Aaron Straus was born in Baltimore of German Jewish descent in 1865, graduated from City College, and went on to build his family’s furniture store into one of the nation’s largest retail empires of furniture, clothing and jewelry stores that stretched from New England to New Mexico. Reliable Stores Corporation was run as an amalgam of stores under one umbrella using corporate controls in accounting and purchasing – a rare precursor of today’s conglomerates.

While in business in St. Louis, Aaron met, courted and then married Lillie Meyer in June of 1889. The marriage would last 64 years, during which she devoted herself to her marriage, to caring for the man who would eventually become blind, and to her charitable interests.
“Aaron was a philanthropic giant, but the heart was Lillie’s. She was the driver of the philanthropic machine.”
Frugal living coupled with business genius allowed the Strauses to amass a fortune significant enough to form a private charitable foundation in 1926, with a dual focus on the rescue and relief of Jewish communities and families throughout the world, and connecting children in the Baltimore region to opportunities that could help them build strong and secure futures. Since the Strauses had no children of their own, the stewardship of their Foundation was entrusted to the Directors of Reliable Stores Corporation, whose descendants, to this day, continue to be stewards of the Straus philanthropic legacy.


Aaron and Lillie Straus’ clearly focused philanthropic vision, to give children protection, education, and opportunity continues today in a contemporary context with the Foundation’s support of policies and programs which connect fragile families and children to the avenues of hope and advantage which can lead to better futures.
“The Strauses began their philosophy with a deep interest in the community and children. We have continued, and will continue, to carry this thrust forward into the future.”
The Foundation continues to focus its work almost exclusively on the Baltimore metropolitan region where Aaron and Lillie Straus lived, worked, and invested their philanthropic time and capital.