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Papers of Isaac A. Hourwich

Identifier: RG 587

Scope and Content Note

The Papers of Isaac A. Hourwich consist of manuscripts, printed materials, reports, minutes and records of meetings, legal documents, financial records, pamphlets, memoranda, clippings, and correspondence relating primarily to Hourwich’s intellectual and organizational involvement in the labor movement, including his extensive participation in arbitration proceedings. There are also materials relating to the labor movement and labor laws in Russia, on Socialist theory and the Jewish Labor Bund. Materials on the Jewish labor movement in the U.S., particularly the garment workers industry, during the era of the Protocol of Peace include documents of the Independent Jacket Makers Union of New York and Federated Hebrew Trade Unions of Greater New York, minutes of meetings of the Board of Grievances of the Cloak, Suit and Skirt Industry, minutes and reports of various arbitration proceedings, and materials relating to the episodes known as the “Hourwich Affair” and “Moishe Rubin’s Rebellion.”

There is correspondence with Abraham Cahan, Judah L. Magnes, Zalman Reisen, and Isaac Sturner, articles by Hourwich on Socialism, Capitalism, Jewish rights, and Zionism, Hourwich’s unfinished memoirs, a bibliography on index cards of Hourwich’s works compiled by A.S. Kravetz, and documents on the organization of the American Jewish Congress, among them much statistical data on the Jewish population of the United around the time of World War I. The manuscripts and articles in the collection represent a cross-section of Hourwich’s writings on Russia, Socialism, Marxism, the labor movement, immigration, and American government and economics. There are also a large number of clippings covering many of Hourwich’s activities and interests.

The collection dates from 1882-1924 and is in 12 manuscript boxes, measuring 6 linear feet. There are also three reels of microfilm of materials not physically represented in the collection, which have a different microfilm number.


  • 1882-1924

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, with some Russian, Yiddish, German, French, and Italian.

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


Biographical Note

Isaac A. Hourwich was born April 27, 1860 in Vilna to a middle-class maskilic family. His father, who worked in a bank and knew several European languages, made sure to give his two children a modern secular education. Hourwich graduated in 1877 from the classical gymnasium at Minsk, and later studied medicine and mathematics. As a student, he became interested in nihilistic propaganda. His activities with a revolutionary Socialist circle in St. Petersburg led to his arrest and imprisonment in 1879 on the charges of hostility to the government and of aiding to establish a secret press. He was sent to Siberia as a "dangerous character," from 1881-1886. While in prison, he studied the settlement of Russian peasants in Siberia, and wrote a book in Russian, The Peasant Immigration to Siberia, which was published in 1888. After his release, he studied law at the Imperial University in St. Petersburg. He earned his legal degree from Demidoff Lyceum of Jurisprudence in Yaroslavl, Russia and was admitted to the Russian bar in 1887. He then practiced law in Minsk and continued his involvement in radical political movements. He helped to found the first secret Socialist circles among the Jewish workers in tsarist Russia, along with his wife Yelena (Kushelevsky) Hourwich and his sister Jhenya Hourwich, who later translated Marx’s Das Kapital into Russian.

In 1890, Hourwich fled Russia, leaving behind his first wife Yelena (Kushelevsky) Hourwich and four children, Nicholas Hourwich (1882-1934), who was later involved in the founding of the Communist Party, Maria (Hourwich) Kravitz (1883-), Rosa Hourwich (ca.1884-) , and Vera (Hourwich) Semmens (1890-1976), although Hourwich’s parents continued to support his family. He first went to Paris but he had to leave there as well, at which point he immigrated to the United States. He divorced his first wife and married again, to Louise Elizabeth "Lisa" (Joffe) Hourwich (1866-1947). Lisa Hourwich had taught school in Russia, and, after immigrating to the United States with her family, attended law school, eventually passing the Illinois bar, although she never practiced as a lawyer. They had five children, Iskander "Sasha" Hourwich (1895-1968), Rebecca Hourwich Reyher (1897-1987), who was a prominent suffragist, Olga "Dicky" Hourwich (1902-1977), George Kennan Hourwich (1904-1978), and Ena (Hourwich) Kunzer (1906-1989).

