Abraham Jonas was born in Rogasen, Posen, Germany in 1855 to Rev. Joachim and Amalia (Dresner) Jonas. He immigrated to the United States when he was 18 and moved to Oakland, California in 1875. He was a merchant (establishing the Hub Department Store), a real estate holder, a civic and political leader, and vice-president of the Bank of Germany of Oakland. He was heavily involved in Oakland's Jewish community and in numerous other charitable, civic and fraternal activities. Jonas served on the Board of Directors of the First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland (Temple Sinai) for 35 years, acting as president for 12 years. Along with Rabbi Friedlander of the First Hebrew Congregation, he worked on a revision of the Jewish Prayer Book. Jonas was also president of B'nai B'rith's District Grand Lodge No. 4. His charitable activities included terms as director of the Non-Sectarian Associated Charities, chairman of the General Committee for the American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers from the War during World War I, and commissioner of the Municipal Wood Yard (which, according to Davis' Commercial Encyclopedia of the Pacific Southwest, was "a scientific attempt to allay some of the evils of poverty arising among homeless and friendless working men who are from time to time stranded in this city"). In the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, Jonas was active in relief work. Abraham Jonas' other civic contributions included terms as president of the Merchants' Exchange of Oakland and director of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce. Jonas was quite involved in the Merchants' Exchange's Inter-County Tunnel Committee. He also served on Boards relating to the Oakland visits of President Taft, Nathan Straus and Victor Metcalf (Secretary of Commerce and Labor in 1904). Jonas was a member of the Masonic Order, the Odd Fellows and the Knights of Pythias and, in 1899, Jonas ran as a candidate for Oakland's councilman-at-large. According to Davis' Commercial Encyclopedia of the Pacific Southwest, he was best known for his work "with the annexation movement, looking toward the consolidation of county and city governments in Alameda County." Called the "Father of Consolidation," Jonas was among the first in the Oakland community to work toward the goal of centralizing power in local government. Jonas married Katie Hartman in 1881, and had two sons (Milton and Irving) and two daughters (Mrs. Morris N. Goldtree (Corrinne) and Mrs. Otto Herschman (Gertrude). Abraham Jonas died at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco in 1923.
The collection consists of the papers, scrapbooks, and photographs of Oakland businessman and civic leader Abraham Jonas. The papers include some family documents, a small amount of correspondence, loose materials from Jonas' work with B'nai B'rith, Temple Sinai (Oakland, Calif.), and the American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers from the War. Also included is a program from a convocation of Oakland freemasons (1913), a few items from Jonas' run for Oakland Councilman-at-Large (1899), and some businesscards and postcards from The Hub Clothing Company. The scrapbooks in the collection date from 1895 through the death of Katie Jonas in 1935 (with the bulk of material dating between 1895 and 1923) and include clippings, correspondence, and ephemera relating to Abraham Jonas' various activities in the civic and religious life of Oakland. Among other things, the scrapbooks document Jonas' work with B'nai B'rith, Temple Sinai, the Merchants' Exchange of Oakland, his political campaign for city councilman, and, to some extent, his work with the American Jewish Relief Committee for Sufferers from the War. There are also materials in the scrapbooks relating to other members of the Jonas family and relating to the deaths of both Abraham and Katie Jonas. The collection also includes a ledger and a minute book and bylaws for the Hub Clothing Company. The photographs in the collection consist primarily of cabinet card portraits (circa 1885-1900) of various members of the Jonas family of Oakland and the Simon family of Placerville, California. Michael (a Placerville dry goods merchant) and Paulina Simon were aunt and uncle to Abraham Jonas (though the exact details of the relation are unknown). Many of the photographs are unidentified. They were produced by a range of Oakland, San Francisco, and Placerville photography studios. There is one photograph of Abraham and Katie Jonas in front of the the Jonas family home in Rogasen, Posen (taken on a 1909 trip to Germany).