Most Fortunate Unfortunates: The Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans

FOC's 2nd Thursday Lecture presents Most Fortunate Unfortunates: The Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans

Thu, Dec 14, 2023
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. CST
Virtual Events

Join us for a virtual evening with Marlene Trestman as she discusses her recent book Most Fortunate Unfortunates: The Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans (LSU Press). This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Cabildo as part of the Second Thursday Lecture Series. It is FREE and open to the public, but registration is required. The program will take place on Zoom. Please register here:


Marlene Trestman’s Most Fortunate Unfortunates is the first comprehensive history of the Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans. Founded in 1855 in the aftermath of a yellow fever epidemic, the Home was the first purpose-built Jewish orphanage in the nation. It reflected the city’s affinity for religiously operated orphanages and the growing prosperity of its Jewish community. In 1904, the orphanage opened the Isidore Newman School, a coed, nonsectarian school that also admitted children, regardless of religion, whose parents paid tuition. By the time the Jewish Orphans’ Home closed in 1946, it had sheltered more than sixteen hundred parentless children and two dozen widows from New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana and the mid-South.

Based on deep archival research and numerous interviews of alumni and their descendants, Most Fortunate Unfortunates provides a view of life in the Jewish Orphans’ Home for the children and women who lived there. The study also traces the forces that impelled the Home’s founders and leaders—both the heralded men and otherwise overlooked women—to create and maintain the institution that Jews considered the “pride of every Southern Israelite.” While Trestman celebrates the Home’s many triumphs, she also delves deeply into its failures.

Most Fortunate Unfortunates is sure to be of widespread interest to readers interested in southern Jewish history, gender and race relations, and the evolution of social work and dependent childcare.


Marlene Trestman is a lawyer and the author of Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin. Her second book, Most Fortunate Unfortunates: The Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans, will be published by LSU Press in October 2023.

Both books draw on Trestman’s personal experiences. Orphaned at age 11, Trestman grew up in New Orleans as a foster care client of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, the agency that formerly ran the orphanage in which Bessie Margolin was raised. During the time they spent together while Trestman attended college and law school, and started her legal career, Margolin inspired the future biographer who would go on to write the first comprehensive history of the nation’s earliest purpose-built Jewish orphanage.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate and former trustee of Goucher College, Trestman received her law degree from George Washington University and her MBA from Loyola University of Maryland. For the last decade of Trestman’s thirty-year legal career with the Maryland Attorney General’s office, she served as Special Assistant to the Attorney General and was responsible for enforcing laws related to public health and consumer protection. In recognition of her contributions, Trestman twice received the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award.

A New Orleans native who lives in Baltimore, Trestman has received research grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Supreme Court Historical Society, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, American Jewish Archives, Texas Jewish Historical Society, and Southern Jewish Historical Society. She is member and formerly served on the board of Biographers International Organization.