Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Edith Altschul Lehman papers, 1856-1976 [ Bulk Dates: 1963-1976]. 

Creator: 
Lehman, Herbert H., Mrs.
Phys. Desc: 
17 linear ft. ( 27 document boxes; 1 record carton; 2 file card boxes; 4 oversize boxes)
Call Number: 
MS#0762
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

Edith Louise Altschul was born in San Francisco on August 8, 1889 to Charles and Camilla Altschul. Charles, a successful banker with Lazard Freres, moved the family to New York City in 1901. Edith attended Dr. Sach's Girls School and Miss Jacoby's School (now the Calhoun School) and took a nursing course after graduation. She met Herbert H. Lehman, a partner in the Lehman Brothers investment firm, at a picnic. They were married on April 28, 1910 and would have three children, Peter, John, and Hilda. Edith considered her marriage her career and the most important aspect of her life, but she was also deeply involved in social welfare and philanthropy. She organized a social service committee to care for the family needs of hospitalized patients. This endeavor led to the creation of Mount Sinai Hospital's first professional social service department, and she remained closely associated with the hospital for many years thereafter. Lehman was also involved with the Henry Street Settlement, which provided health care and other assistance to new immigrants and the poor living in the Lower East Side of New York City. In 1948 the Lehman's built Pete's House, a youth center at Henry Street Settlement dedicated to the memory of their son Peter, who was killed in World War II. Peter had volunteered as a youth leader at the Settlement. In 1917, Edith Lehman became a charter member of the Play Schools Association, which promoted play as vital to the mental and physical health of children. The organization partnered with schools, hospitals, and other institutions to provide opportunities for creative play. Lehman would work with the organization for over fifty years, serving as president and as Chairman of the Board from 1966 until her death in 1976. Edith Lehman was also involved in the Jewish communities of New York and a member of the American Jewish Committee and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, among other organizations. She was a supporter of Israel, and first visited the country in 1949 with her husband. The Edith Lehman High School in Dimona, Israel, was dedicated to her. In 1961, the Lehman's built the Lehman Children's Zoo (now the Tisch Zoo) in New York City's Central Park in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary. Although the zoo was renovated in 1997, the bronze Lehman Gates still stand at the entrance. After her husband's death in 1963, Edith Lehman established several major endowments and institutions in his honor, including contributions to Mount Sinai Hospital Medical School and the establishment of the Lehman Professorship in Pediatrics at that institution; the Lehman Educational Fund, which offers scholarships for African American college students; and the Lehman School of Ethics at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She also supported Williams College, Herbert Lehman's alma mater, and financed and endowed the Lehman Suite at Columbia University's School of International and Political Affairs. In recognition for her dedication to social causes, Edith Lehman was awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees from Williams College and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, as well as a doctor of laws from Columbia University. Edith Altschul Lehman died on March 8, 1976, in New York City.

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the life of Edith Altschul Lehman, a philanthropist and the wife of New York Governor and Senator Herbert H. Lehman. It supplements files on Edith Lehman which had been integrated into the Herbert H. Lehman Papers (MS#0763). The majority of materials relate to Edith Lehman's philanthropic activities, such as the construction of the Lehman Children's Zoo, contributions to the Henry Street Settlement, and her involvement in numerous organizations including the Play Schools Association, the American Jewish Committee, and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Other material concerns her marriage to Herbert Lehman and her family life. The collection is comprised of correspondence, diaries, notebooks, speeches, photographs, audiotapes, and memorabilia.