Edith H. Furstenberg, a retired Children's Guild social worker and family matriarch, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 2 at Roland Park Place. The former Guilford resident was 104.
Born in Baltimore on May 20, 1910, she was the daughter of Sidney Hollander, a pharmacist who invented the Rem cough medicine and became a philanthropist, and Clara Lauer, a homemaker. She grew up on Talbot Road in Windsor Hills and was a 1928 Park School graduate. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Goucher College and a master's degree at what is now the Columbia University School of Social Work.
On March 8, 1934, she married Frank Folke Furstenberg, a Swedish-born physician who had moved to Baltimore for a residency at Sinai Hospital. She worked in children's services, also at Sinai.
In 1942, Dr. Furstenberg, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, was assigned to posts in Key West and Valparaiso, Fla., and in San Francisco. She and the family accompanied him.
Mrs. Furstenberg resumed her social work career in 1954 when her youngest children began school and worked for many years at the Children's Guild and later at Sinai Hospital and the Kennedy Krieger Institute, family members said.
While at Sinai Hospital in the 1960s, she encountered teen pregnancy in girls living in Baltimore's poor neighborhoods. She sought advice from her son, Dr. Frank Furstenberg Jr., who was then a student at Columbia University. Her questioning led to his undertaking a comprehensive study on teen pregnancy and poverty. The three-decade study, authored by her son, a retired University of Pennsylvania sociologist, confirmed that living in "economically-depressed neighborhoods, not teen motherhood, perpetuates poverty."
Another son, Mark Furstenberg, said his mother had a rewarding career as a social worker and also loved her 18 years as a full-time homemaker.
"Our food was influenced by my father's having been born in Sweden. There was herring and knaeckebrot for breakfast," he said. "My mother made the food decisions."
He said she came from a wealthy German-Jewish family and her mother didn't cook.
"Her mother had a cook," said her son, Mark, a baker who owns Bread Furst in Washington, D.C. "My mother may never have turned on a stove until World War II. She had to learn to cook. Happily she had an aptitude. Our family dinners were simple — it was a time of simple food. I have memories from the war when rationing demanded from even experienced cooks a level of ingenuity that our affluence today has made entirely unnecessary."
He said that in the 1950s his mother's cooking flourished. She described her meals as "the flower of my art." "We ate well," he said. "Scallops, pot roast, Swedish meatballs, beef Stroganoff, always vegetables simply cooked, nearly always potatoes that my father loved, salads, and desserts."
He said the dinner table "was chaotic." There were six children.
"My father trying to tell stories from his workday, my mother trying to keep our attention for my father," Mark Furstenberg said. "She was the mistress of ceremonies."
He also recalled her careful meal planning.
"When a beautiful leg of lamb was served, I would say, 'Mom, we just had lamb,'" her son said. " And my mother would bolt from her chair at the foot of the table, go back into the kitchen and bring back her black and white notebook, look through it to say, 'We last had lamb on March 10th.'"
Her son also recalled his mother's disposition.
"She loved being a wife and mother. She loved her social life. She simply loved living," he said. "Until quite recently she would say often 'I know I have to die but I don't want to.'"
Her grandson, Francois Furstenberg, a Johns Hopkins history professor, recalled how central food was to her joy in life: "In her kitchen, there was always Berger cookies. She would bring her grandchildren to Lexington Market for crab cakes. She had been going to Faidley's forever."
Family members said she was an old-fashioned liberal.
"She was a strong believer in social justice from the time she was young to into her hundreds," said a daughter, Ellen Furstenberg of Philadelphia, who recalled her mother's protests of the Iraq War in front of Roland Park Place.
Mrs. Furstenberg lived on Underwood Road in Guilford until 2001, when she moved to Roland Park Place.
Plans for a memorial service in May are incomplete.
In addition to her sons, daughter and grandson, survivors include another son, Michael Furstenberg of Concord, Mass.; another daughter, Anne Furstenberg of Philadelphia; 11 other grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Her husband of 63 years died in 1997. A daughter, Carla Cohen, died in 2010.