by Tara Spencer

Where there are now some rather bland industrial and government-style buildings, there used to stand a stately structure that housed the Pacific School. Surrounded by tidy residential homes, this school was where Ella Fleishman was educated.

Unattributed newspaper article, circa 1905. Likely The Omaha Bee. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

Known for welcoming young students from all faiths and serving nearly every ethnicity, this school was where the future Jewish author of Russian descent* first expressed her desire to become a writer.

Ella demonstrated her talents early in life, if one can judge by her written intent at the age of 10 in 1905 to be an “authoress.” Her photo and the declaration appeared in a story on the Pacific School† that focused on how the children of immigrants learned together at this rather unique school. The author of the piece recognized Ella’s talent, using her as an example of one of the “noble minds” found at this “school of all nations.”

Likely from The Omaha Bee, circa 1905. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

The writer of the piece (which was not listed) described Ella as a slender dark-eyed girl with “a rare foresight almost unknown to children,” able to recognize how much more effective she would be in life with a good education.

Her father, Esau Fleishman, was a rabbi at the orthodox Jewish church. As the Omaha representative of the Industrial Removal Organization (responsible for the
removal and settlement of Jewish refugees), he met every train and found housing for those fleeing persecution, often in his own home until other arrangements could be made. Ella—who spoke several languages by the time she was 10, including English, German, Bohemian, Yiddish, Polish, some Asian languages (unlisted), and of course Russian—often served as an interpreter for the visitors.

Esau was also a mohel and a shohet‡ work which often called him to other Jewish communities in the surrounding area to perform the associated duties. According to Ella’s own book, Jewish Settlement in Nebraska, he was the first secretary of the Omaha Hebrew Club and the first Vice President of Wise Memorial Hospital.

* * * *

While it’s not certain, Ella’s Russian parents may have fled to the U.S. during what was considered the second wave of Jewish migration from Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. Severe restrictions had been placed on Russian Jews by the czar during the 1880s. As a result of regulations that went into effect in May 1882, Jewish people in Russia were forbidden freedom of movement. They were unable to live outside of towns or own rural lands. Other laws prevented them from seeking higher education.

According to Carol Gendler’s thesis titled “The Jews of Omaha: The First Sixty Years,” which was published in the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, “The instigation of pogroms** in 1881-1882 further outraged Russian Jewry and left great numbers of Russian Jews with little choice but to emigrate. A total of 26,619 Jews came to America from Russia in these two years alone, and by the end of 1882 the Jewish population of the United States had reached 250,000.” After the initial exodus, they continued to emigrate to the U.S. until the early 1920s when the passage of restrictive laws in 1921 and 1924 limited new arrivals. Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe to the United States never again reached the levels that it did before 1920.

Fortunately, most of those who arrived as part of this influx continued to speak Yiddish and built strong networks of cultural, spiritual, voluntary, and social organizations.

* * * *

Ella became a noted journalist in her time. She worked as a city editor for the Omaha World-Herald and was head of the women’s news department for the Omaha Bee. She covered Omaha society and traveled around the world, often writing about how war was affecting the areas she visited. These stories included topics such as whether the U.S. should give aid to then-president of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek and the proliferation of propaganda in Russia.

As a reporter, however, her best-known story coverage was that of a Burlington train robbery for The World-Herald. The robbery happened in Council Bluffs and was later made into an NBC radio program in 1948 called The Big Story, in which Ella’s role in catching them was featured.

In 1927, Ella wrote Jewish Settlement in Nebraska, a 40,000-word typescript book that identified Jewish people from Omaha to “towns in which there are only one or two Jewish residents.” It was a prolific work and is a great resource for those who want to know about the history of Jewish people in Nebraska. She was later asked to write a book on the medical history of the state, simple titled History of Medicine in Nebraska. This task was directed by the managing editor of the official journal of the American College of Physical Therapy, Dr. Albert F. Tyler of Omaha.

