Skip to main content

Records of the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York

 Collection
Identifier: RG 1368

Scope and Content Note

The collection primarily comprises trial transcripts and other documents related to trials conducted by the Board of Higher Education in 1941 to 1942, in cases of faculty and staff members who were brought up on charges by the Board's Conduct Committee (Series I). It also includes a small amount material (reports and press releases), documenting the work of the Integration Commission of the New York City Board of Education in 1956 to 1957 (Series II).

The Board of Higher Education cases were based on allegations raised in investigative hearings held in 1941 by Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York, a committee of the New York State Legislature commonly known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee. The documents pertain to the cases of 20 individuals, 18 employed at City College, and two at Brooklyn College. These 20 cases represent only a portion, perhaps not more than half of the trials conducted by the Board of Higher Education in this time period. It is unknown what selection of cases the files represent.

It appears that the materials related to the Board of Higher Education trials were copies collected by Joseph Schlossberg, in the course of his activities as a member of the Board at the time. Eight of the case files (John K. Ackley, Saul Bernstein, Arthur R. Braunlich, Jr., Philip S. Foner, Murray Gristle, Max Louis Hutt, Walter S. Neff, and Murray Smolar) contain notes in Schlossberg's hand, usually highlighting or summarizing points in the transcripts of the trials or public hearings. In one case, that of Morris U. Cohen, Schlossberg was a member of the three-person Trial Board (the documents in that file do not, however, bear any notes by him). In another case, that of Max Louis Hutt, a cover letter for one set of documents shows Schlossberg as a member of the Trial Committee at an early point (Folder 19). He was not a member of the Trial Committee as listed in the trial transcript (which has some notes by him); there the name of Marion R. Mack appears in place of his (Folder 20).

Dates

  • 1941-1957
  • Majority of material found within 1941-1942

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English

Access Restrictions

Permission to use the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archivist.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained from the YIVO Archives. For more information, contact:

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: archives@yivo.cjh.org

Historical and Biographical Notes

The Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York (Rapp-Coudert Committee)

The Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York, commonly known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee, after its co-chairs, Assemblyman Herbert Rapp and State Senator Frederic Coudert, was established in 1940 by a joint resolution of the New York State Legislature. On a national level at this time the House Un-American Activities Committee (created in 1938), under Martin Dies, was investigating Communist influences in public life. The atmosphere of a ‘red scare’ intensified after the forming of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939.

The official aim of the Rapp-Coudert Committee was to “investigate the procedures and methods of allocating state moneys for public school purposes and subversive activities” (qtd. in Leberstein 94). A subcommittee for New York City, led by Senator Coudert, with attorney Paul Windels acting as committee counsel, held public hearings in 1941 to 1942.

In practice, the investigations focused on the issue of Communist Party influence at the public colleges, with particular scrutiny of the New York City Teachers Union. The Union at the time had an influential ‘Rank and File Caucus’ that included some members who belonged to the Communist Party. Formerly the Local 5 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the New York local had lost its AFT charter in the summer of 1940, in part over the issue of Communist Party influence (Leberstein 114-115).

The hearings operated in an atmosphere that encouraged those who admitted present or past Communist Party membership to inform on colleagues regarding party membership and activities. One of the few willing informers was William Canning, a history instructor at Brooklyn College, who identified more than 50 faculty and staff members as party members (Caute 431).

The Board of Higher Education trials

The planned investigations of the state’s educational system were viewed by some as an attack on public education. On April 7, 1940, a week after the vote of the New York State Legislature, the American Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom, a civil libertarian group under the national chairmanship of anthropologist Franz Boas, held a rally at Carnegie Hall to protest the establishment of the committee. The sponsors of the rally included members of the Board of Higher Education, the governing board of the city’s public colleges. Specifically, the sponsors included Ordway Tead, the chairman of the Board, and the Board members Harry J. Carman and Joseph Schlossberg (Leberstein 96).

Initial ambivalence notwithstanding, in the course of time the Board of Higher Education cooperated fully with the Rapp-Coudert investigations (Leberstein 98-100). A specially constituted Conduct Committee of the Board brought charges against faculty and staff who had been the focus of the public hearings of Senator Coudert’s subcommittee. Membership in the Communist Party was not illegal; however, in accordance with a resolution passed by the Board in March 1941, simply being a member of the party, or any organization that advocated subversive doctrines, was deemed to be sufficient grounds for dismissal, without regard to any specifics of the individual’s conduct on the job.

Typically, charges included Communist Party membership; activities related to the party, such as participation in the writing and editing of the Teacher-Worker, a newsletter of a Communist Party unit active at City College; and obstruction of justice for giving false testimony at the hearings of the legislative committee (if the individual had denied party membership). Individuals found guilty of such charges were considered to have engaged in ‘conduct unbecoming’ a staff member and possibly ‘neglect of duty,’ both offenses that were official grounds for dismissal under the bylaws.

In all, at least 31 employees of City College were suspended from their positions and brought up on charges by the Conduct Committee (Leberstein 104). The first employee to be dismissed from his position was John Kenneth Ackley, the registrar at City College, who was dismissed on 30 June 1941.

Many years later, in October 1981, the City University of New York Board of Trustees (the successor to the Board of Higher Education) adopted a resolution apologizing to faculty and staff of the public colleges who were dismissed or forced to resign as a result of the Rapp-Coudert investigations (Leberstein 119).

