Never underestimate the ripple effect of a legacy. In the case of Esther Taylor, that ripple can be called a wave, for it continues to have impact across the Atlanta community. Thirty years after her passing, Esther Taylor’s philanthropic priorities live on, and her relevance remains as vital as ever.
The daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Esther Kahn Taylor grew up in Atlanta and raised her family here. Although her father discouraged her from attending college or having a career, Esther pursued her first love, music, as a piano student at Julliard. Following her marriage to Herbert Taylor, she went on to artfully integrate her cultural and civic priorities with her Jewish ones — including Hadassah, the Council of Jewish Federation and Welfare Funds (now the Jewish Federations of North America), Ahavath Achim Synagogue, Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, ORT and more. Esther became the bold architect of her own path as an advocate and philanthropist.
Today Esther Taylor’s role as the founder of Planned Parenthood Southeast continues to shine brightly. Her granddaughter Elaine Taylor-Klaus, a Master Certified Coach (MCC), parenting coach, writer, speaker and trailblazer in her own right, explains that her grandmother valued family planning largely because of her friendship with another outspoken Jewish woman, Abigail Van Buren (born Pauline Esther Friedman, and known as the advice columnist “Dear Abby.”) Van Buren introduced Esther to Planned Parenthood in 1964, sparking her determination to establish a chapter in Atlanta.
“My grandmother threw herself into this work with a $5K donation from Herbert,” says Taylor-Klaus. “It began as an education only organization with no advocacy or health services.” Famously and fearlessly, Esther raised funds for Planned Parenthood in Atlanta. “In the early 1960’s she stood up in front of a Rotary Club or a Kiwanis Club, in her white gloves, to talk to these all-men’s groups about family planning. She spoke with pure confidence and conviction because she was clear about what was important, not just for herself but for society. She was never afraid to ask for what was important.”
The seeds of change Esther planted continue to grow. Here in Atlanta, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is the beneficiary of Esther and Herbert Taylor’s foresight when in 1986 they created the Herbert and Esther Taylor Advocacy Fund at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation. The fund allows NCJW to carry on the work that was so important to the Taylor family, and that remains so relevant today.
Thanks to this fund, a new generation of Jewish women are becoming educated in reproductive health and family planning. The Atlanta section of NCJW is partnering with JumpSpark ATL’s Strong Women Fellowship to train Jewish teens to become peer educators.
Elaine, who for decades has been a tireless advocate for Public Health — first focusing on women’s reproductive and maternal health and then establishing a global company to support neurological health for families with complex children, teens and young adults (ImpactParents) — traces her own activism to Esther’s example. “The thing about my grandmother that really strikes me, is whatever she was involved in, she became an advocate. From arts and music, to teaching music lessons in the Atlanta Public Schools to being actively involved in the ATL Music Club and holding concerts, to women’s rights and women’s autonomy. Whatever she stood for, she stood up for! In doing so, she created a legacy. I don’t know if she was thinking about it in terms of legacy, which we would do more consciously now as philanthropists and donors. She just knew what was important.”
“That’s exactly what I see my brothers, my sister, and even our kids doing today — responding to the needs of the community. I often refer to it as “See a need, fill a need.” To me as an advocate coming up, my grandmother’s example was not looking for the shiny nickel, it was always the overlooked and underserved.”
In the 1970’s Herbert established the oral history project at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, called the Esther and Herbert Taylor Oral History Collection. Housed in the Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Archives for Southern Jewish History, the collection, which continues to be funded by Mark and Judith Taylor, features more than 1,000 interviews documenting Jewish life in Georgia and Alabama, including Esther Taylor’s oral history, which you can listen to here.
NCJW has invested the Herbert and Esther Taylor Advocacy Fund at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation to ensure its future. The Breman Museum participates in the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s endowment building campaign, LIFE & LEGACY Plus, run locally by Atlanta Jewish Foundation for organizations focused on growing their endowments.
Today the ripples of Esther Taylor’s legacy and leadership continue to flow outward to enrich the Atlanta community and spark gratitude from the thousands of lives touched by her fearless approach.