New Rochelle

Hebrew Institute and Beth El: Founded four years after Nathan and his friends started Anshe Sholom, the Hebrew Institute began as an orthodox Hebrew school. Bessie and her children celebrated the opening of the Hebrew Institute Synagogue a 31 Union Avenue in 1927. In 1931 the Hebrew Institute changed its name to Beth El. Beth El would become a conservative congregation in 1948. Read the story of Anshe Sholom, the Hebrew Institute, Beth El and other synagogues in New Rochelle at

Huguenots: In 1688 thirty-three French Protestant families landed at what is now Hudson Park to found New Rochelle. One hundred years later Huguenots would still settle in New Rochelle. As the best known and largest French-speaking community north of New York City, families would send their children to New Rochelle to learn French. Most children who attended school in New Rochelle would take French, including Bessie’s grandchildren.

Queen City of the Sound: New Rochelle boasted elegant homes, fine shopping, excellent schools, a quick commute into New York on the train, spacious parks, and memorials to war heroes from George Washington to those killed in World War 1. The two popular movie theaters, Loew’s and the RKO, could each seat more than 2,500 people.

For early pictures and a brief history of the Queen City of the Sound, see Barbara Davis, New Rochelle (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012).  The New Rochelle Public Library has a sampling of city archives and photographs online:

Watch a video of New Rochelle’s history:

For an early history of New Rochelle, download the e-book version of New Rochelle through Seven Generations written, by C. H. Augur in 1908.

Thomas Paine and the American Revolution: Common Sense, a pamphlet that helped convince the colonists to revolt against Great Britain, was written by Thomas Paine, a Revolutionary War hero who lived in New Rochelle from 1802 until 1806. Paine’s cottage, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 20 Sicard Avenue. The site also includes the first school house in New Rochelle, a museum, and the Thomas Paine Memorial. Girl Scouts meet in the “Little House” between the Thomas Paine Cottage and the Thomas Paine Memorial House. All are open to the public. Read Common Sense online:

Ragtime: Although obviously not mentioned in Bessie’s Pillow, this 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow was set in New Rochelle. Winning two literary awards, Ragtime would later become a movie, and then a hit Broadway musical. Watch the preview for the musical

The Dick Van Dyke Show: A 1960s TV sitcom that would introduce Mary Tyler Moore to the masses, The Dick Van Dyke Show’s main characters, Rob and Laura Petrie, lived in New Rochelle.