Ella strove to work for her people, serving with the Jewish Welfare Board in France during World War I, where she ministered to the soldiers and people of the war-stricken area. While unattributed, some sources also indicate Ella may have served as a Red Cross volunteer nurse aide in WWII.

The Omaha Bee, 12 April 1919. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.

Growing up, Ella lived in a full house. Besides the many boarders from abroad, she had several brothers and sisters. They included her brother Max, who later became a doctor, perhaps sparking her interest in the medical field. She married prominent Omaha businessman Herman Harry Auerbach in 1922, becoming known as Ella Fleishman Auerbach from then on. Their travels are well-documented, and Herman sadly passed away from a heart attack after a trip to Buenos Aires in 1948. The two did not have children, and after Herman’s death, Ella continued to travel and write, sometimes giving talks about her experiences in the world abroad. She lived a full, exciting life and is now buried at Beth El Cemetery in Ralston.

While we may not know Ella’s full story, it would seem she accomplished the early dream she wrote about: “I intend to work for the good of others and to work hard, until I have made a name and place for myself in this world.”

*****

Want to learn more about Ella Fleishman Auerbach? Next month on Oct. 16th, Nebraska Jewish Historical Society is having a 40th Anniversary Celebration and one of the co-founders of the organization Oliver Pollack will be the keynote speaker. He will deliver a speech titled “The Amazing Ella Fleishman Auerbach, Nebraska Journalist and Historian.” More here: https://nebraskajhs.com

*While several sources say Ella’s family was from Russia, technically her parents were from Lithuania. However, Lithuania was considered part of the Russian Empire from the 1880s to the early 1900s. They would have emigrated to the United States during this time, therefore they are referred to as Russian in this piece.

†The article was featured in a scrapbook made by Margaret McCarthy, then-principal of the Pacific School, and likely clipped from the Omaha Bee circa 1905.

‡A mohol is a Jewish person trained in the practice of brit milah, the “covenant of circumcision.” A shohet is a person officially licensed by rabbinic authority as slaughterer of animals for use as food in accordance with Jewish laws.

**A pogrom is an organized massacre or general violence against a particular ethnic group. In Russian, it means “to wreak havoc.”

 

Sources:

https://history.nebraska.gov/sites/history.nebraska.gov/files/doc/publications/NH1977Synagogue.pdf

https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1586&context=studentwork

https://history.nebraska.gov/sites/history.nebraska.gov/files/doc/publications/January-March%202014%20Nebraska%20History%20News.pdf, pg. 11

https://issuu.com/jewishpress7/docs/1929-06-07

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/23601062.pdf,  pg.140

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6211283/

https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/haventohome/haven-century.html

https://www.britannica.com/place/Lithuania/Russian-rule

https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1586&context=studentwork

by Kelli Bello

After the first few sentences of a Benson Sun article from 1962, I felt like I had met my new best friend.

In her profile of the late great Esther Green, writer Rosemary Madison opined, 

“She’s a dynamo.

She’s as resilient as a cork bobbing in water.

She’s as open, friendly, and easy to know as the old-time neighborhood family druggist.

She’s a force in an all masculine world, and as feminine as a lace parasol.”[1]

Can you blame me for being a little smitten by this horseback-riding, portrait-painting, Hollywood-adjacent, polio-surviving dynamo?

The life story of Esther L. Boyer Green Humphrey leapt off the pages as I began to research her. At the time, I was working as the production manager of the Firehouse Letterpress. Shop owner Larry Richling and I had recently moved his massive collection of vintage letterpress blocks, printing presses, film equipment, and Hollywood press kits in order to build a new print shop in Council Bluffs.

While sorting through the endless boxes, one name kept appearing: FEPCO.

FEPCO stands for Film Exhibitors Printing Company, and was founded 1924 by a 21-year-old Esther Green and her husband Walter Green. FEPCO produced “movie papers,” which contained everything a theater needed to successfully promote a film release.  

