Tag Archives: American Jewish History

“We Ought to Have Our Fences Up”: Nativism and Xenophobia in the Progressive Era

An immigrant couple and their children., circa 1910
An immigrant couple and their children., circa 1910. Philadelphia Jewish Archives photograph collection

As early as the 1890s, immigration bills with provisions for literacy tests were introduced in Congress as legislative measures to control the influx of immigrants into America. On several occasions these proposed literacy tests were passed by both houses of Congress, only to be vetoed later by the President.  In 1897, for example, Grover Cleveland rejected a proposed literacy law on the basis it was “unnecessarily harsh and oppressive.”

Beginning in 1907, the United States Immigration Commission, under the leadership of Vermont Senator William Paul Dillingham began its work to address the growing nationalist concerns over the ever increasing numbers of immigrants (over 1 million annually between 1905 and 1907) arriving each year. The Dillingham Commission completed its work in 1911 and concluded that immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and culture and should therefore be greatly reduced. It further called for regulation of the “kind” or “type” of immigrants admitted to the U.S.

Dillingham bill
Dillingham Bill (S. 3175), March 1, 1912, Louis Edward Levy Family Papers

The Dillingham Commission’s work was part and parcel of a wave of xenophobic and nativist sentiment in the early twentieth century, which saw numerous immigration restriction bills introduced to Congress with measures that included not only literacy tests, but also head taxes and specification of “barred” or “undesirable” immigrants by geographic and ethnic origin, physical and mental health status, and socioeconomic means. As the twentieth century unfolded, this nativist sentiment drove a progression of severely restrictive immigration legislation.

William Howard Taft vetoed a 1913 bill including a literacy test, as did Woodrow Wilson in 1915, asserting that “it excludes those to whom opportunities of elementary education have been denied without regard to their character, their purposes, or their natural capacity.” Wilson vetoed a restrictive immigration bill containing a literacy test provision for the second time in 1916; however Congress was successful in overriding that veto.   On August 17, 1916, in support of the bill, Republican Senator William E. Borah of Idaho stated “we ought to have our fences up and be thoroughly prepared to protect those in this country who will be brought into competition with the hordes of people who will come here.”

The Immigration Act of 1917 enacted the literacy test as law and expanded the list of “undesirables” barred from entering the country including all persons originating from a geographic area termed the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” a region that included much of East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Letter to Congressman Moore
Letter to Congressman J. Hampton Moore, February 28, 1912, Louis Edward Levy Family Papers

Many individuals and organizations engaged in debates on immigration as this legislation was introduced, including Louis Edward Levy, a prominent figure of Philadelphia’s Jewish community. Levy spoke out against the literacy test as a prerequisite to entry into the United States. He did so both as a private individual and as President of the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, in published writing and in speeches and testimony. Recently prepared for research use, the Maxwell Whiteman Collection of Louis Edward Levy Family Papers, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, includes some of these writings, extensive correspondence, and accounts of speeches that Levy gave on the subject.

The Levy Family Papers document the activities of Louis Edward Levy, the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, and other local and national immigrant aid societies and their efforts to mobilize and coordinate collective action against immigration restriction in favor of more liberal immigration policies. To use the Levy Family Papers, request materials from the finding aid  for use in the SCRC Reading Room in Paley Library, or view a digitized selection of files from the papers.

Anastasia Chiu, Resident Librarian
Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: “The Levittown Problem”

On August 13, 1957, William and Daisy Myers and their three children, an African American family, moved into the all-white community of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter found themselves confronted by angry residents displeased with their arrival. Large crowds gathered during the day and hurled insults towards the home, while at night, cars drove by flashing their lights and honking their horns. The situation escalated over the course of eight days, with rocks being thrown through the windows of the Myers’ home and another stone knocking a local police officer unconscious. In response, the Pennsylvania State Police were sent to Levittown to restore order, where they would remain for nearly two months before a semblance of calm returned.

Crowd protests, August 1957
Crowd protests first black family moving into Levittown, August 17, 1957, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection


The events in Levittown attracted the attention of the national press and a wide range of civic and religious organizations that shared a common mission to combat prejudice and discrimination. One of these organizations was Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which frequently worked to promote fairness and equal opportunity in housing for African Americans throughout Philadelphia. The JCRC would not take a direct role in events taking place in Levittown, but correspondence between JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, and several other regional Jewish organizations, demonstrates the level of interest they shared. On October 18, Stephen Remsen, the director of the Philadelphia based Jewish Labor Committee, wrote to Fagan saying, “The pressures of time and the fact that my Levittown file is at home preparing itself for some more speeches to everybody and his brother make it difficult for me to do justice to your request.”

