This interview with Mrs. Kohn was conducted in February, 1984 by Mrs. Mildred Tarshish for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society’s Oral History Project.
Rosina Weiler Kohn came to Columbus in 1906 when her father brought the
family from Hartford City, Indiana, to provide more of a Jewish environment for
his family. Her father became a partner of Saul M. Levy in the Union Clothing
Company, a specialty store for women and children in downtown Columbus.
This interview with Mildred Tarshish contains anecdotes of some of the
dichotomies that existed between the early Jewish immigrants from Germany and
the later wave of refugees from eastern Europe. She touches on social mores,
inter-family marriages, religious aspects of the Reform movement, and
academic, fraternity/sorority life of some Jewish students at Ohio State
Interviewer: I’d like to ask your name.
Kohn: All right, It’s Rosina Weiler Kohn. My Kohn is spelled with a
K – K-O-H-N.
Interviewer: Would you tell me something about your family’s
background and when you first came to Columbus?
Kohn: I was born, as were my brother and sister, in Hartford City,
Indiana, where my father was a merchant. In 1906 he decided that we
children should have more Jewish companionship, so through a relative of
Mrs. Saul Levy’s, my father contacted Saul Levy and became a partner
in the Union Clothing Company, and that was how we happened to come to Columbus. That was 1906. I
remember that they met us at the Union Station, and instead of having a
taxi, we all went home on a street car to our first home.
Interviewer: Where was your first home?
Kohn: On Monroe Avenue – 65 North Monroe, and we lived there for
about two years until my folks bought a home at 91 Miami Avenue. And we
thought we were very elegant there, because we had the lavatory
downstairs, what they call a powder room today. That was much more of
an accommodation than we had had in any of our other homes.
Interviewer: I remember your home there, and it’s a lovely street.
Kohn: Yes, yes. It was very nice in those days. Of course, we started
right in to school. My sister, my brother and I went to Douglas School.
As a matter of fact, my brother wasn’t old enough to start school. He
was two and a half years younger than I was. He went to Douglas School,
then later to East High. We were always in public schools. Then later I
went to Ohio State University.
Interviewer: Would you describe your recollections of the
neighborhoods of the time? Was there a separation between where the
German Jewish Reform Jewish community lived and where the more orthodox
eastern European Jews lived?
Kohn: Yes, there was quite a sharp dividing line. The German Jews,
the earlier residents had settled out on Bryden Road, and Franklin
Avenue and Broad Street, about as far as Eighteenth Street. The other
group were down around Washington Avenue and lower Main Street, and our
contacts with the other group were very limited. We didn’t meet them
socially, and of course not in the Temple.
Interviewer: What was the Temple like in those days? We called it the
Bryden Road Temple, that’s the Reform Temple.
Kohn: Well I even remember vaguely the first Temple on Main and
Third. I don’t even remember what I was doing there, but I was up in
the balcony looking down to the pulpit. As I recall, there were no
people in the Temple. It must have been a rehearsal for something.
Interviewer: It might have been – you said you came in 1906 – it was
just about that time or the year before when the Bryden Road Temple was
dedicated. I don’t remember whether they were still using that
building then, but if you remember it, that’s very interesting.
Kohn: I remember being in it when it was still – perhaps they hadn’t
disposed of it yet. Then of course I remember going to Sunday School at
the Bryden Road Temple.
Interviewer: Do you remember who your teachers were there?
Kohn: Oh, I remember Grandma Rose very well. When she observed the
25th anniversary of her teaching, I was selected to present a gift to
her from the congregation. And the picture is here, in the Archives
(Grandma Rose was Mrs. Simon Lazarus. The picture is reproduced in
the Jewish Historical Society’s 1992 Family Portrait Album.
Other artifacts from the Old Bryden Road Temple can be found in a locked
room at Temple Israel which is now called “The Room.” MB)
Interviewer: Do you remember anything else about Grandma Rose,
because I remember she taught many, many children in the kindergarten.
Kohn: Well, I remember, unfortunately, that she had a fall, and broke
her hip and she always was quite lame after that. She had one of her
grandchildren at an amusement park, and she stepped off the moving
merry-go-round and fell, and that’s how she sustained this injury.
Interviewer: Do you remember anything about Mr. Schonthal, we used to
call him “Pops” Schonthal. He was very much of a factor in the
building of the Bryden Road Temple.
Kohn: Oh, we called him Dad Schonthal. I remember him very well. He
was a lovable man. And every good cause got his interest, whether it was
a fraternity or sorority or the children’s camp up at Magnetic
Springs. If someone was in the penitentiary he would take all the steps
he could to get them free. They would call him in the middle of the
night and he would go down.
Interviewer: Do you remember any community figures, especially among
the men at that time?
Kohn: In later years, as I grew up, of course Fred Lazarus was very
prominent, and Si Lazarus.
Interviewer: Si was your brother-in-law.
Kohn: Well, yes, eventually.
Interviewer: He was married to your sister.
