Flora Spiegelberg

"I was born in 1857 on Twelfth Street, right here in New York City. After my father's death in 1869, my mother made her home in Nuremberg in order to give us a good education." At seventeen, while still in Germany Flora met Willi Spiegelberg who at that time was home from America visiting his parents.

At the time of their introduction, Willi was 30 years old and already a very successful businessman in New Mexico. He was the youngest of six Spiegelberg brothers. In Flora's own words "I was young, and he was handsome, and I soon became Mrs. Willi Spiegelberg." The couple was married on November 11 at the new Reform Temple in Nuremberg in 1874. The Wedding was followed by a yearlong honeymoon through the European cities of Vienna, Munich, Paris and London. In 1875, they returned to America in order for Willi to attend to his business interests in Santa Fe.

"Crossing the ocean was an experience in itself in those days, but it was nothing in comparison to the cross-country journey we had to take. After our honeymoon in Europe, we started out for Santa Fe in 1875. We traveled, via St. Louis, in very primitive steam cars to West Los Animas, Colorado, then the terminus of the railroad. The train arrived at sunset and I was fearfully tired for there were no Pullmans or any riding comforts in those days. Then we continued our journey to Santa Fe for six days and six nights in a stagecoach, often drawn by four horses. The Stagecoach stopped at the log house coach stations three times daily; and hour to change horses and provide a most primitive meal.

Usually we had dried buffalo chips, with beans, red or green peppers, coffee and tea without milk or sugar, and occasional delicacies such as buffalo tongues, bear and buffalo tongues, bear and buffalo steaks. I did not relish this food, but my hardened pioneer husband never complained. Many of the stationmasters were old friends of my husband. When they assisted me out of the coach, they raised their big sombreros with a hearty greeting, "Welcome Don Julian El Bonito" meaning William, the Handsome, and your pretty "Tenderfoot Bride, of the Santa Fe Trail."

The next day near Dry Cimarron station, our coach was stopped to let Colonel Price, a friend of my husband, pass with a band of roving Indians he had captured. I was terribly frightened, for they were the first live Indians I had ever seen. At the next station, Las Vegas, which was then the second largest town in New Mexico and had a population of nearly one thousand, among them some twenty American men, four Jews, and three American women. It was a perilous and a thrilling ride all the way through, but after five days and nights, we finally arrived. We arrived in Santa Fe in a bright moonlight night. To our great surprise, my husband's brother Lehman joined by friends in buggies or horseback and even on burros, had come to welcome come us with a band of Mexican musicians. As the coach drove up the main street accompanied by these friends we were cheered until we reached the home of my husband's brother. There General Devens, Commander of the Territory waited to welcome us with his military band playing 'Lohengrin's Wedding March.'

At that time I was the eighth woman in Santa Fe. There were about fifty American men, officials and merchants, and a Mexican population of two thousand. Amid clean and happy surroundings, I soon forgot all the privations I had endured and I became a satisfied member of the community.

Initially the couple first resided in an adobe home located near the plaza, opposite the cathedral. Then, in 1880 befitting a successful merchant's family, the Spiegelberg's constructed a fourteen-room home at 237 Palace Avenue. Flora was extremely proud of this home, which reflected her sophisticated tastes as well as her deeply cultured roots. On the back of a photograph dated 1890, which depicts her Palace Avenue residence she writes "My first house planned by me and built under my direction, the first house to have gas and water in Santa Fe, New Mexico."

Willi together with the rest of the Spiegelberg brothers ran a very successful mercantile organization. They were progressive in their approach towards all their business dealings. They were the first to make improvements to their building and surrounding sidewalk, and according to the Daily New Mexican, provided "superb show windows" with female models. The store carried a wide variety of goods imported from the East and Europe, selling everything from "a pin to a piano." By the year 1872, the Spiegelberg Brothers had become one of the largest wholesale operations in the West. Later that year they expanded their commercial business to include a charter for the Second National Bank of Santa Fe.

