To search our database catalog and museum collection see "Collections." 

Close this search box.

Alice Menken and our Journey to 378!

July 25, 2022
by Gemma Birnbaum

To Our Community:

All of us at AJHS hope you are enjoying a pleasant, relaxing, and enjoyable summer, with some time to enjoy travel, family, or just catching up with a good book.

Summer presents for us a special time to consider the breadth of American Jewish history, as June marks the anniversary of the founding of the American Jewish Historical Society; and certainly July, with our national celebration of independence, always offers the opportunity to contemplate what it means to be an American, and who is most often included in the stories of our nation’s history, and who is often overlooked.

On that note, this summer, as part of our ongoing 378 Campaign (you can donate here!), we are excited to share with you a special document from our archive, illuminating vital American and American Jewish history through the remarkable life and collection of Progressive-era social reformer Alice Davis Menken, whose maternal and paternal ancestry is traced to the founding days of the republic.

Alice (pictured left) was a direct descendent of the Seixas family on her mother’s side — Portuguese Jews who immigrated to North America circa 1734, prior to the Revolution — a very important family in early America. Descendants of this family held significant roles in the colonial Jewish communities of New York, Philadelphia, Newport and Richmond, and many were active in the establishment of civic economic institutions, such as the Bank of Rhode Island and the New York Stock Exchange, as well as many philanthropic organizations. Members of Alice’s family also served in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812.

Pictured above (click to enlarge) are two pages of one small piece of this collection, highlighting the meaningful contributions of her family to this country; Alice’s application for membership to The Society of Colonial Dames of America, of which, in addition to The Daughters of the American Revolution, she became a member.

There are countless under-represented histories such as this family’s around the founding, development, and growth of our country, which are hidden among the legends of the most familiar, and within these are many representing early Jewish immigration to the colonies, military service, financial support of the war that established our independence as a nation and the ongoing building of our nation, economy and social services. At AJHS, we reflect upon these seldom shared histories and are striving to ensure that all Americans, indeed people around the world, have opportunities to consider American Jewish history more broadly. The two pages pictured above are but one fascinating example of the many types of documents, representing the intricate threads of Jewish life throughout America’s development and history, which provide context to these opportunities, and through digitization, are available as resources for our own curricula development and programs, and widely to teachers, students, scholars, authors, social scientists — and you.

The 378 Campaign, with the promise of digitizing at least 37,800 pages this year, continues to be successful, thanks to you, and we look forward to providing you with an update on our page progress this fall. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy another glimpse into our archive and American Jewish history, as we thank you again for your enthusiastic support of this campaign and of the mission of the American Jewish Historical Society, overall. We are here for you, and because of you.

Donate to the AJHS 378 Campaign Today!

With sincere gratitude,
Gemma Birnbaum