Boston Workmen's Circle Records
Scope and Content Note
The Boston Workmen's Circle-Brookline collection contains correspondence, financial and membership records, newsletters, yearbooks, event programs, fliers and publicity, and meeting minutes, agendas, and announcements for the national Workmen's Circle, the District Workmen's Circle in Brookline, and various branches associated with the District.
Correspondence from Representative James Burke, Senator Edward W. Brooke, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Harold Donohue, and Regional Director- Northeast Region of the Jewish Labor Committee, Julius Bernstein are included in the collection. Financial records highlight the membership dues and the changes in membership over the course of Workmen's Circle's history in Boston.
Note: Many of the minute books are written in Yiddish.
- undated, 1927-1999
- Boston Workmen's Circle (Brookline, Mass.) (Organization)
Language of Materials
The collection is in English, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Russian.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Origins of New York and Massachusetts Workmen's Circles
"The Workingman's Circle" was established on April 4, 1892 when a small group of Jewish cloak makers met on New York's Lower East Side. Several years later, on September 4, 1900, three separate Jewish worker's groups formed a fraternal organization focusing on mutual aid and education, particularly for new immigrants with little access to health care and funeral benefits. The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring was officially chartered in New York on November 22, 1905. Due to the fraternal insurance laws in Massachusetts, the local Workmen's Circle was unable to organize under the national charter, even though chapters in Massachusetts had already formed. In 1903, Mr. S. Yigdal organized the Independent Workmen's Circle, which would operate only in Massachusetts and alleviate insurance concerns. At the same time, the national Workmen's Circle started an organization specifically for Massachusetts residents called the Labor League. Finally, in 1921, insurance commissioners in New York and Massachusetts reached an agreement that allowed the Independent Workmen's Circle and the national Workmen's Circle to unify.
Chapters in Massachusetts were prolific. The city of Lynn incorporated four chapters by 1911, and chapters in Worcester, Chelsea, Revere, Peabody, Lawrence, Malden and Boston soon followed. In Boston, centers were open on Leverett Street, Warren Street in Roxbury, and Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester. The chapters provided a Yiddish speaking environment, which was of particular use to immigrants from Eastern Europe, and provided a "home away from home" that enabled new and established members to forge relationships and a community. There were also branches for women members, such as Branch 709B.
The Massachusetts branches of the Workmen's Circle often mirrored the development of the national organization, still located in New York. In 1913, New York incorporated a Cemetery Department, which led the Massachusetts branches to purchase land in Melrose, Springfield, Lowell, Haverhill, and Peabody. The Massachusetts Cemetery Department was a member of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, which is now responsible for maintaining the Workmen's Circle's cemeteries in Massachusetts.
In 1915, the New York Workmen's Circle established a choral group. In 1925, the Boston Workmen's Circle established their own group, with Louis Harris serving as their first director. In 1931 it was re-established with Reuben Osofsky as its director. It is unclear as to when or why the chorus was re-established then, but it officially disbanded in 1961.
Shule and Camp
New York founded shules in 1918, and by 1922, shules were operating in Chelsea, Boston and Springfield. In the 1930s, the shules were renamed I.L. Peretz Schools, for the renowned Yiddish author playwright, and additional openings followed in Lynn, Peabody and Lawrence. The I.L Peretz Schools had a folk-oriented curriculum and taught children Jewish culture, history, and Yiddish. In the 1950s, classes were taught in Yiddish with some Hebrew. By the early 1990s the Boston schule had been defunct for many years, until Center director Herman Brown re-established the program. Curriculum still focused on culture and history but Yiddish was not the primary teaching language.
In 1927, the Boston District bought land in Ashland, Massachusetts, where it established the Golden Ring camp. In 1957, the Ashland camp was destroyed in a fire and moved to Pembroke, Massachusetts. This camp was modeled on New York's summer camp and resort in Hopewell Junction, New York.
Young Circle League
By 1925, there were 84,971 members of the national organization in New York. That year, the national organization also started their Young Circle League, followed closely by the establishment of the Massachusetts Young Circle League in 1927.
Jewish Labor Committee
In conjunction with the Jewish Labor Bund and the United Hebrew Trades, the Workmen's Circle helped found the Jewish Labor Committee in February 1934 as a response to the rise of Nazism in Europe. The Jewish Labor Committee staffed a regional office in Boston, which often collaborated with the Boston District Workmen's Circle, particularly under the guidance of Julius Bernstein.
Boston District and Brookline Center
By 1940, the National Workmen's Circle had 100 Labor Lyceums (community centers) throughout the United States. In 1962, the Workmen's Circle Center relocated from Dorchester to its current location in Brookline, Massachusetts: a necessary change reflecting the Jewish community's move from urban areas to the suburbs of Newton, Brookline, and Brighton. The Center in Brookline held forums; Yiddish classes, lectures, and film festivals; hosted the Senior Citizen's Club; maintained a Yiddish Library; and was home to the I.L. Peretz School. In the 1970s, the Workmen's Circle established a branch (687) for Soviet Jewish immigrants, and in the 1980s, branch 2001 was established to reflect the interest in Yiddish music and Jewish culture by younger members of the Center. Due to declining membership, several of the branches were either dissolved or merged into another branch. The records do not always establish the location or membership of particular branches, but some branches can be identified. Branch 716E was the Unity Branch, Branch 709B was a woman's branch, Branch 915 was located in Chelsea, and Branch 714 was in Taunton.
