Lena Levy Tachau, 1868-1961: Louisville Community Activist and Suffragist

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Lena Levy was born in Kentucky in 1868 to Moses and Henrietta Levy, both Jewish immigrants to the United States from German-speaking Europe. Her father, Moses Levy, was in the clothing business. In 1891, Lena Levy married Emil S. Tachau, who in that same year established an insurance firm, E.S. Tachau and Sons, Inc., which he headed until it was sold in 1952.  Emil S.Tachau was active in many civic organizations. In 1903 he joined the board of Neighborhood House, a settlement house that served chiefly Jewish immigrants, and chaired the board for many years. In order to support the settlement and other charities that served Jews, he founded the Federation of Jewish Charities. He was also among the founders of Jewish Hospital and the Welfare League, which became the Community Chest in 1917. The couple, who lived in Louisville, had two sons.

 

As a member of the Woman Suffrage Association of Louisville (LWSA), Lena Tachau was an active supporter of woman’s right to vote. In 1912, Kentucky women who could read and write won the so-called “school suffrage”—that is, the right to vote in local elections for school-board members and educational bond issues. As Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Woman’s Club of Louisville, Lena Tachau urged Louisville women to exercise their right to register and to vote in these elections. The Legislative Committee organized a telephone campaign (at the time, a very innovative way of getting a political message out!) to reach all  these new voters “so as to bring before them the great necessity of registering and then voting for the two candidates” whom LWSA had endorsed. Lena Tachau reported at the October 1912 meeting of the Woman’s Club that about 12,738 women, or approximately one fifth of all the qualified women voters, had registered, and claimed that this was the “largest percentage recorded in any city for a first registration of women on school suffrage.”

 

Lena Tachau advanced education in other ways. She collaborated with the former teacher Sarah Webb Maury to make nutritious lunches available to all public-school pupils, who too often, the two women complained, “bought pickles, pretzels, or ice-cream cones from street vendors.” Maury and Tachau traveled to several cities to observe the “penny lunch system,” a nutritional program that provided school lunches for which children paid only a penny. They convinced the Louisville Superintendent of Schools to introduce the system into twenty-nine Louisville schools. In a co-authored book entitled A Penny Lunch, Maury and Tachau offered information on all aspects of their system, including recipes . Tachau also served as a representative of  Associated Charities on the Jail Visiting Board, which among other functions oversaw the appointment of the matrons who supervised female inmates.

 

Both Lena and Emil Tachau died in 1961, and both are buried in the Temple Cemetery.

 

Prepared by Ann Taylor Allen, Professor Emerita, University of Louisville

 

Sources:

 

Ancestry.com

 

Henrietta Lieber

Moses S. Levy

Emil S. Tachau

Lena Levy Tachau

 

Louisville Courier-Journal:  Oct. 17,1912; May 22,1912; March 29, 1915; Oct. 11,1921; May 5, 1961.

 

Maury, Sarah Webb, and Lena L. Tachau. A Penny Lunch. Louisville: Standard Printing Co., 1915.

 

“Sarah Webb Maury.” In A Dictionary of Prominent Women of Louisville and Kentucky. Edited by Bess A. Ray. Louisville: Louisville Free Public Library, 1940, pp. 167-170.