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December 9: The Great Hebrew Fair at Madison Square Garden

lawrencebush
December 9, 2015

amr-3-souvenirFormer New York Mayor Abram Hewitt opened the Great Hebrew Fair in Madison Square Garden on this date in 1895 by proclaiming the event to be evidence of a “free land, where distinctions of birth, race and religion have no place in the economy of government.” Intended to raise $250,000 for the Educational Alliance and the Hebrew Technical Institute, the fair marked “a shift in the culture of benevolence,” writes Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “from charity (ameliorating misery) to philanthropy (preventing need) through education.... The opening ceremonies, for example, were noteworthy for being exceptionally short, less than a half hour, as if to say: ‘Enough with the formalities. Get on with the shopping!’ ... The fair also different in its design. Departing from the eclectic look of many earlier fairs, where women designed and decorated their own stands as they pleased, the design of this fair was modeled on the principle pioneered by department stores — the unified look... accomplished by the department store magnates in whose hands its administration was centralized.” More than a dozen architects were nevertheless involved in the design. Gross sales totaled only $165,109, however, a sign of the “waning power” of the charity fair “as a fundraising instrument” in Jewish life.

"Candy sales accounted for $20,075 and flowers for $8.40." —Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, The Moral Sublime: Jewish Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century America