DAVIS, ALICE CATHARINE (Hart), Jewish community leader; baptized 22 June 1834 in London, England, daughter of David Davis and Elizabeth —; m. 1850s Solomon H. Hart (d. 1901) in England, and they had five daughters and two sons who survived to adulthood; d. 28 March 1915 in Saint John.
Alice Davis Hart and her husband are considered the founders of the Saint John Jewish community. After their marriage they had moved to New York and then in 1858 to Saint John, where Solomon eventually established a successful tobacco business. Joined a year later by brothers-in-law Henry Levy and Nathan Green*, the Harts were at the centre of an extended family that formed the basis of the first permanent Jewish community in the Atlantic provinces.
Although Solomon’s role in this community is unclear, Alice provided leadership, particularly among women. As one reminiscent recorded, she was “noted for her nobility of mind and soul and love for all that was right. She rallied the women around her and secured their undivided devotion and assistance.” Her prominence was of long standing. Born to affluent parents who, like many other Jews, evidently felt the need to have their children baptized, she had been educated in an English-Jewish boarding-school, and had continued to circulate among the élite of society after her marriage; she had also acquired a reputation as an excellent Hebrew scholar.
Alice Hart’s activities between 1858 and the 1890s are largely unknown, but it is reasonable to suggest that she spent those years raising her children in the small Jewish community, which consisted of only six families by 1878. Before the establishment of the congregation Ahavith Achim in 1896, she opened her home for the religious schooling of Jewish children. The introduction of these classes constituted an important contribution to the cultural development and continuity of the community, but it was the founding of a Jewish women’s association that won Hart the greatest recognition. She called together the women of the community on 17 Jan. 1899 for the purpose of establishing a group that would address Jewish needs. Named the Daughters of Israel, this group had four objectives: to engage in charitable work, to promote social interaction among families in the Jewish community, to study problems faced by Jewish people, and to develop cultural activities. Hart served as the president for the first year but her role thereafter is not clear.
The organization concentrated on three initial projects. Its first, and primary, focus was the investigation of cases of poverty and sickness and the distribution of funds to needy Jewish families in the city. The recipients of this charity were often newcomers, and the Daughters quickly forged an alliance with the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, founded in 1896. Indeed, Alice Hart had a leadership position in this society. The second project, a sewing group, raised funds from its products and distributed sewn items directly to impoverished families and to various organizations throughout the city. The third undertaking addressed most directly the cultural needs of the women’s community. The organization succeeded in raising, through donations and sales, the funds to construct a mikvah, the ritual bath for women, in the synagogue completed in 1898.
While Hart made important contributions to the Jewish women’s community, she was also effective in linking the community to the wider social reform movement in Saint John, especially in the matter of children’s issues. She was involved in the Day Nursery, established in 1908 and supervised by the Local Council of Women, and in 1914 she encouraged the Daughters of Israel, in which she had renewed her activity, to donate funds for the Free Kindergarten. The link between the Jewish women’s community and the wider club movement had been most clearly established when the Daughters of Israel affiliated with the Local Council in 1912 or 1913.
Alice Davis Hart died in 1915 of diabetes. She was 81 years of age.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Geneal. Soc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), International geneal. index. Fitzpatrick’s Funeral Home (Saint John), Burial records (mfm. at PANB, MC 1409). Saint John Jewish Hist. Museum Arch., Daughters of Israel minute-books; Fernhill Cemetery records; Green–Hart–Isaacs family tree, comp. Phyllis Green (1976); Saint John Jewish Hist. Soc. coll., ms I; ms 2I; ms 4, D1–D3; ms 1409 (mfm. at PANB, MC 1315). Evening Times and Star (Saint John), 29 March 1915. Saint John Globe, 29 March 1915. Irving Abella, A coat of many colours: two centuries of Jewish life in Canada (Toronto, 1990). A biographical dictionary of Canadian Jewry, 1909–1914, from “The Canadian Jewish Times”, comp. L. F. Tapper (Teaneck, N.J., [1992?]). Marcia Koven, Weaving the past into the present: a glimpse into the 130 year history of the Saint John Jewish community (Saint John, 1989). Sheva Medjuck, Jews of Atlantic Canada (St John’s, 1986). G. [J. J.] Tulchinsky, Taking root: the origins of the Canadian Jewish community (Toronto, 1992). Whispers front the past: selections from the writings of New Brunswick women, comp. E. W. McGahan (Fredericton, 1986), 123–38.