The apparent request was for an account of the role of Levittown’s Jews in response to the unrest. The letter praises the activities of the local Jewish Community Council, which worked in cooperation with Protestant and Quaker groups to actively support the rights of the Myers.  Remsen notes that there were some “individual” Jews who were either neutral or opposed to the racial integration of their community, yet also stresses that he could find no evidence that any Jew took part in any of the protests or acts of mob violence. Perhaps the most interesting comments in the letter come when Remsen expresses concern to Fagan about the way Jews are sometimes perceived and how this could influence events in Levittown.

Remsen writes: “If there was any problem, it was the identification of the Myers move-in as a Negro-Jewish-Quaker movement and cause. While the Rabbi and all the others of Jewish faith who were in this fight tried to remain in the background, it was impossible to do this. I am convinced that the enemy – smelling one Jew in the community – would have played the anti-Semitic game even if that one Jew did nothing but study the Torah.”

Letter to Fagan, 1957
Letter to JCRC executive director Maurice Fagan, October 18, 1957

Fred Grossman, director of the regional Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, also wrote to Fagan on October 18 about his assessment of events in Levittown. Grossman describes some of the harassment endured by the Myers family and their supporters over the previous weeks and similarly lauds the work of Jewish groups, despite, “reports of anti-Semitic comments and instances of hostility from non-Jewish neighbors previously friendly or at least indifferent.”   Grossman also makes it clear that Jewish support for racial integration was not universal, and, in terms that are a bit more stark than Remsen’s, says that, “Although there are many Jews who are strongly opposed to integration and who resent the Myers, few if any of these agree with the violence or the attrition techniques aimed at driving the Myers out.”

Following these letters, Fagan submitted a report on October 23, 1957, to the JCRC board of directors that outlined what he saw as four key reasons why Jews had a stake in Levittown: “(1) the family which sold the home [to Myers] is Jewish; (2) the friendly family next door is Jewish; (3) organized Jewish groups and synagogues were called upon to make a public stand; and (4) Levitt of Levittown is Jewish.”

Levittown Problem report, 195
“The Levittown Problem and the Jewish Community” report, October 23, 1957

A local group, the Levittown Citizens Committee, took the lead in organizing support for the Myers and appealing for peace in their community. Comprised of Levittown residents, as well as local rabbis, Protestant ministers, and members of the Society of Friends, the group lent direct support to the embattled Myers and campaigned against the racism on their streets. Before it was over, the Myers and their friends would endure numerous forms of intimidation, including the burning of several crosses and the painting of “KKK” on the home of Myers’ Jewish neighbor. For several weeks, a vacant house situated next to the Myers’ home was occupied by members of the Levittown Betterment Committee–a hastily organized group that wanted to preserve Levittown’s whiteness. This vacant house was used as a rallying point for the demonstrators, which featured a Confederate flag flying above and the loud broadcast of songs, such as “Old Man River” and “Dixie.”

Eventually, William and Daisy Myers appealed to the Pennsylvania State Attorney General and charges were filed against members of the Levittown Betterment Committee, followed by a court ordered injunction issued on October 23, 1957–the same day as Fagan’s report. Records show that the JCRC was ready to lend aid if called upon, but no such request came from Levittown’s Jewish community, which had no formal relationship with their organization. The JCRC’s board of directors issued formal resolutions of commendation to both the Levittown Citizens Committee and the Levittown Jewish Community Council on December 20, 1957. Their commendation to the Levittown Jewish Community Council read, in part:

“The Philadelphia Jewish Community Relations Council notes with pride and gratification the courage, dignity and integrity with which the Jewish Community of Levittown, in the main under the leadership of the Levittown Jewish Community Council, expressed its regard for human dignity and democracy when the Myers family was threatened by mob harassment and violence.”

Letter to Levittown community, 1957
Letter to Levittown Jewish Community Council, December 20, 195

The events that took place in Levittown, Pennsylvania, are a small chapter in the larger story of American’s struggle over civil rights, but in many ways it represents themes that would reverberate in numerous communities across the country. While not all Jews took up the fight against segregation, in many cases American Jews could be found either on the front lines or working to support the efforts of those who were.

Additional photographs of crowds protesting the Meyers’ family move to Levittown, PA, can be found in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin photograph collection.

To learn more about the Levittown communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, see Suzanne Lashner Dadyanim’s essay on The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia’s website.

–Kenneth Cleary, Project Archivist, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Collection, SCRC

This is the first post of an occasional series highlighting the work of Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The records of the JCRC, housed in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, are currently being processed and will be available for research in early 2018.

