Kuper, Theodore Fred, 1886-1981

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1886
Death 1981

Biographical notes:

Director of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation.

From the description of Oral history interview of Theodore F. Kuper by Charles E. Moran[manuscript], September 15, 1976. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647920367

Lawyer.

From the description of Reminiscences of Theodore Fred Kuper : oral history, 1971. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309734622

From the description of Reminiscences of Theodore Fred Kuper : oral history, 1968. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309743124

From the description of Reminiscences of Theodore Fred Kuper : oral history, 1963. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309743130

Kuper was born on May 1, 1886 in Moscow; moved with his parents to New York City in 1891; LL. B, New York Univ. Law School, 1904; member of the E.R. Terry law firm, 1908-14; worked in oil business in the Midwest, 1917-22; returned to New York City, serving as national director of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1923-35; wrote Thomas Jefferson the giant, later printed as Thomas Jefferson still lives, 1926; executive director, George Washington Foundation for Citizenship and Education, 1928-30; executive manager of New York City Board of Education, 1932-36; served as law secretary of New York City Board of Education, 1936-43; served as legal, legislative, and public relations counsel for City Colleges of New York, and for the Fashion Institute of Technology, 1948-59; moved to CA, 1959; died on May 30, 1981 in Whittier, CA.

From the description of Papers, 1920-1980. (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 41449955

Biography

Kuper was born on May 1, 1886 in Moscow; moved with his parents to New York City in 1891; LL.B, New York University Law School, 1904; member of the E.R. Terry law firm, 1908-14; worked in oil business in the Midwest, 1917-22; returned to New York City, serving as national director of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1923-35; wrote Thomas Jefferson the Giant, later printed as Thomas Jefferson Still Lives, 1926; executive director, George Washington Foundation for Citizenship and Education, 1928-30; executive manager of New York City Board of Education, 1932-36; served as law secretary of New York City Board of Education, 1936-43; served as legal, legislative, and public relations counsel for City Colleges of New York, and for the Fashion Institute of Technology, 1948-59; moved to California, 1959; died on May 30, 1981 in Whittier, California.

Extended Biographical Narrative

Theodore Fred Kuper (b. 1886) was a Russian-Jewish immigrant to the United States who became a leader in the preservationist movement that saved Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello and an important player in the administration of New York City's public schools and city college system. In 1891, Kuper and his family left Moscow for New York City, where they settled, and where Kuper would live, except for a five year period, until his move to California in 1959. Successful completion of the Board of Regents Examination qualified Kuper for higher education; consequently, he entered, in 1902, the New York University School of Law, from which he received his LLB in 1904. Kuper then served as a law clerk in the firm of E.R. Terry, a member of a distinguished New York family. After passing the New York State Bar Exam, Kuper became a member of the firm in 1908.

After making and then losing a substantial amount of money in the oil business in the Midwest from 1917-1922, Kuper returned to New York City. In 1923, Kuper began the definitive work of his life, assuming an important role in the newly organized Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the purpose of which was to buy, and then preserve as part of the national heritage, the third president's home of Monticello. Kuper served as the New York-based organization's National Director and was responsible for fundraising. In this role, Kuper made speeches throughout the nation, exhorting citizens to support financially the foundation in its work that the national treasure that is Monticello not be lost. Kuper also designed fundraising brochures for the organization; an especially noteworthy success in his fundraising efforts was the $100,000 raised from American schoolchildren to cover the mortgage for Monticello when donations from businesses and wealthy individuals proved insufficent.

As part of the effort to promote the foundation's work, Kuper wrote Thomas Jefferson the Giant, a popular account of the third president's life and accomplishments. Later printings of this booklet, the last appearing during the United States Bicentennial, were entitled Thomas Jefferson Still Lives . With Kuper's critical contributions, the Foundation successfully purchased and restored Monticello. As part of his work with the Foundation, Kuper was involved in the United States Sequicentennial celebration and the centennial of Jefferson's death in 1926. In short, Kuper stands as significant figure in a movement that blazed the way for historic preservation in the United States and that restored to public notice the importance of Thomas Jefferson. Kuper's official relationship with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation ended in 1935, but his interest in Jefferson did not flag. He maintained unofficial ties with the organization throughout his life and continued to publish on Jefferson and the Constitution.

By 1932 Kuper had also begun his work with the New York City Board of Education which would lead to his position as Law Secretary for the Board. In this capacity, Kuper was responsible for the legal aspects of educational policy, the legal and administrative questions that required a lawyer's expertise. His notable accomplishments included successfully representing the New York City Board of Education in several law suits, reduction of interest rates paid by the Board in its contracts, revision of standard Board contracts, and the revision of school by-laws. In 1943, Kuper was at odds with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia over the mayor's decision to change school purchasing procedures. As a result, despite much protest from school officials and such groups as the NEA, LaGuardia wrote Kuper's position out of the budget, thus ending his official association with the New York City Board of Education.

Kuper's involvement in public education continued with his role as legal counsel for the City Colleges of New York. Here, Kuper was instrumental in the fight for salary increases for college faculty and helped found the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Kuper moved to California in 1959, eventually settling in Whittier. Despite advancing age, Kuper's expertise in fundraising and public relations work for organizations was not unwasted: he served, for example, as a consultant for the Hollywood Museum in the early 1960s. His interest in Jefferson and United States history remained strong and seemed to increase as the nation prepared for the Bicentennial. Kuper wrote numerous articles on the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson, and was the subject of newspaper and magazine articles himself because of his work in preserving Monticello. Only his death in 1981 ended the productivity of this remarkable man.

All information in this biography and chronology comes from the material in the the Theodore Fred Kuper Papers.

  • 1886: Born May 1, in Moscow, Russia
  • 1891: Emigrates with family to New York City
  • 1904: Graduates from New York University Law School with LLB
  • 1904: Clerks in law firm of E.R. Terry
  • 1907: Passes New York State Bar Exam
  • 1908 - 1914 : Member of law firm of E.R. Terry
  • 1917 - 1922 : In oil business in the Midwest (Oklahoma?)
  • 1923 - 1935 : National Director of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation
  • 1925 - 1932 : Consultant to president of New York City Board of Education
  • 1926: First printing of Thomas Jefferson the Giant; later printings entitled Thomas Jefferson Still Lives
  • 1928 - 1930 : Executive director of George Washington Foundation for Citizenship and Education
  • 1932 - 1936 : Executive manager of New York City Board of Education
  • 1936 - 1943 : Law Secretary of New York City Board of Education until dismissal by Mayor LaGuardia
  • 1939: Graduates from high school
  • 1948 - 1959 : Legal, legislative, and public relations counsel for City Colleges of New York
  • 1948 - 1959 : Legal, legislative, public relations and fund raising counsel for Fashion Institute of Technology
  • 1959: With wife Rose, moves to California
  • 1960 - ca.1965 : Consultant for Hollywood Museum
  • 1970 - 1980 : Heads We, the People-Today project at the University of Southern California, and writes numerous newspaper articles on Jefferson, the Constitution, and American history
  • 1981: Dies 30 May, in Whittier, California

From the guide to the Theodore Fred Kuper Papers, 1920-1980, (University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.)

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Subjects:

  • Petroleum industry and trade
  • Fashion
  • Lawyers--Interviews
  • Historic buildings--Conservation and restoration
  • Public libraries--Finance
  • Education--20th century
  • Lawyers--Archival resources
  • Education--New York City--20th century
  • Historic buildings--Conservation and restoration--Monticello (Va.)
  • Schools

Occupations:

  • Lawyers--United States--Archival resources

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • Virginia (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • Monticello (Va.) (as recorded)