Historic, but not famous

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, philanthropist

Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage supported herself by teaching for over 20 years in Syracuse New York.  In 1869 at age 41, Olivia Slocum married Russell Sage, a widower, financier and robber baron who was 12 years older than she. They had no children.

Ms. Sage became involved in activities in which her role as his wife defined her.  In 1906 Sage died and left his entire fortune of about $70 million to her, which was unrestricted for her use. In his name she used the money for philanthropic purposes. She established the Russell Sage Foundation in 1907 and founded the Russell Sage College for women in 1916. Ms. Sage was a former educator and strongly supported education, both with program and building grants to Syracuse and other universities.

Her philosophy included “helping the unfortunate by providing them with a good environment, opportunity for self-support and individual responsibility, and protection from the unscrupulous.” Mrs. Sage donated Constitution Island to the federal government as an addition to West Point Military Academy. Ms. Sage became a patron of E. Lilian Todd (the first woman in the world to design airplanes) after seeing Todd’s first airplane design at an exhibition at Madison Square Gardens in 1906.

Her greatest single gift was $10,000,000 in 1907 to establish the Russell Sage Foundation, which continues to study social issues and recommend solutions. In 1908 she donated $650,000 to Yale University, enabling the purchase of the Hillhouse property for the university’s Science Hill. In 1909, she donated Holder Hall to Princeton University, named after her Quaker ancestor Christopher Holder, persecuted for his religion in colonial Massachusetts. Sage gave $300,000 to Cornell University for the construction of a women’s dormitory, Risley Hall, named after her mother-in-law. Her promotion of women’s education also included funding the construction of the Olivia Josselyn House, named for her grandmother, at the then all-female Vassar College in 1912. That year she also acquired Marsh Island in the Gulf of Mexico and dedicated it as a refuge for birds and other wildlife.

In 1916, Sage founded Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, as a comprehensive college for women. It is located within the historic district of Troy, New York. RSC offers liberal arts and professional degree programs to empower students to become women of influence in their careers and their communities.

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Historic, but not famous

Abraham Abraham, business man, department store founder

Abraham Abraham (March 9, 1843 – June 28, 1911) was an American businessman and the founder of the Brooklyn department store Abraham & Straus, founded 1865. The chain, which became part of Federated Department Stores, is now part of Macy’s.

At 14, he worked in his first department store,  Hart & Dettlebach of Newark, along with Simon Bloomingdale and Benjamin Altman for $1 a week. Abraham opened Wechsler & Abraham in Brooklyn in 1865 at 297 Fulton Street.  The company later became Abraham & Straus.

He became a Brooklyn philanthropist, establishing the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital, among many other causes.

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Historic, but not famous

Johanna Bethune, philanthropist, educator

Johanna (Graham) Bethune co-founded the New York Orphan Asylum at Barrow and Fourth Streets with Mrs. Alexander Hamilton  and started the city’s first school for “young ladies.” She gave the city the land for Bethune Street, in the West Village, which is named for her. Ms. Bethune is often described as an “early 19th-century philanthropist and educator who ceded the land for the street to the city.” This and the school allowed African students and at times over 50% of the students were black. One of the first opportunities for black children in the early 1800s to attend free school.

Bethune Street in the West Village of Manhattan is named for Ms. Bethune and her charitable work.

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Historic, but not famous

Elias Karmon, known as “Mr. Bronx” for his long dedication to the borough, was a businessman, civic leader, civil rights advocate and philanthropist, Karmon was one of the borough’s biggest boosters through its darkest days and its renaissance.

For 40 years he was the proprietor of Hollywood Clothes at Prospect Ave. and 163rd St., and then began buying buildings, getting involved in important civic causes, doing good deeds. Karmon belonged to the Bronx Chamber of Commerce. He served as president of the original Bronx Chamber of Commerce for four years, and also held the positions of treasurer, second vice-president and first vice-president. He was named chairman emiretus of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce which he almost, single-handedly, restarted in 2001.

Mr. Bronx helped rebuild the parts of the Bronx impacted by abandonment as one of the founders of Ponce de Leon Federal Bank, one of the few organizations that provided financial services to many residents there in the 1970s and 80s. He was also a board member of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, the Bronx House, South Bronx Mental Health Council, the Bronx Dance Theater, Bronx Community College Foundation, Beth Abraham Hospital Foundation, Bronx Jewish Community Council, Bronx Special Olympics, Bronx Boys and Girls Club and Bronx Y.M.C.A. Karmon’s generous donation greatly aided the Bronx YMCA’s efforts to build its current modern facility and indoor pool on Castle Hill Avenue. The pool also carries Elias’ name.

He also served as president of the Pelham Parkway Jewish Center, and chairman and founding member of the borough’s branch of the Urban League. The borough colleges of CUNY also award an annual scholarship in his honor.

Mr. Karmon died at the age of 98 in 2008. The intersection of Thwaites Place and Barker Avenue, near where he lived in Pelham Parkway, is now known as “Elias Karmon Way”. There is also a housing complex in the Bronx named for him as well.

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