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Runaway Husbands, Desperate Families: The Story of the National Desertion Bureau

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When: Monday, June 17, 2024, 7:00PM ET

Event Location: Virtual on Zoom and In-Person at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

Cost: Free


During the aftermath of the Panic of 1873, German Jewish immigrant Julius Gumpertz left his home at 97 Orchard Street and never returned. The Tenement Museum’s 100 Years Apart tour shows how his wife Natalie had to figure out how to take care of their four children. Natalie had tremendous resilience, eventually opening up a dressmaking business. But she also turned to others for help: a United Hebrew Charities ledger from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research shows how the Jewish community assisted the family “occasionally.”

Natalie and her children eventually moved out of 97 Orchard in the 1880s, along with the majority of German immigrants. The new wave of immigrants, from Eastern Europe, dealt with economic, social and cultural upheaval, which in some cases led to husband desertion. The Yiddish newspaper the Forverts ran a popular column called “The Gallery of Missing Husbands” which featured mug shots and descriptions of men who had left their wives and families in the lurch in an effort to shame the husbands into returning. By 1911, community leaders formed the National Desertion Bureau to track down runaway husbands and bring them to justice.

The YIVO Institute for Jewish research, together with the Jewish Board, presents a new exhibition, Runaway Husbands, Desperate Families: The Story of the National Desertion Bureau, which traces the history of the National Desertion Bureau and includes never-before seen records, documents, and photographs from the organization’s voluminous archives.

Join YIVO and the Tenement Museum on June 17th for the exhibition opening with a panel discussion led by YIVO Senior Academic Advisor & Director of Exhibitions, Eddy Portnoy, and featuring Tenement Museum President Dr. Annie Polland and Professor Annette Igra of Carleton College.

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About the Exhibition

Learn more about Runaway Husbands, Desperate Families: The Story of the National Desertion Bureau, opening June 17th and on view through Fall 2024.

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