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Cyrus Adler Papers

Identifier: P-16

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Cyrus Adler encompass the breadth of his involvement in the American Jewish community as a scholar, educator, administrator, and leader. Although this collection represents only a small portion of his papers, it contains a great deal of important material regarding the study of Jewish activism, Conservative Judaism, Jewish scholarship in America, and American Jewish history.

This collection is valuable to researchers interested in the history of the American Jewish Historical Society and its early activities, in the development of the Jewish Encyclopedia in 1901, in Jewish immigration to the United States from Russia, in Jewish participation in the Spanish American War, in the growth of Conservative Judaism/subject>, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the scholarly study of Semitics at The Johns Hopkins University and the Smithsonian Institution toward the end of the 19th century.

The collection contains correspondence, galleys, page proofs, manuscripts, published articles, clippings, notes, speeches, and ephemera. The vast majority of the items are in English, with some notations in Yiddish and Hebrew (generally made by others).


  • undated, 1883-1937


Language of Materials

The collection is in English, with some Hebrew and Yiddish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Biographical Note

Cyrus Adler (1863-1940)

Cyrus Adler was born in Van Buren, Arkansas, on September 13, 1863. His father, Samuel, was a merchant and cotton planter who had settled in Van Buren in 1840. The family fled Civil War fighting and poor economic conditions in Arkansas for the North several months after Cyrus was born. Unfortunately, Samuel Adler did not long survive the trip. Following her husband's death in January 1867, Sarah Adler took her family to Philadelphia to live with her unmarried brother, David Sulzberger. Cyrus grew up surrounded by the traditional Ashkenazic religious practices of his maternal Sulzberger relatives, who had emigrated from Germany; he was particularly influenced in this regard by his uncle and an older second cousin, Mayer (a prominent Philadelphia judge). From them he also absorbed a love of scholarship which would shape the rest of his life.

Young Cyrus first attended a day school run by the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia, where he studied Hebrew and Judaism in addition to traditional public school subjects, and then transferred to the public grammar school several blocks away. During his high school years, he began the task of preparing an author's catalog to the library collection of Isaac Leeser, which had been donated to the Library of the Philadelphia YMHA. Impressed with the results of his nephew's efforts, David Sulzburger arranged to have the catalogue printed. Adler later referred to this work as having "laid the foundation of my interest in libraries, in cataloguing and in bibliographies."

Cyrus Adler attended college at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his A. B. in 1883, and his M.A. in 1886. Having developed a keen interest in Semitics, he went on to study Assyriology under Professor Paul Haupt in the newly established graduate program at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where Adler also taught Semitics from 1884 to 1893. Upon obtaining his Ph.D. from Hopkins in 1887, Adler was appointed Honorary Assistant Curator of Semitics at the United States National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. His devotion to the Smithsonian led to his subsequent appointment there as Curator of Historic Archaeology and Historic Religions at the U.S. National Museum (1889-1908), Institute Librarian (1892-1905), and Assistant Secretary (1905-1908). In the interim, Adler also served as Special Commissioner to the Orient for the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893, for which he organized the Oriental Department, and served on the editorial board of the Jewish Encyclopedia from 1899 to 1905. In 1908, he accepted the post of President of the newly formed Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia.

In 1888, Adler helped found the Jewish Publication Society of America, and edited the first seven volumes of The American Jewish Year Book. He was also instrumental in the founding of the American Jewish Historical Society in 1892, the first organization to promote the scientific study of the history of Jews in the Western Hemisphere. He edited The Jewish Quarterly Review, a scholarly journal whose publication was assumed by Dropsie College. Following the death of Solomon Schechter in 1916, Adler became Acting President of The Jewish Theological Seminary--a post which eventually turned permanent in 1924. In 1906, he was one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee, eventually succeeding Louis Marshall as President in 1929. Adler found himself in frequent disagreement with American Zionist leaders during this period, but continued to serve on behalf of world Jewry, acting as co-chair of Council for the Jewish Agency from 1929 to 1931.

Adler married Racie Friedenwald of Baltimore in 1905, at age 42. They had one child, a daughter named Sarah. In his later years, failing health caused Cyrus Adler to slow his lifelong hectic pace of academic and communal activities, and he retired from public life in 1933. During his retirement, he delighted in spending time with his small granddaughter, Judith Wolfinsohn. Adler died at age 77 in April 1940.


Adler, Cyrus. I Have Considered the Days. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1941.

Neuman, Abraham A. Cyrus Adler: A Biographical Sketch. New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1942.

S. v., "Adler, Cyrus," Who's Who in American Jewry, 1938-1939 (New York: National News Association, Incirca, 1938), pp. 10-13.

