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Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America's past. These stories are about Americans - people just like you - who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you. Kate Kelly
Jennie Grossinger (1892-1972), Garment Worker to Resort Owner

Jennie Grossinger (1892-1972), Garment Worker to Resort Owner

Jennie Grossinger was born in Austria in 1892 to parents who wanted to save enough money to bring the family to America for a better life.  When Jennie was five, her father emigrated, and three years later he had saved enough money to bring Jennie, her younger sister, and her mother to New York; they lived on the lower east side.  Her father, a former real estate overseer, was now a coat presser; life was not easy.

When a new baby was born with health problems, Jennie’s mother decided she needed to return to Austria where they knew doctors who would help them. She took the younger sister and the baby, leaving Jennie and her father in New York.  Her mother and siblings did not return for four years.   As Jennie saw her father struggling with debt, she resolved to quit school and find work, and she did so, getting hired into a sweat shop to sew buttonholes.

Life Outside NY

In 1914 Jennie’s father decided they needed to get out of the city to survive.  He had worked on a farm in Austria so he bought a small farm in Ferndale, New York in the Catskill Mountains.  Unfortunately the ground was very rocky and not suitable for farming, but they had a seven-room farmhouse and decided to try running a boarding house.  Other Jewish people—not welcome in most vacation spots—might like to come out and enjoy the air.  Jennie’s mother and siblings had returned by then, so she took over cooking responsibilities and her father both managed and promoted the business.  Jennie, now married and living next door, worked as  bookkeeper, chambermaid and dining room hostess.

Guests were delighted to have a welcoming spot where they could enjoy kosher meals and the pleasures of the fresh air, the sun, and the beauty of the mountains.

By 1919 Jennie had her eye on a 63-acre hotel property, and she spearheaded the movement for the family to sell the farm and buy the hotel.  The hotel, located in Liberty, New York, was on a lake and surrounded by rolling hills, but Jennie wanted to make it into a full-scale resort.  In the 1920s she installed tennis courts and added a bridle path and hired a social director to organize social events and run a children’s day camp.

The 1930s were very hard for all businesses, including one like Grossinger’s.  Jennie’s father died in 1931 so Jennie was left with all decision-making as to how to stay afloat.  Her opportunity came in the form of a Jewish boxer.  Jennie disliked professional fighting but when Orthodox Jew Barney Ross began winning, he needed a place to train where he could observe his religious traditions.  Jennie invited him to Grossinger’s, promising kosher meals and the services of a rabbi.  Ross did well, becoming world lightweight  champ; the success of his “home away from home” training camp became part of the story.  Over time, Grossinger’s became the go-to spot for other fighters, including the world-famous Rocky Marciano.  (Rocky’s mom came along, and Jennie gave her access to the kitchen to cook her son’s pasta.)

The War Effort

During the war, Jennie actively supported the troops.  She raised more than a million dollars of funds for war bonds  War bonds, and she created “Grossinger Canteen-by-Mail,”  which sent packages of gum, candy, cigarettes and supplies to the men and women in the military who had worked at Grossinger’s.  In acknowledgment of her work for the war effort, the United States named one of the war planes “Grossinger.”

Later on, she turned her philanthropic efforts toward raising money for Israel, raising money for a medical center and a convalescent home.

By the early 1950s, Grossinger’s had 600 guest rooms, dining for seventeen hundred, a nightclub with two stages, an Olympic-sized pool, a golf course, tennis courts, a riding academy, an airport, a ski slope, and its own post office.

Though it bean as a vacation spot for Jewish people who were excluded elsewhere, Jennie’s ultimate goal was for it to become a resort for anyone.  She invited public figures, and among those who visited were Eleanor Roosevelt, Cardinal Spellman, Nelson Rockefeller, and Robert Kennedy.

During the 1960s when African-Americans were still having trouble being accepted in many places, Jennie welcomed baseball star Jackie Robinson and U.N. diplomat Ralph Bunche to Grossinger’s to send the message that all—including African-Americans—were welcome there.

 

In the early years, Jennie Grossinger established a resort where Jews could celebrate their religious and cultural identity. After World War II, when assimilation seemed important to her, Jennie grew the resort and expanded to welcome guests of all backgrounds.

 

Grossinger’s closed in 1986.




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