Hattie and Sam Bierman

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In an earlier chapter I briefly described the life of Fred Bierman (1866-1937), who immigrated to the United States in 1892 with his sister Shifra.  Fred later sent for his wife Rose (died 1912) and sons Samuel Lewis (27 Mar 1886-20 Nov 1965) and Isaac or “Ike” (1891-1961), who joined him at an unspecified date, but no later then 1899.  Arthur Bierman, Sam and Hattie’s son, claims that Sam’s tefellin bag was crocheted for his bar mitzvah in the year 1899, therefore he was born in 1886.  I confirmed this by checking the Social Security Death Index, accessible on the Internet.  There I found that Sam was born on March 27, 1886.  His daughter Frances Yedidia told me that he was tall and had red hair like his father Fred.  He had a very ruddy complexion, was outgoing and got along very well with people.  She remembers that his brother Ike was a fine businessman, very bright and sharp, with a hot temper.  Ike went on to marry Rose Saffer and have three children: Ruth (1912-1990), who married Morris Kalmon and adopted two children, Fred and Sissy; Leonard L. (1 June 1918-), who married Lowis Lee Stern and had two daughters, Joy and Judy; and Vivian (1925-), who married Herman Gellman and had three children, Bob, Stephan and Lauri.  Leonard recalls that his father was “very aggressive and a hard worker.”

As I stated above, Hattie was born in Sudilkov in March, 1885 and immigrated to the United States in about mid 1892.  Arthur told me that Hattie dropped out of school in the eighth grade, but was a self-educated woman.  Fran, on the contrary, believes that Hattie finished high school.  In 1905, at the age of 20, Hattie was living at home and working as a clerk for a store.  In fact, Fran recalls that she worked in the glove department of Dayton’s, a large retail company.  She met her future husband Sam at about that time.

Curiously, there seem to be two versions of how her and Sam’s paths crossed.  Rosalee Borus, Sam and Hattie’s other daughter, wrote to Joy Marcus that uncle Isaac was rather puny, so when he was about 14 his father Fred sent him from St. Louis to a farm just out of Minneapolis.  This must have been the farm of his first cousin Mechel Berman.  Ike was accompanied by his older brother Sam, who met Hattie that summer, probably in 1903.  Fran, Rosalee’s sister, claims that Hattie got engaged when she was about 18 and married soon afterwards.  Therefore, 1903 is my best guess as to when they met.  Given the close social contacts between the Bermans and Grossmans in downtown Minneapolis, this was almost bound to happen.

An alternative story is told by Fran herself.  Hattie took the train down to St. Louis to visit the 1906 World Fair, where she met Sam.  The young couple got engaged to be married soon afterwards.  Of course, Hattie would have to have been 21 at the time if this were true.  I am inclined not to reject one version or the other, but to accept them both as partially true.  That is, Sam and Hattie met in Minneapolis around 1903 and then went to the World Fair together.  They married in St. Louis on June 26, 1906 at Liederkranz Hall, designed by the famous architectural firm Wilhelmi & Janssen.

According to Arthur, Sam and Hattie were distant cousins, but he is not sure how.  Fran told me more or less the same thing, that Hattie and Sam were third or fourth cousins, but she too was unable to pinpoint the connection.  As I suggested already, the first Grossman-Berman marriage was the one in 1873 which united Jacob Grossman and Chaya Riva Berman.  Chaya Riva was Sam’s first cousin.  Jacob was Hattie’s great uncle.  Therefore, Sam and Hattie were very distant in-laws, but were not blood relatives.  Nevertheless, it is possible that there was another Grossman-Berman union which occurred before 1873, linking the two families at a point earlier in time.  After all, both Arthur and Fran independently told me that Sam and Hattie were “cousins”.  Could it be that Miriam, the wife of the original Noah Grossman (born 1830/40), was a Bierman, or Zeesle, the wife of Moishe Grossman (born about 1810/20)?  We may never know.  In this respect it is interesting that Sam’s middle name was “Lewis”, while the first of Moishe Grossman’s sons was also named “Louis”.  The name is conspicuously Christian in origin, and it is strange to think that Moishe Grossman (1859-1938) and Fred Bierman (1866-1937), both of whom were very religious Jews born in the Old World, would name their children in this way.  It makes me wonder whether the two were named after a forgotten common ancestor of both the Grossman and Berman families.

