Some Early Jewish Pioneers of Oregon

Some Early Oregon Jewish Pioneers


1850 to 1860

The California Gold Rush spurred much of the Jewish movement from the East Coast, Midwest, and California to Oregon.

Jewish merchants moved west to profit from storekeeping in mining towns.

When one gold camp or town dried up, the Jews moved on to the next.

Jacksonville, Oregon became the most important town between San Francisco and Portland when gold was discovered nearby in 1851.

Seven Jewish residents lived in Jacksonville in 1852, all of them were men.

After gold played out in Jacksonville, most of the Jewish merchants returned to San Francisco.



The first Jewish New Year services in the Oregon Territory were held  in 1856 in Jacksonville.

The last Rosh Hashanah services in Jacksonville were held in 1883.


Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May of Bavaria were the first Jewish settlers in Portland. They operated a general merchandise story on Front Ave. from 1849.

Goldsmith & Loewenberg Newspaper Adv

Goldsmith & Loewenberg Newspaper Advertisement

Aaron Meier, founder of Meier & Frank Department Store, came to Portland in 1857. By 1914, Meier & Frank was the fourth largest department in the country. Emil Frank’s brother Sigmund Frank married Aaron Meier’s daughter Fannie in 1885. Aaron Meier returned to Ellerstadt, Germany, to marry Jeanette HirschJeannete Meier was a powerful force at Meier & Frank. She lived for 36 years after Aaron’s death, and was the guiding force of the business, known as Tante Jeanette. Aaron and Jeanette’s son  promoted Portland’s 1905 Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition. He was considered the ‘father’ of the Columbia River Highway,and in 1930 was elected Governor of Oregon.


Born in 1906, Gus Solomon served as a federal district judge from 1949 to 1987. His efforts to open up social clubs to Jews in the 1960’s effectively broke barriers for Jews in high business as well. Known as one of Oregon’s most prominent social justice leaders, he set up the first branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.


Ida Loewenberg, born in 1872, founded the Portland section of Neighborhood House and the National Council of Jewish Women, helping bridge  the rift between German and Eastern European Jews in Portland.


Caroline Weinshank (1853), a widow described as “the first Jewish woman in Oregon,” arrived in Portland and opened a boarding house for Jewish bachelors. In 1858, she married Elias Stille of Independence in one of Oregon’s earliest Jewish marriages.


Louis Blumauer was the first Jewish child born in Oregon. He was born in Portland in 1855.


Bernard Goldsmith was born in Bavaria. He fought as a cavalry lieutenant in the Indian Wars in Northern California and Southern Oregon in the mid 1850’s. He owned a jewelry store attached to an assay office and a wholesale dry good store operated by his brothers, whom he brought from Bavaria. Bernard Goldsmith became Portland’s first Jewish Mayor (1869-71). He was part of Portland’s financial elite, and was involved in everything from shipping wheat to railroads to building the locks at Willamette Falls in Oregon City.


Philip Wasserman succeeded Bernard Goldsmith as Portland’s second Jewish Mayor from 1871 to 1873.


McKinley Mitchel (1858-1936), born in Oregon City, was appointed Postmaster and elected to the Gervias City Council, and in 1896 to the Oregon State Legislature. Married to Hattie Schier of San Francisco, he was a benefactor to both Congregation Ahavai Shalom and the Neighborhood House in Portland, Oregon.



  • “News from the Portland Jewish Community in 1885,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 9/3.
  • Judah Weschler, “Portland Jewry as Seen by a Minnesota Rabbi in 1884,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 15/1.
  • Jacon Voorsanger, “Some of the Prominent Jews of Oregon, 1898,” Western States Jewish History 21/3.

Gladys Sturman is curator for this Oregon Pioneers exhibit.