Arizona Centennial: Women vital to arts, education, religious life

Tucson trailblazer

Clara Ferrin, the daughter of German immigrants Joseph and Therese Ferrin, was born in Tucson on July 26, 1881, at her parents’ home. She, along with her sister and brother, attended the Congress Street School, which later became the location of the David Bloom & Sons Clothing Store from 1931 to 1968, named after David Bloom, her then-future husband.

Clara enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1893 and graduated in 1901. After graduation, she worked as a teacher at Safford Elementary School for 11 years, and then married David Bloom on June 9, 1912, just a few months after Arizona statehood.

The Blooms had three sons and two daughters. Their son David and his wife, Leona, established the Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives at the University of Arizona.

But Clara is most well known for helping her mother, Therese, solicit funds for Tucson’s first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, which opened in 1910. Therese convinced the wealthiest man in town, Albert Steinfeld, to donate a large sum of money. Steinfeld, who was Jewish, pledged $5,000, which covered about two-thirds of the cost. Therese and Clara collected enough extra to build the synagogue.

Clara was active in the Jewish and secular communities of Tucson. She was a life member of the University of Arizona Alumni Association, a founding member of the board of directors of the Tucson Women’s Symphony Association, a charter member of Phi-Kappa-Phi and a member of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Tucson’s Clara Ferrin Bloom Elementary School was built in her honor and was completed a few weeks before her death on April 17, 1973. When Clara died, she was the oldest member of Temple Emanu-El.

Dancing queen

Frances Smith Cohen, 80, founder and director of Center Dance Ensemble at Herberger Theater Center and co-owner of Dance Theater West, both in Phoenix, moved from New Jersey to Tucson in 1936 with her mother and brother when she was 5 years old. Cohen’s father joined them a year later. “We took a train and my mother was so sure when we got off the train that there were going to be Indians,” Cohen says. “She had this whole thought of the Wild West from the movies.”

At that time, Tucson only had about 30 Jewish families, she says, “but of course, there were two synagogues.” Her mother kept a kosher home in New Jersey, but there wasn’t a kosher butcher in Tucson then, according to Cohen. “It was hard to be Orthodox in 1936 in Tucson.”

Cohen remembers the Tucson Jewish community as closeknit. She recalls when her family had just moved to Tucson and attended the Rodeo Day parade downtown. Cohen thought she was clutching her mother’s skirt as they made their way through the crowd, but the skirt belonged to a stranger. The woman took her to the post office and asked people along the way, “Do you know this little girl?” A Jewish woman recognized her as Mrs. Smith’s daughter and took her home about an hour and a half later after running errands. Her mother thought she had been kidnapped. “Only in Tucson at that time was the community small enough,” she says. “That would never happen today.”

Sources: Arizona Jewish Historical Society and The Leona G. and David A. Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. Reprinted with permission of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.