Mission + History
Gratz College advances both education and applied Jewish wisdom for the benefit of a diverse student population, the Jewish community, and all people. The College achieves this mission through accredited degree programs, scholarship, and public engagement.
Gratz College is internationally recognized as a leader in developing effective educators, professionals, leaders and scholars, both within and beyond the Jewish community; inspiring life-long learners; and helping to build informed and strong communities through education grounded in Jewish values.
- Perpetuating and developing educational and other professional resources for the Jewish community
- Promoting life-long learning and love for knowledge
- Inspiring study and academic excellence
- Nurturing critical thinking
- Upholding integrity and ethics as a foundation for the conduct of the institution, its personnel, and the educational process
- Advancing professional development and scholarship
- Fostering diversity and respect for the individual
- Building communities of learners through collaboration
- Contributing a Jewish perspective to the marketplace of ideas
Gratz College bears the name of a storied Jewish family, whose rich history is interwoven with that of Philadelphia and, indeed, the entire United States. The significance of the Gratz name extends beyond the college walls, back to the time of the American Revolution. The Gratz family history is one of patriotism, economic success, philanthropy and support for Jewish education.
Rebecca Gratz (1781 – 1869) was perhaps the most prominent and inspirational member of the family. In 1838, Rebecca created the Hebrew Sunday School Society in Philadelphia, which became the launch pad for all Jewish congregational education in North America. She was also profoundly concerned with the social issues of her day. Rebecca was instrumental in the creation of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, a Jewish foster home, the Fuel Society, the Sewing Society and more. With so many accomplishments to her name, it is not hard to understand why Rebecca Gratz is rumored to have been the model of Rebecca, the heroine in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.
Undoubtedly inspired by Rebecca, her brother Hyman joined with the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia to fund a teachers’ college of Jewish education. Formally founded in 1895 as the first independent college of Jewish studies in North America, Gratz College continues the mission of the Gratz family today, with a commitment to quality education and Jewish community.
Born on September 23, 1776 in Lancaster, PA, Hyman Gratz was the fourth child of the 12 children of Michael Gratz, an immigrant from what is today Germany, and Miriam Simon, the daughter of an early Jewish immigrant to the Lancaster area. By the end of the 18th century Hyman and his brother Simon Gratz had moved to Philadelphia and opened a wholesale grocery store on Market Street. Hyman was heavily involved in the Jewish community, and practiced to the best of his ability. He served as the Treasurer for Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s first synagogue and where he came into contact with Isaac Leeser, who was the spiritual leader of the community, Gratz was involved in many educational projects, including the Hebrew Educational Society, which was instrumental in the creation of Gratz College. In 1928, Gratz College and the Hebrew Education Society merged.
Hyman Gratz died in January of 1857, leaving behind a will which provided for the establishment of Gratz College. In 1893 the last named heir of the Gratz estate died without children, and the remaining assets became available for the formation of the college in 1895.