After 125 years, LHAS still serving community and looking ahead
LHASHere's to the past and future

After 125 years, LHAS still serving community and looking ahead

Ladies Hospital Aid Society continues history by building, pivoting and bolstering Pittsburgh

Volunteers from the Ladies’ Hospital Aid Society “A Masked Ball” fundraiser at the home of Reggie Stern, 1980. (Photo courtesy of Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center)
Volunteers from the Ladies’ Hospital Aid Society “A Masked Ball” fundraiser at the home of Reggie Stern, 1980. (Photo courtesy of Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center)

Before most people had plumbing or electricity at home, the Ladies Hospital Aid Society was busy bettering the Pittsburgh Jewish community. Through committed and innovative means, the former Hebrew Ladies’ Hospital Aid Society advocated for Jewish patients at local hospitals.

As times and demands changed, the group evolved. Now, 125 years after its founding, LHAS honors its past by continuing its mission and establishing new legacies.

The group originated in 1898, driven by 17 women concerned with the needs of the poor and “troubles facing the immigrant population,” according to LHAS records. At the time, many local residents experienced poverty and homelessness. Without access to proper medical treatment, they suffered. LHAS arranged for their admittance to nearby hospitals, with costs covered by members, who each contributed 10 cents weekly toward patient care.

Among LHAS’ dedicated corps was Annie Jacobs Davis. Born in Russia in 1865, Jacobs immigrated to the United States in 1873 with her mother and two siblings.

Along with marrying and raising 11 children, Jacobs performed “informal midwifery, nursing and social work throughout the Hill District,” according to the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center.

Davis’ seismic communal presence included volunteering for the Gusky Orphanage, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Pittsburgh Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations, Hadassah and the House of Shelter, as well as being an instrumental force in LHAS’ founding. She ensured the latter raised about $25,000 to build what became Montefiore Hospital.

The hospital’s opening in 1908 was prompted by communal realities. Jewish patients required a space that provided adequate care, and Jewish doctors needed somewhere to train and practice, according to the Rauh. Davis, and members of Pittsburgh’s Orthodox Jewish community, initially began the fundraising efforts. Non-Orthodox community members soon joined.

“Ladies Hospital Aid is best known for bringing Montefiore Hospital into existence. Few people fully appreciate how vast and complex its operation grew to become,” said Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh. “Thousands of volunteers were raising millions of dollars and giving countless hours to the hospital and the broader community.”

After Montefiore opened, LHAS members continued their efforts. And, as Montefiore’s services grew, so did LHAS. At one point, the group had 3,000 members, said Carole Kamin, LHAS president.

For many of those members, LHAS was a critical entity that not only facilitated a way to improve the community but connecting with like-minded women, Karen Wolk Feinstein, the president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, said.

“Among women of my mother and mother-in-law’s generation, Ladies Hospital Aid Society was a magnet for educated Jewish women who wanted to contribute, socialize and find distinction,” Feinstein said. “That they were helping Montefiore Hospital was some but not all of the reasons for belonging.”

Montefiore was eventually sold to UPMC in 1990, with the proceeds helping to create JHF.

Though Montefiore changed in status, LHAS continued advocating on behalf of Jewish patients and causes, as well as bringing people together, Kamin said.

LHAS recently distributed grants totaling $85,000 to entities including the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh.

“When we gave out these grants we had it in a room at Montefiore, and the biggest takeaway wasn’t only giving the money but that the individuals from the organizations could talk to people from other organizations and work together,” Kamin said.

The gifts follow a rich history of bolstering community.

“LHAS has remained responsive to the changing health care needs of the entire Western Pennsylvania community for more than a century,” according to JFCS Pittsburgh.

The social service organization touted LHAS’ support of JFCS domestic violence programs and its Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry.

“We’re different than we were in the past, but we’re continuing doing things that are good for the Jewish community,” Kamin said.

Since its founding, LHAS has raised more than $15 million and generated millions of volunteer work hours, according to the organization.

Much of the money raised these days stems from LHAS-operated gift shops at UPMC Montefiore and Presbyterian hospitals, Kamin said.

The “monumental work” that went into building Montefiore continues, as LHAS is helping fund the new Presby tower. Spanning 900,000 square feet and 17 stories, the tower will have 636 private rooms. Of note, Kamin said, is that the tower will have a kosher kitchen and a spiritual center.

Details are still being determined, but the commitment to ensuring patients, families and staff have access to kosher food reflects LHAS’ commitment to the community, Kami said.

LHAS plans to celebrate 125 years this summer. Looking back on its history offers a chance to see the organization’s growth and unwavering attentiveness, Kamin explained.

“We’re being respectful of our past and continuing our mission,” she said. “We are building the new Presby hospital while continuing to respect our past. And we’re still here after 125 years.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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