Marjorie Wyler (b.1915), Papers.

  • Dates: 1938-1993; n.d.
  • Size: 5.5 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 5
  • Languages: English
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Marjorie Wyler
  • Date: December 1991 - October 1993; April, 1994; December, 1998.
  • Related Collections: R.G.1, General Files ; R.G.8, Radio and Television Department ; R.G.11, Communications Department

TSH, 12/29/94; rev. JM, 2/3/95; 2/1/99.

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Biographical Note

Marjorie Wyler began her career at The Jewish Theological Seminary in 1938, in JTS's public relations office. In approximately 1950 she became the head of the department, then called the Office of Public Information; now the Communications Department). The office handled public relations not only for the Seminary, but also for the Jewish Museum, which opened in 1947. In the late 1980s Wyler left the Communications Department and took over the Seminary's Radio and Television department, becoming the executive producer of both radio and television programs.

Critical as Wyler's work in these positions was, the official titles she bore express little of the scope of her activities and influence over a period of more than fifty years at JTS. Wyler was one of a group of women - that included Jessica Feingold, Harriet Catlin, and others - who admired and worked to support the programs of Louis Finkelstein, president of JTS from 1940- 1972. In addition to assisting with the day-to-day operations of JTS, they contributed heavily to the development of Finkelstein's projects and to JTS policy-making. While Jessica Feingold evolved into the chief administrator of Finkelstein's interfaith and interdisciplinary programs, the Institute for Religious and Social Studies and the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion and was the editor of his scholarly writings, Marjorie Wyler became the person at JTS who decided what form the institution's public face should take. She was also was the executive producer of the Seminary's radio program, "The Eternal Light" and assisted in the development of the Jewish Museum.

In an institution that, at mid twentieth century, chiefly valued the accomplishments of male scholars and rabbis, women had little opportunity to gain either appropriate titles or adequate remuneration. Still, as a result of unusual ability, dedication, force of personality, and the nurturing quality of the idealistic environment created by Louis Finkelstein, Marjorie Wyler made a meaningful lifelong career for herself at JTS.

Wyler retired from the Seminary in the summer of 1993. Her daughter, Ruth W. Messinger, has served as a New York State assemblywoman, member of the New York City Council, and Borough President of Manhattan before running as the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York in 1996. Another daughter, Barbara Gold, is a physician.

For more on Marjorie Wyler see:

Biographical entry on Wyler in Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Harvey Goldberg, "Becoming History: Perspectives on the Seminary Faculty in Mid-Century" in Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary (New York: JTS, 1997).

Julie Miller, "Tradition Renewed: Women at The Jewish Theological Seminary," Women's League Outlook 69 (Winter 1998): 11-15.

Collection Description

These papers consist of files given by Marjorie Wyler to the Ratner Center both before and after her retirement. They consist of files accumulated by her at the Seminary's departments of Public Information and Radio and Television.

The material is arranged in two series. The first consists of subject files containing correspondence, press releases, and other material documenting a wide range of events at the Seminary during the more than fifty years that Wyler was here. While the dates of this material span Wyler's years at both departments, the emphasis here is on public relations; the Seminary's radio and television production emerges here as a much smaller subject.

The second series consists of Marjorie Wyler's files, maintained while at the Office of Public Information, containing material she worked on with and for Louis Finkelstein. The correspondence, press releases, statements, talks, articles, interviews, and other material maintained here give a good picture of how Wyler and Finkelstein jointly presented the Seminary and Finkelstein himself to the public, both inside and outside the Seminary. The early correspondence, ca.1938-1950s, between Wyler and Finkelstein, is particularly detailed.

These files do not come close to documenting the entirety of Marjorie Wyler's activities at the Seminary. Much more material can be found in: Records of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Record Group 11, Communications Department Files. Additional correspondence and other material can be found in R.G.1, General Files. Records of the Radio and Television department (R.G.8) remain largely unprocessed at this date.

Series List

  • I. Subject Files, 1941-1993
  • II. Louis Finkelstein Files, 1938-1991:
    • a. Correspondence, 1938-1986
    • b. Pastoral Letters to the Members of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1959-1971
    • c. Speeches, Talks, and Interviews, 1952-1986
    • d. Louis Finkelstein Subject Files, 1939-1991

Series Descriptions

I. Subject Files, 1941-1993; n.d., (copies of early material, 1765-1915, are included)

Box 1, Folder 1 to Box 3, Folder 15

Subject files contain correspondence, press releases, memoranda, notes, clippings and other printed material, and photographs documenting programs, events, and people at The Jewish Theological Seminary. While these files are very similar to the subject files in R.G.11 (Communications department) they span Wyler's years in that department and at the Radio and Television department. For that reason they have been kept separately here.

While this material dates from the early 1940s, soon after Wyler's arrival at the Seminary, until her retirement in 1993, there are also copies (but no originals) of some much older items. These include: photographs and copies of documents from Congregation Mikve Israel in Philadelphia, 1765-1911 (box 1, folder 8); a copy of a 1915 certificate presented to the Seminary by Hebrew Union College at Solomon Schechter's death (box 1, folder 48); printed material about the history of the Seminary, 1888-1985 (box 2, folders 1-2); transcripts of letters written by Claude Montefiore to Solomon Schechter, 1885-1902 (box 2, folder 28); and photocopies of correspondence, 1909-1929, of Louis Marshall concerning the Seminary (box 2, folder 24).

