Henry Hirshfeld Family Papers
An Inventory of the Collection
Henry (Herman) Hirshfeld was born in Schneidemühl, Prussia (Germany) in 1834 to Lizzie and Herman Jacob Hirshfeld. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 to join two uncles that lived in Mobile, Alabama. After moving to Georgetown, Texas Hirshfeld enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861. After the Civil War he settled in Austin, Texas where he eventually opened a mercantile store called Capital Clothing Company on the southeast corner of 6th Street and Congress Avenue. His store proved to be successful and he became a prominent citizen in both Austin and within the Jewish community. In 1871 he was the first vice president appointed to the new Board of Trade by Governor Davis. He also was one of the founding members of the Beth Israel, Austin's first Jewish congregation. On October 13, 1868 he married Jennie Melasky.
Jennie Melasky was the daughter of a Jewish immigrant from Poland, Bernard Melasky. Like Hirshfeld, Bernard Melasky settled in Texas in the late 1850s and enlisted in the Confederate Army. After the war he settled in Austin and opened a dry goods store on Congress Avenue that came to be known as Melasky & Son. According to the 1870 Federal Census Jennie was born in 1852 in France. Jennie and Henry had eight children: Ben (died in infancy); Rosa (about 1871-1955); Caroline "Carrie" (about 1872-1886); Samuel (about 1873- ); Morris (1875-1949); Laura (about 1877-1964); Jacob "Jake" (1880-1954); and Leila (1886-1973) ("about" birth dates of children are based on 1900 US Federal Census). The couple built a stone cottage at 305 West 9th Street, Austin in 1873. In 1881 they bought the vacant lots to the east of the cottage to build a larger house which was completed in 1887. Henry sold his clothing business in 1886 but continued to have an active interest in financial and real estate affairs including being one of the founding members of the Austin National Bank. He died in 1911 and is buried in the Jewish section of the Oakwood Cemetery. Jennie died in 1920.
Seven of the Hirshfeld children lived until at least their teenage years. Rosa Hirshfeld attended Hood Seminary school and Austin High School, graduating in 1887. She married William Jacob Frees in 1897. They had a daughter, Miriam Hirshfeld Frees in 1899. The couple had moved to the East Coast but returned to the family home in Austin due to the illness of their daughter Miriam. Miriam died of a protracted illness in 1918. Rosa died in 1955.
Her sister Carrie attended Austin Public Schools and died of scarlet fever in 1886 at age 13. Their brother Samuel "Sam" attended Hood Seminary School and Austin High School. He founded Ash & Hirshfeld Clothiers. He married Ernestine Rich and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. where Sam died in the early 1950s.
The fifth Hirshfeld sibling, Morris, attended Austin Public Schools and then followed his father's footsteps into a banking career. He started as a collector at the Austin National Bank in 1891 at the age of 16 and joined staff full time after finishing school. He was elected vice president in 1919, celebrated his 50th anniversary with the bank in 1942, and when he died in 1949 he was senior vice president. He never married. Laura also never married and lived in the family home until her death in 1964. She was charter member of the Austin Woman's Club, active in the Council of Jewish Women and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The last two Hirshfeld siblings were Jake and Leila. Jake attended the Bickler School, Austin Public Schools and Texas A&M before starting Hirshfeld & Anderson, a clothing store. Upon retiring from the clothing business in 1932 he managed the Hirshfeld properties and was named to the Austin National Bank board in 1949 to succeed his brother Morris. He never married and died in 1954. Leila attended Miss Numbers School, Austin High School and the University of Texas. She married Max Bernheim in 1910 and the couple had two children, Henry (1920-1934) and Marie. Max Bernheim died in 1924 and Leila moved back into the family home with her two children. Henry attended Pease grammar school and Allan Junior High School. He died in 1934 at age 14. Marie attended Austin Public Schools and graduated from The University of Texas in 1934. She married Dr. Ross Hanna in 1936 and had three children, Ralph, Leila Maria and Henry. Leila lived in the Hirshfeld home on 9th Street until her death in 1973.
The Henry Hirshfeld Family Papers document the personal, social, religious and business lives of Henry and Jennie Hirshfeld, seven of their children, their spouses and their three grandchildren and span the years 1845 through 1954. The earlier materials associated with Henry and Jennie Hirshfeld are in a mixture of German and English with a few items written in Hebrew. Materials created by the next two generations of the family are exclusively in English. The collection is arranged by family member.