Fran recalls that Sam and Hattie’s wedding in St. Louis brought in relatives from all over the Midwest, especially Minneapolis.  As I stated above, Moishe, Temma and Hattie’s three siblings were among those present.  Evidently, they took advantage of the occasion and did not return to Minneapolis for three years, until late 1909.  With regard to the wedding, Arthur told me an interesting anecdote about Mechel and Motel Berman, Sam’s first cousins on Fred’s side.  Apparently, Fred gave a bottle of liquor to the drivers of the horse-and-buggies who had transported the guests to the synagogue.  The drivers proceeded to get completely drunk and consequently left in the middle of the ceremony, standing up all of the guests, including Mechel and Motel.  The two brothers were angry for years afterwards.  In fact, only the bride and groom were able to get a ride that day!  Arthur still possesses his parents’ ketuba.

Shortly after the wedding Sam went back to work at his father’s scrap metal business, which had been incorporated just two years previously.  Sam had dropped out of school to work for his Dad some years earlier, as soon as he finished the eighth grade.  His age at the time would have depended on when he immigrated, which as I indicated above was sometime between 1893 and 1899.  However, it is safe to assume that he was at least a year or two behind in school.  We can estimate that he went to work for Fred in around 1901 to 1903.  Aside from the brief hiatus when he was on the farm near Minneapolis, Sam, like Fred, worked for the company until the day he died, November 20, 1965.

Arthur remembers his father Sam as a fine man who devoted a lot of his time to the Jewish Orthodox old folks’ home.  Both he and Hattie, who were both very well read, believed very strongly in education, and encouraged their children to study.  Sam and Hattie often spoke Yiddish at home.  In fact, Hattie always told Arthur that she would teach him the language, but he was never able to speak it.  She and her husband belonged to B’nai Amoonah synagogue, but eventually switched to Temple Israel.  The couple had a lifelong interest in classical music and theater.  They went frequently to the symphony and attended all the plays.  When he was a kid, Sam would sometimes skip school and go to the upper balcony of the American Theater to see the performances.

Hattie Grossman Bierman and daughter Rosalee, circa 1916

Arthur told me that Hattie was “a beauty, physically and spiritually.”   She was personable and smart, enjoyed reading, the Municipal Opera, and the arts in general.  She was not a particularly observant Jew, and stopped keeping kosher and the Sabbath when her father-in-law Frederick stopped coming to dinner.  She was deeply involved in several activities and did a lot of work for B’nai Amoonah Synagogue and the Jewish retirement home.  She chaired the first fund-raiser for the St. Louis Hadassah.  Rosalee Borus recalls that Hattie was tall and thin with dark hair and eyes.  She was a natural leader who belonged to many organizations.  She was also very sociable, and was always out walking with two or three people.  Marion Grossman, Max’s daughter, said that her aunt Hattie was a very sophisticated woman, highly intellectual in her interests.  Hattie was “as I remember her, a VERY bright woman.”  Marion Shapiro had the following to say about her: “Hattie was a beautiful woman.  She looked like Uncle Max—tall, dark.”  Norman, Lou’s son, described her simply as a “beautiful, kindly woman”.  His brother Harold added, “She was a smart woman, very lovely, very.” 

