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To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Alice Goldmark Brandeis

Sitting atop a small lump of dirt and grass beside Fellows Garden is a statue of our namesake: Louis Brandeis. While some place cones upon his head and others sit in the shade his lurching body creates, all Brandeis students have become familiar with the life and work of Louis D. Brandeis. Some have learned more than others, particularly those who have taken Professor Daniel Breen’s class on Brandeis, but all to one degree or another know of his importance. Yet, for a university prided in progressivism and social justice it is seemingly odd how little we know of his home life, and particularly his wife.

While not recorded in great detail and largely living in the shadow of her husband’s accomplishments, this is a short account of the life and mission of none other than Alice Goldmark.

Alice was born in 1866 in Brooklyn to Austrian immigrants Dr. Joseph and Regina Goldmark, according to the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. Alice was one of five siblings in the house. She had three sisters and one brother who were all raised together in an assimilated Jewish home. She was sent to a Unitarian Sunday school as a child and later maintained membership in the Unitarian Church while not formally renouncing her Jewish identity.

As she matured into a young woman, she began to see and take a liking to then-lawyer Louis D. Brandeis. Enamored by her strengths and sensibilities, Brandeis wrote about her in a 1890 letter that he would later send to Alice, now found in the Brandeis Archives. In it he wrote, “I thought, Alice, how you will love the canoe, and how well it expresses you: the silent dignity, strong but tender, sensitive to the slightest touch, responsive to every word, listening with blended head to each whisper of nature, with a heart for all human emotions and a soul to grasp the divine.”

Brandeis then went to conclude the letter by writing, “Alice, Alfred was wrong in saying I am ‘very much in love.’ No this is not a passion, not a fever with which I have fallen. It is that I love you, for the light has come to [me], as faith and religion sometimes come to man.”

Alice would soon marry the young attorney just a year after he authored that letter in 1891. Together the couple had two daughters, Susan and Elizabeth.

But Alice was so much more than just a mother and wife. During the Brandeis’ time in Boston, Alice became one of the charter members of the Massachusetts Women’s League for Peace and Freedom, a chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which is a non-profit non-governmental organization working “to bring together women of different political views and philosophical and religious backgrounds determined to study and make known the causes of war and work for a permanent peace,” according to their website.

Never shy from controversy, Alice also assisted in the campaign on behalf of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Italian immigrants who, during a wave of anti-italian and anti-immigrant sentiments, were arrested for murder charges due to a loose link between them and Italian criminals at the time, according to an article in The Atlantic. Little evidence put them at the scene of the crime and national protests followed their jailing. Alice was invested in the issue enough to even allow Sacco’s family to stay in the Brandeis home near Boston to make it easier for them to visit their son in prison.

Not one to follow traditional paths in society, Alice also supported the third-party presidential candidacy, in 1924, of Robert La Follette. A member of the Progressive Party and a senator from Wisconsin, La Follette was a pacifist and called for government ownership of the railroads and electric utilities, cheap credit for farmers, called for the outlawing of child labor, desired stronger laws to help labor unions, wished for more protection of civil liberties and sought an end to American imperialism in Latin America.

Alice’s support of La Follette proved her commitment to a progressive world built on social justice and as someone not afraid to stand up for minority beliefs.

During World War II, Alice continued to stir some controversy by associating herself with the Bergson Group, a political action committee that lobbied for the rescue of European Jews and creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, an action which came from her husband’s identity, and her own, as a Jewish individual.

Alice died on Oct. 11, 1945, but her life is a testament to other women who have lived their lives as champions of social activism in the shadows of those around her. While this summary of her life was short, it is perfect encouragement for others to learn more not just about her but the many other strong women of the past who were the silent pioneers driving our nation forward.

 

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