Bessie & Etta Berger

In 1893, following the deaths of their parents, the causes of which were not recorded, two-year-old Bessie Berger and her one-year-old sister, Etta, were admitted to the Home from Birmingham, Alabama.

Within a year, Bessie was discharged to Barnat Gilbert, a merchant tailor, and his wife, Julia, in Paris, Texas. According to the 1900 census, the Gilberts referred to Bessie as their adopted daughter. In 1907, Bessie married Isadore Karchmer, and moved with him to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where he founded Karchmer Pipe and Supply Company, and they raised five children before moving to Tulsa. Bessie, who worked as an advertising representative of the Tulsa Jewish Review for more than 25 years, also was a member of Congregation B’nai Emunah, its sisterhood, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Hadassah. She died in 1967 at age 75.

Bessie Berger Karchmer, holding daughter Louise, and husband Louis Karchmer, 1914

Bessie Berger Gilbert Karchmer, holding daughter Louise, with husband Isadore Karchmer, 1914. Photo courtesy of Nat Newburger, Bessie’s great-grandson.

Life was more complicated for Etta, who remained in the Home until 1912. Although news accounts reflect Etta’s participation in the regular activities of the Home, such as her confirmation in 1908, her 1910 performance with other girls in a well-received play, and her service as a Big Sister in the Home’s Golden City self-government, there is no indication that she completed her high school studies and also no recorded explanation for her short-lived discharge in 1912 to merchant Gustave Lowenburg of Kosciusko, Mississippi. The Home’s records, however, do show that in 1915, Superintendent Leon Volmer enrolled Etta in the “Training School at Vineland, New Jersey,” which then prided itself as being “Devoted to the interests of those whose minds have not developed normally.” Etta remained at the training school until 1925, when Bessie and others successfully petitioned for her release.

One year later, Etta married Custer Joseph Berard, and helped run his drug store on Dumaine Street in New Orleans. After Custer died in 1938, Etta continued to live and work in New Orleans until her death in 1960. She was buried in Tulsa, where Bessie and an older brother, Adolph, resided.