Hadassah, a Jewish women's organization, was founded with the goals of fostering Zionist ideals in America through education and to begin public health nursing and nurses' training in Palestine. Gisell Herzog of Montreal, on a visit to Seattle, founded the Seattle chapter of Hadassah in April 1923.
Hadassah was founded nationally in 1912 by Henrietta Szold. Early Seattle chapters were named B'not Jacob, (Daughters of Jacob), Queen Esther, and Deborah. The first activity of these chapters was sewing clothes for children in Palestine.
The women of Hadassah in Seattle devoted themselves to raising funds for Israel. At weddings and anniversaries, certificates for Israel were given as gifts. Many fundraising activities were fun and inventive. There were card games, greeting card sales, a lending library, a theater party. Women brought five-gallon milk bottles to meetings, measured their waistlines, and were required to put as many pennies in the bottle as their waistline measured. Another innovative project was a baby shower in which items were supplied for the Maternity Department of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
In 1940, Junior Hadassah was formed, offering summer camps, scholarships, Israel tours, and leadership training. Meetings were held at the Temple Center, at Temple de Hirsch. Throughout World War II, Hadassah was active in supporting Red Cross, USO, War Bonds and War Stamps, and the Palestine War Relief.
In 1951, Hadassah was instrumental in bringing the Israeli Philharmonic to Seattle. In 1964, Hadassah sponsored Theodore Bikel at the Music Hall.
In 1966, Hadassah opened The Nearly New Shop at 414 Broadway. This thrift shop was a major fundraiser. In the 1970s, Hadassah actively worked at ameliorating the plight of Soviet Jewry and sponsored "the Women's Plea for Soviet Jewry." Many Russian families left Russia to escape persecution. Hadassah assisted those who immigrated to Seattle with settlement and learning English.
Today (1999) there are five Hadassah groups in the Seattle area with a membership of more than 1,200. Programs include Training Wheels, to strengthen Jewish identity of families with 2-5 year olds, and Curriculum Watch, to monitor textbooks for inaccuracies and stereotypes about Jews, Judaism, and Israel. Other programs and goals include women's health awareness, voter registration drives, advocacy for women's rights, and activism against domestic violence. Support for Hadassah Medical Organization continues; internationally Hadassah was responsible for the largest shipment of supplies sent to Bosnia by a non-governmental agency.