S. v., "Adler, Cyrus," Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (New York, 1941), pp. 88-89.

S. v., "Adler, Cyrus," Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972), pp. 272-27

<emph render="bold">Chronology</emph>

Born in Van Buren, Arkansas, to Samuel Adler and his wife Sarah Sulzberger Adler (of Philadelphia)
Samuel Adler dies. Sarah Adler moves her family to Philadelphia
Obtains A.B. from the University of Pennsylvania
Fellow, Instructor and Associate Professor of Semitic languages at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland
Obtains M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania
Earned Ph.D. in Semitics from Johns Hopkins University in February; began teaching at Johns Hopkins and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York
Appointed Honorary Assistant Curator for Oriental Antiquities at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.circa
Prepared exhibition of biblical archeology for Government building at the Cincinnati Exposition
Founding member of the Jewish Publication Society of America
Curator of Historic Archaeology and Historic Religions at the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Special Commissioner to Turkey, Persia, Egypt, Tunis and Morocco for the World's Columbian Exhibition at Chicago; organized Oriental Department for the fair
Founding member of the American Jewish Historical Society
Secretary of the American Jewish Historical Society
Appointed Librarian of the United States National Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Represented the United States at the Conference on the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, London
President of The American Jewish Historical Society
Editor of the American Jewish Year Book
Departmental editor for The Jewish Encyclopedia
President of the Board of Trustees, Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Sept. 1905
Married Racie Friedenwald of Baltimore
Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution
Helped found the American Jewish Committee
Daughter Sarah born
Appointed President of Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia; moved back to Philadelphia
Chaired the Board of Editors for new JPS translation of the Bible
Became Co-Editor of The Jewish Quarterly Review with Solomon Schechter
Helped found the United Synagogue of America
Editor of The Jewish Quarterly Review
Acting President of Jewish Theological Seminary; Chair of Executive Board of the American Jewish Committee
Became Chairman of the Army and Navy Committee of the National Jewish Welfare Board
Represented the American Jewish Committee at the Paris Peace Conference
Elected President of the American Oriental Society
Appointed President of the Jewish Theological Seminary
Appointed President of the American Jewish Committee
Co-chair of the Council of the Jewish Agency for Palestine
Daughter Sarah marries violinist Wolfe Wolfinsohn in January
Granddaughter Judith Wolfinsohn born on November 26th
Summoned by President Roosevelt to confer on strategies for peace in post-War America
Died on April 7.

<emph render="bold">Awards and Honors</emph>

Honorary Doctorate in Hebrew Letters, Hebrew Union College
Honorary Doctorate of Letters, University of Pennsylvania
Silver Buffalo Award, Boy Scouts of Americirca


.5 Linear Feet (5 manuscript boxes)


Born in Arkansas and raised in Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler was a prominent Jewish scholar, educator, and leader. A nephew of the Philadelphian Sulzbergers (Mayer and David), Adler developed an interest in libraries, Semitics, and Assyriology, going on to earn a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins. In 1888, Adler began work at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C., and eventually became the President of Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Adler was active in the American Jewish Historical Society, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the United Synagogue, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, The Jewish Encyclopedia, and the National Jewish Welfare Board. He also participated in the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

This collection represents a small portion of Adler's papers, with materials concerning Jewish activism, Conservative Judaism, and Jewish scholarship and history in America. The collection contains correspondence, page proofs, manuscripts, and published articles, clippings, notes, speeches, and ephemera.


Individual gifts given to AJHS, in part, by Cyrus Adler (1908, 1911, 1914), Racie Friedenwald Adler (1940), the American Jewish Committee (1976), and The Sang Foundation (1979).

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  • Cyrus Adler Publications
  • "Progress of Oriental Science in America during 1888" in Smithsonian Institution Annual Report 1888 (Washington, 1890)
  • The Shofar (Washington, 1894)
  • Museum Collections to Illustrate Religious History and Ceremonials (Washington, 1895)
  • Biblical Antiquities. A Description of the Exhibit at the Cotton States International Exposition, Atlanta 1895 (Washington, 1898)
  • Turkish Tales, Told in the Coffee House (New York, 1898)
  • Descriptive Catalogue of a Collection of Objects of Jewish Ceremonial Deposited in the United States National Museum by Hadji Ephraim Benguiat (Washington, 1901)
  • Editor, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Extracted Textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French, and English by Thomas Jefferson (Washington, 1904)
  • Editor, The Voice of American on Kishinev (Philadelphia, 1904)
  • Co-editor, Oriental Studies [Paul Haupt 40th Anniversary Festschrift] (Baltimore, 1926)
  • Jacob H. Schiff: His Life and Letters (2 volumes; New York, 1928)
  • Memorandum on the Western Wall: Prepared for the Special Commission of the League of Nations on Behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine (Philadelphia, 1930)
  • Lectures, Selected Papers and Addresses [Adler's 70th Birthday Festscrift] (1933)
  • I Have Considered the Days (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1941)
  • With Firmness in the Right: American Diplomatic Action Affecting Jews, 1840-1945 (New York, 1946, reprinted 1977)
Guide to the Papers of Cyrus Adler (1863-1940) undated, 1883-1937 *P-16
Processed by Holly Snyder
© 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from CyrusAdler.xml

Revision Statements

  • May 2005.: Finding aid was updated and reconverted in order to match other online finding aids by Dianne Ritchey Oummia.
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
  • March 2020: EHyman-post-ASpace migration cleanup

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States