Ben Stern and the Thorner Family of Biddeford, Maine

 Elected to the Maine House of Representatives 1931-32 and 1933-34
 Supported regulation of child labor
 Introduced bills for non-contributing old age-pensions

 Leader in Jewish and Socialist communities
 Thorner family friend

Jeff Stern, Mr Stern Goes to Augusta, Discover Maine, 2006

Benjamin Stern in Celia C. Risen, Jewels of Maine, 1997

When he was fifteen years old, Benjamin Stern and his brother traveled from Kovna, Lithuania, to Boston because they had an uncle there. The year was 1890. Ben was a socialist who escaped the czar's police and the Russian army. As a Jew he was fair game for persecution in the army, but as a Jewish socialist he was marked for prison. He stopped first in London to visit an uncle, Jacob Stern, who was a banker and the father of the writer G. B. Stern, but felt sure there were better opportunities for advancement in America. He learned in Boston that Walter Lippman was a relative, but he never called upon him.

Maine Jewish Hall of Fame 2019 Induction Ceremony Program Book

Born in Kovne, Lithuania on July 14, 1885 as Benjamin Chelner, he adopted his mother’s maiden name in 1900 when—pursued by Russian authorities as a Jew and a radical—he fled to London, home of his maternal uncle, father of the writer G[ladys] B[ertha] Stern.

Maine Jewish Hall of Fame 2019 Induction Ceremony Program Book

His advisors numbered such esteemed figures as Albert Abramson (1906-1988), a Jewish economics professor at Bowdoin College and Maine’s Works Progress Administrator from 1935-37, and the eminent Socialist Norman Thomas (1884-1968).

circa 1925 Bowdoin College
Albert “Jim” Abrahamson was Anne Thorner's 3/4 second cousin in her mother's family. His mother was Rose Robinson, daughter of David Yecht. see Maine Jewish Hall of Fame 2019 Program Book

Celia C. Risen: Some Jewels of Maine

The Cohen Family of Biddeford, Maine
The Memories of Beatrice Cohen Espovich
Interviewer: Carole Kolker

And the only people who were active in the Arbeiter Ring was a family by the name of Stern. …. And the parents were the freethinkers of the community. ... My mother used to say — “Arbeiter Ring, you know, the Workman's Circle.” It was beneath her. I don't know where my mother had her sense of snobbery. She didn't want us to have friends—I had many friends who were non-Jews. And she had such a feeling of—Oh, God, Galicia. If I ever brought home a Galatzianer, I mean, she'd have killed me. I don't know where that snobbery came from. But she did have it. And my uncles and aunts had it. Absolutely. If you weren't a Litvak, you know, you were nothing.

November 8, 1921:
La Justice De Biddeford, p4

January 13, 1922:
Biddeford Weekly Journal, p5: Benjamin Stern Biddeford representative.

January 27, 1922:
Biddeford Weekly Journal, p8

January 29, 1929
: Biddeford Daily Journal, p2: Celia Stern and Junior Social Club
Isadore Thorner became my Uncle Irving.

February 18, 1929:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p2, Workmans Circle

Houses of worship, Saco, Maine, edited by Kitty Chadbourne, et al. Chapter: A History of Congregation Etz Chaim, Biddeford, Maine, by Jennie E. Aranovitch,

The Workmen’s Circle
Biddeford-Saco Jews were also active in the Workmen’s Circle, otherwise known as The Arbeiter (Yiddish for “Worker”) Ring, a Jewish labor fraternal order. Founded in 1892, the Workmen’s Circle became a national organization in 1900 and was dedicated to supporting the labor and socialist movements of the world, while being closely linked to Jewish unions and the Yiddish labor press. Some of its goals were to promote Jewish education, to preserve Yiddish language, arts, and culture, to provide members with health and death benefits, and to bring about social change in America. Membership peaked in 1925 with 87.000 members nationwide. As membership subsequently dropped, the organization shifted its focus from political ideology to Jewish cultural activities. Biddeford-Saco Chapter 71 of the Workmen’s Circle used Etz Chaim as its meeting place.

What!! What?? What!!