Kohn: Of course I remember Ed Schanfarber very well. But that seems
to me like day before yesterday. It doesn’t seem to me like old
Interviewer: What about the women who were very active and
outstanding at that time?
Kohn: Stella Gumble, of course, who started the Council of Jewish
Women, here. My mother was vice president of the council. And Stella
Gumble, I think, had been president of the sisterhood. Her
sister-in-law, I think she was a sister-in-law, or half-sister, of Rose
Lazarus was president of the sisterhood for many, many years.
And my first civic work, after I was married, was in sisterhood. I
was recording secretary, and I remember very well as the president and I
sat next to each other on the podium, someone would be making a motion
in the audience, and the president would lean over to me and say,
“Do you like my hat? I just got it this morning!”
Interviewer: Volunteerism was different in those days, wasn’t it,
than it is today. There weren’t as many working women, were there?
Kohn: Oh no, it was much easier to get volunteers. Today, all the
young women have positions. They figure, as long as they’re going to
give their time, they might as well be remunerated, so I think it’s
very difficult today to get volunteers.
Interviewer: Most of the Jewish women at that time who had free time,
served as volunteers in some areas, did they not?
Kohn: Oh yes, yes. Now along during the Hitler regime, when so many
refugees came here and the 571 Shop was started, and the Infants’
Home, it was all manned, practically, by volunteers.
Interviewer: You started to Ohio State sometime in the 1920’s. Were
there any Jewish sororities at that time?
Kohn: No, not when I started. And we really didn’t have any desire
to have sororities, but at the time there was beginning a national
movement toward Jewish women organizing, and two of the national
sororities approached us on the Ohio State campus, asking us if we
wouldn’t organize a group, with the idea of them going national, and
at that time, I don’t think there were probably more than a hundred
Jewish women on campus. So we did organize and were approached by the
two nationals to join them, which we did. After the vote, we decided,
the sorority I was in, decided to go Sigma Delta Tau.
At that time, we became the third chapter. A E Phi had about six chapters at that time,
and one of the girls from our original group, decided she preferred
being an A E Phi, so she left the Ohio State Campus and went to
Syracuse, and joined A E Phi there, then came back here and organized
the local chapter. There was always great rivalry between the two
groups. I would hope that today there isn’t quite as bitter rivalry as
there was then.
Interviewer: Who were some of the other founders of Sigma Delta Tau?
Kohn: Well, Frances Siegel became our first president. She came from
Chillicothe, Ohio and she had two brothers who were…three brothers, actually, who
were ZBTs at Ohio State…there were two girls who’d grown up in
Columbus by the name of Hassel. Henrietta and Dorothy Hassel. Then
Hortense Krupman from Toledo, was one of the original members, and then
there were three others who became pledges of the group, only because
they hadn’t quite made their grades. They had to wait over for another
semester before they could be initiated. Oh, yes, the other one was
Miriam Huffman, who was a Columbus girl. So the majority of our girls
were Columbus girls who had known one another way before we had got to
Interviewer: You mentioned Fannie Siegel, of Chillicothe and her
brothers. Didn’t her brothers become quite outstanding in various
Kohn: Yes, one brother, by the name of Henry Siegel, is still living
in Cincinnati, and he owns the American Israelite. And another
brother is Robert Siegel – Bobby, we called him, who writes for the…it’s
syndicated in The Chronicle. He was very active in the
charities. He lives in Boston.
Interviewer: I remember him on campus. He was involved with many
things. He was what we called the Big Man on the Campus. They were an
Kohn: Well, you know the man had…in their sophomore years they were
outstanding…made Bucket and Dipper. Then they went on and made Sphinx.
The girls had Chimes in their sophomore year and then Mortar Board, and
in those days, we had a few Mortar Boards and a few Chimes, and Alice
Bentley, who still lives here, was a member of Chimes, and so was Bobbie
Interviewer: I wanted to ask you about the social code of that day,
when you were on campus, as to dating, as compared to today.
Kohn: Well, the young people today would have called us prudes, because
there was very little”necking.” Or at least, if there was
necking, we were very careful that the boys didn’t have anything to go
back to the fraternity houses and report. I don’t know what really
went on, because nobody talked about it. They may have indulged.
Interviewer: How was intermarriage regarded then?
Kohn: It just wasn’t considered at all. It just wasn’t happening.
I remember an uncle of mine who was very upset because I had dated a
non-Jewish boy and it just was frowned upon.
Interviewer: As to marriages between the German Jews and the
non-German Jewish groups, that was also rather frowned upon, wasn’t
Kohn: Very. I mean that didn’t happen either. We just had no
occasion to intermingle. I remember we had a sorority convention here
and we had to get dates for a good many girls who were coming in for it,
and at that time, we had to search and go into the, quote, other group
to get dates for the girls.
Interviewer: Do you remember the old Progress Club?
