Samuel Wolf Levy: Major Jewish Pioneer and Special Friend of the Children of San Francisco

Samuel W. Levy

Samuel Wolf Levy WS 14/2024

Samuel Wolf Levy
WS 14/2024

Values Codes  I-E-L-P

Samuel W. Levy was born in the town of Haegen, Alsace, France in 1830.

He was educated in college at Phalsbourg.

In 1848, Samuel Levy came to America, at the age of 18, and peddled sponges in and around New York.

Traveling to New Orleans to obtain more sponges, he caught the “Gold Bug,” headed across the Isthmus, and then to San Francisco, sailing on the steamer “Tennessee,” arriving on the last day of 1851.


Samuel Levy’s first job in California was the translating of the old Spanish laws into English for the State Courts.

Then he spent a short time in Grass Valley, California.

Retuning to the Bay Area, he settled in San Antonio, which is what East Oakland was called at that time.

He was there until 1863, acting as a notary public.

San Francisco

Samuel Levy established himself in San Francisco in 1863

He developed one of the largest insurance agencies on the Pacific coast.

Levy also operated a chain of stores in communities near San Fran­cisco with David Block.


For over forty years Samuel W. Levy was the President and Ex­ecutive Officer of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum.

He took care of hundreds of orphans personally.

Additionally Samuel Levy served as President of the Eureka Benevolent Society.

Levy was among the most important Jewish community leaders of San Francisco.

He also was active on the gov­erning board of the Associated Charities of the city.

The Levys were members of Congregation Emanu-El.


One of Samuel Levy’s outstanding activities was his work with the Kin­dergarten Movement.

This cause was initiated by Dr. Felix Adler of New York while on a visit to the West Coast in 1878, and it was organized and pushed by Levy, who became known as the father of the kindergarten system in San Francisco.

Felix Adler as a Young Man

Felix Adler as a Young Man

The hundreds of kinder­gartens established in the Pacific states in the early years of this century and later incorporated into the public school systems are due to Samuel Levy’s spirited leadership and devoted promotion.


Samuel Levy was the only Jewish member of the Sloat Monument Association of California.

He served, in 1856, as a Delegate to the Democratic State Con­vention at Sacramento from Alameda County.

Later in life he was a Republican.


Samuel Levy was a high ranking Mason and occupied a national office in that order, having been a member of Eden Lodge of San Leandro in the 1860s and of Pacific Lodge No. 136 of San Francisco from the early 1870s.


Samuel Levy married Babbette Block, in 1856.

Together they had 5 children: Mrs. William Lewis, Mrs. S. Blum, Mrs. Alfred Greenbaum, Mrs Liebenthatl, and Melville S. Levy.


Samuel Wolf Levy died in 1916


More information can be found in the following issue of Western States Jewish History:

  • Levy, Samuel Wolf, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part One, A-L, Norton Stern, 41/1

Additional Source:

  • The Jews of San Francisco, by Martin A. Meyer, Ph.D., Emanu-El, San Francisco, June 1916.

David Epstein is the Curator for this Samuel Wolf Levy Exhibit.


Jews in the News

   About this Time

Letter from President Grant for Benjamin F. Peixotto of San Francisco,

U. S. Consul to Roumania — 1870

The Executive Mansion, Dec. 8, 1870.

The bearer of this letter, Mr. B. F. Peixotto, who has accepted the important though unremunerative position of U. S. Consul to Roumania, is commended to the good offices of all representatives of this government abroad. Mr. Peixotto has undertaken the duties of his present office more as a missionary work for the benefit of the people he represents than for any benefits to accrue to himself, a work in which all good citizens will wish him the greatest success.

The United States, knowing no distinction of her own citizens on account of religion or nativity, naturally believes in a civilization the world over, which will secure the same universal liberal views.

[signed] U. S. Grant.


—The Hebrew Observer, San Francisco, Dec. 30, 1870, WSJH, Vol. 19, #2. Born in New York City of a distinguished Sephardic family in 1834 and raised in Cleveland, Benjamin Franklin Peixotto was a practicing attorney in San Francisco when President Grant, in 1870, named him U. S. Consul to Roumania, so that the United States government might have a Jewish representative there to work for the alleviation of the Jewish persecution then going on in that country. Peixotto’s work in Roumania was quite successful. See WSJHQ, April 1976, for more material on Peixotto and his Roumanian mission.