NYC - Central Park: James Michael Levin Playground - Sophie Irene Loeb Fountain
The Sophie Irene Loeb Fountain, commemorating newspaperwoman and social worker Sophie Irene Loeb, was dedicated in James Michael Levin Playground in 1936. Sculpted by Frederick George Richard Roth, and built by architect C. Dale Badgeley of Badgeley & Wood, the large, decorative, reinforced concrete drinking fountain was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s children’s story Alice in Wonderland (1865). The high relief carvings on feature, on the front, Alice, the Duchess, and the Cheshire Cat; on the right are the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Griffon; on the rear are the Kneeling Page and Queen; and on the left is the King. This circular sculpture rests on top of a hexagonally-shaped base which sits inside the fountain basin.
In 1926 philanthropist August Heckscher, the grandfather of the Parks Commissioner of the same name. pledged funds to create what would become later known as James Michael Levin Playground. Loeb campaigned fervently for the construction of the playground and was appreciated by the Parks community for her efforts. The fountain was commissioned by Parks when it rebuilt the playground in 1935, and it was dedicated in 1936 in Loeb’s memory.
Sophie Irene Loeb (1876-1929) was the founder and first president of the Child Welfare Board of New York City. She is recognized in this context for her support of recreational opportunities for children in Central Park.
Born in Russia, she immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old. Soon after settling in Pennsylvania, Loeb’s father died, leaving the family with no means of support. As the eldest of six children, sixteen-year-old Sophie was forced to work in a store to help her mother support their large family. These financial struggles prompted Loeb’s later concern for social reform and welfare.
After graduating from high school, Sophie began teaching young children. In 1896, she married Anselm Loeb, a storeowner and her former employer. Marriage freed Sophie from teaching and allowed her to pursue other interests such as art, poetry, and writing. Her writing came to the attention of several publishers, including those at the New York Evening World. In 1910, Loeb moved to New York City after divorcing her husband. Keeping the surname Loeb, she began working at the Evening World as a reporter.
Loeb focused her journalistic and social attentions on welfare for widowed mothers. New York City had struggled for years over the idea of civic versus state economic relief for “destitute mothers.” The City maintained homes for children of widowed mothers, but many women refused to send their children to these homes, leaving them to the mercy of private charities. Believing that private aid was insufficient, Loeb sought state relief as well. She wrote several articles that argued for the establishment of such a system, and worked closely with Hannah Bachman Einstein, who founded the Widowed Mothers’ Fund Association in 1909. Elected President of the New York City Welfare Board in 1923, Loeb helped to found the Child Welfare Committee of America in 1924. She also fought for immigrant use of New York City schools as civic centers; and the cleaning and fireproofing of movie theaters; installation of public baths; funding of school lunches, and support for housing reform.
Ten years after Loeb’s death, Congress amended the Social Security Act of 1935 to include provisions for the protection of widows and children of laborers. Although she died childless, Loeb nevertheless was known as the “godmother of American children.”
Frederick George Richard Roth (1872-1944) is well known for his animal sculptures and limestone reliefs that appear in and around both the Central and Prospect Park Zoos. Some of his well-known works include Dancing Bear and Dancing Goat (both 1937) at the Central Park Zoo, and Balto (1925) and Mother Goose, both also in Central Park.
Central Park was designated a scenic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974.
National Historic Register #66000538 (1966)