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September 10: Garbage Can Flora

September 10, 2014

fspiegelbergFlora Langerman Spiegelberg, who successfully campaigned to improve New York City’s sanitation services for more than a decade in the early 20th century, was born there to German Jewish parents on this date in 1857. Langerman was educated in Germany and married Willi Spiegelberg, thirteen years her senior, at 17. After a year-long European honeymoon, took her to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was a successful merchant and she would become a community activist, helping to establish the frontier town’s first non-sectarian school and first children’s playground and garden. (Years later she would write a memoir, Reminiscences of a Jewish Bride of the Santa Fe Trail.) The Spiegelbergs and their two daughters moved to New York in 1889, where Flora became a founding member of the Committee for Jewish Women and the Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood. She began writing and lecturing about garbage collection and disposal and public health, and her campaign included a film made for her by Thomas Edison in 1914. “Garbage Can Flora,” as she was soon called, reached out to sanitation workers with suggestions of better wages and working conditions, and served on several New York City commissions concerned with public health. A pacifist, Spiegelberg also promoted her “Ten Commandments for World Peace” (1919), which called for a constitutional amendment to ensure that war could be declared only by popular vote. To read more details about her life, click here.

“After having enjoyed the best in accommodations, Flora now faced a grueling trip by railroad, stagecoach and army ambulance over rough country. The cuisine consisted of dried buffalo, bear meat, buffalo tongue, buffalo steaks, beans and chiles; Flora did not exactly enjoy the meals. And the bumpy, bruising, jarring ride itself was more than uncomfortable; it caused Flora to miscarry. The young bride was ‘terribly frightened’ when she saw Indians for the first time because ‘they were the first live Indians I had ever seen.’ ” —Sheri Goldstein Gleicher