|Babette Mandel around the time of her wedding, 1871.|
Her parents, Emanuel Frank and Elise Reese Frank, left Aufhausen in Bavaria in the summer of 1846, drawn by hopes of greater prosperity.
Michael Reese, an uncle then living in California, encouraged them to come to America and set aside funds for their support. After a journey by ship and stagecoach that took several weeks, the Franks and their ten children arrived in Chicago on Yom Kippur.
The family settled in a house on Clark Street north of Madison. Sadly, in 1855 Emanuel Frank was killed in an accident, and though she excelled at school, Babette was forced to spend much of her childhood helping to maintain the household.
On April 18, 1871, when she was 29, Babette married Emanuel Mandel. Emanuel’s brothers, Leon and Simon, had founded a dry goods store with Leon Klein in 1855. The business was reorganized as the Mandel Brothers store when Klein retired and Emanuel was brought in as a third partner.
The Mandel Brothers store was then located near Clark and Van Buren Streets. When the Chicago Fire destroyed the building in October 1871, just six months after Emanuel and Babette were married, the Mandels re-established their store on the South Side.
In 1875 they moved to the Colonnade Building on State and Madison, owned by Marshall Field. Intent on building up State Street, Field persuaded the Mandels to stay by means of a generous, long-term lease, and soon the business was flourishing again.
The Mandels were active members of Sinai Temple, and in 1888, at a meeting held at Sinai, Leon and Emanuel were among those who pledged money to found the Jewish Manual Training School (later the Jewish Training School). The idea behind the School was to give immigrants manual skills that would enable them to support themselves, while also promoting Americanization. Located on the West Side, the School taught cooking, sewing, woodworking, English and citizenship to Eastern European immigrants.
Babette Mandel was prominent among those who organized the School, at first serving as a director, and then as its president. The Jewish Training School closed in 1912; the inrush of immigrants that had made it so essential was largely over by then.
Chicago Lying-In Hospital and Dispensary was founded in 1895 with the help of Babette Mandel. She also served on its board. This was a maternity clinic at first housed in four rooms on Maxwell Street. It was later renamed the Chicago Maternity Center.
Inspired by the success of Hull House, Mrs. Mandel and others established the Maxwell Street Settlement in 1893 as a cultural center for newlyarrived Jewish immigrants.
Babette Mandel was a leader in many other organizations as well: Chicago Women’s Aid, Sarah Greenebaum Lodge (United Order of True Sisters), the Chicago Section of the [National] Council of Jewish Women, and others.
The achievement she is best known for, however, is the establishment of the West Side Dispensary in 1903. Originally opened in 1899 at Clinton and Judd Streets, this building was inadequate, and Babette Mandel gave $10,000 to reestablish it at Maxwell and Morgan Streets. Most of the patients were Russian or East European immigrants from the West Side. In 1910, she again gave a large sum of money to establish the Dispensary in new quartersand at this time, the Dispensary was dedicated to the memory of her husband, Emanuel Mandel, who had died in an accident in 1908. Mrs. Mandel continued to support the clinic with large gifts over the years, and in 1928 it was incorporated into Michael Reese Hospital as the Emanuel and Babette Mandel Clinic.
Most of Babette Mandel’s charity work was carried out while she raised their three children: Frank, Edwin, and Rose. When she died on March 12, 1945, she left $50,000 to the Jewish Charities of Chicago and $25,000 each to Michael Reese Hospital and the Chicago Maternity Center, among other bequests.
Her son Edwin became president of Mandel Brothers department store and was also president of Michael Reese Hospital. In 1960, Mandel Brothers was sold to the Weiboldt Corporation, which closed the store in the 1970s.
At a time when women were not expected to work outside the home, Babette Mandel, like many women of her generation, found a vocation and purpose that allowed her to extend her role as mother beyond the confines of the home. Her significance lies in the way she used her position of wealth and privilege to help the Jewish community at a time when immigrants were in desperate need.