An undercurrent of anti-Semitism pervaded Jewish life in Washington.

For many years, downtown department stores like Woodward & Lothrop did not hire Jews. Jewish physicians were barred from holding office in the Medical Society of Washington. Builders used restrictive covenants and real estate agents advertised new houses “near churches” to dissuade Jews from buying property in neighborhoods like Spring Valley and parts of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Jewish responses to these restrictions took many forms. Argo Lodge of B’nai B’rith formed a Vaudeville Vigilance committee in 1916 to watch for anti-Semitic content in theaters. Washington Jewish physicians formed the Jacobi Medical Society in 1926. Woodmont and Indian Spring Country Clubs provided social outlets and leisure activities for Jewish families. Neighborhoods such as Forest Hills were not restricted and became predominantly Jewish in the 1940s and 1950s.

Following World War II, restrictions gradually eased.

I applied at the telephone company [in 1921], and if I had put on the application that I was Jewish I could never have gotten the job. They didn’t employ Jews.

Ethel Wool Kagen, JHSGW Interview, 2000

I went to a school [Business High School in 1924] which had a lot of Jewish kids. At football games the kids from other schools would shout “Izzy, Ikey, Jakey, Sam, We’re the boys who eat no ham! Business! Business!“ It was no joke. We resented it.

Robert I. Silverman Oral History, 1981

When I graduated from Central High School in 1938, I wanted to go into journalism. I was told not to apply for a job at the Evening Star as they already had one Jewish reporter and were not likely to hire more. I went to Shirley Povich at The Washington Post, and he hired me at 25 cents an inch of published material.

Gershon Fishbein, Interview, 2005

I was first in my George Washington University Law School graduating class in 1950. I was accepted at a leading firm. “We don’t mind hiring Jews,“ they told me. “But would you mind changing your name?“

Sheldon S. Cohen, Interview, 2004

Sign – Gentiles Only; No Dogs; Beverly Beach, Mayo, MD

Washington Jews were confronted with this sign at popular vacation spots such as Beverley Beach on the South River near Annapolis. Turned away, they instead frequented other nearby beaches such as Bay Ridge and Tivoli.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Joan Schaffer. 2008.2

Photo of Albert Arent

After graduating from Cornell University Law School in 1935, Albert Arent declined a job offer from a New York law firm. “My name and my looks were ambiguous. I was to be their ‘show Jew,’” he later recalled. Instead, he took a job in the federal government and joined the new Civil Liberties Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1939.

Arent left the government in 1944, when his friend, Henry J. Fox, who was also Jewish, offered him a job in his new law firm. The D. C. law firm Arent Fox was born.

JHSGW Collections. Gift of Albert Arent.

Restrictive covenant

In its 1948 Shelley v. Kramer decision, the Supreme Court ruled restrictive covenants in real estate unenforceable. Discriminatory covenants included in deeds throughout the Washington area had barred the sale of property to Jews, blacks, and other minorities.

Sign – Gentiles Only; No Dogs; Beverly Beach, Mayo, MD
Photo of Albert Arent
Restrictive covenant