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The Admission of Jewish Students, 1917-1950
In 1922, the first Jewish student was admitted to Providence College in the school’s fourth incoming freshman class. Joel Novogroski from Westerly, RI, enrolled in the College’s two-year Pre-Medical program. After one year at PC, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania. Over the next several years, Jewish young men from different Providence neighborhoods – Smith Hill, South Providence, and East Side – Pawtucket, Woonsocket, Fall River, Massachusetts, and other cities and towns across southern New England sought admission to the new Catholic liberal arts institution.
The first Jewish student to receive a degree from Providence College was Benjamin Burr Levin ’26 who completed the two-year Pre-Med certificate. Siegfried Arnold ’30 was the first Jewish student to receive a four-year degree from the College, the Bachelor of Philosophy (Ph.B.).
The number of Jewish students admitted to Providence College spiked in the early 1930s. In 1930 about 5% of the incoming class was Jewish. The incoming class of 1931 saw a dramatic increase: about 16% of 240 freshmen were Jewish. The rate stayed above 10% through 1934. The percentage of entering Jewish students would fluctuate between about 2% and 15% over the next decade and a half. The second spike occurred in 1943, the war years. While enrollment overall had plunged, with just 66 freshmen entering that year, 15% of those freshmen were Jews.
Up to 1950, Providence College transcripts recorded religious affiliation. The earliest transcripts simply had a space to record a student’s “Parish.” As the enrollment of Jewish and other non-Catholic students increased, College officials recorded religious denomination in the space. Jewish students were categorized as either “Jewish” or “Hebrew” and very often the name of the synagogue they attended was also recorded. In the 1940s, a revised transcript had a space for “Religious Denomination.” Enrollment data collected by the College also tracked the number of students coming from local Catholic high schools. Three “other” categories were tracked through the 1940s: Jews, Protestants, and Italians.
In 1950 a revision of the transcript eliminated the space for recording religious affiliation. This was perhaps in response to new anti-discrimination legislation being passed across the United States, including in Rhode Island, following World War II. These measures were intended to eliminate the means by which educational institutions could discriminate against Jews and other religious, ethnic, and racial minorities.
Between 1922 and 1950 nearly 400 Jewish students passed through the gates of Providence College.