Harriet Hausman, 99, a very longtime resident of River Forest, died when her heart gave out and not a moment sooner.

Here’s the short version: She worked in the family store in Melrose Park during the Depression. Slept on a cot by the kitchen stove in the back of the store and each morning had to empty the cockroaches that nested in her shoes overnight. She helped raise her frail, 12-year-younger brother. She attended the University of Illinois, Northwestern and Rosary College (now Dominican University).

She was engaged to a soldier who was killed in France during World War II. Sometime later, an in-law talked her into going out with one of her brothers on a blind date, but he stood her up. So she went out with the other brother, Marty Hausman, who turned out to be the love of her life. They moved to River Forest even though Jews weren’t exactly welcomed back then and lived the rest of her life in the house they built in 1954. She was famous for her chicken barley soup and cream sherry & poppyseed cake.

She was a social worker at County Hospital with incarcerated women from Cook County Jail — which she did without pay because she didn’t want to deprive anyone else of a job. She worked with the Black Panthers in the 1960s, helping them serve breakfast to neighborhood kids through the West Side Better Boys Foundation. She helped make the breakfasts and saw how much the Panthers cared for those kids, so she was a supporter of Black Power when most white people were deathly afraid of it because she knew it just meant black empowerment.

She and Marty joined the ACLU in the early ’80s when the Nazis threatened to march in Skokie because even though they were Jewish and their position unpopular, “We believed it was better if their ugly words were aired,” she said. She served on the ACLU board for years, for a while sitting next to a young Barack Obama who went on to bigger things, but she remained one of his biggest fans.

She helped Marty with his railroad supply business for years, and when her husband died in 1988, she ran the business on her own. “Friends used to say I should be on that old game show, ‘What’s My Line?’” she said.

When the League of Women Voters asked her to put together a flier on River Forest history for the upcoming U.S. Bicentennial, she wrote an entire book instead. Reflections – A History of River Forest, won an award from the Library of Congress. And she wrote for the Viewpoints section of Wednesday Journal, claiming the title of “World’s Oldest Weekly Newspaper Columnist in her final two years.

 “Harriet is my social justice rock star,” said her daughter Barbara, “my very best friend, my role model, and most importantly, my mom. Her dedication to our family, to her friends, and to so many causes that help others is steadfast. She consciously lives the legacy she wants to leave, guided by her genuine kindness, keen wit, sharp mind and her love, hope, and positivity for the world. We should all want to be like her when we grow up.”

Harriet’s family includes the following, along with countless others to whom she was like a mom and her many friends whom she considered family:

Her husband, Marty Hausman (deceased); her children, Dan Hausman (Cathy Kautsky) and Barbara Hausman; her grandchildren, Charlie Elkins (Heather), Liz Appel (Mark Ybarra), Jason Appel (Lizzie), Josh Hausman (Catie Almiral), and David Hausman (Emily Rong Zhang); her great-grandchildren, Mae and Graham Elkins, Alex and Isaac Hausman; her parents, Sam and Lena Rubin (both deceased); her brother, Earl Rubin (deceased); her sister-in-law, Ann Scher (Paul, deceased); her niece, Susan Elfant (Noel) and their children Nate, Griffin, and Rachel; her niece, Laura Brown and her children Julia and Ellie; her niece, Mary Manaster (Alfred); her dog, Patti Girl (and the following, all deceased, Freckles, Peanut, Fuzzy, Snoopy, Danny, Bubski, Louie, Skipper and Flash).

Private interment was held on Nov. 10.

In the future, Barbara said, the family “will host a joyous celebration of my mom’s life which will also serve as a call-to-action, brainstorming session in which she will charge us to find concrete ways to promote social justice and buffer voting rights. There is no better way to honor her.”

In the meantime, donations to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are much appreciated.


Oak Park Temple (with notation for the Hausman Social Justice Fund)
1235 N. Harlem
Oak Park, IL. 60305

Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU
150 North Michigan, Suite 600
Chicago, IL 

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