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MC 574

Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society (Boston, Mass.). Records of the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society, 1917-2005: A Finding Aid

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

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Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 574
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society (Boston, Mass.)
Title: Records of the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society, 1917-2005
Date(s): 1917-2005
Quantity: 2.92 linear feet (7 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 photograph folder, 1 photograph folio folder, 1 object)
Language of materials: Most material in English; some in Arabic and French.
Abstract: Minutes, correspondence, financial records, printed material, photographs, memorabilia, etc., from the Senior and Junior chapters of the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society in Boston, Massachusetts.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession number: 2007-M4
The records of the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society were given to the Schlesinger Library by the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society in January 2007.

Processing Information:

Processed: March 2009
By: Bridgette A. Woodall

Access Restrictions:

Access. Researchers must sign a special permission form to use the collection. Folder #3.6 and 3.12 are closed until January 1, 2051.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright of the records created by the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other records in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Photocopies may not be made of the treasurer's ledger, 1919-1929, or of other documents that identify by name individual recipients of aid, or recipient families, or that list donations received in memory of Edward Thomas.

Preferred Citation:

Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society Records, 1917-2005; item description, dates. MC 574, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

SEPARATION RECORD

Donors: Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society
Accession number: 2007-M4
Processed by: Bridgette A. Woodall
The following items have been transferred to the Middle Eastern Division, Widener Library, Harvard University:

HISTORY

In response to reports of famine, disease, and devastation that World War I had inflicted on the people of "Greater Syria" (a province within the former Ottoman Empire comprising present day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), a group of twenty-seven women ranging in age from twenty to fifty met to form the Society for Relief of Syria and Lebanon (also known as the Syrian Mt. Lebanon Ladies Relief Society). Their goal was to raise funds and send relief supplies to the war-afflicted people in the regions of Syria and Lebanon. Many of the women in the group were themselves immigrants from the Mt. Lebanon area in present day Lebanon. (Following World War I, France gained control of the Ottoman occupied territory of Syria. In 1920, Lebanon was separated out of the region and gained its independence in 1943; Syria's independence came in 1946.)
The women met at St. George (Antiochian) Orthodox Church (Boston, Massachusetts) on November 13, 1917, and elected officers and planned their strategy. Two weeks later, the group engaged in a door-to-door membership drive, setting dues at five cents, and brought in 250 members by the end of the first week. Membership was drawn from the "Little Syria" community in Boston's South End (South Cove), home to immigrants from Damascus, Beirut, and Mt. Lebanon, most of whom were Melkites, Maronites, or Orthodox Christians (immigrants to the United States from the Middle East, during the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, were primarily Syrian and Lebanese Christians. Middle Eastern people under Ottoman rule formed their identity based on religion and not on ethnicity). The women were successful in their mission and collected funds and material aid that were sent to Syria-Lebanon via American relief committees. Following the Armistice, the group again successfully raised funds and was able to provide one-thousand dollars and a shipment of goods to the religious sects in the Syria-Lebanon region.
With World War I ended, the group turned its attention to needy "Syrians" in greater Boston. On May 25, 1920, the women began meeting at 101 Tyler Street, one block away from St. George's Church. Officially incorporated as the Syrian Ladies' Aid Society of Boston, on September 14, 1920, the group provided monetary and material aid to Syrians and Lebanese throughout Boston and Massachusetts from 1921 to 1928. Their initial work included the distribution of coal, food staples, milk for children, and cash stipends to needy families; accompanying new immigrants to doctor visits, court appearances, and helping them obtain government assistance; and making arrangements for the old and the sick, burials, and providing passage back to the "homeland." The names of aid recipients were known only to the Society's president and members of its Aid Committee (a practice that has continued throughout the Society's existence to protect individual privacy). The Al-Hoda newspaper (an Arabic paper out of New York) at times carried stories on the Society's good works, aiding its credibility.
By 1925, the membership had grown to 400 and the Society was recognized by the International Institute of Boston as being the "most active organization in the city's Syrian community." Meetings were held three to six days a month and fundraisers which included rummage sales, whist parties, suppers, bazaars, picnics, holiday parties, haflis (large social gatherings involving music and dance), sahra (small evening parties), speaking engagements, and plays occurred weekly. From the start, the organization had strong community support, and despite being a women's club, men (and children) were permitted as honorary members. Men were not able to hold office or vote, but they were invested in the success of the club and held key roles as drivers, advisors, and repair men. Additionally, the group continued to provide aid to the Syria-Lebanon region, and did so again when fighting broke out in 1925.
In 1929, the Society purchased a townhouse at 44 West Newton Street (Boston) to serve as its meeting house; it quickly became the central gathering place for the Syrian-Lebanese community over the next thirty years. Meetings, parties, wakes, etc., were held there, including the wake of celebrated poet Kahlil Gilbran in 1931, and the founding of the Syrian American Federation of New England in Boston in 1932 -- the first national regional alliance of Arab clubs and precursor to the National Federation of 1950. The Society finalized its purchase of the West Newton Street property just as the stock market crashed. As banks folded, the Society lost its savings, and a scandal alleging misused funds arose. The women were cleared in 1933 after a committee of local priests reviewed the books and minutes and could find no wrongdoing. The group continued, and throughout the Great Depression, found itself inundated with requests for aid from the unemployed. During this time, the women functioned as an employment agency and subsidized unemployed families.
In 1931, the Junior Chapter of the Society was formed and was primarily comprised of the daughters of the "Senior Chapter." The Junior Chapter was intended to teach the young women about their cultural heritage and instill in them a sense of charitable responsibility. However, the Chapter functioned more directly as a social club in which the young women organized dances, outings, and parties (in addition to attending meetings and charitable obligations). It was absorbed into the "Senior Chapter" on October 20, 1949.
The work of the Society carried on over the decades and in 1962, the group changed its name to the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society. By the 1960s, membership began to fall and activities slowed. The Society sold its 44 West Newton property in 1964 and relocated to West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Since the 1960s, the organization's focus has shifted to providing aid to local and national social agencies, hospitals, victims of natural disasters and wars, the orphaned and homeless, scholarship funds, and aiding young people and the elderly. As of 2002, the group was engaged in a joint project with the American Arabic Benevolent Association, Inc. (AABA) to construct a home for the elderly in the Syrian-Lebanese community in West Roxbury, an initiative long envisioned by the group since its days at 44 West Newton.
While the organization survives mostly in name only, it continues to provide aid and strives to keep the Arabic culture alive in mainstream America. The Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society opened its doors to illiterate immigrant women and provided them with the opportunity to develop their talents, engage in leadership, public speaking, organizing, negotiating, bookkeeping and money allocation, and to work with agencies outside the Syrian-Lebanese community. Additionally, the group gave women self reliance and self-esteem outside the family, and enabled them to be contributing members of their community and society.