In New York, Hourwich joined the Russian Workers Society for Self-Education, later the Russian Social Democratic Society, which was made up mostly of Jewish immigrants from Minsk. The Society helped to finance the Group for Liberation of Labor (1883-1903), which Georgi Plekhanov, Pavel Axelrod and Lev Deutsch formed in Geneva, Switzerland for the dissemination of Marxist ideas in Russian. From 1891-1892 he was a fellow at Columbia University where he earned a Ph.D. in economics in 1893. His thesis was published under the title The Economics of the Russian Village and a Russian translation was published in Moscow in 1896. He then taught statistics at the University of Chicago from 1892-1893, after which he returned to New York City, where he practiced law while also contributing to Marxist legal magazines in Russia. In 1897-1898, after the creation of the Social Democratic Party by Eugene V. Debs, Hourwich founded the first party branch in New York City with Meyer London. He also edited a Russian Socialist newspaper, Progress, from 1901-1904.

Hourwich moved to Washington, D.C. in 1900, where he worked for the United States government for several years, first as a translator at the Bureau of the Mint in 1900-1902, then at the Census Bureau in 1902-1906 and in 1909-1913 as a statistician and expert on mining. He was a statistician for the New York Public Service Commission, 1908-1909. During this period he developed his knowledge of American politics and economics which he used in his writings in the English and Yiddish press. He briefly wrote for the Forward after it began publication in 1897, even though he did not then know much Yiddish and had to learn it as he went along. For his articles in the Forward and other Yiddish periodicals he used the pseudonyms “Marxist” and “Yitzhok Isaac ben Arye Tzvi Halevi” so as not to bring attention to the fact that a government employee was writing for radical newspapers. His articles about American politics and economic institutions, particularly for the Tog (Day), were important in popularizing Socialism and were often the main source for explaining American economics and politics to a Yiddish-speaking audience in the United States. In addition to various essays in the Yiddish press, Hourwich published: The Persecutions of the Jews, in The Forum in August 1901, Russian Dissenters, in The Arena in May 1903 and Religious Sects in Russia, in The International Quarterly in October 1903, to name only a few.

In the wake of the October 1905 revolution, Tsar Nicholas II declared amnesty for political prisoners and Hourwich took advantage of this to return to Russia where he ran for a seat in the second Duma in Minsk in 1906. He was the nominee of a new Democratic People’s Party. The Jewish Socialist parties resented his intrusion and his non-Socialist campaign, particularly the Bund, which was running its own candidate. He was elected and would most likely have gained the seat in the Duma but the senate in St. Petersburg annulled his election and his name was taken off the final list of candidates. When the Duma was dissolved in June 1907 Hourwich returned to the United States and his government job. He also continued to write for various English magazines. Hourwich was an expert on immigration, and his book Immigration and Labor was published in 1912. In this work, he defends unrestricted immigration by arguing that the influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe was beneficial to the American economy. This argument was based upon economic figures and was the first defense of open immigration based on economic, rather than humanitarian, reasons.

Hourwich was active in the garment workers union at the time the agreement known as the “Protocol of Peace” was in effect. Engineered by Louis D. Brandeis following the cloakmakers’ strike of 1910, the Protocol was a system for resolving conflicts between workers and manufacturers in the garment industry without resorting to arbitration. This system was proving difficult to implement when Hourwich was appointed Chief Clerk of the Cloak and Skirt Makers’ Union in early 1913. He was in favor of reforming the Protocol, including a change from conciliation to arbitration, exactly what Brandeis had been against when drafting the Protocol. Hourwich’s position earned him the enmity of other union leaders, of his old friend, Meyer London, and also of Brandeis, who had represented the garment employers in Boston against the union during the 1910 strike. In addition, the heads of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, Abraham Rosenberg and John Dyche, vehemently opposed Hourwich for asserting the power of the local union against its parent organization and were concerned that his actions would lead to another strike. The officers of the ILGWU tried unsuccessfully to force Hourwich out, although the majority of garment workers supported him for his populist views, despite his lack of trade union experience.

In November 1913, the Cloak, Suit and Skirt Manufacturers’ Association refused to negotiate with Hourwich as the union representative and demanded his resignation. Although the heads of the union were united in their dislike of Hourwich, they supported him in resisting the manufacturers’ pressure. However, in early 1914 when the manufacturers threatened to break off the Protocol and a strike appeared imminent, Hourwich stepped down rather than compromise, despite the protests of many rank-and-file union members. The so-called “Hourwich Affair” showed the weakness of the Protocol as a means of settling disputes and hastened its eventual reform. It also revealed the various power struggles taking place between the International and the local unions, as well as between the union leadership and the mass of garment workers.

Hourwich was an early critic of the totalitarian tendencies of the Bolshevik government. Nevertheless, he maintained some sympathy for the Marxist cause and served as legal advisor to the Soviet ambassador to the United States, Ludwig C.K. Martens. He was also connected with the weekly magazine, Friends of Soviet Russia, published by the Soviet Agency, although he never wrote in support of the Bolsheviks. A visit to the Soviet Union in 1922 disillusioned Hourwich, however, and he returned firmly opposed to the Soviet regime.

