The Irma Rosenthal Frankenstein Distinguished Service Award.
This coveted award is designed to honor those who have contributed greatly to the IJHS Mission. The IJHS founded in 1972 in the twilight of the American Bicentennial fervor, collects, publishes, and promotes 250 years of Jewish experience in the state of Indiana.
IJHS President Trent D. Pendley of Furnessville, who launched the new distinguished service award in 2005 has hopes that this will be as sought after for Hoosier Jewry as the Indiana Governor’s Sagamore of the Wabash award that is given to exemplary citizens.
The award is named for a Jewish woman Irma Rosenthal Frankenstein (1871-1966), a self-described ‘ordinary person’ who kept diaries her entire life and wrote for Jewish periodicals. She helped translate the Einhorn prayer book from German into English, but wasn’t given credit in the publication. As a girl, Irma was a correspondent of a St. Louis newspaper, The Jewish Voice, for which she wrote a weekly column covering news and subjects of interest to the Jewish communities. She also wrote for the Sabbath Visitor, her Temple’s weekly newsletter.
When a widow in 1958 and while recovering from a heart attack in Chicago, Irma choreographed her only publication “The Chronicle of the Befogged Dune Bugs” and of her adventure to the Indiana Dunes from November 1917. This booklet illustrated by Earl H. Reed Sr. served as a fundraiser for the Save The Dunes Council, the movement that saw to the creation of a national park along the Hoosier coast of Lake Michigan.
Irma died several months before the US Congress finally established the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966. Irma’s diaries after her death languished in used bookstores in Michigan and southern Illinois until they were discovered by anthropologist Ellen FitzSimmons Steinberg. The University of Iowa Press in 2004 published Ellen FitzSimmons Steinberg’s biography of Irma.
Ellen FitzSimmons Steinberg addressed the 33nd annual meeting of the IJHS in Indianapolis in 2005 when the Irma Rosenthal Frankenstein Distinguished Service Award was bestowed on its first recipient. In launching this award Mr. Pendley quoted from an early issue of Indiana Jewish History:
"It took seventy-two years of marching, campaigning, and agitating for the Women of this country to get the vote. It was women who created the settlement houses; established decent health care for the poor; struggled to improve working conditions; and developed social services for the young, the aged, the handicapped, and then persuaded government of its responsibility to provide these services."
"Women spoke out for justice and equality for all people, and then had to agitate to carve out some small portion of justice and equality for themselves as women."
"In their efforts many were belittled, abused, harassed. But cruelest of all, most of them were forgotten."
Harriet Miller in Indiana Jewish History, July 1975.
The fate of Irma’s diaries is ironically quintessential to the noble mission of the IJHS and that similar papers be deposited into historical archives and not abandoned.