ARRANGEMENT

The collection is arranged into six series:

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The records of the Lebanese Syrian Ladies' Aid Society provide details about the Society's charitable work, financial transactions, meetings, and fundraising activities. Notations of front/back or back/front indicate information on both covers. Works read right to left in Arabic.
Series I, ADMINISTRATIVE RECORDS, 1917-1999 (#1.1-2.8), includes histories, by-laws, minutes, etc., and is arranged in three subseries.
Subseries A, History, organization, and related material, 1920-1997 (#1.1-1.6), includes two articles about the Society's history; copies of the Society's original by-laws in Arabic (n.d.); charter noting the name of the club as the Syrian Ladies' Aid Society (1920); constitution with by-law changes (ca.1964); an unsigned draft of a trust agreement (1971); two membership lists with a sample membership card (n.d.); a deed to the meeting house property at 44 West Newton Street in Boston (1929); a deed to graves at Mt. Benedict Cemetery (1932); and a copy of the rules and regulations for the rental of the meeting house rooms (ca.1935).
Subseries B, Minutes in Arabic, 1917-1949 (#1.7-2.2), includes nine bound, handwritten volumes in Arabic reflecting Society activities during the first half of the twentieth century. The minutes in both Arabic and English (see #2.3-2.8) primarily include the meeting date, meeting number (if applicable), meeting location, names of members present (offices if applicable), names of new members, and discussion of club business (club finances, collected dues, donations received/appropriated, requests for funds, construction/renovation costs for the club meeting house, formation of committees and committee members, committee reports, club events, menus, sent/received correspondence, and the activities of the Junior Chapter). The Society numbered their minutes from 1917 to 1951 (Arabic and English) as 1-1051 (noted at top right of each entry) to indicate meeting numbers. Only the minutes in Arabic have volume numbers (volumes 1-9). Loose pages found in (#1.11) were moved to (#1.12); they do not appear to correspond to the volume in which they were found, but to the subsequent volume (#1.13). Also in (#1.11) are English minutes for August 7, 1920 to October 7, 1920 (located at the back/front of the volume). The minutes in Arabic focus on the organization of the club, club activities, and providing aid to the people in the region of "Greater Syria," and include drafts of the by-laws. They are arranged chronologically by year.
Subseries C, Minutes in English, 1940, 1949-1999 (#2.3-2.8), are handwritten and typewritten in English reflecting Society activities during the second half of the twentieth century. They are incomplete and there are a few that are written in shorthand (#2.5); minutes for the years 1952, 1955 to 1978, and 1993 to 1998 are missing. The minutes from 1949 to 1954 (#2.4) show that the Society primarily met at its meeting house (44 West Newton Street), and occasionally at the homes of various members. The focus is on establishing and renting rooms in the Society's meeting house for the aged and needy of the Syrian-Lebanese community of greater Boston and mentions the assistance of a Dr. McKnight; furnishing the rooms; searching for a housekeeper; announcing the opening of the rooms and recruiting tenants; incorporating the Junior Chapter into the "Senior Chapter" (October 20, 1949); organizing annual events and fundraisers; and renting out the meeting house rooms to various social/civic groups for meetings, parties, wakes, etc. Also found throughout the minutes are references to Boston Mayor James Michael Curley's attendance at and participation in club events and fundraisers. The minutes from 1979 to 1999 (#2.6-2.8) indicate that the Society was no longer meeting at its meeting house, but at various other locations. The focus changes to providing funds to charitable associations, scholarships, and orphanages; aiding the American Arabic Benevolent Association, Inc. (AABA) with the establishment of a Senior Citizens Home; publicity for the Society; and continuing annual activities, social visits, and correspondence. Trustee Evelyn Shakir's involvement with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul, and the Society's work in advancing Arabic culture into mainstream America, are also noted throughout the minutes. The minutes are arranged chronologically by year.
Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1919-2005 (scattered) (#3.1-3.6), includes letters, cards, announcements, fliers, invitations, and notes, the bulk of which relate primarily to charitable donations made and received by the Society from 1980 to 2005; a collection of typewritten hospital visitation correspondence (1931); and correspondence with related material pertaining to the Edward Thomas Memorial Fund (2000).
One folder of correspondence (#3.1) includes letters dated 1919 (Mt. Lebanon letter in English and Beirut/Jbail letter in Arabic) that appear to relate to one another and include a listing of goods from the Syrian Mt. Lebanon Ladies Relief Society (an earlier name), via the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, to a Catholic mission at Mt. Lebanon in Beirut, Lebanon (possibly reflecting one of the groups initial shipments to Syria-Lebanon during World War I). Also included are other letters, dated 1948 (both in Arabic) relating to aid sent by the Society to the wounded and orphaned in Palestine following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. A correlation also appears to exist between the Khoury's Candies letter (#3.1) dated 1958 (in Arabic), from Detroit, Michigan, and the receipts from D.J. Khoury & Co., Inc., in Boston, where the Society made purchases for events and fundraisers (see #5.12). The collection of hospital visitation letters (#3.2) contains names of Syrian patients, supplied by area hospitals, who could be visited during the holidays throughout 1931. Such institutions included the Wrentham State School, Children's Hospital (Boston), New England Deaconess Hospital (Boston), Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston), Metropolitan State Hospital (Waltham), Chelsea Memorial Hospital, along with various area veterans hospitals and additional hospitals in and around the greater Boston area. The correspondence from the 1980s (#3.3) deals with religious institutions, the American Arabic Benevolent Association, Inc. (AABA), the American University of Beirut, and other social service organizations in Boston. The correspondence from the 1990s (#3.4) deals with memorial donations (in particular memorials for Helen Ashook Sabbagh, club member); donations to orphanages; scholarship funds; aid to the victims of Hurricane Andrew (Florida, 1992); a letter to the victims of the Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing (Oklahoma, 1995); club anniversaries and event announcements; and correspondence with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and other religious and social service organizations. The 1990s material also contains a copy of a Lumiere Du Foyer newsletter (1991) in French. The correspondence from the 2000s (#3.5) deals with memorials (in particular memorials for Evelyn Abdalah Menconi, club member); scholarship funds; the Lebanese Association of SOS Children's Villages (in Lebanon); and club anniversaries and event announcements. Also scattered throughout the correspondence are newspaper clippings of obituaries of club members and supporters. Records are arranged chronologically. Some material is in Arabic and French.
Series III, FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1918-1997 (#3.7-5.13), includes four bound treasurer's books/ledgers (1918-1997); three annual financial summary reports (1922-1924); examination committee reports (1932-1933); six volumes of check stubs (1941-1993); bank records (primarily monthly checking and savings account statements); banking transaction receipts; charge slips; expense sheets; savings account books; account interest and tax records; certificates of deposit; mortgage payment records; bills and receipts; and other miscellaneous banking records. The series is arranged in four subseries.
Subseries A, Treasurer's reports and related material, 1918-1997 (#3.7-3.13), includes a treasurer's book for 1918-1929 (#3.7) with a chronological listing of club expenditures, donations, and collected dues; a summary for 1918 is located at the front of the book. Treasurer's reports for 1922-1924 (#3.8) contain three printed leaflets (in Arabic and English) which summarize the club's annual receipts and disbursements. The 1927-1931 ledger (#3.9) is in Arabic and the precise nature of the contents is unclear. It contains columns of names (possibly pertaining to members or individuals who either received or donated aid) with corresponding numbers (possibly indicating entry numbers, membership numbers, collected dues, or monetary aid). Reports of the examination committee for 1932-1933 (#3.10) include three reports (in Arabic) from the committee that reviewed the Society's accounts following their alleged "misuse of funds" scandal. The 