Barbara M. Watson and her Ardent Admirers

Barbara Mae Watson, a diplomat and the first African-American and the first woman to serve as an Assistant Secretary of State, was born in 1918 in New York City to Violet Lopez Wilson, one of the founders of the National Council of Negro Women, and James S. Watson, the first black judge elected in New York State. She received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1943. In 1946 she founded a modeling agency, Barbara Watson Models, the first African American modelling agency in New York City, serving as the agency’s executive director until 1956. She received her law degree from New York Law School in 1962, after which she worked as an attorney for three New York City government agencies: the Board of Statutory Consolidation of the City of New York, the Office of the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, and was the director of the New York City Commission to the United Nations from 1964-1966, when her career at the State Department began. Barbara M. Watson’s relationship with HIAS soon after she joined the United States Department of State in 1966, where she formed a particularly close friendship with Gaynor I. Jacobson, HIAS’ Executive Vice President, who also started in his position in 1966.

Gaynor I. Jacobson, Executive Vice President, Barbara M. Watson, and Harry M. Friedman, Financial Vice President, 1980 Annual Meeting.

She headed the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs from 1966-1974 and 1977-1980, serving under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. Barbara M. Watson was appointed ambassador to Malaysia in 1980, where she served until 1981, when she entered private law practice with two firms in Washington, D.C. which specialized in international law and business development and trade.

1980 letter-1

1980 letter-2
Letters between Gaynor I. Jacobson and Barbara M. Watson after Watson became the Ambassador to Malaysia, 1980.

Watson’s work brought her into close contact with HIAS for many years and she also attended various HIAS lectures and conferences, including as the guest of honor at HIAS’ 88th annual meeting in 1972.

Barbara M. Watson holding her Tree of Life award at the 1972 HIAS Annual Meeting. To her right is Harold M. Weinberg, Vice President of United HIAS Service.

At the 1980 Annual Meeting, Gaynor I. Jacobson invited Watson as his personal guest in honor of his retirement, which took effect January 31, 1981. In a letter to Watson after the 1980 Annual Meeting, Jacobson included the below picture of Watson and her two “ardent admirers,” reflecting their long years of friendship.

Gaynor I. Jacobson, Executive Vice President, Barbara M. Watson, and Edwin Shapiro, President, Annual Meeting, 1980.

1980 letter-3


When “E” Mail was New

I’ve been working on the Government Relations Department Files for the past 6 weeks. There are about 120 bankers boxes of files, which break down into two subseries and three  subsubseries. At this point in processing I can only say “about” 120 boxes for a number of reasons:

  1.  The labeling of the boxes is a best guess, based on the inventory we have of what is off-site. After a quick survey of boxes in order to group them into the series and subseries that make themselves known once we can peak inside the boxes, the actual processing  reveals evidence of whose files they actually are.
  2. About 75 boxes were labeled as coming from the office of Deborah Mark, the Director of Government Relations from 1991 to about 1998, although her files include earlier work from her 3 years working on legislative-related special projects under Executive VP Karl Zukerman; in fact some boxes were from the office of her predecessor, Phillip Saperia, and many files contained the work of a colleague, Michael Gendel. One box contains Gendel files from his years in US Operations, a separate division from Government Relations.
  3. Ultimately the Deborah Mark files turned out to encompass 69 boxes; after processing was completed last week, largely because most of these 69 were only partially full when received, the final count is 35 boxes.

The two subseries are determined by the fact that there are files from both the New York office’s Government Relations Department (Deborah Mark and Phillip Saperia, predominantly), and the D.C. office.

Many interesting subjects are covered in these files, and I plan to write more about the content in future posts. For now, I just want to mention the first use/reference to e-mail I’ve noticed in these files. Below is a memoranda from 1990, on which Deborah Mark handwrote that she had commented on the memo to RH (Roberta Herch, then Assistant Director of U.S. Operations.) by “E” Mail.

Internal HIAS memo re IOM (International Organization for Migration) in 1990 mentions “E” Mail in a handwritten note

Later in the 1990s e-mails were printed out and filed; if these messages had NOT been printed out and filed with the rest of Deborah’s subject files, they may very likely have been lost – who can access e-mail from the mid-1990s now? That’s a subject of its own, that archivists everywhere are still dealing with.

HIAS Women’s Division

Women’s Division—Audio-Visual Mobile Unit, 1950s.

When the Women’s Division came into existence as an auxiliary group to HIAS, their original, main purpose was to raise money for larger-scale international endeavors. In addition to this task, its members also took on more personally-connecting roles with incoming immigrants.

In the early years, Women’s Division members volunteered at the Lafayette street shelter, ran a thrift shop whose proceeds went to HIAS, and began personally meeting incoming planes carrying refugees at JFK airport.

Although membership and volunteer activity with the Women’s Division surged after WWII, by the 1980s and 1990s, initiative and group attendance was waning. Many of the previously active members had grown too old for volunteering and changes needed to be made in order to maintain the solvency of the Division as a whole. With work, HIAS sparked interest in a large contingent of Russian women in particular, displaced from the Soviet Union and searching for supportive communities in the city. They found solace in the Women’s Division, providing boosting membership numbers, much-needed clerical help, and translation services. These women found for themselves a sense of purpose and strength with others in similarly isolating circumstances.

At the Women’s Division Board meeting on April 8 [1991] it became even more apparent that we will need to infuse new blood into the Division if it is to survive at all…It seems clear that developing [new] chapters of Russian women is the way to breathe new life into the WD and at the same time increase HIAS membership.  –Carolyn Agress to Roberta Elliott, April 10, 1991

There were several Division chapters in NYC, scattered around the different neighborhoods, all with their own unique roster of leadership, meeting schedules, and fundraising techniques. A representative from each of these chapters was elected to be part of the larger Women’s Division Board, and the president of this board represented everyone at the general HIAS Executive Committee meetings.

At the time of the resignation of Women’s Division President Arline Bronzaft in 1994, only two chapters were still functioning in NYC. By 1998, we know that the auxiliary group had been dissolved (or at the very least was soon to be), due to this template draft written on behalf of HIAS President Norman D. Tilles and Executive VP Martin A. Wenick:

DRAFT-Letter re Women’s Division, undated. I-363, Executive Office Subject Files, HIAS—Women’s Division.