Hattie Grossman Bierman, circa 1925

Fran recalled that her mother was neither religious nor non-religious.  She and Sam attended the High Holidays, but they did not go to shul on Shabbat.  She remembers Hattie as “a lovely person, good-looking, forward-looking, a little bit ahead of her time as far as her ideas about home life, her cooking…” She was one of the first people to have all the newest kinds of implements for the kitchen.  She was tall, about 5’8”, with dark hair and a rather regal aspect.  Fran emphasized to me especially how much Hattie loved to read.  She always had her nose in some book.  She also had an activist bent, and joined the League of Women Voters and the various other groups which were available to women in those days.  According to Fran, if Hattie were alive today she would be classified as a feminist, but she herself would not have identified herself as one.  Hattie fought hard for women’s voting rights, and even traveled to New York for meetings, which was unusual in those days.  She was on the board of one such group based in St. Louis.

Arthur told me that Hattie drove a car, an old Hanes, before he was born (1918).  But shortly after his birth she went the wrong way through the garage and her driving career came to an abrupt end, at least temporarily!  According to Fran, in the 1920’s Hattie drove a Buick—a “top down”, as her kids called it.  At the time she and her husband lived in the West End of town, on Degiverville Street.  That is where Fran grew up.  During the Great Depression Hattie and Sam moved with their kids to High Point, on the top of a hill further west.  After the outbreak of World War II Hattie went to San Francesco to help Fran take care of her babies.

When Grace and Harry Stillman rented a large home on Lake Minnetonka west of Minneapolis every summer, Hattie, Sam and their four children would come up to visit.  Previously, the latter stayed at the Stillmans’ downtown residence behind the store, where they would all cram together, but from the 1920’s onwards there was the home on the lake.  Conversely, Grace made the long trip down to St. Louis many times.

Hattie always stayed in touch with her three siblings in Minneapolis but was particularly close with her sister Grace, with whom she always spoke in English, not Yiddish.  According to Rosalee, the two women wrote each other letters about once per week.  Arthur recalls that Hattie was also in close contact with her parents throughout her life.  She spoke to them and her siblings on the telephone regularly.  Hattie and Sam’s 50th wedding anniversary on June 26, 1956 drew most of the Minneapolis Jewish crowd, including Grace, Lou and Max’s children.  Hattie had a bad heart condition the last twenty years of her life and she passed away on March 4, 1967.  She was survived by four children, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, one of whom was adopted.

The four children of Sam and Hattie are Norman (1 July 1907-6 Sep 1987), Frances or “Fran” (6 Oct 1908-), Rosalee (9 Aug 1913-) and Arthur (6 Sep 1918-).  Norman, who finished law school at Washington University in 1929 and became an attorney, married Margaret or “Monnie” Loeb (6 Jan 1914-27 May 1993) and had two children, Mary Margaret (9 Feb 1943-) and James Norman (23 Nov 1945-).  Fran, who graduated from Washington University in 1928 and then went on to graduate school at UC-Berkeley, has been a social worker and a substitute school teacher.  She married Myron Schwartz in 1935, but they divorced a year and a half later.  She later remarried a fifth-generation Israeli named Avram Yedidia (12 Oct 1911-3 May 1990), a one-time war hero in Israel and co-founder of Kaiser Health in California.  Avram’s mother was named Solomon and was a very famous woman in Israeli history.  Fran and Avram had two children, Peter (15 May 1943-) and Michael (27 Mar 1946-).  Rosalee, a social worker, married Joseph Borus (30 Apr 1909-June 1965), who was a regional representative of the U.S. Unemployment Compensation Agency, on December 23, 1934.  They had three children: Michael Eliot (12 May 1938-), Jonathan Frederick (4 May 1941-), and David (28 Apr 1946-).  Arthur, an attorney educated at Washington University, married Jean Schulman in 1942 and had a daughter by her, Alexis (23 Apr 1947-).  He served in the medical department of the US Army from September 3, 1941 until November 23, 1945.  After divorcing in 1950, Arthur married June Rubin (29 Dec 1927-) in 1955, and had two sons, Frederick Robert (25 Apr 1956-) and Jonathan Richard (27 June 1959-).

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