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January 7: Sampson Simson

January 7, 2016

1825-1832_Simson,_Sampson_2A philanthropist who founded New York’s “Jews’ Hospital,” later Mount Sinai, Sampson Simson died at age 75 on this date in 1857. He was the son of a merchant family involved with shipping and the fur trade in colonial days. Simson studied under Aaron Burr, attended Columbia University in New York, and graduated (possibly Columbia’s first Jewish graduate) with a law degree in 1800. Wrote a contemporary, Myer S. Isaacs: “I can recall Mr. Simson’s appearance quite vividly. He affected the old fashioned costume, sometimes wearing knee breeches and buckles. He was above the average height, very stiff and upright in his bearing. His hair was white and worn in long wavy locks. His spectacles were of great size. His habitual walk was in short, quick steps and he carried a silver headed cane, upon which he would lean when seated. His voice was not musical and he rarely laughed. He was exacting and even tyrannical -- would not endure criticism or contradiction. . . . He wrote a good hand; his signature was of the John Hancock style.” Sampson spent the later years of his life in seclusion a large estate in Yonkers, New York, but he was involved as a philanthropist with prison reform, agricultural technology, the welfare of synagogues and Jewish charitable organizations, and the Jewish community in Jerusalem. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of various Christian churches, although he was quite a strict Orthodox Jew who even had his matses baked in his own house during the Passover festival.

“On January 15, 1852, nine men came together to establish the Jews’ Hospital in New York, to offer free medical care to the indigent ‘Hebrews’ in the City who were not able to provide for themselves during their illness. This was the beginning of The Mount Sinai Hospital. Sampson Simson was unquestionably the Father of Mount Sinai: He was the first President of the Board of Directors. He gave the land on which the first hospital was built, and he personally met many of the financial burdens of the young institution.” —Barbara J. Niss