Morris Rosenfeld Papers
Scope and Content Note
The Morris Rosenfeld Papers (1894-1962) are arranged in seven series, including general and family correspondence, personal documents, printed literary works, unpublished manuscripts, sheet music, illustrations, and critiques of Rosenfeld’s works. Both the correspondence and the literary materials in the collection document Rosenfeld’s writing career and reputation as the "poet laureate of labor."
Approximately 25% of the collection is made up of the correspondence and personal papers of Morris Rosenfeld, spanning 1894-1922. Much of the correspondence is with various editors and writers regarding the publication or translation of Rosenfeld's work, or requests for permission to use his work in publications or musical compositions. There are letters regarding Rosenfeld's employment at various newspapers, including the Jewish Daily Forward and the Tageblatt. Folder 12 contains typewritten copies of Rosenfeld's letters to Leo Wiener, Abraham Cahan, and other notables (1898-1913), which trace personal and professional aspects of Rosenfeld’s early publishing career and give evidence of Rosenfeld's changing relationship to the literary world. The correspondence also includes several letters regarding the illness and death of Rosenfeld’s son, as well as his own illness and poverty. There are a number of letters seeking financial assistance or monies owed him, as well as materials from relief funds set up in Rosenfeld’s name. The bulk of the general correspondence consists of only one or two letters to or from each correspondent, with the exceptions of Kalman Marmor, Leo Wiener, J. Leibner, and Dr. Arnold Kiss.
The collection contains important examples of Rosenfeld's earliest published works. The papers include 21 folders of articles and essays that Rosenfeld published in Yiddish periodicals between 1915 and 1920, on topics ranging from current affairs and social welfare to nature themes. There are also 12 folders of poems on diverse themes published in periodicals.
The collection contains many unpublished later manuscripts by Rosenfeld, including poetry, short story and essay collections, an autobiographical work, satires, and a book about capitalism. Many are undated, though the bulk seem to be from 1912-1919. The manuscripts are both typed and handwritten, many with Rosenfeld’s handwritten notes. A few of the manuscripts are written by Rosenfeld in English. There are many translations of his poems into English and other languages by various translators. The collection also includes 16 examples of sheet music composed to Rosenfeld's lyrics.
Also represented are articles about Rosenfeld and reviews of his work written by various critics, mostly laudatory. The majority are written in Yiddish, but there are a number in English, German and other languages as well. There are many articles written by notable writers about Rosenfeld after his death, and a play by H. Leivick based on Rosenfeld’s experience with blindness.
The romanized spellings of the names of prominent correspondents whose names appear only in Yiddish in the collection have been cross-checked with the YIVO Names Authority File, which in turn reflects Library of Congress and Encyclopedia Judaica authority. Other Yiddish names for which we have no reference for romanization have been transliterated according to the YIVO standard.
Yiddish songs published around the turn of the century were often published by different publishers with different romanized spellings. Songs listed in this collection are represented here in modern transliterated Yiddish.
- Rosenfeld, Morris, 1862-1923 (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is in Yiddish, English, and German.
The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection.
For more information, contact: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research
Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011
Morris Rosenfeld (1862-1923) was born in the village of Boksze in the Suwalki district of Russian Poland. He grew up in Warsaw and Suwalki and was educated in the traditional kheder (talmudic academy). He pursued his talmudic studies in a yeshiva until several years after his marriage. He had three children with his wife Assna Beyle (Bessie): daughters Freidel (a.k.a. Freda or Iona) and Reizel, and son Joseph.
From 1882 to 1886 Rosenfeld traveled to Amsterdam, London and the United States. He lived for a time in London, where he worked as a tailor. There he became involved with an anarchist club and began writing labor poems, though these remained unpublished. In 1886 he moved to New York City, where he worked as a presser and a baster in Lower East Side sweatshops.
In 1888 Rosenfeld published his first collection of socialist poems, Di gloke (The Bell), which was followed by Di blumenkette (The Flower Wreath) in 1890. An excellent orator, Rosenfeld often recited his poems to enthusiastic audiences at socialist and union events, and later at large public readings and concerts. Over the next decades his reputation spread as the "poet laureate of labor." His songs were sung by workers in sweatshops, tenement houses, meetings and concerts.
In 1898, Harvard professor of Slavic Studies Leo Wiener translated Rosenfeld's Lider-bukh (The Book of Songs) into English with the title Songs from the Ghetto. The book's publication introduced Rosenfeld to the non-Jewish world and was instrumental in transforming him from an obscure local song writer into an established literary figure. His poems were subsequently translated into many European languages, including German, Hungarian, Polish, Rumanian and Russian. His works, known for their stark, realistic presentation of immigrant and sweatshop life, were the subject of many reviews and articles in literary journals throughout the world.
