The 1893 graduating class of Anaheim Grammar School (grammar schools at the time were first through ninth grade) consisted of only eight students; two boys, one of whom, Harry Davis, was Jewish, and six girls, of which only Rita Rivas was Hispanic. As part of the commencement ceremony, each student recited a piece of writing. Harry chose the well-known poem (at the time) “The Polish Boy,” most likely because his father had been born in Poland, and Rita chose a section from the 1884 novel “Ramona,” about a Southern Californian girl who suffers racial discrimination and hardship because she is half Mexican. What’s most fascinating to me is the fact that prior to the mid 1910s, Anaheim, and much of Orange County, was surprisingly accepting of Jewish and Mexican residents (though Chinese immigrants were absolutely discriminated against), as demonstrated by the class makeup. Harry was the son of Jewish pioneers Gustav and Helena (née Mendelson); his father, along with his Uncle Philip, established Anaheim’s first private bank, and Anaheim’s Helena Street is named for his mother. Unfortunately this openess and acceptance declined as the century wore on, but, as is said, the arc of the universe bends towards justice.
Dalia Taft, archivist of the Orange County Jewish Historical Society, highlights images from the archives every month. For more information, please visit www.jewishoc.org/history. You can also contact Dalia at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (949) 435-3484, ext. 167. The Orange County Jewish Historical Society is a program of Jewish Federation & Family Services and is fully funded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County.