Historic, but not famous

William Rhinelander Stewart, philanthropist and financier
View North with First Washington Arch and horse drawn carriages, 1890.

William Rhinelander Stewart (1852-1929) was born in NYC. He was president of the Rhinelander Real Estate Co. and an officer of the Greenwich Savings Bank and the Corn Exchange Bank. As a philanthropist, he was active in the work of the Conference on Charities and Corrections and served as president of the State Board of Charities for twenty-five years.

Mr. Stewart is often considered responsible for Grant’s tomb funding, Washington Arch in Washington Square Park and was the President of the State Board of Charities in NY. The family was one of the oldest in NYC. He was also rumored to be a member of a secret society before WW II called The Room. The covert group, founded in 1917, included the real estate heir Vincent Astor, a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt; the book publisher Nelson Doubleday; Winthrop W. Aldrich, the president of the Chase National Bank; Kermit Roosevelt, a son of Theodore Roosevelt; David K. E. Bruce, a son-in-law of Andrew W. Mellon and a future ambassador to France, West Germany and Britain; the philanthropist William Rhinelander Stewart; and Marshall Field III, a newspaper publisher and heir to the Chicago department store fortune. The group gathered info from various governments for President Roosevelt as well as gather to hear famous speakers.

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Historic, but not famous

Jacob Schiff, philanthropist

Jacob Henry Schiff (born Jakob Heinrich Schiff; 1847 – 1920) was a Jewish-American banker, businessman, and philanthropist. Among many other things, he helped finance the expansion of American railroads. He was born in Germany and migrated to the United States after the American Civil War and joined the firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co on Wall street. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in September 1870

Mr. Schiff was the most well known and influential Jewish leader from 1880 to 1920 in what later became known as the “Schiff era”, grappling with all major Jewish issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the Tsar, American and international anti-semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. He led many corporations, including the National City Bank of New York, Equitable Life Assurance Society, Wells Fargo & Company, and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Schiff supported many Jewish charities including relief efforts for the victims of pogroms in Russia, and helped establish and develop Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Jewish Division in the New York Public Library, and the American Jewish Committee. In New York examples include the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, of which he was president, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association building and the Jewish Theological Seminary on Broadway and 116th Street. He was also involved with many secular American causes: in addition to serving on the Board of Managers of the New York Zoological Society, the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Fine Arts Society, American Geographical Society, and Barnard College; and a number of other organizations for civil rights and the disadvantaged, such as the American Red Cross, the Nurses’ Settlement (New York) and Tuskegee Institute. In 1895, he purchased a building for use by the Henry Street Settlement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Henry Street Settlement is a not-for-profit social service agency that provides social services, arts programs and health care services to all New Yorkers of need.

On his 70th birthday, he distributed $700,000 among various charitable organizations and public institutions.  Schiff was actively concerned with the improvement of civic conditions in New York. He was a vice president of the New York Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Committee of 70 which resulted in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring.

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Historic, but not famous

Teresa LeCount, led the restoration of Bissel Gardens in The Bronx

Teresa LeCount, led the restoration of Bissel Gardens in The Bronx in the early part of the 2000s. She watched her area of The Bronx change from a great place to live to a place riddled with crime, garbage and drugs over the 32 years she lived there and decided to improve her neighborhood.

She founded the Bissel Gardens as a non-profit organization to oversee the use of the land. The garden occupies a 5 block area near the train station that had become a dumping ground. She was able to get the support of her Borough president, Fernando Ferrer, and get volunteers to help clean up the lot, which took 2 years. Now one block is a community garden where residents rent plots and grow their own vegetables and flowers. A second block grows food for the hungry and is sent to three church soup kitchens in the area. There are plans for the remaining 3 blocks. Teresa is confined to a wheel chair, so she spends her time organizing and getting support for the gardens.

The gardens now teach students and veterans about sustainable gardening and growing vegetables, fruits and trees. There are tours and it is considered one of the premiere gardens in the Northern Bronx.

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Historic, but not famous

Isabella Graham (July 29, 1742 – July 27, 1814) was a Scottish-American philanthropist and educator. In 1765 she married Dr. John Graham, an army surgeon in the Royal Americans regiment. Two years later, she went with him to Canada. They had three daughters and two sons, one of which died in infancy in Scotland. The surviving children were; Jessie, Joanna Bethune, Isabella and John. She traveled the world with her husband, but after his death in 1774, she returned to Scotland while pregnant with her 5th child. She never remarried and raised her children while remaining in service to the church of Scotland.

Ms. Graham started her life of philanthropy in Scotland with the Penny Society, later known as the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Sick, a group for poor members, who contributed a penny a week to create a fund for providing for them when sick. She started the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows in 1797.While visiting Scotland from America in 1785, Dr. John Witherspoon (a member of the same church as Isabella in Scotland and a signer of the Declaration of Independence) spoke with Isabella regarding returning to the United States. After her children had completed their schooling, she came to New York City in 1789 and later that year established a school for young women.

Graham also founded, or helped organize, the Orphan Asylum Society (organized 1806), the Society for Promoting Industry among the Poor, and the first Sunday School for Ignorant Adults in New York. She also aided in organizing the first missionary society and the first monthly missionary prayer meeting in the city; was the first president of the Magdalen Society of New-York (founded 1812); systematically visited the inmates of the hospital, and the sick female convicts in the state prison; and distributed Bibles to hundreds of families, as well as tracts prepared under her own direction.

While living in New York City, Graham was a member of the New York Society Library along with many of the nation’s founding fathers and other influential individuals of the time. She is the only woman who is listed under members with a political occupation.

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