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Friend-Finding Service for Refugees

The task of acclimating to a new environment can be daunting for anyone relocating or settling in a new city or country. In addition to establishing a home, finding work, accessing health care and other services, and possibly learning a new language, developing friendships is an important part of feeling connected to a new community. In an increasingly technologically-dependent world, social networking tools and friend finder apps like Wiith, Hey! VINA, LykeMe, and Meetup can make easy work of connecting to like-minded individuals with similar interests. The challenges associated with establishing a social network in an unfamiliar place are certainly not new.

Recently, while processing and cataloging the records of the Philadelphia based social service agency Jewish Family Service held in the Special Collections Research Center, I discovered a card file containing profiles of WWII refugees. The profile cards were created by the Philadelphia Refugee Resettlement Committee, a committee established in February 1937 by the Jewish Welfare Society (later renamed the Jewish Family Service) to support the economic and social adjustment of individuals and families displaced by the war.

The Refugee Resettlement Committee saw one of the most basic social skills—the ability to make friends—as a necessity for the positive adjustment of refugees arriving in Philadelphia. To aid this process, the committee created a service staffed by volunteer “friendly visitors.” The committee would interview these “new Americans” after their arrival, creating a profile card summarizing the individual or family’s background and social preferences. Volunteers were then matched with refugees based on shared interests in the hopes of fostering a friendship.

Lauer family profile card
Lauer family profile card, 1939

Max and Fridericka Lauer and their two sons were just one of the many families who were matched with Refugee Resettlement Committee volunteers between 1938 and 1941. The Lauers’ profile card indicates the eldest son, Lothar, immigrated to Philadelphia in September 1938 and enrolled as a student at Temple University prior to his family’s arrival in March the next year. Described as a cultured family, the following excerpt from the Lauers’ profile provides some insight into the challenges they faced in creating a social network on their own:

“Mr. and Mrs. Lauer have always been interested in music, the theatre, the opera–but have been unable to partake of these activities in this country because of a financial inability, and a lack of friends with whom to share these interests. Mrs. Lauer is also interested in bridge but states that the women she has met in her neighborhood are old Jewish women whose sole interest is the house, thus giving her very little in common with them. Mrs. Lauer does not speak English at all, Dr. Lauer speaks quite poorly. It would therefore be necessary to find a German-speaking volunteer for this family.”

–Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Philadelphia’s Holocaust Memorial


Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial
Monument at 16th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, April 27, 1964

As we enter the Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust and Yom Hashoah, the Special Collections Research Center asked Natasha Goldman, Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer in Art History at Bowdoin College, to share her recent experiences at the SCRC and the connections she made that led to Temple’s acquisition of a previously “hidden collection.”

Goldman writes:  “In 2011, I started research on Nathan Rapoport’s Monument to the Six Million Martyrs (1964), arguably the first public Holocaust memorial in the US, located in Philadelphia at the corner of 16th St., Arch St. and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Designed by artist Nathan Rapoport, famous for his Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument (1948), the sculpture has largely been ignored in the literature of Holocaust memory in the US.

Abram Shnaper, a Holocaust survivor, had initiated the monument’s commission on the behalf of the Association of Jewish New Americans, a Philadelphia survivor organization that he had founded in 1954. Together with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the groups raised $47,000 for the monument. Shnaper painstakingly documented the entire process, from raising funds, to writing letters to the artist, to sending telegrams to Israel to invite Israeli officials to the dedication ceremony. When I visited him in his home in 2011, Shnaper conveyed to me his wish that the documents stay in Philadelphia, close to the monument. 

After Shnaper’s passing, I visited his collection once again, this time at the offices of his son-in-law. I also visited the Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, where I found the documents of the Jewish Community Relations Council—including files relating to the committee responsible for the monument in the decade after its installation. When Shaper’s son-in-law asked me where he should donate Abe’s papers, I immediately knew that Temple University would be the best home for his collection. It was Shnaper’s greatest wish that young people learn about the Holocaust so as to pass on the legacy of the six million and of the survivors. Finally, students at Temple University and scholars from near and far have direct access to these rich primary documents. They demonstrate the dedication of diverse Jewish communities to create one of the earliest US Holocaust monuments in public space.

Selections from the Shnaper papers
Selections from the Shnaper papers

Acquired by the SCRC in 2014, the Abram Shnaper Papers on the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs are open and available for research. View the online finding aid or catalog record for a description of the collection’s contents and to request access to the materials in the SCRC reading room.

