This trailblazing Pine Bluff native spoke six languages, earned a doctoral degree from Bryn Mawr College, received the Prix de Rome from the American Academy in Rome, and tutored members of the family of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Irene Rosenzweig excelled during an era when few women pursued lives outside the domestic sphere.
Her story begins in Pine Bluff on July 26, 1903, to Pauline Sarason-Rosenzweig and William M. Rosenzweig. The Rosenzweigs were part of a wave of Eastern European Jews who came to Pine Bluff in the early 20th century. Many opened retail stores specializing in dry goods, groceries, clothing, and jewelry to serve the area’s farming community. Her father — an immigrant from Lithuania — opened the Good Luck Store (later Rosenzweig’s Department Store) in Pine Bluff. It was the city’s largest mercantile and farm supply store at the time.
Beginning in 1910, the Rosenzweig family lived at 717 West Second Avenue in a Queen Anne Victorian–style home now referred to as the Roth-Rosenzweig-Lambert House.
Rosenzweig graduated first in her class at Pine Bluff High School in 1920. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in classical studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she received honors. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
An eager and decided student, Rosenzweig continued her studies, earning a doctoral degree from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she studied under Lily Ross Taylor, the first woman fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Rosenzweig received the 1930 Prix de Rome Fellowship in Classical Studies and Archaeology from the American Academy in Rome where she worked on research for her dissertation—published in 1937 as Ritual and Cults of Pre-Roman Iguvium: With an Appendix Giving the Text of Iguvine Tablets. The Tablets of Iguvium form the largest surviving body of text in a local Italic language, before Latin superseded the other languages. Because the Umbrian language is similar to Latin, Rosenzweig and other researchers were able to establish the meaning of most of the text, giving scholars insight into the ancient religious rituals of Italy. Research for this publication was undertaken in Gubbio, where Rosenzweig consulted excavation reports and various works in Italian libraries. Thanks to her travels and a natural ear for languages, she became fluent in French, German, Spanish, Latin, and Greek.
After completing her education, Rosenzweig became an educator. She tutored members of the family of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt while the Roosevelts were in the White House. Rosenzweig also taught Latin at the Madeira school, a private preparatory school for girls, in Greenway, Virginia. She remained active with the American Academy in Rome.
Rosenzweig returned to Pine Bluff after retiring from teaching. She was a benefactor of Trinity Village Medical Center and several other charities. Rosenzweig died at age 94 on October 8, 1997, in Pine Bluff. One of her most enduring legacies was a gift to the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (ASC), The Irene Rosenzweig Endowment Fund, Inc., which supports an exhibition in her name. The Irene Rosenzweig Biennial Juried Exhibition is an opportunity for established and up-and-coming artists to gain recognition and earn prizes, and for ASC to grow its Permanent Collection. The exhibition is open to artists 18 and older in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. The exhibition accepts paintings, drawings, original prints, fiber art, ceramics, sculpture, and photography. The 2021 exhibition opens tomorrow (July 22, 2021) and runs through October 16, 2021.
Sources: Encyclopedia of Arkansas, Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas
Image Credit: Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, Central Arkansas Library System