December 21, 1929:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p2, Joseph Abelorvitz, Benjamin Stern, Abraham Thorner
Is this Abelorvitz kin to Minnie Abelovitz, a guest at Celia's January 1929 party? (see above)

April 9, 1930 Census: 50 Herring Ave, Biddeford, Maine
Benjamin Stern; 45, Rose Stern; 43, Arthur Stern; 17, Celia Stern; 16, Saul Stern; 14, Samson Stern; 12

the Thorners lived at 74 Mason Street, Biddeford

September 9, 1930
: Biddeford Daily Journal, Page 8, Ben Stern elected

February 4, 1931:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p1: Old Age Pension Bill

September 13, 1932
: Biddeford Daily Journal, Page 8, Ben Stern reelected

October 23, 1933: Anne Thorner Stack Diary

October 25, 1933: Anne Thorner Stack Diary

November 12, 1933: Anne Thorner Stack Diary
White Church

December 15, 1933
: Biddeford Daily Journal, Page 6, Ben Stern Child Labor

December 16, 1933
: Anne Thorner Stack Diary

December 18, 1933:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p6, Socialist Local

March 3, 1934
: Anne Thorner Diary
BTS: Possibly Selma Sachs

March 4, 1934
: Anne Thorner Diary
Young Circle League of America was the youth group of the Yiddish-oriented Workmen's Circle


March 5, 1934:
Anne Thorner Diary

March 22, 1934:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p2, Young Circle League

April 28, 1934:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p5

April 10, 1934:
Anne Thorner Diary
Apparently some in the the music unit harbored dangerous anarchistic attitudes toward dancing.

April 13, 1934:
Anne Thorner Diary

May 2, 1934:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p3, May Day

August 17, 1934:
Anne Thorner Diary

August 18, 1934:
Biddeford Daily Journal, p2

October 1, 1935
: Anne Thorner Diary

December 10, 1935
: Anne Thorner Diary

August 8, 1936
: Biddeford Daily Journal, p2: Norman Thomas introduced by Benjamin S. Stern, former representative to the legislature.

August 12, 1936
: Anne Thorner Diary: Celia went to hear Norman Thomas in Portland

May 1937
: Maine: L to R: Celia Stern, Anne Thorner and Tyna Simensky on Anne's cousin Jerry Thorner's car.

March 28, 1944
: Biddeford-Daily-Journal, p6: Candidate for Senate

May 26, 1948:
La Justice De Biddeford, p1: Fundraising Campaign for Notre Dame Hospital, built in 1950

June 29, 1948:
Biddeford-Daily-Journal, p8: Franklin Epstein of Workmen's Circle.
"Mr. Stern was one of the group mainly responsible for the institution of a branch of the order here several years ago."

January 25, 1955:
Biddeford-Daily-Journal p2: Ben Stern Farewell

January 31, 1955: Biddeford-Daily-Journal p1: Ben Stern Honored by B'nai Brith
image thanks to Renée Burkett, Special Collections Librarian, McArthur Library

December 26, 1956: The Philadelphia Inquirer: Rose Stern obituary

December 23, 197
5: Biddeford-Saco-Journal: Benjamin S. Stern obituary.

December 16, 1975: Benjamin S. Stern headstone

January 30, 1962: Biddeford Saco Journal

March 7, 1973: Biddeford Saco Journal: Celia Stern Wilson obit

December 3, 2010: Lewiston Sun Journal, Tyna Simensky Merdek obit with photo

Anne Thorner Stack January 30, 1916—May 24, 2012

Articles about Ben Stern

Benjamin Stern in Celia C. Risen, Jewels of Maine, 1997

Jeff Stern, Mr Stern Goes to Augusta, Discover Maine, 2006

Maine Jewish Hall of Fame 2019 Induction Ceremony Program Book

Benjamin Stern in Celia C. Risen, Jewels of Maine, 1997

Jeff Stern, Mr Stern Goes to Augusta, Discover Maine, 2006

Maine Jewish Hall of Fame 2019 Induction Ceremony Program Book

Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center 2020 Biddeford Hall of Fame (scroll down)

My father's mother, Ethel Oldstein from Nowy Dwor, Maz, Poland, was a first cousin of the grandfather of Morton Knecht, whose oral history produced by the Stephen Spielberg Shoah Project mentions that as a child he was affiliated with SKIF, the kids' section of the Tsukunft, the youth organization of the Bund. Morton's father, Iser, was a very active member of the Bund.

lists a thus-far unknown member of my grandfather Abraham Thorner's family here: "...a youth organization, 'Zukunft,' which now developed under the leadership of Shiye Chrzonstowski. The youth conducted independent cultural activities. "



Newspaper Source: McArthur Public Library: The Biddeford Historic Newspaper Archive

Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center

A History of Jewish Life in Biddeford Saco by Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center
YouTube Video

Check out Documenting Maine Jewry

Contact me

© Barbara Toby Stack where not otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.