After a theater booked a film for screening, Hollywood studios would issue them a press kit. In the kit was the cast list, plot synopsis, photo stills, and a plethora of poster themes and sizes that could be ordered. The regional or small town theaters typically received their press kits from a middleman, not the studios, and this is where FEPCO made its mark. At the height of its business in the 1950s, FEPCO was serving over 4,000 small towns, and had clients in all 50 states and Canada.[2]

Examples of FEPCO press kits from the Firehouse Letterpress collection. Image courtesy of Kelli Bello.

Walter and Esther Green established their business at the perfect time in the 1920’s – when the Golden Age of Hollywood was in its early years and the appetite from movie-goers was insatiable. In Omaha, Theater Row sprung up along Douglas Street between 14th and 16th to meet the need. This bustling stretch of downtown was home to many iconic theaters in the first half of the 20th century, including The Moon, The Rialto, and The Empress theaters. FEPCO’s offices were located right near the heart of the action at 15th and Davenport.[3]

Unfortunately, in 1950 Walter Green passed away from a heart attack at the age of only 50.[4] Esther soldiered on with the business and under her leadership, elevated FEPCO to a national and international player in the Hollywood advertising business.

The Greens outside of the Omaha Community Playhouse in 1935. Image Source: The John S. Savage Collection, The Durham Museum.

“I was a widow for seven years, played the part of a man and a woman,” she said. She went on to remarry Harry Humphrey, a retired representative of the Field Paper Company.[5]

For Esther and FEPCO in the 1950’s and 1960’s, business was good and demand was constantly increasing. In the 1962 Sun profile, Esther proudly declared,

“And just think, it’s right here in Omaha, and being centrally located enables us to give comet-fast service with personalized theater advertising such as heralds, programs, window cards, monthly calendars, mat service and photoengraving. We’re the largest in the world and that’s not stretching the blanket one bit!”[6]

Business boomed from the 1920s -1960s, until studio relationships with these regional “exchanges” evolved away from the established middleman model, and eventually the rapid dawn of the Digital Age drastically changed the printing business.[7] Where once FEPCO was in high demand to produce the mats and blocks required by newspapers to print film advertisements, the shift to modern offset printing made FEPCO’s bread and butter products obsolete.[8]

Letterpress advertising blocks produced by FEPCO. Image courtesy of Kelli Bello.

This was the final deathblow to the “movie papers” industry, and FEPCO shuttered its doors in 1980, with Esther passing away shortly after in 1981.[9]

In the span of FEPCO’s 56-year reign, Esther was faced with many challenges in a rapidly evolving film industry. Audiences were also evolving, and the business weathered multiple wars. She seemed to take these obstacles in stride and pivoted her business accordingly. In 1966, she even received a citation from President Lyndon B. Johnson for her participation in the Youth Opportunity Campaign – a home front effort to create skilled labor positions for teenagers.[10] For Esther and many employers, this was an opportunity to fill positions left vacant by soldiers fighting in Vietnam.[11]

At the time of the recognition by President Johnson, 18 of FEPCO’s 22 employees were minors. She said, “You can only have so many key people. Viet Nam has taken away three of my really key people. Youngsters train easily. They’re agile. They’re smart.[12]

Modern inventions like air conditioning, television, and drive-in theaters kept FEPCO constantly on its toes.

“At one time, we worked our heads off in the winter time. Then summer was slack time. Now, because of outdoor theaters, it’s a complete turnaround. Air conditioning was a big factor at one time, and theaters were the pioneers. At first, we dealt with the small-town theater. Then TV came in, little theaters went out, and the industry developed into huge drive-ins.”[13]

All of this business acumen appears to be a part of her family’s fiber. She was born Esther Boyer to Irish and French parents. Her father, Charles Boyer, founded Boyer Coal and Ice Company, and all five of her brothers struck out to form their own enterprises including Boyer Trailer, Boyer Insurance, Boyer Candy, and Boyer Hardware.[14]

The Boyer family business, c. 1930. Image courtesy of Council Bluffs Public Library.

