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Joseph Perkins Chamberlain Papers

Identifier: RG 278

Scope and Content Note

The papers, registered as Record Group 278, consist of correspondence, circulars, cablegrams, memoranda, notes, minutes, reports, statistical tables, clippings, news bulletins, booklets, government publications, printed forms, legal documents, interviews, press releases, brochures, leaflets and speeches. The correspondence includes a) original letters to Chamberlain b) his carbon copy replies c) copies of letters submitted to Chamberlain for reference.

As the Record Group originates almost exclusively in Chamberlain's organizational activities in refugee work, it was arranged in alphabetical order by name of organization. Some of the organizations have further subheadings, reflecting different functions or important topics or issues.

In addition to the organizational records, there are three topical series: Speeches and Publicity, Cases and Miscellaneous. The first two series were not generated by any one institution but were Chamberlain's own files, originating in his speech-making and public relations activities as well as his case work.

The records are arranged chronologically within each organizational and topical series. When a letter or group of letters appear to be out of sequence, they are usually related correspondence, attached or received by Chamberlain as reference. The entire Record Group covers the period 1934 - 1951.

The description of each folder includes (where applicable): Folder title; date; type of material; topics; list of correspondents.

Listing of correspondents and topics is partial. Names of correspondents include both recipients and writers of letters.

The papers occupy 2 feet 6 inches and contain 4690 unnumbered folios. The original numbers printed on the folios are no longer relevant since the original arrangement of the collection was abandoned in 1980 and a new arrangement was imposed with the purpose of restoring the collection, as much as possible, to its original order.

The main topic of this collection is Joseph Perkins Chamberlain's work in assisting and rescuing refugees from Europe during the ascension of the Nazis to power in Germany and World War II. Series I, the largest series by far in the collection, documents the efforts of humanitarian organizations in their attempt to save individuals from Europe from Nazi persecution. A great deal of information in this series is also on assistance given to refugees once they arrived in the United States. Series II: Speeches continues this theme with much of its material on publicity given to the refugee crisis. Series IV is mostly comprised of correspondence of Chamberlain and shows his work with specific individual refugee cases.

A secondary theme of this collection is the immigration policy of the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. Information on immigration and the regulations of the Immigration and Naturalization Service can be gleaned from much of the correspondence in Series I, as well as from documents in Series III and IV. This information includes conditions for various types of immigrant and non-immigrant visas and requirements of the affidavit of support. Often aid organizations secured bonds for refugees to fulfill the affidavit’s stipulation that immigrants not become public charges.

A third topic often encountered in the Joseph Perkins Chamberlain papers is the work of organizations in bringing knowledge of the refugee crisis and Nazi persecutions in Europe to the public. Although the largest amount of documents of this nature will be found in Series II, the topic is encountered also in documents and reports in Series I. In addition there is a petition by YIVO to the President of the United States concerning this topic located in Series IV.


  • 1934-1951

Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public.

Use Restrictions

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

Biographical Note

Joseph Perkins Chamberlain (1873 - 1951) was born in Cleveland, Ohio and brought up in Santa Barbara, California. Graduating from Hastings Law School in 1893, he obtained a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1923 and an L.L.D. in 1929. In 1902 he was admitted to the California bar and practiced in San Francisco until 1905. He subsequently became a lecturer in law and was Professor of Public Law at Columbia University from 1923 to 1950.

Chamberlain was the director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund at Columbia University and in that capacity contributed to the improvement of statute law. A consultant to various Federal and State agencies, he was also counsel and draftsman for the New York City Charter Revision Commission of 1935-1936.

His publications on law include Regime of International Rivers: Danube and Rhine (1936), Index-digest of State Constitutions (1915) and numerous articles on legislation and international relations.

Besides his career in law, Chamberlain took an active part in the work of refugee agencies, private and government, national and international, Jewish and non-Jewish, which were originally established to deal with the German-Jewish refugee problem provoked by the rise to power of the Nazi party in 1933. His involvement with this problem spanned all its aspects, including both the immigration and resettlement stages.

On many occasions Chamberlain assumed the role of spokesman for the refugee organizations, interceding on their behalf with the State Department or representing the refugee cause at public functions.

