Fanny Goldstein

Fanny Goldstein (circa 1895-1961)

Fanny Goldstein

Fanny Goldstein was the first Jewish woman to run a branch of the Boston Public Library. She made it her goal to collect, organize, and disseminate the wealth of Jewish literature while at the same time recognizing the value of literature belonging to the ethnicities of the communities in which she worked and lived.

Born in Russia, her family immigrated to Boston’s North End in 1900. Her parents, Philip and Bella Goldstein, had five children, Fanny being the second oldest. She took classes at Simmons College, Boston University, and Harvard University.

Edith Guerrier, the head librarian at the North End branch of the Boston Public Library, hired Fanny as assistant librarian in this neighborhood of Italian and Jewish immigrants. With the financial backing of Helen Osborne Storrow, Edith Guerrier and her friend Edith Brown created a pottery project which grew into the Saturday Evening Girls. Helen Storrow purchased a house on Hull Street just a block away to house the project, which was in sight of the Old North Church; the project, named Paul Revere Pottery, was in the style of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The goal of the project was for fun, friendship, and learning a skill. Fanny’s role was to help the girls with a newsletter to recount their intercultural experiences. The Saturday Evening Girls became well-known for their work, and pieces were sold to the public. Some of this pottery is displayed today in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and some pieces are collectors’ items.

Fanny was appointed head librarian of the West End branch in 1922 for $31 per week and worked there until 1957. The library was located in the Old West Church on Cambridge Street, which is still standing. Here she set up displays of books relevant to the various ethnic and immigrant groups that came into the library. She commemorated Negro History Week in the 1950s when she held a reception for African American artists.She started Jewish Book Week in 1925 which today is marked by a month long celebration of Jewish literature. She also highlighted Catholic Book Week, Jewish Music Month, and Brotherhood Week and held interfaith celebrations.

Fanny compiled an outstanding collection of Judaica, second only to Harvard University’s collection. At the end of World War II, she compiled lists of books to send to European refugee and displaced persons camps and organized the temple library at Temple Israel in Boston.

Along with two of her colleagues, Fanny traveled to Europe and Israel in 1955. In this post-World War II period, she later reported, “In Athens, we met the indomitable Chief Rabbi Barzilay of Greece who had outwitted the Nazis by destroying all Jewish registers and records of Athens; and then fleeing to the mountains where he channeled an underground movement to rescue the Jews. After the war, he returned to his post and is reassembling the remnant of the Jews of Greece in a reconsecrated synagogue.”

Other accomplishments included her presentation at an American Library Association conference on the Jew in American Literature, and she published a bibliography of Judaica held by the BPL.

After her retirement, she became the literary editor of The Jewish Advocate. A new building housing the West End branch of the library was built in 1962 shortly after she retired and continues to serve new generations of immigrants and other Boston citizens.

– Linda Stern

Learn more

  • American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Art and Reform: Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls and the Paul Revere Pottery by Nonie Gadsen, Boston: MFA Publications, 2006.
  • Boston Public Library, Research Library, papers Boston Public Library, West End Branch organizational papers
  • Jewish Women’s Archive
  • Jews of Boston by Ellen Smith & Jonathan D. Sarna.
  • Judaica: A Selected Reading List of Books in the Public Library of the City of Boston. BPL, 1934.
  • Temple Israel archives, Boston.