The Amazing Rosenwalds

                              Toward the End of the Story



Gussie Rosenwald in maturity.




By Megan McKinney


While their children were occupied with creating interesting and blameless lives from the combination of genes and material wealth they had inherited, JR and Gussie Rosenwald continued to share a full existence within a remarkably solid marriage until the late 1920s. The children were then still in the middle of their lives, especially the younger two.

The Rosenwalds’ fourth child, Marion, made two interesting marriages—both to men who were visibly leftist. The first union, to Alfred Stern, ended after 16 years.

Following his divorce from Marion, Stern and his second wife, Martha Dodd, daughter of U.S. Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd, became Communist spies during the Cold War and defected to Czechoslovakia in 1957.


Communist spies Martha and Alfred Stern.


That was a hard one to top; however, Marion did. Her second husband was the brilliant and colorful Italian anti-Fascist Dr. Max Ascoli, who had been a professor of Law at the University of Genoa.  


Max Ascoli’s The Reporter.


After being jailed briefly by Benito Mussolini’s regime, Ascoli immigrated to the United States in 1931 and settled in New York. While teaching at the New School for Social Research he met Marion, a student there. Max “enthralled her with both mind and personality,” according to an acquaintance, and they married in 1940.


Marion’s second husband, Max Ascoli.


In 1949, Marion funded Ascoli’s New York-based liberal magazine, The Reporter, one of the most influential American publications of the ’50s and ’60s. In his autobiographical In Search of History, Theodore H. White, who worked for Ascoli and admired his courage and curiosity but complained of his temper and screaming rages, wrote of his employer, “In depth of learning and sheer brilliance of mind he was unmatched.” The Reporter, which confounded its left-leaning audience by supporting the Vietnam War, ceased publication in 1968.


William Rosenwald, JR and Gussie’s youngest child.


The youngest of the five Rosenwald children, William, born in 1903, was a 1924 graduate of MIT Sloan School of Management, who also attended Harvard and the London School of Economics. He was a productive private investor, as well as a notable philanthropist.

At his 1996 death at age 93, The New York Times stated that William Rosenwald “gave and raised millions of dollars in a life dominated by philanthropy that saved tens of thousands of lives and bettered countless others through education and the arts.”

 It was he who was the most active of JR and Gussie’s children in the mid-1930s family effort to provide assistance to relatives in Europe affected by the rise of Nazi Germany. At the war’s end, more than 300 individuals had been brought to the United States and provided with work and places to live. And provision was made for an additional 300 family members in Europe.

Within William’s philanthropy was a focus on Jewish causes, including the nationwide United Jewish Appeal, which he was instrumental in establishing in 1939. He organized the National Refugee Service—later a part of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society—in 1939, to help resettle refugees.

William married three times. His first wife, whom he wed in 1928 was  Renee Scharf, daughter of Austrian painter Viktor Scharf II; they divorced in 1935. In 1938, he married Mary Kurtz, with whom he had three daughters. Mary died in 1985, and in 1995, a year before his death, William married Ruth G. Israels. 


Gussie and JR on the boardwalk at Atlantic City.


Gussie’s health began declining in 1926. Late in the following year, a diagnosis of cancer necessitated a series of operations with continuingly pessimistic prognoses. Thus, the supremely satisfying marriage of a remarkable couple would end with her death on March 23, 1928.

It has been said that the greatest tribute a widower can make to his late wife—although it is usually completely subconscious—is to remarry soon after her death. Less than a year after he lost his beloved Gussie, on January 8, 1929, JR married Adelaide Goodkind.

In the words of his grandson, Peter M. Ascoli, author of Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, “The marriage was not a love match. JR was lonely, and evidently he felt this marriage would be a good solution.”

It was comfortable. “Addie” was a member of JR’s extended family; she was his eldest son Lessing’s mother-in-law, and—in addition—her former brother-in-law, who had been Gussie’s chief physician, was JR’s close friend.


JR and his bride, Addie.


With this new chapter in his life, Rosenwald sold the beautiful house at 4901 Ellis Ave. and moved, with Addie, to an apartment at The Drake. He continued to maintain the Ravinia estate, and it was there he died on the afternoon of January 6, 1932. The official cause was hardening of the arteries complicated by heart and kidney ailments. He was 69.

In rounding out our series on The Rosenwalds, it’s interesting to note the most recent event in the history of the world famous company that created such abundance in the lives of those we have studied in recent editions of Classic Chicago. Last week, the Chicago Tribune published a page one story announcing the closing of the Sears facility at the edge of Portage Park, the company’s “last store in hometown of Chicago.” Although physical evidence of the business achievements of Julius Rosenwald will vanish from Chicago with the mid-July departure of the final Sears store, Mr. Rosenwald’s Museum of Science and Industry will prevail, as will many of this remarkable man’s intangible contributions. 


Megan McKinney’s Classic Chicago series, The Rosenwalds concludes with this segment.


Photo Credit:

Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South, by Peter M. Ascoli

Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl