The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) was founded in 1893 at the Jewish Women's Congress of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Mrs. Pauline Rosenberg founded the Pittsburgh Section in 1894 and this became the fourth section of NCJW. The Pittsburgh Section was called the Columbian Council until May 1906. The Pittsburgh Section has been devoted to many activities at the local, state, and national levels. Activities have included fundraising, education, political and social reforms, workshops and institutes. Almost all of these activities directly assist Jewish causes.
The Pittsburgh Section has always been dedicated to establishing programs to provide quality education. They created the first free kindergarten in Pittsburgh and a religious school for the children of immigrants in Pittsburgh's Hill District. This was the first of a network of Sunday Schools run jointly with Temple Rodef Shalom Sisterhood for many years. Their varied programs for children resulted in the establishment of the Columbian School, a full-fledged settlement house in its own quarters in 1900. Columbian School, later Columbian School and Settlement, became the Irene Kaufmann Settlement (IKS) in 1909. A new building and endowment fund was given by the parents of the late Irene Kaufmann, Henry and Theresa Kaufmann. The Pittsburgh Section also had volunteers run an informal Americanization class for immigrants. This later became a fully staffed and organized Evening School, the first of its kind in the Pittsburgh area. The "ethnic revival" of the late sixties led to a renewed interest in Jewish education, and in the 1970s Pittsburgh Section volunteers catalogued the Judaic holdings of local libraries. The Pittsburgh Section's interest in public education has continued unabated through the decades.
The Pittsburgh Section has also been involved in many public health issues. The Columbian School introduced the first visiting nurse to Pittsburgh. The second nurse hired for the job in 1902, Miss Anna B. Heldman, stayed until her death in 1940. She sponsored many public health measures with Pittsburgh Section's aid. Involvement in public health enterprises at the local and national level continues into the present. The Pittsburgh Section assists with the Red Cross, Health and Welfare Federation of Allegheny County, Veteran's Administration Volunteer Service, Council House Rehabilitation of Psychiatric Patients, Department of Health Infant Care at Arsenal Health Center, and the Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.
In addition to the above activities the Pittsburgh Section has been involved in countless activities, including the establishment of various committees to study political and social reforms; published guides and reference works on taxes and other subjects; work for civil rights, the handicapped, and the elderly; shown great interest in developing projects in Israel since its founding in 1948; and was in the forefront of "preventive philanthropy" activities, making it possible for people to avoid charity by becoming self-supporting.
The NCJW Pittsburgh Section has also taken a special interest with issues concerning women. The Pittsburgh Section founded the Council House for Working Girls and has had a long-standing cooperative relationship with many women's organizations, including the Federation of Women's Clubs, the Pittsburgh Conference of Jewish Women's Organizations, Women in Community Service Corporation, and Women in the Urban Crisis of Western Pennsylvania.
Along with the serious business there has always been a lighter side to the Pittsburgh Section's activities. Early programs of the Section's include musical events, dramatics, and socials. During the 1940s and 1950s fun and fundraising were combined in carnivals, dances, and shows.