Curator’s Catch

April 2017: Letter to President Woodrow Wilson

Letter to President Woodrow Wilson
  • Accession No.: 1994.11.02
  • Donor: Amy Nordlinger Behrend Goldstein
  • Description:

    Machine-typed copy of original letter, April 27, 1917

One hundred years ago, on April 27, 1917, Rudolph Behrend, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., sent this letter to the White House offering farmland owned by his mother for the use by the U.S. Army. Only three weeks earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had declared war on Germany and the whole country was preparing to send troops to Europe.

Jewish Washingtonians joined forces and supported the war effort in many ways. Rudolph Behrend himself offered his volunteer services to the United States "in any capacity". His mother Sarah, at the time 64-years-old, did so in giving her son permission to offer her parcel of land, marked P186/1 on the map, to the government with "... no condition annexed to this donation, excepting that the tract of land be used in the interest of the United Government during the War period."

Response letter from the White House, April 28, 1917. JHSGW collections.

Just a day later, Behrend received a response from the White House. Our research is still ongoing whether the government in fact used the parcel for farming, accommodation, or the like. Yet the offer itself and the prompt presidential thank-you is a wonderful way to commemorate Jewish Washingtonians' engagement during World War I. 

These letters are part of a bigger collection of one of the founding families of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C. The Behrend family arrived in the mid-19th century from Germany and settled as merchants on 7th Street. Some of their members were influential in the founding of the Adas Israel Congregation and our historic synagogue building. 

You can learn more about the Behrend family in Washington Jewish history in JHSGW's online exhibits Jewish Washington: A Scrapbook of an American Community (search "Behrend" in the upper right corner) and Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City. 

Sarah Behrend's land is the large pink area in the center of the map. Parcel 186/1 is in the middle of it (today west of East Capitol and 55th Streets, SE), in the blue circle. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.