 A childhood bout with polio left her wheelchair-bound for years. It was during this period of recovery that she fostered a talent for drawing and painting. Her artistic talents were so strong that as an adult, a portrait she painted of her gardener was even displayed in the Joslyn Art Museum.[15] She was also a ceramicist, a dancer, an organist, and a horsewoman.

She went on to run a marathon and swim two miles a day.

“None of it came easy. Everything was a challenge and a struggle. I had missed a lot of things, having polio.”[16] 

Her friend Mrs. Robert Hoff summed up Esther’s “kinetic energy” well, “There’s nobody like Esther. People half her age will be leaving the dance floor, exhausted. And Esther is still going strong – and I mean she knows all those fancy jitterbug things.”[17] 

With a penchant for spinning straw into gold, it was her difficulty walking as a teenager that eventually brought her future husband Walter Green into her life. He noticed her struggling on the way home from school and offered her a ride home on his bicycle. They were married in 1920, when Esther was just 17 years old.[18] 

Her role as a titan in the Hollywood film industry allotted her certain cache among celebrity circles. At her home, Greencrest Acres, a sprawling property at 96th and Dodge Street, she displayed framed photos of her celebrity friends, many of whom were houseguests on the property. The A-List names included Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, Bob Hope, Jayne Mansfield, and Anna May Wong. One of her and Walter’s dearest friends was a young nightclub singer named Walt Liberace. Before becoming the rhinestone-encrusted mono-monikered icon, he recorded his first commercial record in Esther’s basement recreation room.[19]

Esther meets her idol Kim Novak. Omaha World-Herald, 25 March 1956. 

But nobody had Esther as star struck as Golden Globe-winning actress Kim Novak. Esther said, “I’m so crazy about her. She’s not only a good person, she’s religious. She has the highest standards, a background of culture, devotion to her parents. She’s my favorite.”[20]

In 1956 while attending the Drive-In Theater Convention in Cleveland, Esther waited in line for 45 minutes to meet her idol face-to-face. Kim Novak signed Esther’s menu, but like so many before her, was deeply charmed by Esther and invited her to sit down and share a dessert.[21]

Esther in her penthouse apartment located above FEPCO headquarters at 416 S. 14th Street. Omaha World-Herald, 19 February 1967.

I feel honored to have initially “met” Esther by working with the equipment she and FEPCO produced at the letterpress shop Larry and I built. Scratching under the surface a little deeper in local newspaper archives revealed a dynamic, well-respected, and savvy trailblazer who built an empire and appears to have been unanimously beloved by everyone who met her.

When Esther L. Boyer Green Humphrey passed away in November of 1981, she left behind an immense legacy. A legacy that still inspires women today…well, at least one woman. This one.

_______________

 

 

[1] Madison, Rosemary. “The Private World of Esther Green – After Polio, She’s a Dynamo in a Man’s World” Benson Sun, 22 November 1962.

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Madison, Rosemary. “The Private World of Esther Green – After Polio, She’s a Dynamo in a Man’s World” Benson Sun, 22 November 1962.

[4] Obituary. Omaha World-Herald. 13 November 1950.

[5] Madison, Rosemary. “The Private World of Esther Green – After Polio, She’s a Dynamo in a Man’s World” Benson Sun, 22 November 1962.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Nicol, Brian. “Hollywood Flashbacks.” 2009, p.6.

[8] Ibid. p. 6.

[9] Obituary. Omaha World-Herald. 19 November 1981.

[10]Johnson, Lyndon B. “Statement by the President on the 1966 Youth Opportunity Campaign.” 11 April 1966.

[11] “President Cites Omahan for Employing Young.” Omaha World-Herald. 24 June 1966.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Madison, Rosemary. “The Private World of Esther Green – After Polio, She’s a Dynamo in a Man’s World” Benson Sun, 22 November 1962.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Omaha World-Herald. 3 December 1940. p. 5.

