The Tamiment Library is a research library at New York University that documents radical and left history, with strengths in the histories of communism, socialism, anarchism, the New Left, the Civil Rights Movement, and utopian experiments. The Robert F. Wagner Archives, which is also housed in Bobst Library at NYU, documents American labor history. Together the two units form an important center for scholarly research on labor and the left.
The Tamiment Library has a non-circulating collection of about 50,000 books, focusing on politics, political theory, labor, and radical literature and art movements. There are approximately 15,000 non-current periodical titles, including proceedings of labor union conventions, underground newspapers, internal bulletins of radical organizations, and scholarly journals. In addition, the library has a collection of about one million pamphlets and ephemera, including broadsides, leaflets, manifestos, reports, and other documents. The Tamiment Library and Wagner Archives together hold archival collections on organizations and individuals in the labor movement and left history, with special strengths in the New York City region.
The Tamiment Library was founded in 1906 as a part of the Rand School of Social Science, a worker-education school sponsored by the American Socialist Society and modeled after the workers’ school at Ruskin College, Oxford, England. The Library was named the Meyer London Library after the long-time Socialist who represented the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and only acquired its current name in the late 1970s.
From its first days, Camp Tamiment, a theater summer camp established in 1921 in the Poconos by people associated with the School, began to support the New York institution. Between 1937 and 1956, the Camp paid from 50 to 75 percent of the School's expenses. In 1956, Camp Tamiment purchased the School, then closed it and attempted to integrate its educational and cultural programs into the Tamiment Institute. The Library remained open and was renamed the Ben Josephson Library, after the Camp's managing director.
In 1963, the Tamiment Library was donated to New York University (NYU) following the revocation of tax-exempt status of Camp Tamiment by the Internal Revenue Service. NYU saw the addition of the Tamiment collection as a means to expand its scope as a research library. Through the early 1970s the collection was housed in a brick building owned by the Machinists' Union on Manhattan's West 15th Street. By the late 1970s the location of the collection had moved to the 10th Floor of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library of NYU.
The first professional librarian to be associated with the Tamiment collection was Louise Heinze, who would be succeeded by Dorothy Swanson late in the 1960s. Swanson would remain in this position for 27 years, expanding the collection greatly by actively seeking out and obtaining the papers of political activists and organizations of both the historic as well as the emerging New Left. Staff hiring was broadly ecumenical, including collection assistants Ethel Lobman, a longtime member of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and Peter Filardo, formerly an employee of the Communist Party-associated American Institute for Marxist Studies, founded by historian Herbert Aptheker. These two archivists were instrumental in obtaining major additions to NYU's collection from these seminal "Old Left" organizations.
Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
The idea for a single archive to preserve the records of New York City's vibrant trade union movement was first advanced in the early 1970s by Stephen Charney Vladeck, son of Socialist trade union activist Baruch Charney Vladeck. Vladeck, a prominent labor lawyer, was concerned about inadequate scholarship and teaching about the history of the labor movement and saw the need for establishment of a central repository for historical documents. Vladeck was able to make use personal connections to convince the New York Central Labor Council (CLC) and the Tamiment Institute, still headed by Ben Josephson, to co-sponsor the creation of the new labor archive.
In 1977, New York University was brought on board and together the three entities established the new labor archive, named after Senator Robert F. Wagner, Sr. of New York, sponsor of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, legislation which guaranteed workers the basic right to organize trade unions.
The Central Labor Council's support was especially critical to the success of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives as was the use of the Wagner name, as it gave mainstream legitimacy to the effort and helped to motivate several fairly conservative unions to provide document accessions to the collection. The "Tamiment" name had been closely associated with the Socialist Party and New York University was not perceived as friendly to the interests of organized labor — a pair of potential stumbling blocks which were neatly alleviated by the alternative name and official support of the CLC.
The Wagner Labor Archive hired its first employee, Larry Cary, in 1978 and made use of grant money from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities to help launch the project. Succeeding Cary at the helm of the Labor Archive was labor historian Debra Bernhardt, who later took over for Dorothy Swanson as head of the combined Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Berhardt died in 2001 at the age of 47 and was in turn succeeded, following an extensive search, by labor historian and archivist Michael H. Nash in 2002. Nash was responsible for acquiring the archives of the Communist Party USA for preservation.
The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA) collection, formerly located at Brandeis University, was acquired by the Tamiment Library in 2001. The collection is the largest and most important resource for the study of the participation of American volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. It includes the papers of more than 200 volunteers, oral histories, films, photographs, posters, and selections of the microfilmed records of the International Brigades that were taken to the Soviet Union after the Spanish Civil War.
In March 2007, the archives of the Communist Party USA were donated to the library. The massive donation came in over 2,000 cartons, and included 20,000 books and pamphlets — some of which dating from the founding of the party - as well as thousands of photographs from the archives of the Daily Worker. The library also holds a copy of the microfilmed archive of Communist Party documents from Russian State Archives of Social and Political History held by the Library of Congress.
Also notable was the acquisition of the papers of former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Agee, a defector to Cuba, as well as the papers of black civil rights activists Esther and James Jackson, Nation magazine editor Victor Navasky, and papers of radical lawyer William Kunstler and historian Howard Zinn.
Collection in the 21st century
- Frederic Cornell, A History of the Rand School of Social Science — 1906 to 1956. PhD dissertation. Columbia University Teachers College, 1976; pg. 235.
- Larry Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," American Communist History, vol. 12, no. 1 (April 2013), pg. 18.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 20.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 19.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pp. 19-20.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 22.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 23.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 24.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 25.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 26.
- Gary Shapiro, "Michael Nash, Record-Keeper of the Left, Dead at 66." The Villager. Aug. 23, 2012.
- More information on this collection, including collection lists, guides, and inventories, can be found at Alba Guides. A complete list of names can be found at Alba Names.
- Patricia Cohen, "Communist Party USA Gives Its History to NYU," New York Times, March 20, 2007.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pp. 27-28.
- Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," pg. 21.
- Daniel Bell, The Tamiment Library. New York: New York University Libraries, 1969.
- Larry Cary, "The 35-Year History of the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives," American Communist History, vol. 12, no. 1 (April 2013), pp. 17–29.
- Michael Nash, "Communist History at the Tamiment Library," American Communist History, vol. 3, no. 2 (December 2004), pp. 267–285.
- Dorothy Swanson, "The Tamiment Institute/Ben Josephson Library and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University," Library Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 2 (April 1989), pp. 148–161. In JSTOR
- Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, official website.
- "Anarchist Collections in the Tamiment Library: Highlights from the Collections," www.flickr.com/
- "CPUSA: Ninety Years of History, a Tamiment Library Exhibit," www.flickr.com/
- "Labor & the Holocaust: The Jewish Labor Committee and the Anti-Nazi Struggle," www.nyu.edu/
- "New York City Labor History Map," www.nyu.edu/
- Labor Arts official website.—Cooperative project collecting images of the cultural artifacts of working people and their organizations.