Further expansion of the Spiegelberg businesses included mail route contracts, mining projects, land speculation, construction and working with the federal government by supplying military posts and Indian agencies. Willi was the most politically active of the brothers, serving as president of the Santa Fe Board of Trade, and as probate judge in 1880. Between 1884-1886, Willi Spiegelberg was the elected mayor of Santa Fe. Flora, with her spirited and cultured ways was perfectly suited for her role as Santa Fe's first lady during this period. She enjoyed hosting many visiting dignitaries and celebrities of the time. Among them were General Ulysses S.Grant, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, Billy the Kid and Archbishop Lamy.

Flora displayed along with her husband, much civic-mindedness. During her stay in Santa Fe she established the first nonsectarian school for girls, raised money and built a three-room schoolhouse, taught Hebrew school, as well as creating the first children's playground in Santa Fe. In a letter to the editor of The Albuquerque Journal dated January 3rd, 1935. Flora writes, "In 1879 I organized the first non-sectarian school for girls in Santa Fe, I rented a room in an old adobe house near the Plaza, It was very primitive had a mud floor and to keep it sanitary for the twelve pupils I disinfected it personally three times weekly. Instead of desks and benches the pupils had little tables and three legged stools."

Rev. Dr. Jones pastor of the Presbyterian Church engaged a competent teacher from the Presbyterian Mission Society. But at my urgent request before Miss Carpenter accepted the position I made it obligatory that her pupils be taught to recite the Ten Commandments, and at the same time explain to them that the Ten Commandments are not a religious, but and ethical and moral code upon which the civilization rest today. She fully agreed with my earnest request, and all the parents approved it also.

I also organized the first Children's Gardens; I taught them how cultivate flowers and vegetables. I also gave the children nature study lessons, aided by a magnifying glass. I showed a large collection of all kinds of insects and how the golden, yellow pollen carried on the tiny hairs of their wings while flitting from flower to flower dropped on the pistils of the various flowers changed their color.

I also taught the children sewing and fancy needlework, each child had her embroidered sampler with her name, and they treasured them. This may amuse you and Miss Monk, my two daughters now grandmothers still have their samplers from the 1880's. They are framed and decorate the playroom of their grandchildren!"

During her early years in Europe Flora had developed a passion for the piano, the French language, and gardening. She was able to share these interests with Archbishop Lamy with whom she enjoyed an especially close friendship. As a token of his friendship towards the Spiegelberg family, the archbishop planted two willow trees with his own hands in the front yard of their Palace Street home. Flora also states that "our good and tolerant friend Archbishop Lamy always sent us and several other Jewish families gifts of fruit, wines and flowers as greetings to the Jewish New Year."

Flora and Willi were the proud parents of two daughters; Betty, born October 24th, 1876 and Rose born May 11, 1878. Flora maintained a firm commitment to her Jewish heritage. It was important to Flora that her children receive a religious education, and to that end she organized a Sunday school class, which she herself taught. There is evidence that the small Jewish community in Santa Fe came together to celebrate the High Holy days as described in The American Israelite, February 13, 1881 issue: "It was Yom Kippur, 1860. How strange it appeared to us all to meet together as Jehudim, on this grand and holy day, that makes us all bow with awe, and reverence at the grand Sabbath of Sabbaths. How we remained together all that day until night fasting, praying and seeing who could fast the best. It was a strange crowd in that Catholic country, where Indians fight, murders, broils and fandangos were everyday occurrences; but that motley crowd consisted of men and women whose hearts beat for Israel."

In 1888 Flora, Willi and their two daughters left Santa Fe and settled in New York City. It was hoped that their children Rose and Betty would benefit from a larger and more diverse Jewish community; from which they would secure Jewish husbands. During the second chapter of Flora's life, she maintained her commitment to social improvement. She donated to New York its first covered garbage truck built to her specifications. Flora was criticized for her "unladylike" concerns with garbage disposal and to this she explained that "the health of the population and the cleanliness of the streets was within the province of women."

While living in New York Flora served on a number of committees. She authored two children's books and became interested in publishing the stories she had written about her own life as a pioneer woman in New Mexico. In a letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal, dated January 3, 1933 Flora presents an almost apologetic tone for her prolific literary output:" I presume you will be much surprised with this large collection of stories, but the Spiegelberg's have still many friends Mexicans and Americans that will enjoy these reminiscences if you find some of the stories too long decrease them as you see fit."