1964-1986 treasurer's book (#3.11) contains dates, names of the hostess committee, and income collected from each meeting, as well as periodic listings of club expenses and organizations to which aid was donated. The treasurer's notebook for 1991-1997 (#3.12) contains dates and locations of meetings, officers, names of donors and donations, names of members and dues collected, account balances, sources of income, expenses, aid given by the club to various organizations and relief funds, etc., as well as loose material (primarily receipts). The miscellaneous accounts (#3.13) appear to be loose items separated from their sources and are a mix of Arabic and English records. The treasurer's records are handwritten and arranged chronologically.
Subseries B, Check and deposit stubs, 1941-1993 (#4.1-4.6), includes six spiral bound volumes of check stubs (1941-1944, 1964-1968, 1985-1993) containing the Society's deposits and payments for mortgage, utilities, repair work, insurance, interest, taxes, rent, stamps, prizes, office supplies, groceries, balance transfers, donors and donations, club events proceeds, etc. The two volumes in (#4.4-4.5) contain loose material (primarily receipts). Records are arranged chronologically.
Subseries C, Bank records, 1942-1993 (#4.7-5.11), consists of checking account records that span the years 1945-1993 (1948-1983, 1986-1988 missing); savings account books (1942-1984); interest on bank accounts for tax purposes and tax abatements (1946-1993); materials on certificates of deposit (1980-1993) and safety deposit boxes (1991-1992); and savings account statements (1992). The checking account records contain monthly statements and corresponding canceled checks, transaction receipts (deposits/ withdrawals), activity charge slips (1940s only), and a handwritten expense sheet for the Society's 1945 October Concert (#4.8). Records are arranged chronologically.
Subseries D, Bills and receipts, 1926-1993 (#5.12-5.13), contains original merchant bills, receipts, and club member expense notes. The records are divided into program-related expenses (1926-1993) for club events and fundraisers (groceries, publications and printing, rental contracts, holiday supplies, flowers, etc.) and building-related expenses (1930-1968) for the meeting house (utilities, construction and repairs, furniture, insurance, mortgage, etc.).
Series IV, ANNIVERSARY, OTHER EVENTS, AND RELATED MATERIAL, 1928-2002 (scattered) (#FD.1, 5.14-6.5), includes sixteen anniversary/event program booklets (several published by The Syrian Press) with related anniversary material (tickets, newspaper clippings, fliers, planning material, etc.); six unidentified speeches (in Arabic); a collection of club member poems (Arabic and English); two unidentified plays published in Arabic; and other miscellaneous printed material (Arabic and English). The series is arranged in two subseries.
Subseries A, Anniversary material, ca.1932-2002 (scattered) (#5.14-5.30), includes program booklets containing local business and booster sponsor advertisements coinciding with an annual club event (i.e., anniversary, banquet, musical concert, fundraiser, etc.); event programs and menus; financial updates; lists of officers, members, guests, sponsors/boosters; reprints of the 1920 Charter; Society history (#5.14, 5.24, 5.26-5.30); mortgage fund history (#5.15); and Junior Chapter history (#5.18-5.19). The Miss Najeeba Murad booklet (#5.17) is a photocopy of the original which is currently housed at The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The Burning of the Mortgage booklet (#5.19), contains photographs of service men and women (World War II) in several of the advertisements. Several booklets mention the wake of poet Kahlil Gilbran held at the meeting house in 1931 (#5.26-5.30). The 85th Anniversary booklet (#5.30) contains a digital print of Society members at "20 Cheriton Grove." Several of the booklets contain additional material related to the specified anniversary and/or event (i.e., printed tickets, planning material, newspaper clippings, etc.). Booklets have been arranged chronologically by year of publication/event. Material contains both Arabic and English text.
