Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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L I B R A R Y OF T H E A M E R I C A N
J EW I S H H I S T O R I C A L S O C I E T Y
By
N
a t h a n
M.
K
agano ff
T
he American Jewish Historical Society was established in
1892 as the first society of its kind in the Western Hemisphere
devoted exclusively to the study of Jewish history. The factors
bringing about the formation of the Society and its early history
have been described in full by the Editor-Emeritus, Dr. Isidore
S. Meyer, in an article published in the
Journal of Jewish Bibliog-
raphy
in 1943. The original founders were motivated in part by
the patriotic spirit in the United States engendered by the prepa-
rations for the 400th commemoration of Columbus’ discovery of
America and in part by the mass immigration of East European
Jews during this period.
The early founders, respected members of the American Jewish
community, were eager to show that Jews had been among the
early arrivals in the New World and had contributed significantly
to its development. The first president of the Society was the
Honorable Oscar S. Straus, who later served as the Secretary of
Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt.
From its very beginnings the Society’s objectives stated that it
attempted to collect and publish material bearing upon the
history of the Jews in the United States. Initially, this material
was in private hands until 1903, when arrangements were com-
pleted with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America to pro-
vide space for the housing of the Society’s collections in its new
building on 123rd Street in New York City.
The Society and its library continued to be located at the
Seminary, and its collections continued to grow. But as the
Seminary expanded its program and activities, the Society’s facili-
ties were restricted and a major portion of its holdings had to
be transferred to storage.
The prominent Jewish communal leader and lawyer, Dr. Lee
M. Friedman of Boston, had been active throughout his life in the
affairs of the Society, and served as its president from 1948 to
1953. Following his death in 1957, the Society was bequeathed a
substantial legacy from Dr. Friedman which enabled it to secure
its own quarters and plan for the future. In 1960 the Society
moved its library and headquarters to 150 Fifth Avenue, where
it was able to make available its many treasures for scholarly
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