Thursday, March 27, 2014

The First Jewish Community

by Tom Castaldi

Jews had been in the area of Fort Wayne since the days of the French and Indian War in the 1760s.  In 1764, Captain Thomas Morris, a British officer, recalled how he had been saved from being burned at the stake through the friendship of “Mr. Levi, a Jew trader.” Many years later, pack merchants and peddlers who were Jewish were also in the Fort Wayne area.

The first Jewish residents in Fort Wayne were also merchants, all of whom were German immigrants, and it was this small community that organized the first Jewish congregation, “The Society for Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead.”  Perhaps most notable, this was the first Jewish congregation to be organized in the state of Indiana.

The merchant who became the acknowledged leader of this early community was Frederick Nirdlinger.  His home, which once stood on the southeast corner of Main and Harrison streets, became a meeting place for most of the earliest Jewish religious and social gatherings.  Nirdlinger was active in community affairs, serving as city councilman, a founder of the militia organization known as the Kekionga Guards (a militia organization) and as “Overseer of the Poor” (the predecessor of the present-day township trustee).  His business, the “New York Store” on Main Street, was then the largest clothing store in town.  His grandson was the internationally renowned drama critic and author, George Jean Nathan who was born in 1882 and died in 1958.

Reverend Joseph Salomon was the congregation’s first spiritual leader to be secured and served as cantor and as teacher in the parochial school. In 1859, the “Fort Wayne Hebrew Society,” as the congregation informally called itself, purchased and remodeled the former Bethel German Methodist Episcopal Church at Wayne and Harrison streets. It was here that they dedicated the new facility as the Synagogue Achduth Vesholom (Unity and Peace).

Throughout its early years the congregation was orthodox and German, and its liturgical practice remained conservative.  But under the leadership of Rabbi Edward Rubin, who served the congregation from 1862 until his death in 1881, many in the congregation were attracted to the reform movement. It was led in America by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who delivered a series of lectures in Fort Wayne. The congregation briefly split on the issue, but by 1872 the two were united in following the Reform teachings of Rabbi Rubin and in May 1874 it became a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the principal national Reform organization.

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” Aug 2009 No. 57.

 Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In Celebration of Women's History Month...

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen and some of her friends

This month we’ve been highlighting some of the women who made history in Allen County. Unfortunately, we can’t feature all of them, in large part because too many of them never had their lives and deeds documented for posterity. After all, they were JUST women.

As someone who has lived as being “just a woman” for far too many years—not that I’m old, I’m just tired of that archaic attitude—I thought it would be interesting to see what other women think about women’s history. So I turned to a group of women I have met, worked with and befriended since moving to Fort Wayne. Their observations on why we should celebrate Women’s History….or as Harriett Miller refers to it….Herstory…are wonderful. Enjoy!

Why a Month Dedicated to Women?

The Transcendentalist would ask, "Why not?"

The Academic could say, "Because women's contributions go unnoticed and unreported in modern society."

The Humanist may reply, "Women are the strength and the glue of the family."

The Politician might say, "Women voters bring a unique perspective and are a presence to be acknowledged."

Each of these are real reasons to dedicate a month to women.  However, I say women are more than mothers, sisters, care-givers, nurturers, scientists, moral compasses or voters.  We are the roots of the trees, the flowing water of the streams, the warm sun shining on the spring seedling.  We are the earth.  We prepare, we teach, we love, we share, we understand the pain of separation.  Our ideas are offered gently.  Our hands are firm but smooth.  Our hearts are strong but tender.  Our bodies are small but never weak.

We are an enigma. 

Why have a month dedicated to women? 

Because we are worthy.

Laura  Nagy, Miami Woman

More than a decade ago, when I was an adjunct professor in history at IPFW, I would see students in my American history survey course put their pencils down and stop taking notes when I discussed women (it wouldn’t be on the exam, right?).  One student made this comment on the end-of-semester course evaluation:  “She’s a pretty good history prof, but she spends too much time talking about blacks and women.  She should stick to real history.” 

And that, right there, is why we need Women’s History Month. 

Women’s history is “real” history; women are and always have been historical actors—makers of history.  Women’s History Month celebrates and reminds us of that reality.  I like to think that public recognition of women’s history as “real” history has increased since I left the classroom for the library, but I know that dead white guys still dominate our understanding of our past.  One month each year may not be enough to right the balance, but it’s a start….water on a stone.

Jane E. Gastineau, Lincoln Librarian with the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection at Allen County Public Library

It is important to mark Women's History Month because historically women have not been part of the traditional power structure, which is often what is studied and taught in schools and universities. Women have not led troops into war. Women have not been at the helm of major corporations. Women have not held top elected positions in government. While we work toward changing this for future generations, the fact remains that women's power and influence have been much less public than their male counterparts. By devoting a month to women's history, men and women can recognize the role women have played in history, directly and indirectly. These 31 days focus attention on how women have shaped the world in which we live today.

