Who Was Milwaukee’s Beloved Golda Meir?

‘Our Golda’ was the prime minister who made Milwaukee famous.

Of all the ex-Milwaukeeans who left town and found fame, Golda Meir is probably the most celebrated. She strode the world stage as prime minister of Israel from 1969-74 and remained one of the globe’s most prominent women until her death in 1978.

The future legend came to Milwaukee in 1906 as Golda Mabowehz, an 8-year-old newcomer from what today is Belarus. She adapted quickly to life in America, graduating at the top of her class from Fourth Street School, now a public school for gifted students that bears her adult name. Golda moved on to North Division High School, graduating in 1916, and then attended Milwaukee Normal School, the predecessor of today’s UW-Milwaukee, while holding a part-time job at the Milwaukee Public Library.


 

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Golda became an ardent Zionist in her teens, raising money and rallying support for the future Jewish state. After marrying in 1917, she and her husband, Morris Meyerson (later Hebraicized to Meir), “made aliyah” (moved to Palestine) in 1921, and she became deeply involved in Israeli politics.

When Israel declared its independence in 1948, Golda’s gift for leadership found a more conspicuous outlet. She became the fledgling nation’s labor minister and then foreign minister, also serving as its globe-trotting chief fundraiser. Milwaukee was one of her favorite stops. 

This photograph was taken in 1960, when she received an honorary degree from UW-Milwaukee. During her visits to the city, raising money to build the Jewish state remained her top priority. “We must have, in cash during the next two months, at least $75 million – at least,” she said during an earlier visit. Milwaukee always did its part, reflecting the community’s steadfast support for the Israeli cause and its earnest affection for “our Golda,” the prime minister who made Milwaukee famous. 

TAKE A CLOSER LOOK: 

  • Marvin Klitsner, a prominent local attorney and Jewish community leader, was the reception’s emcee.

  • The Israeli and American flags served as her backdrop.

  • During her 1960 visit, UW-Milwaukee held a reception for Golda Meir at what is now its Hefter Conference Center, the former Schlesinger mansion.

  • Sensible shoes were one of Golda’s trademarks.


IN COLLABORATION WITH MILWAUKEE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

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