Mystery of the ‘discovered’ tablecloths partly solved


In an article in February, I described a tablecloth that was embroidered with the names of donors to the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society, a local organization that gave money to a hospital for tuberculosis patients in Denver. After that article was published, I received some additional information about that relief society. 

Pearl Kaplan, who read the article and contacted the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association, has a photograph of 10 women “dressed up with gloves” at the Biltmore Hotel, in Providence.

One of the women is her grandmother, Sadie Zelniker, and another her great-aunt, Annie Zelniker. The picture is dated Dec. 26, 1946, and says, “Jewish Convalescent Home of Rhode Island.” Kaplan said she believes the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society and the Jewish Convalescent Home of Rhode Island group were one and the same.  

There were two other tablecloths tucked away in RIJHA’s office, and here are their stories:

In 1931, during the Great Depression, local women started the Ladies Hebrew Free Loan Association.

They lent small amounts (even 25 cents) or larger amounts (up to a few hundred dollars) for food, clothing, education and businesses. The names of those who borrowed money were kept secret so as not to embarrass them. The money was paid back as the borrower could afford to do so. 

The association had two offices, one in the north end of Providence, near Chalkstone Avenue, and one in South Providence. Both were staffed by women who helped other women fill out the loan applications if they did not speak or write English. Often, the head of the association would co-sign to guarantee the loan. 

In its first year, the association lent almost $1,500 and had cash reserves of almost $1,100.  All the money had been donated to the association or came in through fundraising efforts. At times, their cash on hand was so much more than they needed that they made donations to other Jewish charities.     

On June 20, 1965, the association held its final meeting because there was no longer a need for this service. The remaining money was donated: the Jewish General Fund received $1,000 and the Jewish Home for the Aged, to which they had previously donated money to build the home, was given $200.

The second of the three “discovered” tablecloths had the association’s name embroidered in the center, surrounded by the names of members. Since the association disbanded in 1965, this tablecloth is probably older than that, but how much older is still unknown.

The third tablecloth remains a complete mystery. It is made of much lighter cloth than the heavy linen of the two others, and names are embroidered in a gold/yellow thread around the border, not all over the fabric, like the others. If you have any information about this tablecloth, please contact  RIJHA at 401-331-1360.

RUTH BREINDEL is president of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association.