In the winter of 1936 and 1937, the Jewish Welfare Fund—the precursor of the modern-day Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines—undertook a census of Des Moines’ Jewish community to secure “intelligent information about the Jewish population with regard to their interests in Jewish religious, culture as well as social activities, and their affiliations.”
What is so fascinating about the census is that in addition to the names and addresses of individuals living in the household, the census frequently lists the person’s country of origin, business affiliations, and the Jewish organizations to which the adults belonged—which synagogue they attended, their involvement in social organizations such as the Temple Brotherhood, Beth El Jacob Sisterhood, A.Z.A., Hadassah, and more. The pages paint a detailed picture of the daily lives of Des Moines’ 1930s Jewish community and there is a wealth of information that can be extracted from these pages.
The Iowa Jewish Historical Society is grateful to the State Historical Society, Inc. for the grant that enabled the Iowa Jewish Historical Society to digitize the census and make the information available to all.
In 1936, Des Moines had a population of approximately 145,000. The 1936-1937 Jewish survey revealed that Des Moines’ Jewish population totaled 3,420 individuals in 1,015 families. The summary stated that this figure was disappointing as a previous survey in 1923 showed a Jewish population of approximately 4,000. The decrease was attributed to the number of smaller families registered. The earlier survey estimated four members in each family. The 1936-1937 survey found that “three and a fraction comprise a family unit.”
Tucked into the census was a handwritten note comparing the figures from the 1923 and the 1937 surveys in the terminology of that time period. We have not yet located a copy of the 1923 census to verify the 1923 data.
SUMMARY OF THE COMPARISON OF THE 1923 AND 1937 SURVEYS OF THE DES MOINES JEWISH COMMUNITY
“Normal” families (where both parents are living)
Children under 5 years old
Professional Men and Women
Additional Information from the 1937 Census
Children from five to eighteen years of age
Single young women over 18 years of age, 177 of whom were
employed, 83 were unemployed, and 13 were in college.
Single men over 18, of whom 284 were employed, 52 unemployed,
and 58 in college
Members of the Jewish community of Des Moines who were citizens