The Brookline Center (which operated in part as the Boston District Committee) offered numerous lecture series, including a Yiddish Arts series in the 1970s. Branches were asked to support the series through the sponsorship of one evening's events. The first event, on November 9, 1975 featured violinist Percy Brand, a Holocaust survivor and local resident. In the following years, the Workmen's Circle offered lecture series on Jewish history, culture, the role of women in Jewish life as well as lectures in Yiddish. Yiddish sing-alongs and language classes were also conducted.
The Boston District Committee held an annual conference. To participate, branches were asked to send up to three delegates to speak for and vote on the branch's behalf. Institutions were allowed to send up to three fraternal delegates. During the meeting the group would elect a session chairman, conference secretary, as well as appoint members of the credential and resolution committees. Reports were given on various Workmen's Circle programs, and national representatives reported on the activities in New York and the impact expected in the Boston district. After each meeting, resolutions reflecting the Workmen's Circle's positions on events and issues concerning the Jewish community were published.
As with other Jewish organizations at the time, the Workmen's Circle was involved in the plight of Soviet Jews. The Social Action Committee held lectures on Soviet Jewry and focused on supporting organizations and implementing programs as needed. Julius Bernstein, the regional director of the Jewish Labor Committee-Northeast Region, was also involved with the Social Action Committee.
Membership to the Workmen's Circle consisted of both national and local branch dues. It offered the opportunity to fully participate in branch activities and provided reduced member rates for the summer resort, Circle Lodge, in Hopewell Junction, New York. In addition, membership provided access to the Workmen's Circle travel services and discount purchases on automobiles and appliances. Cemetery, funeral and medication plans, as well as a limited medical expense policy were also included in membership. The insurance programs offered included a hospital indemnity plan, excess major medical, medical supplement plans, a prescription drug plan discount buying service, and, in the 1980s, life insurance, disability and retirement plans.
The Workmen's Circle remains an active organization and still offers Yiddish and social action programs.
- Materials in the collection.
- Workmen's Circle Boston website, "History," http://circleboston.org/about/history.php,
- Jewish cloak makers meet on the Lower East Side of New York City and form the "Workingman's Circle" on April 4th.
- Jewish worker's unions create The Workmen's Circle on September 4.
- Independent Workmen's Circle organized in Massachusetts by Mr. S. Yigdal.
- Workmen's Circle chartered in New York on November 22.
- Four Workmen's Circle chapters operating in Lynn, Massachusetts
- National incorporates a Cemetery Department; soon after, land is purchased in Melrose, Springfield, Lowell and Haverhill for cemeteries.
- National establishes a chorale.
- National establishes shules in New York.
- Insurance commissioners in New York and Massachusetts reach an agreement that allows the Independent Workmen's Circle to merge with Workmen's Circle in New York.
- Massachusetts establishes shules in Chelsea, Boston and Springfield.
- Massachusetts Workmen's Circle establishes its own chorale.
- National Workmen's Circle has 84,971 members.
- National Workmen's Circle established their Young Circle League.
- Workmen's Circle buys land in Ashland for the Golden Ring Camp.
- Workmen's Circle established their Young Circle League.
- Shules are renamed I.L. Peretz Schools.
- Massachusetts chorale is re-established with a new director.
- National Workmen's Circle is one of the founding organizations of the Jewish Labor Committee.
- The Golden Ring Camp in Ashland is destroyed by fire, moves to Pembroke.
- Massachusetts disbands its chorale.
- Workmen's Circle relocates to Brookline from Dorchester.
- Cemetery Department fire destroys records.
- Workmen's Circle establishes a branch for Soviet Jewry immigrants.
- Workmen's Circle establishes Branch 2001 to reflect the interest in Yiddish music and Jewish culture.
- Herman Brown re-establishes the I.L. Peretz School in Brookline.
14 linear feet (12 document boxes, 3 OS boxes)
Created to provide mutual aid and education, The Workmen's Circle was established in New York in 1900 and officially chartered in 1905. Massachusetts established an Independent Workmen's Circle in 1903 to maneuver around prohibitive insurance laws, but was able to unify with the national organization in 1921. Several chapters were operational in Massachusetts by 1911. The Boston District often mirrored National's development, including the establishment of cemeteries, a chorus, a camp, and I.L. Peretz Schools. The Workmen's Circle focused on Jewish life and culture, promoted the use of Yiddish, and provided a place of learning for members. The Workmen's Circle was also instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Labor Committee in 1934. This collection contains correspondence, meeting notices and minutes, mortgages, curriculum, event flyers and programs, and news clippings from the Boston District, local branches, New England Region and National offices.
Located in Boston, Mass.
Donated by Herman Brown, March 10, 2000, and Workmen's Circle (Brookline, Mass.)
Processed by Stephanie Call, 2019
- Bernstein, Julius
- Boston (Mass.)
- Brooke, Edward W. (Edward William), 1919-2015
- Brookline (Mass.)
- Burke, James A., 1910-1983
- Business records
- Bylaws (administrative records)
- Clippings (information artifacts)
- Donohue, Harold
- Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)
- Immigrants -- Jews -- United States
- Immigrants -- Massachusetts -- Boston -- History
- Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.)
- Jewish socialists
- Kennedy, Edward M. (Edward Moore), 1932-2009
- Ledgers (account books)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- New York (N.Y.)
- Workmen's Circle (U.S.). Cemetery Department
- Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring
- Workmen’s Circle (U.S.)
- Yiddish language
- Boston Workmen's Circle (Brookline, Mass.) (Organization)
- Boston Workmen's Circle Records
- Processed by Stephanie Call
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States