The Hebrew Orphan Society of Charleston is the oldest incorporated Jewish charitable organization in the United States in continuous existence. It was organized by twenty-three members of Congregation Beth Elohim in 1801 and chartered by the General Assembly of South Carolina in 1802, “for the purpose of relieving widows, educating, clothing, and maintaining orphans and children of indigent parents.” David Lopez was its first president.
From 1833 to 1931 the society owned a building at Broad Street and Courthouse Square and maintained it as a meeting place, but rented rooms for income. On occasion a Hebrew school was held here, but it was never used as an orphanage, for the society placed and supported their charges in private homes and usually contracted with local private schools for their education.
In 1951 the society joined with Charleston Hebrew Benevolent Society and the Charleston Jewish Federation to create the Charleston Jewish Social Services, which handles the casework formerly done by the Hebrew Orphan Society. The society has also broadened its charity program by using its general fund for contributions to local professional agencies that minister to needy cases regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
The income of the society is derived mostly from bequests and investments. The society also administers the Zipporah M. Solomons Fund to provide nursing care and the N. Edgar Miles M.D. Scholarship Fund for college students.
Membership in the society is by invitation and is limited to thirty-six men and women chosen in recognition of their worthwhile endeavors for the community.
Tobias, Thomas J. The Hebrew Orphan Society of Charleston. Charleston, S.C.: Hebrew Orphan Society of Charleston, 1957.