The Henry Hirshfeld series (1845-1911) is composed of materials dating just before he immigrated to the United States in the mid-1800s through his death in 1911 and document his personal and family life, as well as his business and real estate interests. Personal and family items include organization membership certificates, his marriage license and other legal materials such as his German "wandering" passport used to travel between German states, several Travis County certificates of registration as a qualified elector, his signed Civil War Amnesty Oath, as well as his will and probate records. The majority of the correspondence is personal in nature, received by Hirshfeld, and is written in English, German and Hebrew. Included are a set of letters congratulating Henry and Jennie on their 25th wedding anniversary and a letter written by Henry to his wife on their 30th wedding anniversary. Also of interest are a set of letters regarding the financial trouble that his brother-in-law Harry Melasky was incurring in Mexico City. Other personal items include a Haggadah, assorted invitations, cards, programs, biographical newspaper clippings, proclamation from the Austin National Bank upon his death, and a timeline of Civil War battles. Of interest is an autograph book will short messages in German from people from his birthplace, Schneidemühl, dated from 1845-1850, and a notebook maintained by Henry (or Herman as the book is inscribed) dated in the 1850s and 1860s that includes a photograph of him as a young man, passages from authors such as Bryon and Shakespeare written in German and autobiographical information with what appears to be dated diary entries.
The financial and business records contained in the Henry Hirshfeld series pertain to both his personal and business life and span the years 1858 through 1931. Included are legal documents outlining the business partnership between Herman Hirshfeld, Solomon Hirshfeld and Isaac Gratz to form Hirshfeld & Gratz, a general merchandising business and six business/financial ledgers that document merchandise inventory, earnings and expenditures and loans extended. The loans ledger was most likely passed on to one of the Hirshfeld sons as the dates span from 1893 to 1931. Additional financial materials, in both German and English, originating from Alabama, New Orleans, New York and Texas, include receipts for merchandise, promissory notes, stock certificates, and a receipt for payment for his City of Austin 3rd Class Merchant license. Tax receipts for merchandise, occupation and personal property and real estate span the years 1871 to 1886. Of interest is an 1871 tax receipt for school tax that was the result of the School Law of 1871 that was passed by the Reconstruction government in an attempt to create a public school system in Texas. And lastly there is a wallet that includes a notebook with a variety of notes including the amount of taxes due on a variety of properties.
Also documented within the Henry Hirshfeld series are legal documents related to his property on Congress Avenue (South 1/2 of Lot 3, Block 70, Original City); construction documentation of the "Honeymoon Cottage" at 9th and Lavaca Streets built in 1872-1873; a notebook listing rent payments collected; a lease and insurance certificate for 709 Congress Avenue; and a 1907 building permit to repair a building on Block 69, Original City. The back of the "Rents" notebook has a few pages dedicated to the "cost of building house" and appear to be from 1885-1886 and may be related to the construction of the larger house Hirshfeld built on the 9th and Lavaca Streets lot.
The Jennie Melasky Hirshfeld series (1867-1901) contains correspondence, prayer books ("Prayers of Israel" and "The Union Prayer Book for Jewish Worship"), assorted programs and invitations, receipts, advertisements and other household items and her will. Amongst the correspondence are letters sent to her future husband Henry and her daughter Rosa Hirshfeld Frees and her family. One of the letters from Jennie to Henry informs him that "there is no possible way of getting married" because her mother is sick and she "will not get married with her dying in bed." The letters to her daughter contain news of the family and people and happenings in Austin. Also included is an "In Memoriam" letter from Caroline "Carrie" Hirshfeld's classmates upon her death.
The papers also contain materials related to the seven Hirshfeld children, as well as the husbands of Rosa and Leila, and their children. The Rosa, William and Miriam Frees series (1886-1949) includes correspondence, marriage records, general household receipts, tax records, war rations, religious materials, school records, creative works, Miriam's baby book, an autograph book and assorted ephemera and memorabilia. Of interest are a letter and notes from Athol Porter (William Porter/O. Henry's wife) to Rosa. In the letter Athol apologizes for the quality of the stationary she is using and explains that it "is the kind of paper that they use at the office for "copy" and W. had some at home...." The letter is dated May 2, 1896, when the couple was living in Houston and William Porter was working at the Houston Post, two months later he would flee to Honduras to avoid standing trial on embezzlement charges. The letter also discusses Rosa's choice for a husband and that Athol was glad that Rosa's parents approved because she "would never advise a girl to marry against the wishes of her parents-that is if she ever expects to live with them or near them." She was speaking from experience as Athol eloped with William Porter when her mother objected to the marriage because she had tuberculosis. Rosa's religious texts include a well-worn copy of the Haggadah that is extensively annotated. There are limited materials documenting William Free's life which include business cards and stationary and a hand drawn poster poking fun that he only appeared once a year at Saengerrunde Hall. The majority of Miriam's received correspondence is from a member of her grandmother's family and friend that were serving in the Army during World War I. Also notable is a book of writings by Miriam completed during the last few years of her life that reflects on her illness and being a "Captive Princess" as well as the paper dolls she constructed, each one with a complete biography.
