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Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program

Janet Sondheim

Baltimore Sun
September 10, 1992

Janet Sondheim, 80
teacher, dance pioneer

Janet Sondheim, who danced with the pioneering Denishawn modern dance troupe before turning to teaching, died of liver cancer yesterday at her home in Canton. She was 80.

The family plans no services, according to her husband of 58 years, Walter Sondheim Jr., senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee.

Mrs. Sondheim was born in San Francisco on Dec. 17, 1911, daughter of Solomon Blum, a professor of economics at the University of California, and Minna Blum, an artist. Reared in Berkeley, she moved with her family to New York after her father's death and graduated from Mamaroneck (N.Y.) High School.

Instead of attending college, she chose to study modern dance. Mrs. Sondheim took classes with Hanya Holm and at the Martha Graham School in New York and also studied in Vienna, Austria; and Berlin.

In the 1930s, she joined the Denishawn Dancers, the legendary troupe founded by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Later, she taught modern dance for a short time.

Following her marriage to Mr. Sondheim in 1934 and after her children began school, she turned to teaching. "I've never seen anybody with such an affinity for children,'' her husband said.

During World War II, she taught in a nursery school set in the Carroll Mansion that was organized for children of defense workers.

For about 15 years, she taught at the Children's Guild, a program for the treatment and education of severely emotionally disturbed children.

In the 1960s, she organized a play program in the pediatric department of Sinai Hospital. After her retirement from the Children's Guild, Mrs. Sondheim was a volunteer tutor at Highlandtown Elementary School.

Edgar Jones, a longtime neighbor, recalled that community youngsters regularly congregated at the Sondheim home. "The children were always over there,'' Mr. Jones said. "She was one of the most generous neighbors you can imagine. She was a great hostess. She had her own opinions. At the same time, she was one of the shyest people I ever met.''

Besides her husband, Mrs. Sondheim is survived by a daughter, Ellen Dankert of Reston, Va.; a son, John W. Sondheim of Baltimore; a brother, Richard E. Neustadt, professor emeritus at Harvard University of Cambridge, Mass., and London; two granddaughters; and nieces and nephews.