Skip To Content

Cecylja Klaften Educated Polish Girls

Welcome to Throwback Thursday, a weekly photo feature in which we sift 116 years of Forward history to find snapshots of women’s lives.

Forward Association

An unsung hero of Jewish girls education in inter-war Poland, Dr. Cecylja Klaften came to New York City in 1938 as part of a fundraising effort held at Mecca Temple on West 55th Street, sponsored by aid organization United Galician Jews of America.

Her school system was known in the 1920’s as the Jewish Professional School of the Society of Workshops for Jewish Girls. Klaften founded 18 vocational trade schools for both genders in Galicia as an effort to educate against the endemic poverty and limited opportunities there immediately following World War I. Herself widowed during the war, Klaften devoted her own financial resources, as well as her life, to the over 4,000 youth who graduated her school system annually where they studied trades and artisanal handcrafts such as embroidery and weaving. Fluent in Polish, French, German and Hebrew, Klaften then acquired English.

She was officially welcomed to New York by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and her work was lauded by President Franklin Roosevelt. While in New York, Dr. Klaften observed local trade schools to learn their methods. Before working in the education field, Klaften had been assistant professor of biology at Lwow University. At the time of this photograph, over 80,000 students had completed training in her schools, including acclaimed fabric designer Pola Stout who created designs for Academy Award winning costume creator Edith Head, among others.

Not long after this photograph was taken, perhaps compelled by her abiding sense of service to her community, Klaften returned to her home and to World War II , occupation by the Soviets in 1939 and then by the Nazis from 1941-1944. Witnesses recorded the murder of the beloved educator who was shot by Nazis on the streets of Lwow in 1942.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.