Caroline "Carrie" Hirshfeld died in her early teens and the limited about of materials in this series (1881-1886) reflect this short life. Included are two personal letters she received from friends; school report cards from Hood Seminary, a drawing tablet, text books and school event programs; and memorabilia such as a dance card, invitations, a notepad and an issue of The Abbath Visitor with a poem dedicated to the memory of Miss Carrie Hirshfeld. Also included in her materials is an autograph book which she may have shared with her sister Rosa, as there are entries to both of the sisters. There is also a limited amount of information to document Samuel "Sam" Hirshfeld's life. This series (1883, 1887, 1924) contains a Hood Seminary report card and a penmanship practice sheet, notice of acceptance to the Capital Business College in Austin, Texas and a bank note from Citizens State Bank of Austin. The materials in the Morris Hirshfeld series (1872-1954) highlight his 50 plus year career at the Austin National Bank and documents his attempt to secure a commission in the Paymaster's Department of the United States Army during World War I. Also included are a few cards and postcards, a report card from Hood Seminary, a prayer book, tax and retail receipts and World War II ration records. The Laura Hirshfeld series (1867-1868, 1902, 1932, 1944) contains a variety of memorabilia including a dance program, checks, receipts, World War II war ration book and a poem written to all three Hirshfeld sisters "Ros, Leil, and Laura" by Dr. Brenizer. The Jacob "Jake" Hirshfeld series (1882-1889, 1912, 1926-1953) included educational records such as report cards from Richardson's Academy and Austin Public Schools, awards for merit cards and a report about the City of Austin; a membership letter from the Austin Library Association; memorabilia including civic and religious group membership cards, gag cards and World War II ration books; and business correspondence, an advertisement and a receipt from Hirshfeld & Anderson Clothiers and Furnishers.
The Leila Hirshfeld, Max, Henry, and Marie Bernheim series (1895-1944) consists of materials documenting the lives of Leila, her husband Max Bernheim and their children Henry and Marie. Items from Leila's childhood include her confirmation program, report cards from Miss Numbers School, Austin Kindergarten Austin, Public Schools and a composition book. Materials documenting Leila and Max's adult lives include their wedding invitations and book, naturalization records, receipts and war ration cards, cook books and letters of condolence upon the death of her son. The naturalization records are of interest because they document Max's realization in 1918 that he was not a naturalized citizen of the United States as he had always believed, and how this affected Leila since at the time of their marriage a woman's citizenship was directly related the citizenship of her husband. Their son, Henry, died in his teens and the materials mostly offer insight into his school career and school reports and papers, report cards, certificate of vaccination, State of Texas Free Text Book Card, certificate of promotion, drawings and Pease Elementary and John T. Allan Junior High newspapers with articles written by Henry. Also included is his prayer book and birth certificate. There are similar school records for Marie with the addition of the commencement program from The University of Texas from the year she graduated and her wedding invitation for her marriage to Ralph Hanna in 1936.
The Photographs series (circa 1860s-1940s) contains approximately 370 photographs (carte-de-visite, tintypes, cabinet cards, black-and-white prints) including formal portraits of family and friends, various candid scenes with family and friends, collected portraits of Confederate officers and a few photographs of homes. The formal portraits depict most of the Hirshfeld, Bernheim and Frees family members, including: Henry and Jennie Melasky Hirshfeld; Rosa Hirshfeld Frees, her husband William Jacob, and their daughter Miriam; the brothers Samuel "Sam", Morris and Jacob "Jake" Hirshfeld; Laura Hirshfeld; and Leila Hirshfeld Bernheim, her husband Max and their children Henry and Marie. The Bernheim family is particularly well represented. The majority of the candid photographs are of children and include a boy's camp and a hunting and camping trip. Also included are Max Bernheim's photographs of the "Purdue Tank Scrap" in 1904 and a mining camp in the early 1910s. In addition there are 36 nitrate negatives of candid scenes including school sports, religious ceremony and children playing.
The Assorted Materials series (1882-1929, 1942) contains a variety of memorabilia that could not be associated with a particular Hirshfeld family member. Included are advertisements for household products; illustrated cards written in French, a French phrase book and an advertisement for a Parisian Cadillac touring agency; household manuals including cook books, handbooks with tips on cooking economically and raising children; programs for theater performances in Chicago, visiting Central Park in New York, the grand dedication of the "new" State Capitol Building in 1888, and a 1882 Mardi Gras souvenir; a prayer booklet and proverb cards; commencement programs for the Texas German and English Academy and M.M.A.; and assorted images and writing.
Open to all users
The Austin History Center (AHC) is the owner of the physical materials in the AHC collections and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from the AHC before any publication use. The AHC does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.
The majority of the material in this collection were donated by Henry Hirshfeld's granddaughter. An autograph book belonging to Rosa Hirshfeld was donated separately in 2013 by a paper and ephemera collector (DO/1990/084).
Henry Hirshfeld Family Papers (AR.H.024). Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Texas.
Donor #: DO/1967/020
Donation Date: 1967, 1974, 1976, 1980, 1981, 1982
The finding aid was updated and encoded by Molly Hults in 2017.
Digital copies of select materials are available on the Reading Room Digital Viewing Station.
Detailed Description of the Collection