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MC 425

Buttenwieser, Helen L.. Papers of Helen L. Buttenwieser, 1909-1990 (inclusive), 1968-1990 (bulk): A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.
Call No.: MC 425
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Buttenwieser, Helen L
Title: Papers of Helen L. Buttenwieser, 1909-1990 (inclusive), 1968-1990 (bulk)
Date(s): 1909-1990
Date(s): 1968-1990
Quantity: .83 linear feet (2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 folio+ folder)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Papers of Helen L. Buttenwieser, lawyer, civil libertarian, children's rights advocate, social worker, and philanthropist.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 90-M123
The papers of Helen L. Buttenwieser were given to the Schlesinger Library in July 1990 by her heirs via her son and executor, Lawrence B. Buttenwieser.

Processing Information:

Processed: February 1994
By: Bert Hartry


Access. Unrestricted.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. The President and Fellows of Harvard College holds copyright for the Schlesinger Library in papers written by Helen L. Buttenwieser; copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Unrestricted.

Preferred Citation:

Helen L. Buttenwieser Papers, 1909-1990; item description, dates. MC 425, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


Helen (Lehman) Buttenwieser, lawyer, civil libertarian, children's rights advocate, social worker, and philanthropist, was born on October 8, 1905, in New York City. She was the second of three daughters of Adele (Lewisohn) and Arthur Lehman, members of two of the leading German-Jewish families in the city. Adele Lewisohn Lehman's father, Adolph Lewisohn, made a fortune in copper and the shipping of mining products, and was a leader in prison reform. Arthur Lehman's father, Mayer Lehman, was a founder of the New York Cotton Exchange, a partner in Lehman Brothers bank, and the father of three prominent sons: AL, a banker; Herbert, elected governor of New York and later to the U.S. Senate; and Irving, chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals.
After attending Horace Mann School in the city, Helen L. Buttenwieser entered Connecticut College for Women (now Connecticut College) in 1923. Mathematics was her favorite subject, but she was neither challenged by nor interested in the rest of the curriculum and left during her junior year to accompany her parents on a trip around the world. Upon her return she went to work at the Hudson Guild in Hell's Kitchen, a poor, immigrant neighborhood on Manhattan's West Side. This was the beginning of a long, active and successful career in New York City, reflected in the following chronology:
Helen L. Buttenwieser was, in her own words, a "...specialist in matrimonial problems, custody disputes, and in representing child care agencies and the children under their care" (affidavit, January 7, 1981: see #1 in the collection). She was chairman of the New York City Committee on Adoptions and was particularly concerned with handicapped and foster children; the Buttenwiesers acted as foster parents for many children.
In addition to the organizations noted above, Buttenwieser was also a member of the American Bar Association, New York Women's Bar Association, and New York County Lawyers' Association; she was an investor in The Nation, an occasional lecturer at the schools of social work of Fordham and Columbia universities, a labor arbitrator, and president of the New York Federation of Jewish Charities. Connecticut College and Brandeis University conferred honorary degrees on Buttenwieser.
Helen L. Buttenwieser died in New York City on November 22, 1989.


The collection is arranged in two series:


These papers partially document Helen L. Buttenwieser's life between 1968 and 1990, with both professional and, especially, personal papers. They yield no information about her parents, and very little about her siblings, education, friendship with Alger Hiss, or legal cases. There is, however, some family correspondence as well as material about Buttenwieser's philanthropic interests.
The most interesting correspondence is between Buttenwieser and Helen Suzman, South African liberal, Member of Parliament, and co-founder of the Progressive Party. Two letters from publisher Alfred A. Knopf deal with abortions for poor women and the state of the union (United States).
The Helen L. Buttenwieser papers have been divided into two series:
Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-15f), includes a curriculum vitae, entries in law directories, a lengthy interview with HLB, some writings and speeches, photographs, clippings, information about two Buttenwieser oral histories, and some documentation of her involvement with the Legal Aid Society, as well as related correspondence.
Series II, Correspondence (#16-56), is divided into two sections: correspondence grouped by individual or subject, and arranged chronologically within each category; and general correspondence arranged chronologically.
The bulk of the correspondence is between Buttenwieser and family, friends, and colleagues; it includes congratulatory letters, thank-yous, invitations, acknowledgements of political contributions, and charitable solicitations. An Index of Selected Correspondents follows the inventory.
In most cases Buttenwieser's responses were clipped or stapled to letters she received; they were left in that order by the processor. Undated letters filed among dated ones were left where they were found.

Container List


This index includes the names of selected writers and recipients. Information about persons and subjects is not indexed.
Key No symbol = Writer
* = Writer and recipient
# = Recipient
The numbers refer to folders.

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Grandparent and child
Jewish families--New York (State)--New York
Jewish women--New York (State)--New York
Lawyers--New York (State)
Philanthropists--New York (State)--New York
South Africa--Politics and government--1978-1989
Women--Charitable contributions
Women lawyers--New York (State)
American Civil Liberties Union
American Jewish Committee
Ames, Oakes
Association of the Bar of the City of New York
Auchincloss, Louis
Beggin, Gussie
Buttenwieser family
Connecticut College
de Villiers, Moira
Devilliers, René
Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York
Hiss, Alger
Joint Foundation Support, Inc.
Klingenstein, Dee
Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984
Legal Aid Society (New York, N.Y.)
Lehman family
Lewisohn family
Lindley, Agnes
Loeb family
Pilpel, Harriet F.
Polier, Justine Wise, 1903-1987
Reynolds, Anna
Suzman, Helen
Weinstein, Jack B.
Wershba, Joseph, 1920-