Jewish Journal

Katherine Myer Graham

by Journal Staff

Posted on Jul. 26, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Even before she died July 17, if you entered Katherine Graham's name into an Internet search engine, you would have ended up with a few articles describing her role as publisher of the Washington Post and many more sites attacking Jewish control of the media.

The fact that Graham was the daughter of a prominent Jewish businessman and the descendant of a long and illustrious line of rabbis was something that few people, outside of rabid anti-Semites, seemed to be aware of.

In fact, Graham's roots go back almost to the beginning of Los Angeles' Jewish community.

Her grandfather, Eugene Meyer, immigrated to Los Angeles from Strasbourg, France, in 1861, when the L.A. pueblo had a population of about 3,000. He became a clerk, bookkeeper, and eventually a successful merchant. The city was even rougher then: Meyer often slept in his store with a gun, to protect his merchandise.

In 1867, Meyer married 16-year-old Harriet Newmark, the daughter of Joseph Newmark, who founded the Los Angeles Hebrew Benevolent Society -- the city's first charitable institution and the precursor of all its Jewish ones.

Meyer and Harriet's son, Eugene Isaac Meyer, was born here in 1875. He moved to San Francisco, then New York, became a wealthy investor and married Agnes Ernst, the daughter of a Lutheran minister.

Their daughter Katherine, before and after she married Phillip Graham, faced occasional bouts of anti-Semitism. In her autobiography, "Personal History" (Vintage, 1997), Graham describes these incidents with detached surprise. She had been baptized at age 10, along with her siblings, and religion, along with sex and money, remained off-limits for discussion in the Meyer household.

Graham's life was extraordinary and effective. Those anti-Semites eager to find evidence of her Jewishness in her control of the Post will be disappointed, as will, no doubt, some Jews.

But in her social conscience, it's easy to see the hand of Joseph Newmark. And in her toughness during Watergate and other times when basic American principles were on the line, you can discern the ghost of Eugene Meyer, asleep in his dry goods shop, protecting the store.

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