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Charles H. Silver Files, 1952-1961
The Charles H. Silver Files, 1952-1961, document portions of the work
of a member and officer of the Board of Education. They comprise Series 386
of the Board of Education Record Group, and are part of the subgroup of records
of members of the Board. They have been assigned accession number 05-015.
The records were placed in the custody of Teachers College Library by the
Board of Education. They were transferred to the Municipal Archives in 2003.
The series consists of 4.5 cubic feet of records. They were organized and
inventoried by the Municipal Archives in 2005, with support from the New York
State Archives under its Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund.
Charles H. Silver was appointed to the Board of Education by Mayor Vincent
R. Impelliteri in May 1952, representing the borough of Manhattan. The appointment
was somewhat controversial because Silver, a Democrat, was filling a position
created by the non-reappointment of James Marshall, a long-serving liberal
Republican originally appointed by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In January 1955,
the Board elected Silver its President, filling a vacancy created when Arthur
Levitt was elected State Controller. Silver remained president of the Board
until September 1961, when the Legislature ordered the replacement of the entire
membership of the Board after some highly publicized scandals.
Born in Romania in 1886, Silver was the youngest of six children. His family
immigrated to America in 1889 and settled on the Lower East Side. Silver recalled
helping his father make suspenders in their tenement house apartment; he dropped
out of school to contribute to the family by working as an office boy in a
textile company. He was successful in business, ultimately becoming vice president
of the American Woolen Company. Silver’s background in New York industry
may be seen as reflected in his efforts on the Board of Education to modernize
the vocational high schools.
Silver’s leadership of the Board of Education was paralleled by an
extraordinary record of leadership in other civic and philanthropic activities.
He joined the Board of Trustees of Beth Israel Hospital in 1928, became its
president in 1947, and held that position for 37 years until his death in 1984.
He served as a trustee of Yeshiva University and was active in founding its
Albert Einstein School of Medicine. He served on the aboard of the Federation
of Jewish Philanthropies and as president of Temple B’Nai
Jeshurun. Tireless in civic activities yet committed to his family, he was
known to attend three or four public dinners each week, but was rarely seen
to eat, claiming to prefer home cooking.
Scope and Content
The Charles H. Silver Files are only part of the files that presumably
once existed. While Silver’s service on the Board spanned the years 1952-1961,
the great bulk of the records in these files are from the period 1957-1961.
Another major gap is apparent in the subject files, where only the end of the
alphabet (St-Z) is fully represented.
The files are organized into four subseries, reflecting the original organization
of the records. The first subseries consists of Silver’s speeches, public
statements, and press releases, and formal communications with Board of Education
officials. The strength of this subseries is in the drafts and finished texts
of the speeches, which were given at school events and meetings of educational
groups and civic and religious associations. Coverage of speeches delivered
from 1958 to 1961 appears quite full, while coverage of earlier years appears
to be spotty.
The second subseries, files on individual schools, is notable for its extensive
correspondence relating to several high schools for which Silver worked hard
to develop new and enlarged missions and substantial new buildings. Among these
were vocational high schools for art and design, printing, and performing arts.
These files seem relatively complete and include material from 1952 to 1961,
depending on the years when activities related to a particular school were
The third subseries, subject files, is largely limited to the years 1957-1961.
Virtually all the materials are from the end (St-Z) of an alphabetical sequence
which combines topical subjects and files for specific individual correspondents
and organizations. Among these the files for the Teachers Guild, Teachers Union,
United Federation of Teachers, and United Parents Associations give some idea
of the roles of various competing constituencies during those years.
Files relating to the selection of a new superintendent of schools in 1957
constitute the final subseries. John J. Theobold, a local candidate, was selected
after a national search to replace retiring Superintendent William Jansen.
Silver took the lead in managing the selection procedures, and the subseries
provides a close look at the process and at the various participants.
Subseries I: Speeches, Public Statements, Press Releases, and Board Communications
(1953-1961), .75 cu. ft.
The subseries contains Silvers speeches, public statements, and press releases
together with a group of statements and communications addressed to Board members
and officials but mimeographed with the apparent intention of wider distribution.
The materials are divided into two groups (speeches et. al. and Board communications)
and are arranged chronologically within each group. The bulk of the speeches
are from 1958 to 1961, but files of speeches from 1953 to 1957 are included.
Most of the speeches are represented by mimeographed texts, apparently the “final” version
for public distribution. Many of them are also represented by one or more drafts,
including large type “speaker’s” copies, often with handwritten
revisions. While some speeches were prepared for formal Board of Education
events, such as groundbreakings for new schools, many others were for dinners
and celebrations sponsored by organizations of educators, including Protestant,
Catholic, and Jewish teachers groups, and by such organizations as the United
Parents Associations and Public Education Association. In these speeches Silver
combines presentations of his general vision for the schools with discussion
of the contributions of the particular organization or school that is the focus
of the event. In addition, several speeches were given at events related to
Silver’s other civic and religious activities, including speeches at
events sponsored by Beth Israel Hospital, Yeshiva University, and Temple B’Nai
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Subseries II: School Files (1952-1961), 1.25 cu. ft.
The subseries consists of correspondence, memoranda, reports, speeches, press
releases, and printed material relating to individual high schools. In several
cases, notably Aviation High School, Food Trades Vocational High School, the
High School of Art and Design, the New York School of Printing, and the School
of Performing Arts, the files reflect Silver’s involvement in developing
and implementing plans for new school buildings and expanded school programs.
The files are arranged alphabetically by school (alphabetization follows the
pattern in the Directory of the Board of Education). The subseries includes
substantial materials from the earlier years of Silver’s term on the
Board, 1952-1955, as well as from later years, depending on the timing of activities
relating to each school. Most of the schools were in Manhattan, the borough
that Silver represented, with the notable exception of Aviation High School,
for which a new building was constructed in Long Island City to replace older
quarters in Manhattan. Notable in these materials is the pattern of cooperation
among educational officials and representatives of city industries in the planning
of vocational high schools.
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Subseries III. Subject Files (1953-1961), 2.00 cu. ft.
The subseries consists of topical subject files as well as files of correspondence
with particular individuals and organizations. Included are correspondence,
memoranda, reports, printed material, and (in the Youth House file) architectural
drawings. The bulk of the material dates from 1957-1961 although some files
include material as early as 1953. The subseries is arranged alphabetically
and it is apparent that most of the alphabet
is lacking; virtually all files are in the sequence St-Z. Among the policy-related
files are those for the various organizations of teachers, parents, and education
advocates. A notable group of files relates to problems of school building
utilization, a recurring policy and administrative problem affected by changing
population trends as well as school construction budgets.
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Subseries IV. Superintendent Selection (1956-1958), .5 cu. ft.
Superintendent William Jansen’s retirement was scheduled for 1958 and
the Board planned a selection process for a replacement, to be completed before
that date in order to produce a smooth transition. This subseries documents
that process, which was lead by Silver. Included are correspondence, minutes,
applications, resumes, interview notes, speeches, and public statements. As
early as 1956, various civic groups, especially the Public Education Association,
began to offer procedural suggestions and to propose a role for their constituencies
in the selection process. Silver and the Board decided to maintain direct control
of the process and to carry out a national search involving input from leading
educators as well as from the New York civic groups. Ultimately this resulted
in the selection of the local favorite, John J. Theobold. The arrangement of
the subseries tracks the stages in the selection process, from the interaction
with civic groups and other advisors through the application and interview
process and the announcement of the selection of Theobold, to the planning
of the transition.
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