This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limits the amount of materials that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contacat the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
ORAL HISTORY. PROJECT
JEWISH FEDERATION OF PALM BEACH COUNTY
INTERVIEWEE: Sophie Dickson
INTERVIEWER: Sylvia Lewis
DATE: January 9, 1982
PLACE: West Palm Beach, Florida
L: To start our interview, would you please tell me when you
D: I was born November the llth, 1907.
L: Where did you live before coming to West Palm Beach?
D: I lived in Massachusetts, in both Chelsea where I went to
school and then we moved to Mattapan from there.
L: Could you tell us a little bit about your life as a child in the
Boston area in Chelsea?
D: When I was very young, I went to the public school which I
enjoyed. When I was a child in the year 1918, when we became
involved in the first World War, they used to take me out of
school so that I could sell forms for the United States
Government. We didn't sell bonds, we sold the stamps which
were sold at 25 cents each. I was always involved as an
American because I love this country.
L: What type of up-bringing did you have in your home? Tell us a
little bit about your parents?
D: I am one of five children. We always had a kosher home, we
always celebrated the Friday night with the candles, and the
Jewish supper which was huge the gefilte fish and the
chicken soup and the chicken and the tsimmes. We really had a
nice Jewish life.
I never went to Hebrew School because when we were growing up
it was much more important that the boys of the family become
a Bar Mitzvah, even though it wasn't a bigevent except on
Saturday mornings. But, my father spoke to us a lot about
Jewishness, read the Jewish "Forward" and told us about it.
Our life was very happy.
L: Where did your parents come from?
D: Both my mother and father came from Russia. I was born in
Russia. My father left Russia one year before my mother, and
settled in Boston, and a year later my mother followed him
with four children, of which I am one.
From Boston we moved to Chelsea, where my father was a capmaker.
That was our Jewish life.
I must tell you that when I went to high school my father tried
to go into the capmaking business. I worked for him and I got
$3.00 a week. That was a lot of money.
L: We have also interviewed your dea husband, Maurice, and he has
told us about his courtship of you and where you met. As a
matter of fact, the interview of Maurice Dickson brought us to
the year 1932 at which time we decided that we would pick up,
at 1932, with you as a continuation of your family history.
Would you just let us know again what prompted you to come to
West Palm Beach?
D: Maurice lived in West Palm Beach and I met him through our
mutual sister-in-law who worked in the factory of which I was
bookkeeper. When she said Maurice was coming to Boston, would
I meet him, I said yes. That's how we met.
He came in 1930, and we were engaged before he went back to
West Palm Beach. In June of 1931, I planned the wedding. We
corresponded more by telephone, that particular year than
seeing each other.
L: And then you came here to West Palm Beach as a bride?
L: And would you reminisce with us how it was like in 1932 when
you came to this area?
D: Well, we had, at that particular moment, 50 Jewish families. I
became a member of Beth El Sisterhood then. Our place was on
8th Street before we moved to Fern Street.
I was active then (not too much), but I went to their meetings.
I was involved in their little fund raising, of which there
wasn't too much money in those days. I can't remember what the
dues were then.
We had no Rabbi until several years after that.
When Sander was born in 1935, I think we had a doctor to do
When Joy was six years old, even though we were members of
Temple Beth El, we sent her to Temple Israel to go to Sunday
L: Sophie, would you tell us what kind of Jewish life you found
here insofar as synagogues, and organizations?
D: There was not too much of Jewish life in West Palm Beach in
those years. However, we did have two synagogues. We had
Temple Israel and Temple Beth El. There were sisterhoods in
L: What about, Sophie, an organization that you have been very
active in, B'nai B'rith Women?
D: We are the oldest chapter of B'nai B'rith in the county. We
were then called Palm Beach County Chapter Number 174.
Then we became very active when the soldiers came and stopped
at the railroad station. We, who were members of the B'nai
B'rith Women, would serve them coffee, cake and fruit so that
they could go on to wherever they were going.
Shortly after that, Mickey Wolfson took over.
And, it was at that time, because of Gertrude Feldman, who
started the milk fund, that we gave money to schools in West
We paid $3.00 dues in those years. We did not have to give
any money to National because there wasn't any National at that time.
The milk went to the underprivileged children in Palm Beach
I remember that we, B'nai B'rith Women, got several letters
from the schools commending us for this nice gesture towards
L: I understand that for many of the children, this was the only
milk they received during the day.
Sophie, there is an organization that you were responsible for,
along with some others, would you tell us about the Friendship
D: The Friendship Circle, which was sponsored by B'nai B'rith
Women, was started by Evelyn Blum with two other members of
B'nai B'rith. It was in existence for about three months when
they decided that it was a little bit too much for them, and
at a meeting I said that I would take over.
I ran this organization for B'nai B'rith for 13 years. We
first met on Lake Avenue, but then when they started to complain
about us we went to Temple Israel.
We paid the rent of $600 of which the Palm Beach Chapter gave
$300 and Federation paid $300. We met every Thursday after-
noon excepting during the summer months.
At these meetings we celebrated birthdays with luncheons. We
went to the movies and we had boat rides. We went to Miami
when I chartered a bus, so we could see the Jewish Vaudeville
on the Beach. We had lunch in the restaurants. The members
were served at other times with cake and coffee.
We had several people come to talk with us, as a representative
from social security. Paul Rogers came as a guest one time
when he was a Congressman.
In 1970, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. On December the
27th of 1973, we had our last meeting before we disbanded. The
reason for disbanding was because there were condominiums at
that time and it was much easier for the people to go in their
own buildings to do, whatever, without having to take that long
ride into Temple Israel.
In the beginning when we first started the circle, members of
B'nai B'rith Women would go down to the various homes where the
people lived or if they lived in a home for the aged, they would
stop, pick up the passengers, bring them to Temple Israel.
