Nature and Scope


Jewish Life in America, c1654-1954 is an indispensable resource for scholars and students interested in understanding and exploring the history of Jewish communities in America from their first arrival in New York in 1654 to the integral part that they play today. It will provide an essential resource for teaching and study, from undergraduate to research students and beyond.

The material is based on a rich variety of original manuscript collections from the unique holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society in New York; we provide access to six major organisational collections and twenty-four collections of personal papers; all of which have been digitized in their entirety.

The personal collections are a treasure trove of letters, scrapbooks, autobiographies, notebooks and other materials relating to the late 17th through to the mid-20th century. These include the following:


The organisational collections include:

  • Papers of the Industrial Removal Office (1899-1922). The IRO helped Jewish immigrants to assimilate into American society both culturally and economically. Travelling agents investigated and identified potential employment opportunities for individuals and groups across America.
  • Papers of the Jewish Immigration Information Bureau (1901-1920). The records document the reception of Jewish immigrants through the port of Galveston, Texas rather than New York City, and efforts to resettle the immigrants in communities throughout the United States.
  • American Jewish Historical Exhibition Records (1901-1902). The collection includes minutes, reports and financial records of the Executive Committee describing an important effort to celebrate the Jewish experience in America.
  • The American Jewish Tercentenary Collection (1949-1956). The collection documents the administrative planning, research, publicity and activities surrounding the American Jewish Tercentenary celebration opened in 1954, from its inception in 1948 to its closing in 1955.
  • The Baron de Hirsch Fund Records (1819-1991). Founded by financier and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the Fund existed to provide support for Jewish immigrants on their arrival in the U.S. In addition to providing access to basic education and immediate temporary work at ports or in urban centres, the Fund also established agricultural and trade schools to teach useful skills.
  • Records of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1881). The Board was a critical Jewish civil rights organization which worked closely with the Committee of Deputies of British Jews and the French Alliance Israélite Universelle to provide support and campaign for rights for Jews throughout the Americas, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

For more details of the specific contents of each of these collections please refer to the Guide to Archival Collections in our User Guide.

The materials in this resource illuminate key topics in the history of Jewish communities in America, such as:

  • The evolution of early Jewish Settlements in areas such as New York, Rhode Island and Philadelphia.
  • The immigration process and structures of support for those arriving from the Old World – the differing experiences of immigrants and, from the late 19th century, strategies adopted at Ellis Island and in Galveston.
  • The role of Jews in the American War of Independence and the Civil War.
  • The role of the synagogue as a focal point for Jewish communities.
  • The development of Jewish schools and charitable institutions.
  • Westward expansion and the attempts to establish Jewish farms.
  • The Jewish Diaspora – the influx of Jews from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and other places around the world, and their dispersal across America.
  • The garment industry, peddling, general stores, finance and diversification into other industries.
  • The development of differing strands of Judaism in America – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionism and Orthodoxy – and the roots of this in patterns of immigration and in societal changes.
  • Reaching out to Jewish communities around the world – especially to Russia, Romania, Germany and Eastern Europe.
  • American Jewish involvement in the Spanish-American War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
  • Involvement in Civil Rights and Minority Rights issues.

In addition to these diverse and interesting manuscript collections we also include rare printed books and pamphlets from the Soble and Rosenbach collections at the American Jewish Historical Society.

A range of contextual materials are provided as supplementary resources to the digital documents; these include a Chronology, Essays by leading scholars, a selection of American Jewish Year Book articles, a gallery of Visual Resources, and Biographies of important figures featured in the resource.

Jewish Life in America
enables scholars to study the efforts made by the Jewish community both to look after itself and to integrate within American Society as a whole. The collections show ways in which Jewish culture and characteristics have helped to shape American identity. They document the massive migration that took place between the Old World and the New from 1820 and 1924, and record the transformation of a small minority population into one of the largest and most significant Jewish communities in the world.