[16]  Madison, Rosemary. “The Private World of Esther Green – After Polio, She’s a Dynamo in a Man’s World” Benson Sun, 22 November 1962.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Omaha World-Herald. 25 March 1956. p. 88.

By Natalie Kammerer

Father Flanagan’s Boys Town was never segregated, but they also couldn’t help every boy in need. It was because of the persistent need in their community, and what Anna Partridge described as her “duty to humanity” that she and her husband, Gaines Partridge, began to take in as many boys in need of a home as they could.

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Photographs of Anna and Gaines Partridge, Sr. Image source: FindAGrave.com

By the late 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. Partridge had already raised three children of their own: Helen, Lyndell, and Gaines Jr. (Dr. Gaines Partridge, Jr. would go on to become a highly respected educator and student advocate, spending much of his career at Loma Linda University in California. In 1961, he became the second Black Nebraskan to earn a PhD.)

Luckily for dozens of North Omaha boys in the late 1930s through the 1950s, the Partridges didn’t like the idea of empty nesting. So they partnered with the Douglas County juvenile probation officers and the Child Welfare Society to provide a home for boys who had been orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise in need of a stable environment. First, they welcomed a few boys into their home at 2863 Miami Street. But the small house was crowded, and they wanted more room so that they could help more kids. When they didn’t find anything in the Omaha area, they tried Pennsylvania. Only after they’d found land they liked and made a down payment were they notified of a “restrictive clause” that excluded them from the neighborhood. 

Soon the Magnolia, Alabama natives were headed back to Omaha, where they found a rundown 65-acre farm on Route 2, Florence Station, near the Washington-Douglas County line. Gaines continued his work as a plumber while Anna took care of getting as many as 12 boys fed, taken to and from school and overseeing their chores. The older children attended Howard Kennedy and Tech High in town, while the youngest were students at District 58 School in Nashville, NE. There, they were active in the 4-H program. The Partridges rented out the majority of the land, but kept enough for each boy to have a garden plot of his own. Each was also responsible for at least one pet. The boys also had other jobs, such as helping in the kitchen and maintaining the property. After their work was done, they had free range to play in the large, hilly yard shaded by oak trees.

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Six Oakview boys sit on a bench in the yard with a rabbit and one of the farm dogs. Image source: Omaha World-Herald, 4 September 1949.

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Two young boys help Mrs. Anna Partridge prepare lunch in the kitchen. Image source: Omaha World-Herald, 4 September 1949.

Religion also played an important role in the Partridge’s lives. They were both very active members of the Sharon Seventh Day Adventist Church and encouraged all the boys to attend whatever church they preferred. Weekends were often spent in town attending various church activities, visiting relatives, and a seeing a movie.

Though Oakview received some money to help feed and clothe the boys, the farm was expensive – many of the outbuildings had been neglected for years, and any additions that could be made to the house meant that more children could find a home there. The farm, which became popularly known as the “Oakview Home” received support, praise, and a little funding from the community. In addition to individual donations, the Memo Charity Club hosted an annual “Experience Rally” to raise funds for the Oakview Home. In 1951, Anna Partridge was named “Woman of the Year” by the Zeta Phi Beta sorority. For the occasion, some of her colleagues in law enforcement testified to the Oakview Home’s impact:

“…[she] provides a wonderful home to seven or eight youngsters ranging in age from 12 to 18 in addition to caring for two of her grandsons.  The Juvenile Court has found that Mrs. Partridge is a real mother to the youngsters under her care. … The children under Mrs. Partridge’s care learn to know love, understanding, companionship, and a proper religious life, all combined with kindly but firm discipline. … Whatever recognition and honor Mrs. Partridge has or may receive as a result of her work and unselfish devotion to the youngsters whose privilege it is to live in her home, is richly deserved.” Lawrence Krell, Probation Officer