After the meeting,they would come to take them back to their
A lot of families would just stay and look on, as we, B'nai
B'rith Women, did all the work.
L: I remember being a volunteer for transportation for the Friend-
ship Circle. And I remember that even though I was working in
the store at 12:30 or a quarter of 1:00, whenever it was my
time, I would leave the store. And I remember particularly two
blind people that I picked up to take to the circle who enjoyed
it so very much. So that was a wonderful mitzvah that you
performed for this community.
There is another organization, Sophie, that I know you have
been a long time member of and that is the Good Samaritan
Would you tell us about your work, the reason why you joined it
and some of the other observances that you have participated in?
D: Sylvia, before I became a member of Good Samaritan Hospital, I
was a volunteer for the Exceptional Children at the Royal Palm
School. I went every Friday to teach them to read. I helped
them with arithmetic. I stayed on there for quite a few years
until the Friday in November when President Kennedy was
assassinated and the children started screaming and making a
lot of noise. I figured that was the time for me to quit.
He died in November and in December I joined the Good Samaritan
Auxiliary. I've been a member of it for the past 18 years.
I ran the information desk up to now as a volunteer.
Today, for the past year, they have paid workers revolving
during all the hours, but I still am a volunteer there.
I have knitted -- (even though, I am a Jewess), I have made
booties for them for the past ten years, which I donate to
the new mothers for the new babies. For the past three
years, even not being a member of St. Mary's Hospital, I have
donated booties to them for the new babies.
I would like to read a letter which I just received dated
December 28, 1981, which says, "On behalf of St. Mary's
Hospital, and especially the new babies and the mothers, I
wish to thank you. The booties added a special touch to
the holiday season. For you and your husband we extend
wishes for a happy and healthy New Year."
It is signed by Marie Kilpatrick, who is the medical social
I have a letter which I have received from the Good Samaritan
Hospital from Jean Bolton, who is the Head Nurse, in which
she states, "The new mommies were really pleased with their
booties. We thank you so much for thinking of them at
Christmas time. You did a beautiful job. God bless you."
L: I think that is absolutely wonderful, Sophie, that your
participation is not only in the Jewish Community but spread-
ing yourself into the non-Jewish Community. You have done
a great deal of human relations work. I would be remiss
at this time if I did not ask you to please tell us what
organizations you are actively engaged in working on their
Board at this time?
D: I will first tell you that I am Recording Secretary of the
Rishona Group of Hadassah. I have served under five presi-
dents. During it's infancy, I was hospitality chairperson
when Thelma Newman was president.
For the last 13 years, I have been Treasurer of B'nai B'rith
Women, when it was #174 and now the Masada Chapter.
I have been Treasurer of the Mitzvah Council since it's
inception. I am a life memberof B'nai B'rith Women.
L: Sophie, as an organizational woman, I think you're tops.
Let's get back, though, to some other questions that I
think could be most helpful to this oral history program.
When you first came here, did you find that this was an
expensive place to live?
D: Not really, Sylvia, because when we came we paid 15 cents for
a dozen eggs. We paid 15 cents for a pound of chicken.
We paid $15.00 a month for rent. We lived in the house
for five years before we bought it because I didn't want
to buy it. But, so many people started looking for it,
so finally we bought the house for $1,800, of which we
paid $20.00 a month that went towards the payment of the
Now, we don't pay any rent. The house is ours. So, I
can't say-that things were bad because Maurice always made
a living, and we never had any problems.
L: As we discussed with Maurice, he was a master plumber and
his experiences were quite interesting.
I assume that you stayed home and took care of the children?
D: I certainly did.
L: Did you find that this area was friendly? Was the Jewish
Community friendly while you were a young bride and grow-
ing up raising the children?
D: Yes, we were one family. Whatever happened, whether there
were good times, we didn't need an invitation. We all
went because we were a family. And, God forbid, if something
disastrous happened, we went again because we felt that we
were a family. We were 50 Jewish families. We were
L: Sophie, could you mention some of the families that were
here at that time?
D: Yes. Sam and Tina Schutzer, Lou and his wife, Fanny Ryder and
her husband, Gussie Green and Harry, her husband, Faye
Gruner and her husband, Leah Dubbin and her husband, the
Kapners. In fact one of the Kapners was at Maurice and my
The Tisnowers came to our wedding. I think it was a
L: Sophie, in your experiences here in this area, did you ever
have a personal experience with anti-Semitism and other types
of restrictions against minority, groups such as Jews and
D: No, Maurice was very much involved with politics in those
days. Sylvia, we had no problems.
L: You felt there was no anti-Semitism then?
L: No, what about the feeling in the Jewish Community regarding
Israel and was there any closeness to Palestine as it was
D: Not really. Not until Israel became a state, Sylvia,
then the whole community became involved.
L: In conclusion, Sophie, could we have your feelings about
Jewish families who are moving into this community today
in such large numbers, do you feel that if there were
problems when you moved in that the folks moving in today
have to face the same problems?
D: I think folks have to face more problems today than we did
when we were a small community.
L: Why is that?
D: There's so much anti-Semitism in town, we have the Ku Kluxes
who are sort of active, we have the Arabs who are not too
fond of us. I'm trying to think of other things, but I
think there's an awful lot of anti-Semitism. We are very
lucky that we have the ADL of which B'nai B'rith is very
much involved, which is very, very necessary.
L: I think that you have really spoken the truth and we are
very grateful that we have agencies such as the Anti-
Defamation League of B'nai B'right and the Community
Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation.
Is there something else you would like to record for
D: That I enjoyed having you, Sylvia Lewis, as a person who has
asked me all these questions.
L: Thank you very much, Sophie.