Harriet Ashim Choynski: Early Jewish Pioneer Educator of San Francisco

Harriet Ashim Choynski

Values Codes I – H – E – L


Harriet Ashim was born in England in 1842.

While still a baby, her parents immigrated to Louisville, Kentucky.


San Francisco

In 1850, Harriet Ashim and her family arrived in San Francisco by covered wagon —  the day before California was admitted to the Union.

Harriet’s father, Morris B. Ashim, and his brother operated a clothing store on Front Street.

Morris helped organize the first of a number of chevras (groups), which attended to the health problems of their Jewish members.

Harriet Ashim became a student of Rabbi Julius Eckman, who established the first Jewish religious school in the West.

After graduating with the first class of General High School in 1861, Harriet Ashim became a teacher and chief assistant in Rabbi Eckman’s Free Sabbath School.

In 1862,Harriet married Isidor Nathan Choynski, then a reporter for The Weekly Gleaner, Rabbi Eckman’s Jewish weekly for San Francisco and Marysville, California.

Isidor Choynski became a prominent San Francisco bookstore owner and newspaper publisher. [Click here for our Isidor Choynski exhibit.]

Harriet Choynski encouraged girls to attend high school.

In a 1924 interview, she said:

“The modern flapper despite her petting, her hip flask, and motor freedom, is ‘not so worse’ in the opinion of Mrs. Harriet Ashim Choynski, member of the first class to graduate from the San Francisco General High School in ’61. Mrs. Choynski, who is 82 and still spry, rises to defend the San Francisco girl from the charge of wholesale petting which has burst out of a clear sky.  ‘They are no worse today than they were in 1861.  The youngsters of today seem different because we are living in new conditions.  But at heart they are the same.  The world is getting better, not worse! Where now the great prohibition is ‘petting,’ in 1861 it was other things.  I used to be reproached for spending too much time on clothes.  The big fuss then was whether or not a girl was going to ‘be ruined’ by going to high school.  I am proud to say that San Francisco decided against that nationwide prejudice and pioneered in girls’ education.”

— The Bulletin, January 1924



In 1862, Harriet Ashim married Isidor Nathan Choynski.

Together, they had five children: Herbert, Miriam, Joseph, Mauriceand Edwin.

Herbert became a Colonel in the Spanish-American War.

Joseph became a heavyweight boxer. [Click here for our Joseph Choynski exhibit.] 

Maurice owned a theater in Chicago.

Edwin was a San Francisco stockbroker.

Miriam never married.


Harriet Ashim Choynski died in 1924.

She is buried in the Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Colma, California.

The Choynski Headstone, Colma

Choynski headstone, Colma


  •  Norton B. Stern, “Harriet Ashim Choynski and 1850 Western Arrival,” Western States Jewish History 24:3.

Gladys Sturman is curator of this Harriet Ashim Choynski exhibit.