Border Studies at EPCC
NW Library and EPCC Links
Other Local Libraries
We do NOT have the resources to assist with genealogical research.
For GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH please contact:
*El Paso Genealogical Society
Olga Kohlberg Pioneered Many Local Organizations
Article first published in Vol. 20, 2001.
In an article for Password , the journal of the El Paso Historical Society, Goetting wrote that Kohlberg "brought European culture to the banks of the Rio Grande." Olga Bernstein was born in Elberfeld, Westphalia (then a part of Rhenish Prussia) in 1864. She was well educated, having attended the Elberfeld Seminary. She married Ernst Kohlberg on June 22, 1884.
Image caption: Olga Kohlberg in 1884, the year she married Ernst Kohlberg. Photo courtesy of the El Paso County Historical Society
Olga Kohlberg tells of first coming to El Paso in 1884: "I found a busy, thriving city, claiming 5,000 inhabitants, of whom, then as now, two-thirds were Mexicans. The two races lived in harmony; there was no feeling of superiority of one over the other. It was not so long ago that common danger from the Indian had drawn them close, and that the official language of the court and of political speeches, was Spanish. The valley bloomed like a rose; wheat fields and vineyards stretched out between here and Ysleta. … The rosy beauty of the apricot and peach blossoms in February rivaled famed Japan. It was indeed a land of plenty."
As soon as Olga Kohlberg set foot in El Paso, she learned English and Spanish, knowing both would be beneficial to her. While making herself welcome in the community, the new bride from Germany enthusiastically started and became a part of many organizations.
As Olga Kohlberg's own children were born, she became concerned about their education. She and a group of 17 women formed the Child Culture Club in 1892. The main objective of this group was "the study of child training and the promotion of kindergarten in the public schools." The members of the group bought equipment and hired a teacher from St. Louis, Missouri, and started the first private kindergarten in El Paso.
Kohlberg was familiar with the concept of kindergarten, which originated in her native Germany. Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel invented the concept of teaching children three to seven in pleasant surroundings. Self-motivated activity, play, music and physical training were featured in his first kindergarten, which opened in 1837.
Froebel thought of children like tiny flowers: they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers. "My schools shall be called kindergarten - the garden of children," Froebel wrote.
Kohlberg, Mrs. Henry A. True and Mrs. J. E. Townsend persuaded the school board to begin a kindergarten in the Central School, offering their equipment, materials and teacher. In September 1893, the first public kindergarten in Texas opened its doors on the corner of Myrtle and Campbell Streets.
Image caption: Ernst Kohlberg in 1873, the year of his arrival in El Paso. Photo courtesy of the El Paso County Historical Society
The women continued to support the program by paying $10 monthly toward the teacher's salary for the first year. The El Paso Daily Herald reported that in the kindergarten's spring program on May 18, 1894, "the little ones sang and acted the part of birds, bees, butterflies, flowers and other things suggestive of spring time."
After the first year, the board of trustees saw the worth of the kindergarten program and included kindergartens in the elementary schools thereafter.
In 1892, while waiting at the railroad depot in El Paso, Kohlberg was shocked to see a sick man die before her eyes. Feeling that no one should be put through such horror, she helped form the Ladies' Benevolent Association. This group of women opened one of the first hospitals in town on Oregon Street near the train depot.
The women of the churches of El Paso were on the governing board of the association. No professional nurses were available, so the hospital was staffed by volunteers. In January 1894, a new hospital opened: Hotel Dieu. Kohlberg then turned her attention from kindergartens and hospitals to libraries.
Mary Stanton, a beloved teacher in the public school, created a reading room for the boys she taught, and from this, the first El Paso Public Library began in 1895. It was run and financed by the first Library Association, a group of five women, including Olga Kohlberg.
She later served as president of the Library Association for more than a quarter of a century. During this time she encouraged the librarians to provide the best quality services and materials for the library, even though the city allocated only a meager amount of money. She was on the board when it received money from Andrew Carnegie to build El Paso Public Library's first building.
