Flora Jacobi Arnstein: Educator, Poet, and Musician of San Francisco

Flora Jacobi Arnstein

Values Codes I – E – L


Flora Jacobi was born in San Francisco in 1885 to a distinguished pioneer family.

Flora Jacobi Arnstein of San Francisco, #WS2113

Flora Jacobi Arnstein of San Francisco,

Her uncle, Max J. Brandenstein, established the MJB Coffee Company with his brothers Mannie, Charlie, and Eddie. (The company’s acronym was chosen to minimize sibling rivalry and disguise the family’s German-Jewish origins.)

Flora’s parents were Eda Brandenstein and Jacob Jacobi, a partner in the wine and brandy firm, Lachman & Jacobi.

Flora Jacobi rebelled against the rigid and money-conscious ways of her upper-class parents.

As a teenager, she left school to study music in New York and Europe.

She later continued her education at the University of California (Berkeley) and San Francisco State College.

In 1910, Flora Jacobi married Lawrence Arnstein (1880-1979), who would earn the nickname “Mr. Public Health” for his work on San Francisco’s Board of Health and decades of community service.

With encouragement from his forward-thinking wife, Lawrence spent his career in California agencies that advocated public education about venereal diseases, childcare for working mothers, health treatment for prostitutes, and other social issues.

In 1918, Flora Jacobi Arnstein and her sister-in-law, Helen Salz, began the Presidio Open Air School (now Presidio Hill School) in San Francisco.

This progressive school emphasized artistic creativity, social justice, and the great outdoors.

The school had an especially effective program for disabled and emotionally disturbed children.


The Pesidio Open Air School of Flora Jacobi Arnstein and Helen Salz, #WS5099

Flora Jacobi Arnstein taught poetry, music, and dancing at the elementary-school level for eighteen years.

She began writing poetry around age 40, and incorporated the art form into her teaching.

She wrote extensively on the benefits of teaching poetry to children, and became a leading authority on the topic.

Her major books include Adventure Into Poetry (1951) and Poetry in the Elementary Classroom (1962).

She also published a number of poems in periodicals and as collections.


Flora Jacobi Arnstein passed away in 1990 at the age of 104.

She left behind two daughters, seven grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren.


  • Norton B. Stern, “Flora Jacobi Arnstein: Musician, educator, and Poet, San Francisco,” Western States Jewish History 41/1.

Jonathan Friedmann is curator of this Flora Jacoby Arnstein exhibit.