough knowledge of its neighborhood, and it rendered possible the individual treatment of each dependent family.Outside New York.
Two other cities in the United States have sister-hoods organized along the same lines as those of New York: San Francisco (Emanu-El Sisterhood for Personal Service; organized 1892) and St. Louis (Temple Israel Sisterhood).
The Emanu-El Sisterhood of New York city has closely adhered, from its inception, to the original plan of its founder, Dr. Gustav Gottheil, and has no membership dues, depending entirely upon voluntary contributions for its support. It has not, since its establishment, drawn upon the funds of the United Hebrew Charities for any of its expenditures. Since 1904 the Beth-El Sisterhood likewise has defrayed all its expenses. The average membership of the New York sisterhoods is about 6,000, and the total amount expended for relief during 1903-4 was $75,000.