Doris Bernheim, 89, an advocate for women's reproductive rights

Posted: April 18, 2014

OK, WHO WAS Ebenezer Maxwell?

Turns out he was a wealthy Philadelphia cloth merchant in the mid-19th century, but his main claim to local fame is the house he built in West Germantown for $10,000.

The Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion is a remarkable masonry structure, 2 1/2 stories high with a three-story tower. It's on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trouble is, hardly anybody visits it, although it's open to the public as a museum. And over the years, its very existence had been threatened by the nonprofit that manages it.

A director once described Ebenezer Maxwell as a "nobody" and the museum as something nobody wanted.

Such sentiments greatly annoyed Doris Bernheim.

She was a former president of the museum's board and remained a steadfast volunteer. In a letter to the Inquirer in 2005, Doris insisted, "We are strongly motivated to restore Maxwell Mansion to its appropriate and respected place in Philadelphia's history."

Saving the Maxwell House was only one of the many activities of this civic-minded woman, whose interests ranged from history to architecture to gardening to Japanese Sumi-e painting.

She also was an advocate for women's reproductive rights and a leader in health-care organizations concentrating on women and families, especially needy children.

She died March 28 of heart failure. She was 89 and lived in Mount Airy, where her flower garden and grounds were a neighborhood landmark.

Doris Bernheim was director of Planned Parenthood's Lower Bucks County health center in Bristol, and for five years she also served as director of national clinical services for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

She went on to lead the Easter Seals Society of Bucks County, which provides services, education and advocacy for children and adults with disabilities. She left Easter Seals with a service center three times larger than when she started.

Doris was born in Mohrsville, Berks County, to Morris Truman Snyder and Edna Dunkelberger Snyder. She attended Perry Township High School, graduating in 1942 as valedictorian. She attended Albright College, then went on to Syracuse University, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in journalism.

Her first job was as a reporter for the Reading Times, covering mostly "women's news." There she met her future husband, John Bernheim, a fellow reporter. They were married in July 1949.

John went on to work as an editor for the Federal Bureau of Information Services in Tokyo. Doris quickly became fluent in Japanese and took up Sumi-e painting, a centuries old ink-brush technique.

"Doris was a strong woman, but she could communicate with everyone, from children to adults," said Beverly Carter, who worked with Doris through her 35-year career of community service.

"And she was generous. No job was too small or too big for her to care about."

Doris is survived by a son, Alfred; a daughter, Emily; two sisters, Helen Dornblaser and Grace Miller; and two grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service 3 p.m. tomorrow at 707 Westview St., West Mount Airy. Donations may be made to the Doris Bernheim Fund, Keystone Planned Parenthood, P.O. Box 813, Trexlertown, Pa. 18087.

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