Yet another project involving children that interested Kohlberg was the establishment of the Cloudcroft Baby Sanatorium in New Mexico. The baby Sanatorium was created to save babies who were dying from the intense heat in El Paso. Kohlberg recruited her son in-law, Dr. Branch Craige, to be the physician and director of the sanatorium. The babies were taken on a small train to the cool pines in Cloudcroft. When homes and hospitals began to be cooled in town, the sanatorium closed.
Kohlberg also helped organize the Current Topics Club, later reorganized into the Woman's Club. She was president of the Woman's Club two times, a lifetime honorary board member and a vice-president of the State Federation of Woman's Clubs. Kohlberg participated in the Civic League, an auxiliary of the Woman's Club, which was created to improve the sanitary and aesthetic conditions in the city, particularly in the schools.
Thirsty children in schoolyards drank from open buckets of water with dippers. The El Paso Daily Herald on Feb. 28, 1902, reported, "This morning the children of the Mesa School rebelled and upset the filthy water, then hammered on the bucket with the dippers to call the janitor to get water they could drink." Mary Cunningham, historian for the Woman's Club, explained it was such conditions that the women tackled and sought to change.
The Woman's Club also began the first municipal clean-up day, beginning with the city parks. According to Kohlberg, "Our thrifty women dug and sowed and planted and weeded, making quite an impression on the parks." Under her guidance, this group restored the city's three parks, and San Jacinto Plaza became a garden spot.
Kohlberg and her family helped organize and build the Mount Sinai Jewish Congregation in 1898. By 1903, the Jewish community began construction of Temple Mount Sinai. Olga Kohlberg also helped organize the Jewish Welfare Association.
Olga and Ernst Kohlberg were parents of four children, including three sons Walter, Herbert and Leo. and a daughter Else (Mrs. Branch Craige). Mrs. Olga Kohlberg became a widow unexpectedly in 1910 when her husband was shot and killed by a man who owed him money.
Olga Bernstein Kohlberg participated in community and educational services throughout her life. The El Paso County Historical Society inducted her into the El Paso Hall of Honor in November 1972. In 1997, the El Paso School District honored her by naming an elementary school after her on the westside of town at 1445 Nardo Goodman, a fitting accolade to a woman who worked tirelessly for children and her larger community to make El Paso a modern, caring city.
- Cloudcraft Baby Sanatorium
- Woman's Club Has Long Served City
- History of Jewish El Paso maintained by the Jewish Federation of El Paso
- El Paso (Jewish Virtual Library)
- Handbook of Texas Online -- Olga Bernstein Kohlberg
- El Paso Public Library Border Heritage Center
- Builders of El Paso radio program, Jul 2, 1939 Main Library Reference Southwest 976.496 B848b AND at UTEP
- Ruthe Winegarten and Cathy Schechter, Deep in the Heart: The Lives and Legends of Texas Jews (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990). at 976.4004924 W725d (Main Ref SW and SW nonfiction; Burges, and UTEP Spec. Coll. Judaica F 395 .J5W55 1990 )
- Kolhberg biographical file, El Paso Public Library
- "The Spanish Influenza of 1918" Journal of the West Winter 2013. Vol 52, no. 1 p. 65-71 discusses role of the El Paso Morning Times and Olga Kohlberg's humanitarian efforts.
- DIGIE Photo from dedication of Official Texas Historical Commission Marker
- Handbook of Texas online article
- Dec 4, 1899 EP Public library's collection of 4000 books owned by Stanton and Fannie J. Clark moves from Sheldon Hotel to City Hall. The city hires a librarian and the library is open all day. (Metz, El Paso Chronicles)
- Builders of El Paso radio program, Dec 3, 1939 Main Library Reference Southwest 976.496 B848b
- article: El Paso Times 5/6/73 6H