Kohn: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: How was that founded, or was that a national…
Kohn: No, that was local. Before my time, even, there had been a
Progress Club. The club rooms were down on Fourth Street in an upstairs
building. Then they moved to the Progress Club on Parsons Avenue, and that included most of the
people who were grouped together. Then, after a while, the men decided
they needed a golf club, and the members of the Progress Club were
approached to buy stock in Winding Hollow Country Club, which many of
them did. At that time there was the Excelsior Club, to which most of a
different group belonged. Today, well, it – the Excelsior Club – doesn’t
exist any more and many of the Excelsior Club members are active in
Interviewer: Wasn’t there sort of an unwritten rule at that time
that you had to be a member of the Bryden Road Temple, or Temple Israel
to be a member of Winding Hollow Country Club?
Kohn: I’m not sure about that. I mean, there are stories that you
had to give so much to the United Jewish Fund, and you had to belong to
a Temple, but I’m not 100% sure that it had to be the Bryden Road
Temple. I would hope that we hadn’t done that.
Interviewer: I know that you belong to a group called “The
Meanies.” How does that…
Kohn: I’m ashamed to call it “The Meanies.” It sounds so
Interviewer: Well, how did the group start, and how did the name come
Kohn: Well Eleanore and Ruth Weinfeld and Lil were the three
originals, and then we had a shifting membership. Betty Glick, Betty
Yassenoff belonged at one time, Jessie Edelman, Adelaide Lazarus, a girl
named Helene Koenig, Helene Mayer was a member…
Interviewer: How many years does that go back, because some of those
names are old names.
Kohn: It goes back to when they were first, when we were first
Interviewer: Around the 19…1930’s?
Kohn: I was married in ’26. And they’d been in existence
maybe six months before they asked…before I was married and was
asked to join.
Interviewer: Did it start as just a social group?
Kohn: Uh-hum. Yes. Well, during one period we played cards. During
another period we did something a little more worth while, like helping
in drives, going over to the State School and that sort of thing, but
mainly it’s been just social.
Interviewer: But you’ve stayed together now for half a century, isn’t
Interviewer: How many, approximately, belong now?
Kohn: We’re down to nine. Two of our members moved away. We meet
every other Friday. We’ve all remained very close friends. And the way
we got that silly name, Meanie, we were originally Meanie
Cats and through the years we dropped the “cats” part. And
just are Meanies. And we were named that by a young man who was living
here at the time. Every time he saw us together, he was sure we were
gossiping. And he would say, “You’re just a couple of meanie
cats,” So consequently, we were named that, which sounds very silly
since we’re grown and old ladies.
Interviewer: Through your family and marriages, you have many
connections with many of the old pioneer families. Would you elaborate a
little bit on that?
Kohn: It’s very complicated because there are so many
interrelationships. My sister is Amy Weiler Lazarus. Her first husband
was Al H. Harmon.
Interviewer: That’s a very old name in the Jewish community.
Kohn: He was a cousin of Allen Gundersheimer, senior, and a cousin of
Max Gumble. Their parents were brothers and sisters. Through my sister’s
second marriage, she became a part of the Lazarus family.
Interviewer: And that’s a large family.
Kohn: And a prominent family. Then the Basches. My husband, Harry’s
sister was related to the Basches through Ray Basch. My husband’s
nephew married Ray Basch’s daughter. So that mixed up the Lazaruses
and the Basches and the Gumbles and the Kohns…
Interviewer: And then your brother Bob Weiler was married to Elene
Basch, is that right?
Kohn: That’s right. My brother Bob was married to Elene Basch, the
twin sister of Joseph Basch, who was a cousin of Lewis Basch. And so,
consequently, there’re about ten branches all connected by marriage,
in one way or the other.
Interviewer: Your husband said that you have to be careful what you
say in Columbus because everybody is related to everybody else, and your
family seems to bear that out.
Kohn: That’s true. Bill Glick told me just last week that when his
mother moved to Columbus, that Mrs. Fred Lazarus, Rose Lazarus, said to
her, “I want to warn you about one thing – don’t ever talk about
anybody in this town, because you’ll be stepping on somebody’s toes.
And that is true now, just as it was years ago.
Interviewer: Did you know Rose Lazarus very well? She was quite a
figure in the Sisterhood. She was president twenty-five years and quite
a matriarch. The Sisterhood of the Bryden Road Temple, now Temple
Israel, is named the Rose E. Lazarus Sisterhood, in her honor.
Kohn: Yes, yes, I knew her quite well. As well as a child knows an
older person. She and mother were friends. In those days they had what
they called “days at home.” Each person had a day of the month
and they would receive their friends. And even on their calling cards,
it would announce what day they would be home. And I remember Mrs.
Lazarus’s day at home very well. That was Tuesday, and nobody else
could have that day. Then Mrs. Gumble had a different day at home.
People would just drop in. It was a party, and of course, I was too
young at that time to go to their “at homes,” but I remember
my mother going.
This concludes the interview of Rosina Weiler Kohn by Mildred
Tarshish for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History