Natasha Goldman’s article on Rapaport’s memorial, “Never bow your head, be helpful, and fight for justice and righteousness: Nathan Rapoport and Philadelphia’s Holocaust Memorial (1964),” will be published in the Summer 2016 in the Journal of Jewish Identities, issue 9, number 2. The article will also appear in her forthcoming book, Holocaust Memorials in the United States and Germany: From Grass-Roots Movements to National Debates (under advance contract; Temple University Press, Spring 2017).

— Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Editorial Cartoons of Stu Goldman

Goldman business card
Stu Goldman business card, undated

Stu Goldman, an award winning syndicated editorial cartoonist, produced illustrations for the Philadelphia newspaper, The Jewish Exponent, from 1981 until his retirement in 2009. For many years, Goldman also served as a regular and feature cartoonist for a variety of periodicals:  Centre Democrat (Bellefonte, PA), Prince George’s Sentinel (Hyattsville, MD), and the predecessor to the alternative press publication, Philadelphia Weekly, previously known as Welcomat, which featured “Eavesdrawing,” a cartoon illustrating eavesdropped true-life conversations heard throughout the city.

[Jewish Voter Roll]
[Jewish Voter Roll] political cartoon, 1988
At the height of syndication, Goldman’s editorial cartoons were featured in over 70 publications. Similar to the work of fellow Philadelphia newspaper cartoonist Samuel R. Joyner, also held by the Special Collections Research Center, Goldman’s cartoons used political satire to comment on issues that affected his own community as well as those of national and international importance. During the 1988 presidential campaign season, for example, Goldman drew a number of cartoons depicting the struggle between then Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis and then Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush to attract the Jewish vote.

Dr. Who Convention, February 23, 1985
Dr. Who Convention, February 23, 1985

In addition to his editorial cartoons, Goldman’s papers also includes his sketchbooks, many of them produced during his travels in the United States and abroad. His sketchbooks contain images on a range of subjects from the 1984 annual meeting of the American Jewish Press Association in Washington D.C. to a 1985 Dr. Who Convention at the Valley Forge Convention Center.

To learn more about Stu Goldman’s Editorial Cartoon Collection, contact the Special Collections Research Center at scrc@temple.edu .



— Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC

Einstein Medical Center History

Jewish Hospital and Home, 1879
Illustration of Jewish Hospital and Home designed by Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt, Fourteenth Annual Report of the Jewish Hospital, 1879

On September 23, 1865, Jewish leaders in Philadelphia incorporated the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia, now known as Einstein Medical Center. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the association’s officers, led by Alfred T. Jones, Isadore Binswanger, Samuel Weil, and Mayer Sulzberger, sought to erect a hospital under Jewish auspices in response to the lack medical care afforded to members of the Jewish community and the employment discrimination Jews were subject to at other area hospitals. The preamble to the constitution of the Jewish Hospital Association states “It is the duty of Israelites to take care of the suffering and needy ones among them, and as the sick are especially objects of charity and public solicitude, and since there is no institution now in existence within the State of Pennsylvania under the control of Israelites wherein they can place their sick, and where these can enjoy during their illness all the benefits and consolations of our religion.”

On August 6, 1866, the Jewish Hospital opened for the reception of patients. The original building was located at Haverford Road and 56th Street in West Philadelphia with room for twenty patients–ten for the sick and ten for inmates of the Asylum for the Aged, Infirm, and Destitute. Philadelphia’s Jewish Hospital was the third such hospital to be established in the United States after the Cincinnati Jewish Hospital (1849) and the Jews’ Hospital of New York (1852). In its first five months of operation, the hospital treated twenty-eight patients including three “non-Israelites.” Nonsectarian from its inception, the Jewish Hospital was committed to “reducing or eliminating the attitudes and prejudices that mixed medical practice with religious and moral views.” Unlike other hospitals in Philadelphia at the time, the Jewish Hospital was “was free of charge to all poor and worthy applicants without regard to nationality or creed.”

Jewish Hospital staff, 1896
Nurses, resident physician Dr. Edwin Jarecki, and Dr. Knipe, Jewish Hospital, York and Tabor Roads, 1896

To learn more about the history of the Albert Einstein Medical Center and its predecessor, the Jewish Hospital, use the hospital archives and these resources in the Special Collections Research Center:   Mankind and Medicine: A History of Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center by Maxwell Whiteman; Edwin A. Jarecki, M.D. Resident Physician Jewish Hospital of Philadelphia, 1892-1934 by William I. Heine; and History of the Jewish Hospital Association of Philadelphia by Henry N. Wessel.

-Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist SCRC

From Camp Kennebec to Camp Firewood

“The War Canoes” postcard
“The War Canoes” postcard, undated

In late July, Netflix released a much anticipated prequel to the quite literally campy cult classic Wet Hot American Summer which premiered in the U.S. in 2001.  The newly released series and the original movie both revolve around the often deviant misadventures of camp goers at a disorganized sleep-away camp in Maine called Camp Firewood. Both films are loosely based on the experiences their director, David Wain, had while attending a Jewish camp in Belgrade, Maine.

Established by three Jewish Philadelphians, Louis Fleischer, Charles Edwin Fox, and Milton Katzenberg, at the start of the twentieth century, Camp Kennebec was located in the scenic Kennebec County town, Belgrade. For almost a century, it catered to Jewish male youth ages 8 to 18, mainly hailing from Philly.

Kennebec Junior felt patch, undated
Kennebec Junior felt patch, undated

Camp Kennebec’s location and religious affiliation are likely the only similarities between it and David Wain’s camp memories. Kennebec was a no-nonsense kind of summer experience with few amenities. It was established to mold boys into “true men” during the tail end of the Progressive Era, when stoic masculinity was emphasized.

Camp Kennebec recruited counselors from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania among other universities, and instructed campers to call each of them “uncle” (or the “uncs” as one camper affectionately noted in his photographic travel journal).  Kennebec’s primary emphasis was on the development of respectable traits such as masculinity, ruggedness, and independence. Kennebec’s campers engaged in athleticism, wilderness survival, and first aid, but also academic pursuits such as the study of literature. For many, the boyhood bonds formed at the camp and the lessons it taught them lasted well into adulthood.

Kennebecamper yearbook, 1978
Kennebecamper yearbook, 1978

A collection of records from Camp Kennebec and Kennebec alumni is available for research in Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center. The collection includes yearbooks, souvenirs, photo albums of hiking trips, and ephemera relating to alumni reunions, which were no doubt well attended. To learn more about Camp Kennebec and the alumni collection, view the online finding aid.

-Irena Frumkin, SCRC Student Assistant

From the Philadelphia Jewish Archives: Hollywood Mysteries

Scholars have long been interested in the cultural and socioeconomic conditions that led Jews to success in the early film industry. Jewish immigrants, and particularly those from Eastern Europe, were adept at developing film technology and skilled at writing, directing, and marketing movies. Even the moguls who created Hollywood’s studio system–William Fox, Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, and Adolph Zukor, among others–were Jewish immigrants who rose from unprepossessing circumstances to become some of the most powerful men in the country. In books, articles, and documentaries, historians and film buffs have attempted to explain this unique aspect of film history.

What’s been less well-studied, however, is the relationship between Hollywood and Philadelphia’s own rich Jewish history. And I must admit that I’ve never given it much thought either, despite being a Philadelphia Jewish Archives collections project archivist in the Special Collections Research Center and classic film enthusiast. That changed, however, after I discovered an intriguing letter in the Robert B. Wolf and Morris Wolf Papers.

Robert and his father, Morris, were prominent members of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Morris served with the American Red Cross during World War I and was stationed in Paris. It was among his letters from France that I came across a curious passage:

Letter to Edwin Wolf
Letter to Edwin Wolf, December 1918.

Dated December 26, 1918, the letter is addressed to Morris’ father, Edwin. “Dear Father:” Morris wrote, “I made my first visit to a moving picture house last evening….There was a picture of Gaby Deslys’s, which I thought was very good. It seems to me that Goldwyn would make a tremendous hit by trying to get say five pictures a year with this star for the United States.” He later reminded, “I suggest that you speak to Goldwyn about it.”

Call me crazy, but was Morris Wolf referring to THE Sam Goldwyn? The famous producer of dozens of classic American films? If he was, then what was the connection between the Wolf family and the Hollywood film industry?

A search of the collection produced more hints, but frustratingly few answers. I found an employment contract for First National Pictures, a film company that merged with Warner Bros. in 1928. The collection also includes a 1959 Philadelphia Inquirer article that mentions that the family starred in and produced Westerns at a Montgomery County motion picture studio (Betzwood, anyone?)

Hoping to find more information, I turned to secondary sources. To my surprise, I found that little has been written about Philadelphia Jews and their role in the national film industry. To be sure, Siegmund Lubin’s career has been well documented, but there are significant gaps in the literature on this subject.

So, if anyone out there decides to tackle this topic, Morris Wolf and I will be eagerly awaiting your findings. Until then, feel free to use the Robert B. Wolf and Morris Wolf Papers and take a stab at unravelling the mystery yourself….

— Jenna Marrone, SCRC Project Archivist

Morris Wolf in uniform
Photograph of Morris Wolf in uniform, 1918