Elizabeth BlumeSilverstein

1892 – 1991

by Dorothy Thomas

Elizabeth Blume Silverstein’s long and productive life revolved around her work in criminal law, real estate management, and Jewish life.

Born on November 2, 1892, in Newark, New Jersey, Elizabeth was Selig and Goldie R. Aranowitz Blume’s oldest child, followed by three brothers and three sisters. Selig owned two successful dry-goods stores in Newark. Money was thus available for Elizabeth’s education. They were Conservative Jews.

At fourteen, Elizabeth said she wanted to be a lawyer. At sixteen, in 1908, she entered New Jersey Law School, graduating with an LL.B. in 1911, nearly three years before she could be admitted to practice. A law clerk until she was twenty-one, she was admitted as an attorney in November 1913 and began a criminal law practice. In February 1917, she was admitted as a counselor. Her practice grew slowly until April 1918 when, without cocounsel, she successfully defended Orzio Ricotta on a homicide charge, a first for a New Jersey woman lawyer. Her celebrity was established. She was admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court in 1921. In fifty years of practice she is said to have handled more than five thousand cases.

An activist, leader, and magnetic speaker, organizations welcomed her. She was a member of the American Bar Association; vice president of the Women Lawyers Association, predecessor to the National Association of Women Lawyers; and first woman member of the Essex County Legal Advisory Board and the Essex County Bar Association. Before suffrage, she joined the Women’s Political Union and afterward the League of Women Voters and the Business Women’s League. She was president of the Heinberg Republican Club and the first woman delegate from the Twelfth Congressional District to the Republican Convention in 1932. But her greatest efforts were devoted to Zionism.

Elected to the American Jewish Congress in 1916, she was chosen to lead a parade of forty thousand protesting Senate ratification of a treaty discriminating against Polish people and later led twenty-five thousand marchers in Newark’s Balfour parade. In 1923, she was elected a delegate to the second American Jewish Congress. For years, she chaired fund-raising drives. In 1926, as president of the Louis D. Brandeis Lodge, Independent Order B’rith Abraham, she was the first woman president of a men’s fraternal organization.

Some time in the early 1920s, she met Max Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew thirteen years her senior. He was a lawyer, real estate investor, general counsel to banks, and a Jewish community leader in Borough Park, Brooklyn. With Rabbi Stephen Wise, he was a co-organizer of the American Jewish Congress and a founder and patron of Yeshiva University. Max, caring for his aged mother, did not feel free to marry until his mother died in 1933. In 1934, Elizabeth and Max were married. Against all odds, in 1938, at age forty-six, Elizabeth Silverstein gave birth to a son, Nathan Royce. She reduced her law practice. Max died on August 10, 1955, at seventy-six, of a heart ailment and stroke. Silverstein continued his real estate practice and investments.

Elizabeth Silverstein worked until her early eighties. She and her son, an architect and real estate lawyer, moved to New York’s Fifth Avenue. After years of deteriorating health, Elizabeth Blume Silverstein died of heart failure on February 3, 1991, at age ninety-eight. She was buried in Mt. Hebron Cemetery, Queens, New York.


Thomas, Dorothy. Women Lawyers in the U.S.; Folsom, ed. The Municipalities of Essex County New Jersey 1666–1924. Vol. 3 (1925); NYTimes, August 17, 1955, and Obituary. February 5, 1991; Silverstein, Nathan Royce. Interview by author, October 1996; WWIAJ (1938).


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I am so proud to be the niece of this great trailblazer. She and my mother were sisters. She was generous and fun to be around. She taght Law School in her early ninties at Columbia School of Law.

I am the Grandaughter of Mr. Orazio Ricotta whom Elizabeth Blume defended in the Criminal murder trial of 1918. My father was Doninick Ricotta one of Orazio's eleven children. My father's family was so grateful to Mrs.Elizabeth Blume-Silverstein for proving his innocence.

Kathleen Ricotta Muraca

Nathan, Mrs. Silverstein's son, and I were friends in law school. Of the many moments I remember, it was Mrs. Silverstein's kindness to me, and her advice that guided me in being fearless in my practice of law. Nathan and I were moot court partners in law school, and as I look back on my life, those were indeed the best of times.

Nathan, this just my way to tell you your Mom touched my heart, she will always be part of who I am.

Your friend, Steven

How to cite this page

Thomas, Dorothy. "Elizabeth Blume Silverstein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 16, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/silverstein-elizabeth-blume>.


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