Other items of note include: correspondence and program materials documenting the 1986 celebration of the Seminary's centennial (box 1, folders 9-12); texts of tributes paid to Gerson Cohen by Seminary administrators, faculty, staff, and students upon his retirement as chancellor (box 1, folder 19); correspondence, press releases, and memoranda concerning the dedication of the new Seminary library in 1983 (box 2, folders 17-18); and newspaper clippings about the trip to Birmingham, Alabama taken by a group of Conservative rabbis in 1963 (box 2, folder 40; see the Jack Bloom file in the Ratner Center's vertical files for more on this subject). Also among the subject files is an alphabetically ordered list of Seminary degree recipients that goes up to 1993, (box 1, folder 26).

Also of note is a long letter written by Louis Finkelstein in 1964 to a young relative, Kathy Finn, in which he explains the Jewish way of life (box 1, folder 42). A complete listing of the contents of the subject files is found in the box list.

II. Louis Finkelstein Files, 1938-1991; n.d.

Box 3, Folder 16 to Box 5, Folder 32

Included here is material maintained by Marjorie Wyler which documents the activities of Louis Finkelstein during the years (1940-1972) he headed the Seminary first as president, then as chancellor. Some material dating from both before and after these years is also included. In keeping with Wyler's public relations function, these files primarily document the formulation of Finkelstein's public statements. These took the form of speeches, talks, circular letters and more private ones, interviews, and published articles and other writings. This series has been divided into four sub-series:

a. Correspondence, 1938-1986; n.d.

The correspondence, which is organized chronologically, consists largely of letters exchanged between Louis Finkelstein and Marjorie Wyler in which a wide range of matters relating to events at the Seminary are discussed, often at length and in detail. Matters relating to the Seminary's and Louis Finkelstein's public presentation are particularly emphasized. Correspondence between Finkelstein and others -presumably present in these files for vetting by Wyler - and press releases, statements, newsletters, and clippings are also included. Of particular interest are letters exchanged between Finkelstein and Wyler, 1938-ca.1950s, and during the summers of 1969 and 1971while Finkelstein was away from the Seminary. These contain particularly detailed descriptions of events at the Seminary, and show the thinking behind how programs were to be organized and presented to the public. During the early years there is much discussion about programs for women at the Seminary, about the role of benefactor and board member Frieda Schiff Warburg in Seminary programs, and about the use of radio.

Topics covered in the letters written during the summers of 1969 and 1971, while Finkelstein made his annual trips to London and Israel and Wyler remained in New York include: preparation of his annual letter to the Rabbinical Assembly; Finkelstein's impending retirement (in 1972) and its effect on Wyler; responses to Finkelstein's sermon at the Nixon White House; Finkelstein's doings in London and Israel; and daily administrative matters at JTS, including the preparation of the annual Register, fundraising, and publicity.

b. Pastoral Letters to the Members of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1959-1971; n.d.

Pastoral letters were sent by Finkelstein, as chancellor, to members of the Rabbinical Assembly at various times over the course of the year. In them he informed Conservative rabbis about Seminary events and reflected more philosophically on a variety of matters. Included here are drafts of the pastoral letters, edited by Wyler, with related memoranda. The material is arranged chronologically.

c. Speeches, Talks, and Interviews, 1952-1986; n.d.

These are drafts and transcripts of Louis Finkelstein's speeches, talks, statements, and interviews, with related letters, memoranda, notes, and press releases. Much of this material was edited by Marjorie Wyler and some of it was composed by her. Some of these pieces were delivered before Seminary groups, before organizations of the Conservative movement, or other, outside, organizations. Included are transcripts of radio and television addresses and interviews. Of note is a transcript of an interview - possibly conducted by Finkelstein's nephew David Finn of the public relations firm Ruder and Finn - in which Finkelstein reminisces about his family, childhood, education, and other personal matters (box 4, folder 11). A videotape, possibly of this interview or another one, is also included (box 4, folder 13). Other subjects largely have to do with matters relating to the Seminary and Conservative Judaism. Finkelstein also comments on current events, changing patterns of religious observance, the place of organized religion in contemporary American life, the State of Israel, and his own activities as head of the Seminary.

Also of note are transcripts of interviews with Finkelstein on the Seminary's radio program, the "Eternal Light" in 1962 and 1964, a transcript of an interview with Finkelstein for NBC in 1953 for their "Great Men of Our Age" series, and Finkelstein's statement delivered on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 1963. These items are organized chronologically.

d. Louis Finkelstein Subject Files, 1939-1991; n.d.

These subject files, maintained by Marjorie Wyler, document a range of subjects relevant to Finkelstein's activities. Most prominent among these is correspondence regarding and texts of many of Finkelstein's published writings, both popular and scholarly. The texts of writings exist in manuscript, offprint, and published forms. Among the writings represented in these files are The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion (box 4, folders 38-39), Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages (box 4, folder 44), and a number of articles published in professional and popular journals. Also of note among the subject files is an account of Finkelstein's 1952 trip to Israel to present David Ben-Gurion with an honorary Seminary degree (box 4, folder 18; photographs of this event are in the Ratner Center's photograph collection), clippings describing the 1969 religious service led by Finkelstein at the Nixon White House (box 4, folders 25-26), and press releases and statements concerning Finkelstein's 1972 retirement from the chancellorship of the Seminary (box 5, folder 19). A complete listing of the contents of the subject files can be found in the box list.

Box List

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