May 25, 2012


Filed under: interesting or noteworthy archival material — Tags: , , — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 2:25 pm

Camping can play an important part of the formation of a personality and now we even have news from the Jewish Voice that  Bob Dylan became who he is (including a soon-to-become recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom) due to the time he spent at Camp Herzl, the Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin.

Another entertainer (though not a prophet,  a mystic or a poet), who owed a lot to the Jewish summer camp experience was Eddie Cantor—comedian, actor and singer, famous from the 1930s to the 1950s. Eddie Cantor initiated the “March of Dimes” fundraising campaign against polio, and is one of the very few real people depicted as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Eddie Cantor (“Banjo Eyes”, born Edward Israel Iskowitz, 1892-1964) became an ardent supporter of Jewish camping in general and of the  summer camp he attended as a child, Surprise Lake Camp, run by the Educational Alliance.

Orphaned at birth and raised by his grandmother, Cantor was able to avail himself of the camping services due to the program of scholarships awarded to children from poor families by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Upon attaining fame and success as an entertainer, Eddie Cantor returned the favor with generous support of Jewish camps and camping for underprivileged children. As Jacob Birnbaum, former director of camps for the Educational Alliance says in his oral history interview, Eddie Cantor “provided more money, I think, than any other individual. And he refused to have his name on anything.”

The Camping Subseries materials at the UJA-Federation of New York collection contains a significant amount of materials about the Educational Alliance’s Surprise Lake Camp. The name of its first famous alum, Eddie Cantor, is mentioned in many documents and booklets. At this point, we have not come across any documents generated by Cantor himself with the UJA-Federation of New York collection. However, within the National Jewish Welfare Board collection, there is a great photograph of Cantor with some young campers and also there are some digitized items here at the Center for Jewish History (the YIVO Institute’s Milstein Family Jewish Communal Archive Project website) which give an  idea of Eddie Cantor’s warm regard and care for the camps and campers:

Other material related to Eddie Cantor from this collection or other collections at the Center for Jewish History can be found by searching on his name at

May 21, 2012

Federation faces a controversy

Filed under: found in the archives, interesting or noteworthy archival material — susanwoodland @ 11:07 am

On March 5, 1953 a memo was sent to the Board of Trustees of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies on the instructions of Milton Weill, then President of Federation.  Enclosed with the memo were “a number of interesting and important letters on the problem of the admission of the Planned Parenthood Committee in the Welfare and Health Council of the City of New York [the Council].”  As controversial as Planned Parenthood is in 2012, it apparently offered services just as divisive in 1953, when the Council’s actions in response to Planned Parenthood sparked a barrage of meetings, memos and correspondence among the member institutions of the Council, and within the Council itself.

At the time, the most controversial service provided by Planned Parenthood was birth control.  Upon application for membership in the Council, the Board of the Council denied membership for fear of losing its Catholic agency members.  An editorial in The Christian Century dated February 4, 1953, states: “[The Welfare and Health Council of the City of New York] declined [Planned Parenthood’s] application for membership because, as stated in their resolution, ‘Catholic Charities of the dioceses of New York and Brooklyn and their member agencies are opposed in principle to a substantial part of the program and policies of Planned Parenthood organizations and are resolved to cancel their membership in the event a Planned Parenthood organization is admitted to the Council’. … A major effort seems to be shaping up to get the Welfare and Health Council to reconsider.  Whether it will do so or not probably depends upon Jewish agencies, which number about 40 per cent of the membership.  Protestantism can muster only an ineffectual 20 per cent in the city where the National Council of Churches has its headquarters.”

Milton Weill considers his options

Perhaps the most moving argument against the actions of the Council was made soon after the Council’s vote in January by Justine Wise Polier, then the Chairman of the Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee, and long an advocate for orphan children’s rights.  The following is from a letter from Polier to Coverly Fischer, the President of the Council:  “In the United States where happily the principle of religious freedom is basic to our beliefs, ideals and way of life, any action that threatens such freedom becomes a matter of grave concern.  Religious freedom involves not only the right to believe in accordance with conscience but the duty to respect the beliefs of others.  Any attempt to outlaw, or ostracise [sic] any group of citizens because they do not accept the religious beliefs or doctrines of another group violates the principle of religious freedom.”

The New York Board of Rabbis passed a resolution in February that may have made it easier for Federation to take the stand it did with the Council: “The New York Board of Rabbis voices its strong disapproval of the action taken by the Welfare and Health Council of New York City in declining the application of the Planned Parenthood … for membership.  Despite the disagreement among our own membership regarding some of the objectives of the Planned Parenthood committee, we unite in deploring the denial of the right to membership of any social welfare agency in a public body which provides a valuable forum for discussion of problems effecting the well-being of the entire community.”

