Growth and Prosperity

During the Civil War years, business boomed, and Jewish communal life took root in the nation’s capital.

During the Civil War, the Jewish population grew from 200 to nearly 2,000. Most newcomers were Jewish merchants arriving to serve the wartime boom. The demand for food, lodging, and household goods sent prices skyrocketing—enriching tailors, boarding house operators, and business proprietors. Of the more than 450 restaurants and bars that opened during the Civil War, six were kosher restaurants.

Social life thrived as well. Harmonie Circle and Select Assembly hosted masked balls for the Jewish holiday of Purim and other soirees to provide fellowship for Jewish merchants. The Washington Literary and Dramatic Association met on Sunday afternoons. The first Washington lodge of B’nai B’rith was started in 1864, and 25 Jews joined local Masonic lodges between 1853 and 1865.

…there are at least half a dozen kosher restaurants… At one in particular…there were forty guests seated at the same time, and, on their departure, an equal number ready to take their places.

The Jewish Messenger, January 24, 1862

Baltimore house

1860s: Brothers Gustav and Max Lansburgh opened Baltimore House, a small fancy goods store on C Street and the predecessor to the landmark Lansburgh’s Department Store on 7th Street, NW.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Columbia masthead

1860s: Max Cohenheim’s weekly German-language newspaper, Columbia, appealed to Jew and non-Jew alike. Cohenheim fled the German state of Baden in 1848 after being indicted for high treason for his revolutionary activities. He moved from New York to Washington in 1861 to work for the Treasury Department. He edited the paper in his off-hours, building the circulation from 200 in 1863 to 1,600 by 1865.

Courtesy of Library of Congress.

ketubah

1862: The marriage between Henry Baum and Bettie Dreifus, as agreed to in this ketubah (marriage contract), took place in Washington, D.C. Civil War travel restrictions prevented the groom from traveling to his bride’s home in Alexandria, Virginia.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Martin Baum & Evelyn Conn.

social outing

1890: Young Jewish men and women enjoy a summer gathering. Isaac Nordlinger, son of Civil War veteran Bernard Nordlinger, is wearing a bow tie in the front row. Minnie Lansburgh, daughter of department store owner Gustav Lansburgh, stands in the second row on the far left.

Courtesy of Robin Nordlinger Leiman.

variety of ads

1864: Ads for a variety of Jewish businesses from the city directory.

Courtesy of Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library.

Baltimore house
Columbia masthead
ketubah
social outing
variety of ads