Rachel Blakeman, compliance officer for the City of Fort Wayne

First and foremost, I am a mother of three awesome children who keep me laughing and centered on what is important in my life each and every day. My belief in God and his plan for my life also help keep me focused on the important. My day gig is as Executive Vice-President of Finance & Administration for Indiana Tech, where we “prepare students for lives of significance and worth”. Women’s History Month is important to me because women do make a difference. Over the years, women have had to prove themselves and fight for equality in order that those of us who follow, do not have to fight as hard. The efforts of women before me are paying off. That effort and those achieved milestones need to be exposed and celebrated. Because we have made so much progress, I don’t think about this on a daily basis, but every once in a while, I hear a story of the past or come to learn an older woman’s story and I am amazed at the things that have been endured and overcome. We need to celebrate those stories and those women!  Women’s History month gives us a vehicle to do so.

Judy K. Roy
EVP-Finance & Administration at Indiana Tech

Each day we women live, we make history. It is just that we are so busy, we don’t realize it. It is nice for one month to be forced to remember from where we came, how we got here, where we are going and how far we still have to go. I was reared by a strong cadre of multi-generational women who kept a 40 acre farm going, supported my father’s career aspirations, became politically active, pursued advanced degrees, ran the PTA, ironed shirts, canned fruit and worried about the war. We celebrated women all year long! They made it possible for me to go to college, become a teacher, a wife and a mother who has freedoms, choices, dreams and expectations far beyond those of my mother, grandmother and great aunties.  I consider myself blessed to have come from such a strong foundation and am constantly reminded of those days of struggle as I dust the antiques that are now in my care. My main hope is that my granddaughters June and Hadley will reach high above the shoulders of their amazing mothers to seek new answers to poverty, violence, racism, peace, and justice. They will certainly need the help and history of all of us women who came before them.

Becky Hill
FWCS School Board Trustee, District 3
Crime Victim Care Board member
Retired executive director of the YWCA

Recently the question was posed to me on why we should have a women's history month. For the sake of discussion, I offer the option of doing away with WHM completely.

Would that mean never, ever celebrating the Suffragettes, Clara Barton, Madame Curie or Tacumwah? Their efforts and accomplishments have to be taken off the shelves and dusted every year the way it is.

What about the thousands of women we call mother, who quietly build the foundations of generations to come. They get one day. Really? Let's just take the day away from them too. In fact, let's do a whole year without recognizing the effect women have on equality, medicine and compassionate care (to only scratch the surface).

What about a whole year without any women anywhere? Do we have to go to that extent to be recognized and valued?

I am proud to say my ancestors thrived within a matriarchal society, where women were valued everyday for their input to the community. Why devote one month a year to that which should be recognized daily?

The good old boys of our patriarchal society have 'come a long way baby' only because women have led the way! We'll take the month to re-tell our tales, knowing we're worth so much more.

Julia Rhoades is a mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, and registered nurse of Myaamia Native American descent who knows if we forget where we come from, we do not know where we are going.

Happy Women’s History Month!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

St. Joseph Medical Center & the Poor Handmaidens of Jesus Christ

by Tom Castaldi

The first hospital to be established in Fort Wayne was St. Joseph Hospital.  Organized in 1868 by sisters of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, it was under the leadership of Mother Katherine Kasper, the Superior of the order.  Mary Catherine Kasper was a remarkable woman, born in 1820 in Dernbach, Germany, who overcame her lack of formal education and dedicated herself to prayer. She founded a society with four other women and took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and then founded the Congregation of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ on August 15, 1851. The community grew teaching, caring for the poor, boarding factory girls, and encouraging Christian values eventually expanding to nine countries.

After Bishop Luers convinced Mother Kasper to send eight sisters to Fort Wayne, their first home was the old Rockhill Hotel which the order had purchased earlier that year and which still marks the center of the modern hospital.  Located on the outskirts of town at Broadway and West Main Streets, the sisters refurbished the old canal hotel converting it into a mother house to operate as St. Joseph Hospital. 

Acquiring the old hotel did not come easily. Bishop John Luers, the first bishop of Fort Wayne, tried unsuccessfully to get the Allen County Commissioners and city council of Fort Wayne to share the burden of purchasing and repairing the building. Undiscouraged, Bishop Luers organized group of citizens in the formation of the St. Joseph Benevolent Association, and with his personal funds and those raised by the Association, bought the hotel and made it ready for the sisters who arrived in May, 1869. They were still scrubbing the facility when the first patient entered. Dr. Isaac Rosenthal, a German immigrant who had arrived in 1847, performed the first operation in the hospital in 1869 and became the first chief of staff for medical services.

Nurses and beds were at a premium. In the first year, Sister Mary Henrica, having prepared the meals one day, went on second shift keeping watch all that night at the home of a sick person. When she returned the next day for some much needed rest, she found her bed had been given to a patient the night before.

The sisters began a regular program of caring for the poor so that those with severe medical problems would not simply be placed in the “poor farm.”  The hospital grew steadily over the next several decades, and with additions in 1879, 1912, and 1929, included an isolation ward. By 1918, a nursing school had been established; in 1946, the hospital opened a technicians’ school.  In the last half of the twentieth century, the hospital changed its name to the Saint Joseph Medical Center.  A new facility replaced all the older structures; a major area of specialty for the Medical Center is its Regional Burn Center.  Once again the name Saint Joseph Hospital identifies the facility and is part of the Lutheran Health Network. 

Originally published in Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi”
 June 2009 No 55

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history