“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was on to something when he wrote the lyrics: “You have no control … who tells your story.” But in the case of Pittsburgh native and American activist Pauline Hanauer Rosenberg, one could say she lucked out.
Rosenberg, who was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1863 to German-Jewish immigrants, left quite a legacy, including helping to establish the National Council of Jewish Women and what would become the Irene Kaufmann Settlement. Although her name currently is not a household word, historian turned househusband Matthew Falcone is determined to change that by obtaining a Pennsylvania Historical Marker for the home Rosenberg shared with her husband on Pittsburgh’s North Side from 1888-1898. He has also applied to register the home on the National Register of Historic Places.
Falcone has lived for about 10 years in that Deutschtown house located on Lockhart Street along with his husband Adam Falcone and his two young children, but he had no idea of the home’s provenance — or who Rosenberg was, for that matter — until his friend, the late Carol Peterson, realized that Rabbi Lippman Mayer, who led Rodef Shalom Congregation from 1870 until 1901, once lived next door. When Peterson began researching other homes on the street, she discovered that Falcone’s house once belonged to Rosenberg.
Falcone’s interest was piqued after hearing about some of her accomplishments, and he decided to dig deeper.
“The more I dug into her and what she did, it became very obvious that she was not only important for Pittsburgh but that she was a national figure,” said Falcone, who has made it his mission to transmit her narrative.
“The only thing I’m doing is pointing at her, and saying, ‘Look, she is so important, we should give her some acknowledgement and respect,” said Falcone, a former professor of history and art history at the University of Pittsburgh and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and the current of president of the nonprofit Preservation Pittsburgh.
Rosenberg was the daughter of Henrietta (née Lehrberger) and Mayer Hanauer, prominent members of Rodef Shalom and the Concordia Club. Mayer was a leader of B’nai B’rith and Henrietta was a member of the Hebrew Aid Society.
Rosenberg graduated from Pittsburgh’s Public Central High School. After she and her husband Hugo were married, she left Pittsburgh to attend Barnard College. Although it was unusual for a woman to do so at the time, she also took graduate courses at Columbia University, then the University of Pittsburgh.
Much of Rosenberg’s work when she returned to Pittsburgh focused on helping immigrants, but she also prioritized advocating for equal rights for women.
“There was this undercurrent of using her privilege or status to advocate for social change, particularly for women,” noted Falcone.
Through historical research, including combing the archives of the Jewish Criterion, one of the Chronicle’s predecessor newspapers, Falcone learned that his house on Lockhart Street was once a hub of progressive discourse, thanks to Rosenberg.
The house was used as a “salon,” to which Rosenberg “would invite people from women’s groups that she was part of,” Falcone said. “She would bring in speakers and she would have important progressive people come and stay with her in the house and they would partake in Pittsburgh society. A lot of them were Jewish. One of them was one of Pennsylvania’s first elected women. She was on the Philadelphia school board and she came to stay with Pauline. Another gentleman, who was involved with the Chautauqua Jewish Society stayed here, too.”
In 1894, Rosenberg, along with several other women, founded NCJW after attending the World’s Fair in Chicago. She served as NCJW’s first vice president and its second president, and founded not only the Pittsburgh section of the organization, but sections in several other locations, including Philadelphia, Youngstown and Washington, D.C.
“I think it is really fantastic that Matthew is taking the time to recognize one of the founding members of our organization,” said Cristina Ruggiero, current executive director of NCJW Pittsburgh.
Having just celebrated 125 years since the section’s founding, “it’s nice other people in our community are excited about preserving this history. It takes a lot of effort to do, and it is a wonderful recognition of Pauline.”
In fact, Ruggerio, along with NCJW Pittsburgh’s president, Teddi Horvitz, sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in Harrisburg in support of Falcone’s application for a historic marker, noting that Rosenberg’s work included establishing the first Penny Lunch program in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Committee for the Jewish and Non-Jewish Blind, which eventually became the Pittsburgh Association for the Blind.
Members of the Philadelphia section of NCJW signed a petition in support of the historic designation, and Sheila Katz, CEO of the national organization sent a letter of support as well, calling Rosenberg’s work “groundbreaking.”
“At a time when women were supposed to not assume any public face, let alone become social activists, Pauline Rosenberg had the courage and determination to challenge that perception,” wrote local historian Barbara Burstin in a letter of support. “She was one of the early female pioneers who sought to confront the ills of the society that she saw around her.”
Her “innovations in the field of public welfare,” continue to be felt today wrote Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives, in a letter of support.
Through her work with NCJW, “Rosenberg pioneered the concept of ‘preventive philanthropy’ in Pennsylvania,” Lidji wrote. “Whereas previous generations had used charity to address immediate, individual needs, the NCJW addressed structural problems within immigrant communities,” and was “the first Jewish charity to explicitly address needs beyond the Jewish community.”
The state commissioners will meet in February to determine whether the house will receive a historic marker, and Falcone expects to hear this month whether he will be permitted to proceed with getting it listed on the national registry. If he is successful, he could obtain a plaque for the house which will include a written narrative about Rosenberg that will be put into the Library of Congress.
The marker and plaque, Falcone hopes, will “spark a much larger conversation and recognition, especially this year. It’s the Year of the Woman, 100 years since women’s suffrage, and what better time to acknowledge people that contributed to that, especially Jewish women. Women are underrepresented, and Jewish women are even more underrepresented in their contributions.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at