Despite his commitment to Socialism, Hourwich did not strictly adhere to party doctrine and often crossed political boundaries in his allegiances. For example, in 1912 he supported Theodore Roosevelt and ran for Congress on the ticket of Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, an unthinkable act for a Jewish radical, although he seems to have been unconcerned with any criticism this raised. He was involved with the Socialist Democratic Party but did not join the Socialist Party of America, despite its Marxist program. He wrote for various Yiddish newspapers of every political affiliation, including the Socialist Jewish Daily Forward, the anarchist Fraye Arbeter Shtimme (Free Workers Voice), where he published his unfinished memoirs Zikhroynes fun an Apikoyres (Memoirs of a Heretic), the Warheit (Truth), the Tog (Day), and the Tsukunft (Future). His non-ideological approach led some to label him a political opportunist. He was an ardent supporter of President Wilson and his advocacy of the New Freedom and social reform until Wilson’s 1916 appointment of Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court. Hourwich was still holding a grudge against Brandeis for his involvement in the “Hourwich Affair.”

In his later years Hourwich became active in the Zionist movement, and in 1917 he helped to organize the American Jewish Congress. Hourwich’s books in Yiddish include Mooted Questions of Socialism (1917), a Yiddish translation of Marx’s Das Kapital (1919), and a four-volume edition of his collected works (1917-1919). Hourwich died of pneumonia on July 9, 1924.


6 Linear Feet


This collection contains documents relating to Isaac A. Hourwich’s role as an economist, publicist, statistician, lawyer, author, and authority on immigration, as well as his involvement with the labor movement and the formation of the American Jewish Congress. There are reports, minutes of meetings, memoranda, clippings and correspondence, and manuscripts and articles about Jewish labor, Socialism, Russia, Marxism, immigration, and other subjects. These materials demonstrate Hourwich’s important role in American labor, immigration theory, and political and economic theory.


The materials in this collection are generally arranged topically by series. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent according to the Latin alphabet, including materials that are written using either Hebrew or Cyrillic letters, which have been transliterated and integrated within the Latin-alphabet materials. Personal names of correspondents have been transliterated, journal titles and organization names have been transliterated and translated, and the titles of speeches and writings have been transliterated and translated and are in quotation marks. Yiddish names have been transliterated according to YIVO standards except when the individual is known in English by another spelling. Additionally, if the name appeared in Latin letters anywhere within the folder, that spelling was used rather than a standard transliteration. The languages of materials that are not in English are in parentheses following the listing of the material. The page numbers sometimes refer to the number of sheets and sometimes, for double-sided documents, to the number of sides. The collection is on two sets of microfilm. Folders 1-133 are on 11 reels numbered MK 501, while folder 134 is only on 3 reels of microfilm numbered MK 407, and does not exist physically in the boxes. Folders 127 and 128, clippings of Hourwich’s memoirs and obituaries and clippings about him after his death, were originally microfilmed as one reel numbered MK 351, however they also are represented in MK 501. The papers are divided into 6 series.

Acquisition Information

Mrs. Rebecca Reyher, Hourwich’s daughter, donated the papers to YIVO in July 1969. Mrs. Reyher gave those of her father’s papers dealing with immigration to Harvard University.


This collection is on two sets of microfilm. MK 501 is 11 reels and contains the contents of folders 1-133, while MK 407 is 3 reels and contains what is called folder 134, which is not physically represented in the collection.

Related Material

The YIVO Library has a copy of Profiles of Eleven by Melech Epstein, in which Hourwich is one of the profiles. There are also several books and other writings by Hourwich. The American Jewish Historical Society Archives have American Jewish Congress records I-77, and there are also American Jewish Congress materials in other collections at AJHS and YIVO. In addition, the YIVO Archives have the Bund Archives RG 1400, as well as materials about unions, Socialism, Communism, and labor.

Processing information

The collection was originally processed by David A. Wolfson in 1971. The microfilm was prepared by Cecile E. Kuznitz with the assistance of a grant from the S.H. and Helen R. Scheur Family Foundation in 1990. Additional processing was completed in July 2011.

Guide to the Papers of Isaac A. Hourwich (1860-1924) 1882-1924 RG 587
Processed by David A. Wolfson. The microfilm was prepared by Cecile E. Kuznitz with the assistance of a grant from the S.H. and Helen R. Scheuer Family Foundation. Additional processing by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States