This day in Jewish history / An aspiring banker marries up
Jacob Schiff fell in love with the boss's daughter; he would eventually run his father-in-law's firm and become one of the leading figures in the American banking world.
May 6, 1875, is the day Jacob Schiff, a 28-year-old investment banker at Kuhn, Loeb & Co., married the boss’ daughter, Therese Loeb, in Manhattan. The couple knew each other well, having met numerous times at Sunday dinners at the home of Therese’s parents, Solomon and Betty Loeb. Their union was said to be based on love. That being said, it also resulted in Jacob’s soon becoming a full partner in his father-in-law’s firm, whose management he took over a decade later.
The groom had been born on January 10, 1847, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, into a prominent family that traced its presence in the city back 500 years. (Actually, Jacob Schiff could trace his lineage back to no less than King Solomon.) Many of his ancestors were rabbis, but his father was a financial broker for the Rothschilds. Wanting to make a name for himself independent of his father, and seeing post-Civil War America as a land of unbound opportunity, Jacob sailed to New York, arriving in August 1865.
Although Schiff became a U.S. citizen in 1870, three years later he returned to Germany, after being offered a position at the Hamburg bank M. Warburg. Shortly after that, Jacob’s father died, and Jacob returned to Frankfurt to be with his mother. It was there, about a year later, that Abraham Kuhn, a German-born banker visiting from New York, offered him a job as a partner in the investment firm he and Solomon Loeb had founded in 1867.
Schiff returned to New York (some accounts say in 1874, some 1875), and as he began working at Kuhn, Loeb, he also began to receive invitations to the Loeb residence in Manhattan’s Murray Hill section. Solomon’s wife, Betty, quickly determined that he would make a good match for her 20-year-old stepdaughter, Therese. In his book “Our Crowd,” Stephen Birmingham writes how in Jacob Schiff, “Betty began to sense a kindred spirit, a will as strong as hers own, and an ambition as huge as hers.” At the Sunday dinners Betty famously hosted, she regularly seated Jacob next to the “cameo-faced, blue-eyed, small, and dainty” Therese, who “blushed prettily when Jacob spoke to her.”
Once Jacob had determined to marry Therese, he wrote to his mother back in Frankfurt telling her of his decision. “You might think her uncultured and even a feminist,” he wrote to Clara Schiff, “but don’t think that of the girl I’ve selected. She might have been brought up in the best of German families.”
As noted, the marriage took place on May 6, 1875, after which the couple moved into a brownstone residence at Park Avenue and 53rd Street, a wedding present from the bride’s parents.
Jacob Schiff ended up becoming one of the leading figures in the American banking world during this period when the country's economy burgeoned. Both before and after he took over the running of Kuhn, Loeb (whose name he left intact out of respect for his father-in-law, even after he became the firm’s senior partner), Schiff became deeply involved in raising capital for the railroads that were spreading across the continent. As a Jew dismayed at the condition of his brethren in the Russian empire, particularly after the Kishinev pogroms in 1903, he came to the aid of the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, floating a $200 million loan on their behalf.
Schiff refused to do business with companies whose owners were openly anti-Semitic, and as a philanthropist he gave money to settlement houses for Jewish immigrants, and helped establish both the Montefiore Hospital and Home for the Aged, and the 92nd St. YMHA. He also supported both Conservative and Reform Judaism. New York’s Jewish Museum, a division of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is situated in the Fifth Avenue mansion that belonged to Schiff’s daughter, Frieda Warburg.
Frieda was one of Jacob and Therese Schiff's two children; the other was Mortimer Schiff, who became a partner at Kuhn, Loeb but also devoted much of his time to the Boy Scouts of America. (Mortimer’s daughter Dorothy Schiff was the owner and publisher of The New York Post from 1939 to 1976.)
Jacob Schiff died in 1920; Therese lived until 1933. After her husband’s death she became more involved in the many charities that the couple had contributed to during Jacob’s lifetime.