Although he was publicly honored at special jubilee celebrations featuring recitals and concerts at widely-attended mass rallies, Rosenfeld's career was marked by periods of obscurity, poverty, ill health and personal tragedy. After early publishing successes, for a time Rosenfeld tried to make a living as a writer. His talent spurred the interest and sympathy of philanthropists, but this support eventually faded and he was once again obliged to work in the sweatshop until increasing ill health forced him to give it up. Rosenfeld was deeply affected by the death of his son Joseph in 1905. The following year he himself was stricken with paralysis and incipient blindness, and was unable to work or write for a year while recovering. Journalists launched a sympathetic appeal for public aid, but their efforts were ineffective.
After recovering, Rosenfeld began to travel, giving public appearances, singing his songs, reciting his poetry and selling his books in order to make a living. In 1908 he undertook a successful tour of Europe. Although such tours increased his popularity, these type of appearances were not sufficient as a source of income.
During the last years of his life, Rosenfeld wrote little and almost disappeared from public view, having become a lonely man, embittered and discouraged. Alienated from the literary world, he had numerous conflicts with editors and other writers. Rosenfeld died of a stroke in 1923 at age 61. His funeral was attended by over 10,000 people.
Rosenfeld's most widely read writings were his collected works in six volumes, entitled Shriftn (Writings), 1908-1910; Geveylte shriftn (Selected Writings), 1912; and Dos bukh fun libe (The Book of Love), 1914.
In addition to poetry, Rosenfeld also wrote essays and articles on diverse topics, including current affairs, Jewish nationalism, Yiddish language and culture, labor issues, and nature. A contributor to numerous newspapers and periodicals, he wrote for the Folkstsaytung (New York), Arbeter fraynd (London), Arbeter tsaytung (New York), The Jewish Daily Forward (New York) and the Yidishes Tageblat (New York), among others. He also edited a humorous satirical weekly, Der ashmeday, and the daily New yorker morgnblat.
5.4 Linear Feet (12 5" ltr; 2 2.5" ltr, 1 2.5" legal/ tall; 1 map folder)
This collection consists of the general, professional and personal correspondence of the labor poet Morris Rosenfeld, whose works were originally in Yiddish but eventually became translated into other languages. The papers mainly describe his literary work, and include not only his poetry, but also his essays and articles. The collection contains personal papers and documents, printed works (books, articles, poems), unpublished manuscripts, translations of Rosenfeld's poems into English and other languages, sheet music, and reviews of Rosenfeld's work.
The collection contains seven series, arranged as follows:
- Series I: General Correspondence, 1892-1933
- Subseries I: Individuals, 1892-1933
- Subseries 2: Topics,1898-1924
- Series II: Family Correspondence and Personal Papers, 1897-1967
- Subseries 1: Family and Personal Documents,1897, 1903-1924, 1960, 1967
- Subseries 2: Morris Rosenfeld’s Tours in Europe,1900-1908
- Subseries 3: Morris Rosenfeld’s Birthday Celebrations, 1900-1923
- Subseries 4: Morris Rosenfeld’s Illness and Death,1906-1923
- Subseries 5: Memorial Meetings and Anniversaries after Morris Rosenfeld’s Death, 1909, 1920, 1927, 1938, 1960, 1962
- Series III: Printed Literary Works,1888-1920
- Subseries 1: Books and Title Pages of Printed Works,1888-1912
- Subseries 2: Newspaper Clippings of Articles and Essays,1915-1920
- Series IV: Manuscripts and Planned Publications, undated, 1913
- Series V: Rosenfeld’s Poems in English and Translations of his Yiddish Poems, 1912-1920
- Series VI: Music and Illustrations to Rosenfeld’s Poetry, undated, 1962
- Series VII: Critiques and Responses to Rosenfeld’s Work, 1898-1959
Other Finding Aids
This English finding aid is arranged according to an alphabetical list of Yiddish names rendered into romanized spellings. The true inventory of the collection is reflected in the original Yiddish finding aid, available in paper/ typed format in the YIVO library.
The collection consists of materials that the YIVO Institute received at different times from various individuals, among them Dr. Leon Goldenthal (Rosenfeld's son-in-law), Kalman Marmor and Jacob Shatzky. In 1978 Eleanor Mlotek, under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, prepared a Yiddish inventory of the collection, which she then translated into English. This finding aid is based on those original inventories. While the collection is not arranged according to provenance, the Yiddish finding aid does provide information about the original sources of the correspondence papers. The Yiddish finding aid also includes an alphabetical name index of individuals who appear in the collection.
The collection was used in the 1962 YIVO exhibition Morris Rosenfeld and His Time, honoring Rosenfeld's 100th anniversary. The exhibition was subsequently microfilmed, with its sequence maintained in the microfilm. The exhibition catalog is part of the collection, and will be found in Subseries 5 of Series 2.
Donna Gallers verified and checked the finding aid for completion in 2003. Chana Mlotek and Fruma Mohrer proofread, verified, and corrected the final version of this finding aid.
- Guide to the Papers of Morris Rosenfeld (1862-1923) 1888-1967 RG 431
- Processed by Chana Eleanor Mlotek
- © May 2005
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- with the aid of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities
- Edition statement
- This version was derived from Morris_Rosenfeld.xml
- January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository
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New York NY 10011 United States