Dora, Bessie, and Jack Margolin

In 1905, Harry Margolin journeyed from Kiev to Brownsville in Brooklyn, New York. By 1907, he had earned enough money from carpentry jobs for his wife, the former Rebecca Goldschmidt, and their young daughter, Dora, to join him. Two years later, Rebecca gave birth to Bessie, the Margolins’ first American-born child. To escape New York’s tough and crowded conditions, the family soon relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where Rebecca gave birth to a son, Jacob. She died a year later. Harry struggled to provide for his three young children.

In 1913, on the recommendation of Rabbi Max Samfield, a revered spiritual leader in Memphis’s Reform Jewish community and B’nai B’rith’s representative on the Home’s board, the Home admitted Dora and Bessie, followed a year later by their baby brother, “Jack.” Harry later moved from Memphis to New Orleans to be near his children.


Harry Margolin with Bessie, Jacob, and Dora, c. 1913

Harry Margolin with his children, Bessie (left), Jack, and Dora, c. 1913. Photo courtesy of Malcolm Trifon, Dora’s son.

In 1921, after serving as an officer in the Home’s Golden City Sisterhood, Dora graduated from Isidore Newman School and went on to obtain her certificate to teach in the city’s public schools. She later changed career paths and in 1927 graduated from Touro Infirmary School of Nursing. Dora returned to the Home to work as its nurse, where she met Harry Trifon, a Tulane medical student who worked as a counselor in exchange for room and board. When Dora and Harry married in 1936, Superintendent Harry L. Ginsburg hosted the reception in the Home. The newlyweds first lived in Shreveport, where Dr. Trifon practiced medicine and they raised three sons. After Dora was diagnosed with leukemia in 1955, the family moved to Palo Alto, California. Dora died in 1960. 

Jack, Dora, and Bessie Margolin

Jack, Dora, and Bessie in the Home’s courtyard, undated. Courtesy of Malcolm Trifon.

Dora & Bessie Margolin

Dora and Bessie in the Home’s courtyard, undated. Written on the back of the photo, “To papa, lots of love and kisses from his two daughters.” Courtesy of Malcolm Trifon.

Dora Margolin, 1921 Newman Pioneer.

Dora Margolin, Senior Photo, 1921, Newman Pioneer.

Bessie Margolin, 1925 Newman Pioneer

Bessie Margolin, Senior Photo, 1921, Newman Pioneer.

Jacob Margolin, 1927 Newman Pioneer

Jacob “Jack” Margolin, Senior Photo, 1927, Newman Pioneer.

Bessie graduated from Newman School in 1925, as a champion debater and class valedictorian, winning a scholarship to Newcomb College. After two years, ranking among the top ten in her class, Bessie transferred to Tulane University, earning her bachelors and law degrees in 1930. She got a job at Yale Law School as a research assistant, and after one year became the first woman awarded Yale’s Sterling Fellowship which she used to obtain her doctorate in law. From Yale, she championed FDR’s New Deal first as a lawyer for the Tennessee Valley Authority and then for the Labor Department, from which she retired in 1972 as Associate Solicitor after having argued twenty-four times at the United States Supreme Court to protect American workers. She also spent six months in Nuremberg, Germany in 1946, on loan to the Army, drafting rules for the American Military Tribunals that presided over the trials of more than 200 defendants accused of Nazi war crimes. Bessie never married, endearing herself to her nephews. Bessie died in 1996. In 2016, Marlene Trestman published Margolin’s biography, Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin

Bessie Margolin, 1930

Bessie Margolin’s appointment as a research assistant to Yale Law School Professor Ernest Lorenzen was heralded in the New Orleans Item-Tribune, August 21, 1931.

Fair Labor Lawyer by Marlene Trestman book cover 2

Marlene Trestman’s biography, Fair Labor Lawyer, traces Bessie Margolin’s remarkable journey from the Jewish Orphans’ Home to the United States Supreme Court.

Jack graduated from Newman in 1927. He went on to Tulane University where he obtained his degree from the college of commerce and business administration, earning election to the honor fraternity of Beta Gamma Sigma for scholastic excellence and leadership. After college, he worked for a year at the Home as boys’ supervisor, winning praise from his young charges and the board for “maturity of judgment and understanding of children far beyond his years.” In 1932, Jack went to Dartmouth College, where he obtained his master’s degree in business administration which he put to use as a merchandiser with Macy’s in Atlanta. A World War II Navy veteran, Jack married, and had a son. Jack died in 1991 at the age of 80.

Jack Margolin, c. 1929, with Home boys

Jack Margolin (#1), who worked as boys’ supervisor at the Home during his college years, is shown with his young charges: 2-Harry Brandt, 3-“Red” Ladner, 4-Louis Klein, 5-Sammy Klein, 6-Rogers Perlis, 7-Robert Carney, 8-Joe Hyde, 9-Irwin Gordon, 10-Sammy Friedman, 11-unidentified, 12-Earl Foreman, 13-David Leventhal, 14-Joseph Mandel, 15-Sam (or his twin, Lee) Hartman, 16-Morris Perlis, 17-Mickey Fruchtgarten, 18-Sol Mashinka, 19-Bernard Fox, 20-Julius Hyde, 21-Eugene Fruchtgarten, and 22-Reuben Cantor. Photo courtesy of JCRS.