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Close up: Anna B. Heldman

Posted by JCC Pittsburgh on March 8, 2023

On this International Women’s Day, the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh recognizes Anna B. Heldman, a pioneer in human service and important part of our history.

The JCC comes from a rich history as a settlement house that began in the Hill District in 1895.

Miss Heldman joined the staff of the Columbian School and Settlement on October 1, 1902. The story of her 38 years of service to the community parallels the development of humanitarian works in Pittsburgh.

At the start, Miss Heldman’s clientele comprised primarily newly-arrived immigrants, whose poor living conditions and for some, ignorance of the most up-to-date hygienic standards stood to create health problems of all kinds. As the “Visiting Nurse” for the Columbian School and Settlement, Miss Heldman took her expertise into the homes of patients, where she could most effectively bring about change.

She educated individuals in preventative and curative nursing. She showed new mothers how to care for their babies. She advised parents on proper nutrition for the children. And she offered an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.

She began with six patients in 1902 and by 1904, needed an assistant to provide service to all the families who needed it.

In 1907, much through her influence, the Malbish Arumim Society was organized to do charitable works of all kinds in support of the neighborhood. Within two decades, its membership would exceed 1,000, and its exemplary human service deeds would proudly complement those of Miss Heldman.

In the ensuing years she continued to expand the health-related services offered by the IKS to include Baby Clinics, Milk Stations and Pre-Natal Clinics.

And when the agency was without a resident director for 14 months during 1913-14, she steered the cabinet through safely.

By 1920, Anna Heldman was head of our Personal Service Department, devoting her time to advising and helping her neighbors. “Personal service work is being the good neighbor,” she is known to have said. “It seeks to advise and direct all who seek advice and direction. It is being in the ‘house by the side of the road’ where your neighbor may unburden himself to you and seek your counsel.” The department had a staff of four people accomplishing tasks as varied as sending food drafts to Europe for relatives of Hill residents and rounding up boot-leggers. Every phase of human relationship was treated under Miss Held man’s direction.

In tribute to the invaluable work she did, the City of Pittsburgh would, in 1939, change the name of Overhill Street to Heldman Street. Another honor would be accorded in 1957; with the impending opening of the new Irene Kaufmann Center in Squirrel Hill, the Settlement house on Centre Avenue would become the Anna B. Heldman Center.

But perhaps Anna would view as the greatest tribute the attendance of thousands of persons from all walks of life, representing all creeds, colors, races and nationalities, at a reception given in her honor by the IKS Board of Trustees in 1927.

To the people of the Hill District, Anna B. Heldman was mother, neighbor and friend, defining the lrene Kaufmann Settlement policy of ‘a house next door to all the world.’

While our name has changed, those core goals and values still exist at today’s Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, which fosters the growth and advancement of its members and community as it did more than 125 years ago. The JCC welcomes individuals of all backgrounds, offering enrichment, arts and culture, preschool, summer camps, sports and athletics, programming for older adults, and many other programs for all ages and interests.

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