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