Subseries B, Other events material, 1928-1966 (scattered) (#FD.1, 6.1-6.5), contains announcements of events fliers (#FD.1, 6.1) hosted or co-hosted by the Society primarily during the 1930s which include two Arabic movie notices: "Song of Hope" starring Umm Kalthoom, and "Tears of Love" starring Abdul Wahab, and a notice for a joint movie night with the Italian Club Film Festival (1933). The two plays (#6.2) were possibly used by the club for its events and fundraisers. The covers are missing on both plays along with publisher information, titles, subject matter, and publication dates. The setting of one play has been identified as Paris. The copy of Elias Sabbagh's (brother of Hannah Sabbagh Shakir, charter member) poetry book, The Inspiration of the Wine Glass, 1932 (in Arabic) (#6.3) contains the poem delivered to the Society at the dedication of its meeting house; an English translation is found on the front/back cover of the 80th Anniversary booklet (#5.29). The unidentified and undated speeches (#6.4) are handwritten in Arabic on various media ranging from note cards to strips of paper. The contents, speakers, and associated events for the speeches are unknown. Miscellaneous printed material (#6.5) includes a typewritten anthem (undated) honoring Aisad Mudri (a generous contributor to the Society) which was possibly presented at an anniversary or event; a program booklet for the annual public meeting of the Syrian Educational Society, Inc. (Boston Chapter), 1928; an undated "Notice Appeal" from the Lebanon League of Progress (Arabic and English), presumably printed during World War II encouraging Lebanese-Syrian Americans to help in the war effort; and a page from the Al-Hoda newspaper (1966).
Series V, JUNIOR CHAPTER, 1931-1949 (#6.6-7.12), includes minutes; correspondence; cards and invitations; financial account records; bills and receipts; and dance program booklets. The series is arranged in three subseries.
Subseries A, Minutes, 1932-1949 (#6.6-6.14), includes handwritten and typewritten minutes from the Junior Chapter. The 1931 minutes are missing, most of 1932-1934 are incomplete and misdated, and the 1934-1935 minutes are noted as "unofficial reports." The minutes primarily discuss socials, outings, dances, parties, bridal showers, picnics, dinners, locating and hiring musical entertainment for Chapter events, discussion on the purchase and installation of a radio for the meeting house, finances, and dues. The minutes also contain membership lists, copies of the Junior Chapter prayer and oath (#6.10-6.11), references to Miss Najeeba Murab (local musical talent), and monthly meetings with the "Senior Chapter." The minutes are arranged chronologically by year.
Subseries B, Correspondence and related material, 1935-1949 (#7.1-7.7), contains letters, cards, invitations to events and meetings, thank-you letters, resignation letters, announcements of dances and dinners, reservation acknowledgments, condolences, general reminders, and miscellaneous. The correspondence is maintained in its original alphabetical filing system (A-C, D-H, etc.), denoting a first, last, or subject name of an individual or business. The contents of the Junior Chapter correspondence appear to overlap and/or possibly belong with the "Senior Chapter" correspondence (See Series II).
Subseries C, Financial records, 1931-1946 (#7.8-7.12), includes a 1931-1946 cash ledger (#7.8) with handwritten entries for cash account receipts and payments (dues, supplies, social event expenses/income, and miscellaneous), and financial summary reports; bills and receipts for 1933-1943 (#7.9), primarily for utilities and musician contracts; a cash book for 1934-1936 (#7.10), with two pages of names and addresses that are possibly a list of aid recipients and two pages listing members and payment of dues; financial statements for 1935-1938 (#7.11); and a 1937-1941 day book (#7.12), with a listing of membership and collected dues. Financial records are arranged chronologically. The contents of the Junior Chapter financial statements and bills/receipts appear to overlap and/or possibly belong with the "Senior Chapter" financial records (See Series III).
Series VI, PHOTOGRAPHS AND MEMORABILIA, 1925-1990 (scattered) (#PD.1f-PD.2, Mem.1, 7.13m), includes three club photographs (Armistice Day Parade, 1925; unidentified play, n.d; Ladies' Aid outing, June 1990); a steel hand-held stamp (ca.1930) with imprint: Syrian Ladies' Aid Society, Boston, Mass.; and a blue armband, worn by members at Society-sponsored events.
The few photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Boston (Mass.)--Social conditions
Community centers--Massachusetts--Boston
Financial records
Immigrants--United States
Lebanese American women--Massachusetts--Boston
Minutes
Programs
Social settlements--Massachusetts--Boston
Syrian Americans--Massachusetts--Boston
Women--Societies and clubs
Women volunteers in social service--Massachusetts--Boston
Shakir, Evelyn, 1938-2010

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