Milton Weill and Joseph Willen, one of Federation’s Executive Vice Presidents, provided an exhaustive study of the issue to Federation’s Executive Committee that February, after having polled 37 of the 41 Federation member agencies who were also members of the Council.  The Board of Trustees of Federation voted in April to direct their delegates at the next Council meeting to vote to replace the Council’s board with a new board who would vote to allow Planned Parenthood’s membership, and to “introduce and support the passage of a resolution urging the new Board to continue to do whatever possible to find an amicable solution of the problem.”

The New York Times on May 5th ran the headline, “Parenthood Issue Near a Showdown”.

The results a few days later of the Council’s final vote were summed up by a headline in the May 8, 1953 New York Times: “Planned Parenthood Backers Win in Welfare Council Vote”.

May 10, 2012

one more carbon copy

Filed under: the process of archival processing, Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 5:55 pm

Milton Weill was President of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies from 1951 to 1954. It appears that his secretary, identified here as sz, used the same sheet of yellow tissue paper as the carbon copy for two letters that differed only in addressee.  This letter was sent to two different prospective members of an advisory committee, Al (Alfred Bachrach) and Jack (J. S. Seidman).

We have two boxes of Milton Weill’s files from his years as President. The letter above is from his “New Committees” folder. We look forward to exploring more of his files and correspondence and learning about his contributions to FJP.

May 8, 2012

Joseph Willen appointed to Executive Council of American Jewish Historical Society

Filed under: found in the archives, interesting or noteworthy archival material — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 4:23 pm

Previously, we had posted information on an interesting connection between Joseph Willen and Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach and, through association, the American Jewish Historical Society.  Joseph Willen’s association with the Historical Society was actually much more pronounced than his correspondence with Dr. Rosenbach. In correspondence dated February 1952, the Executive Secretary of the American Jewish Historical Society, Philip Goodman, notifies Mr. Willen of his recent election to the Executive Council of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Philip Goodman to Joseph Willen, February 19, 1952

Letter from Philip Goodman to Joseph Willen, regarding his appointment to the Executive Council of the American Jewish Historical Society

Willen’s term as a member of the Executive Council would last two years–from 1952 to 1954. As busy as Willen would have been as one of two Executive Vice Presidents of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Willen hopes to “participate actively” and “make every effort to be helpful” in his return letter to Philip Goodman.

Letter from Joseph Willen to Philip Goodman, February 26, 1952

Letter from Joseph Willen to Philip Goodman, accepting his appointment to the Executive Council of the American Jewish Historical Society

Perhaps further processing of Willen’s correspondence, during these years, will yield discussion of Willen’s participation with or assistance to the Historical Society. Nevertheless, it is interesting to process the papers of a prominent executive of a philanthropic organization who also happens to have served on the Executive Council of your employer.

As a member of the Executive Council, Joseph Willen joined many other historically prominent individuals who served or provided guidance to the American Jewish Historical Society. Please notice the many distinguished names found on the letterhead, including A. S. W. Rosenbach (Honorary President), Jacob Rader Marcus (Vice President), Justice Felix Frankfurter (Executive Council member), Dr. Moshe Davis (Executive Council member), and other distinguished professors, judges, and professionals.

May 2, 2012

Carbon Copies II

Filed under: the process of archival processing — susanwoodland @ 10:55 am

Continuing my thoughts on carbon copies brings me to the first reason I listed in my last post about why carbon copies present problems when they sit in a folder for years and decades:

The paper used for the copy was a cheaper quality than the letterhead used for the original letter or report.  There is generally no letterhead, meaning there is less information on the letter, and it is has less value as an artifact, or as a visual object.  Often we mine the letterhead for data such as current name of organization, address or list of officers; because there is almost always a date on a carbon copy of correspondence, it’s a good way of determining who was who at a given moment.  But the biggest problem is the shorter lifespan of the carbon copy’s paper itself – the paper is almost always either a more fragile onionskin, or a highly acidic quality of paper like newsprint.

This newsprint-like paper not only turns brown and dry and eventually cracks into illegible bits of typewritten words,

Carbon copy of 1919 memo - brown, acidic newsprint, cracking at edges, with hand notations and calculations

but it turns everything that it touches in the folder brown as well.

For example, this type of paper turns up also in notes written on sheets smaller than 8 1/2″ x 11″, and attached to documents within a folder.  Not a carbon copy, the same acidic paper can do damage no matter where it is found:

1974 correspondence regarding the handling of pledges in the newly merged UJA and Federation of New York campaign - the back of page 1

The front of page 2














These notes leave their size and shape on the papers in direct contact with them, as a permanent stain. Below, the culprit:

A note left for 38 years between pages one and two

In the same box there were several copies of a memo on colorful letterhead, listing new staff appointments, which may be helpful for identifying files.  In front of the top copy was a folded-up newsclipping, which discolored the first few copies.

1974 joint campaign staff memo - discolored by a newspaper clipping

Fortunately, the last copy was almost unaffected.

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