Joseph Schlossberg, 1875-1971

The records related to the Board of Higher Education trials found in the present collection appear to have been the files of Board member Joseph Schlossberg. Schlossberg was appointed to the Board of Higher Education by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in 1935 and served on it for 28 years, until his retirement in 1963. As mentioned above, Schlossberg was among the sponsors of a rally organized in April 1940 by the American Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom to protest the establishment of the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York.

Born in 1875 in Koidanov in the Russian Empire (today, Dzyarzhynsk, Belarus), Joseph Schlossberg emigrated with his family to the United States in 1888. Residing in New York City, Schlossberg attended public school for just one year, and then began work as a cloakmaker in the garment industry. He also joined the Socialist Labor party and was active in organizing garment workers in the 1890s. Later, he studied political science at Columbia University, from 1905 to 1907.

Schlossberg played a significant role in the American labor movement. In 1913 he was elected secretary of the Joint Board of the United Brotherhood of Tailors, which, in a general strike the year before, had gone against the wishes of its parent organization, the United Garment Workers of America (UGW). In 1914 he was a co-founder of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, made up of locals seceding from the more conservative UGW, and served as its first general secretary-treasurer from 1914 until 1940. He edited the Yiddish-language labor newspapers Dos Abend Blatt (a daily), from 1899 to 1902, and Der Arbeiter (a weekly), from 1904 to 1911. He was a prolific writer on labor problems for both the English and Yiddish press, and published a collection of essays, The Workers and their World, in 1935.

Long a Zionist, Schlossberg was a charter member of the National Committee for Labor Israel, and served as its chair, beginning in 1934. He served on the boards of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the American Association for Jewish Education. He also served on the National Committees of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Workers Defense League.

Schlossberg died in his home in the Bronx at the age of 95, on 15 January 1971.

Commission on Integration of the New York City Board of Education

The Commission on Integration was established by the New York City Board of Education (the predecessor of the Department of Education) in the spring of 1955, on the basis of a resolution of the Board on 23 December 1954. It was charged with examining the racial composition of the city schools and making recommendations for achieving racial integration. The Commission was established in response to the historic Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education, of May 17, 1954, which overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, and determined that the segregation of children in the public school system solely on the basis of race deprived them of equal educational opportunities, since “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The Commission had 37 members, including 23 civic and educational leaders; nine Board of Education members; and five members of the Board’s professional staff. It was constituted as a temporary body that was dissolved upon making its final report to the Board of Education in 1957 or 1958.

References

Caute, David. "New York teachers on trial," chapter 23 in: The great fear: the anti-Communist purge under Truman and Eisenhower. New York: Simon and Schuster, c1978. 431-432 ("Pre-history of a purge").

"Joseph Schlossberg dies at 95; co-founder of clothing union." New York Times, 16 January 1971.

Leberstein, Stephen. "Purging the profs: the Rapp Coudert Committee in New York, 1940-1942." New Studies in the politics and culture of U.S. Communism. Ed. Michael E. Brown, et al. New York: Monthly Review Press, c1993. 91-122.

"Schlossberg, Joseph." Biographical dictionary of American labor leaders. Ed. Gary M. Fink. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, c1974. 320-321.

"Schlossberg, Joseph." Who's who in world Jewry: a biographical dictionary of outstanding Jews. Ed. Harry Schneiderman and Itzak J. Carmin. New York: Who's Who in World Jewry, 1955. 672.

Extent

2.3 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Abstract

This collection comprises trial transcripts and related documents pertaining to trials conducted by the Board of Higher Education in 1941 to 1942, in the cases of 20 faculty and staff members of City College and Brooklyn College. The charges, mostly relating to Communist Party membership and activities, were brought by the Board's Conduct Committee, based on allegations raised in investigative hearings held in 1941 by the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York, a committee of the New York State Legislature commonly known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee. In addition, the collection includes a small amount of material documenting the work of the New York City Board of Education's Integration Commission in 1956 to 1957.

Acquisition Information

The collection was received some time between 1957 and 1964. The bulk of the materials appears to have been the files of Joseph Schlossberg.

Related Material

  1. Other collections containing materials directly related to the Board of Higher Education trials of 1941 to 1942 include:
  2. Board of Higher Education of the City of New York: Academic Freedom Case Files (TAM.332), Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University Libraries, New York, N.Y.
  3. Morris U. Schappes Papers (P-57), American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, New York, N.Y.
  4. Related to the background of the Board of Higher Education cases, the New York State Joint Legislative Committee on the State Education System Investigation Files of the Rapp-Coudert Committee are held at the New York State Archives; a microfilm version is available at The Tamiment Libary and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University Libraries, N.Y. (Investigation Files of the Rapp-Coudert Committee; TAM.533)
  5. Records of the Commission on Integration of the New York City Board of Education are found in the Board of Education records held at the New York City municipal archives.

Processing information

The collection had previously been housed in archival boxes, with the records generally grouped according to the cases of individuals tried by the Board of Higher Education. Some of these groupings were inside of cardboard dividers labeled with the name of the given case (one divider was labeled with two names, Morris Cohen and Sidney Eisenberger). During the present processing the collection was housed in archival folders; the folders titled according to the individual cases; and the cases arranged in the present order for ease of access. The packet of materials relating to the Commission on Integration (which had been in the middle of the case files) was placed at the end of the collection as a separate series.
Title
Guide to the Records of the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York 1941-1957 (bulk 1941-1942) RG 1368
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by YIVO Archivists in the 1990s. Additional processing completed and finding aid compiled and encoded by Violet Lutz
Date
©2013
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Made possible by the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support "Illuminating Hidden Collections at the Center for Jewish History."

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States