His activities in refugee work lasted from 1933 until 1950, starting with his appointment in 1933 as American member of the Intergovernmental High Commission for Refugees (Jewish and others) Coming from Germany. In 1934 because of his position on the High Commission he was asked to serve as Chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, established by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) at the suggestion of the State Department. The National Coordinating Committee was to coordinate the work of affiliated private agencies, minimizing duplication of effort, so that the High Commission could work with them more efficiently.

Chamberlain participated in the organization and development of these agencies. He was involved in the establishment of the German Jewish Children's Aid in 1934 and was in direct contact with the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Physicians from 1934 to 1939. He also took part in the founding of local groups, such as the Greater New York Committee for Refugees in 1934.

In 1939 the National Coordinating Committee was reorganized and its named changed to the National Refugee Service. Chamberlain was again appointed chairman.

In the spring of 1938, Chamberlain was asked by President Roosevelt, along with eight other leaders of organizations of religious congregations, to serve on a President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. Its function was to serve as a liaison between American private agencies and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees created at the Evian Conference, July 1938. The President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees was active throughout the Roosevelt years.

In June 1944 President Roosevelt established a temporary haven at Oswego, N.Y., for about 1000 refugees, called the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter. As a representative of the National Refugee Services and member of the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, Chamberlain interceded with the War Refugee Board to improve conditions at the shelter, and was involved in both the handling of specific cases as well as major operations such as the final resettlement plan.

In August 1946 the National Refugee Service and the Service to Foreign Born Section of the National Council of Jewish Women consolidated their services and the successor organization was called the United Service for New Americans. Chamberlain was asked to be Honorary Chairman of the Board.

Throughout his period of activity as chairman of the National Coordinating Committee and National Refugee Services and member of the President's Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, Chamberlain was asked to deal with all kinds of cases which were too difficult to be solved through the regular channels. Among these were individuals with difficult visa cases, distinguished scholars displaced by events in Germany and Austria, or German-Jewish children with legal problems in the public schools. Chamberlain's case work entailed maintaining correspondence with institutions, companies, government and immigration authorities.


2.5 Linear Feet


This collection contains the papers of Joseph Perkins Chamberlain, a professor of law who worked with many refugee aid organizations during the 1930s and 1940s. The papers reflect the work of Chamberlain and the organizations in rescuing and assisting refugees from Europe during this time. Although the bulk of the documents consists of correspondence, the collection also includes minutes of meetings, reports, statistical information, clippings, booklets and transcripts of speeches.

Acquisition Note

Upon his death in 1951, Chamberlain's private secretary donated a portion of his papers to the YIVO Institute.


The collection is microfilmed, and available on MKM 4.

Digitization Note

The collection was digitized and made accessible with the following exceptions: folders 24, 49, 56, and 106-128 are accessible onsite only due to privacy concerns.

Related Material

Several Record Groups in the YIVO Archives are considered to be related records to the Chamberlain papers. They are:

  1. Records of the German Jewish Children's Aid (RG 249)
  2. Records of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society(RG 245)
  3. Records of the National Coordinating Committee(RG 247)
  4. Records of the National Refugee Service(RG 248)
  5. Records of the United Service for New Americans(RG 246)

Processing Information

Finding aid edited and and collection remicrofilmed under a grant from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society [HIAS], New York, December 2000.

Upon his death in 1951, Chamberlain's private secretary donated a portion of his papers to the YIVO Institute. They were arranged in 1980 under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a folder level inventory was compiled. In December 2000, under a grant from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York, the collection was prepared for remicrofilming to reflect the new arrangement imposed in 1980 and the finding aid was edited.

Chana Mlotek and Fruma Mohrer proofread, verified, and corrected the final version of this finding aid.

Guide to the Papers of Joseph Perkins Chamberlain (1873-1951), 1934-1951 RG 278
Processed by Fruma Mohrer
© April 2005.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
with the assistance of a grant From the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1980. Digitization of the Joseph Perkins Chamberlain Papers (RG 278) was made possible by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.
Edition statement
This version was derived from JosephChamberlain.xml

Revision Statements

  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
  • March 2015: Added dao links and some folder title punctuation and scopecontent notes corrected for readability by Eric Fritzler.
  • November 2015: Digitization note added by Leanora Lange.

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States