Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring

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The Workmen’s Circle (Arbeiter Ring), founded in 1892, became a national order in 1900. It was established as a social and cultural Jewish labor fraternal order. Its purpose was to provide members with mutual aid and health and death benefits and to support the labor and socialist movements of the world. Historically, the Workmen’s Circle was closely tied to Jewish unions, the Yiddish labor press, and the Socialist Party. The Circle was highly dedicated to raising the education levels of members and bringing social change in America. Workmen’s Circle functions provided a place for Jewish radicals of different ideals to mingle.

In its early years, the Workmen’s Circle remained true to its radical origins by building radical ideals into membership requirements. Prospective members had to belong to a union and to vote only for working-class parties. One branch was dissolved because its members were thought to be too religious.

The Workmen’s Circle, dedicated to the promotion of progressive Yiddish culture, established a wide array of cultural activities including the publication of books, adult education and singing and drama clubs. It also promoted Jewish education for young people by opening afternoon schools for Jewish children in 1916. In addition, the Workmen’s Circle established homes for the aged, camps, Yiddish theater clubs, and several choirs.

The first convention of the Workmen’s Circle took place on March 29-30, 1901, in New York City. With increased Jewish immigration to the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the Workmen’s Circle became ever increasingly popular. In 1905 membership was at 6,776. Just eight years later membership rose to 45,666. Peak membership was reached in 1925 with 87,000 members. Such a high increase is partially explained by the growing number of Jews on the political left and a lack of major competing organizations in the field. Membership began dropping after 1929 to approximately 55,000 in 1978. Despite beginning as a working-class organization, more and more of the Circle’s members were middle class. The average member age also rose dramatically from 28.7 in 1909 to 55.4 in 1970. Along with changes in membership, the focus of the Circle changed from dominating ideological concerns to Jewish cultural activities.

Two enduring activities of the Workmen’s Circle were education and the Folksbiene. The Folksbiene was a theater group organized in 1915 and still performs Yiddish theater in New York City. The educational system of the Workmen’s Circle was designed to “teach children to read, write, and speak Yiddish; to acquaint them with Yiddish literature; to acquaint them with the history of the Jewish people; to cultivate in them a feeling for social justice; and to develop their aesthetic abilities.” By 1950, the Arbeiter Ring taught approximately 38,000 students.

More recently, the Workmen’s Circle describes itself as a “progressive-liberal organization committed to advancing democratic frontiers, eliminating poverty, strengthening civil rights, promoting universal health care and opposing bigotry, tyranny and totalitarianism.”

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn ILGWU. Local 155 records, 1933-1995 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives
referencedIn Boston Workmen's Circle (Brookline, Mass.) Records Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society
referencedIn ILGWU. Gus Tyler papers, 1956-1996 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives
referencedIn Bluestein, Abe. Abe and Selma Bluestein papers, 1930-1991. University of Michigan
referencedIn Zaidman, Lazar, 1903-1963. [Zaidman papers]. University of Sheffield
creatorOf Workmen's Circle of Cleveland Photographs [graphic] : Series II, 1934-1984. Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
referencedIn International Workers Order Records, Bulk, 1945-1951, 1930-1956, (Bulk 1940-1951) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) Records, Part I: Holocaust Era Files, 1934-1947 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Isaiah Minkoff Papers and Photographs, Bulk, 1960-1984, 1914-1984 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring. Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring constitution, 1933. Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, Rabbi Morris Goldstein Library
referencedIn National Committee for Labor Israel Records, 1931-2006, bulk 1964-2006 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Gordon, Irving (1923- ). Irving Gordon Papers 1960-1979. Georgia State University
creatorOf Workmen's Circle of Cleveland Records, Series II, 1939-2002. Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
creatorOf Workmen's Circle of Cleveland records, series III, 1916-2004. Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
Guskin, Reuben, 1887-1951. Reuben Guskin papers, 1926-1942. Jewish Historical Society of Maryland Library
referencedIn Tenenbaum, Joseph. Dr. Joseph and Sheila Tenenbaum collection Records relating to the career of Joseph Tenenbaum Correspondence correspondence. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
referencedIn Simenowsky family photographs, 1909-1944. Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Julius Bernstein Papers, Bulk, 1950-1977, 1920-1984 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Workmen's Circle Records, 1903-1993 American Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America records, 1914-1980, 1920-1950 (bulk) Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives
referencedIn International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Local 155 (New York, N.Y.). ILGWU. Local 155 recordss, 1933-1995. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Zalman Yefroikin Papers, 1902-1968 Syracuse University. Library. Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Guskin, Reuben, 1887-1951. Reuben Guskin papers, 1926-1942. Jewish Historical Society of Maryland Library
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee, Chicago Records and Photographs, 1952-1994 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee Photographs, Bulk, 1940-1959, 1930s-1980s, (Bulk 1940s-1950s) Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Levine, Louis. Papers, 1932-1953. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Guide to the Algernon Lee Papers, 1861-1954 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
creatorOf Workmen's Circle of Cleveland photographs, series III, 1930-1995 [graphic] Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
referencedIn Tenenbaum, Joseph. Dr. Joseph and Sheila Tenenbaum collection Records relating to the career of Joseph Tenenbaum correspondence articles essays speeches. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
referencedIn International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Assistant President. ILGWU. Gus Tyler papers, 1956-1996. Cornell University Library
referencedIn Tenenbaum, Joseph. Dr. Joseph and Sheila Tenenbaum collection papers. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. Records, 1957-1985. Temple University Libraries, Paley Library
referencedIn Ṭsharnobrode, Shimen, 1886-1945. Di Tsvey Yudishe arbeyṭerordens in Ameriḳa : der Arbeyṭer Ring un der Yudish-Natsyonaler Arbeyṭer Ferband / fun Shimen Ṭsharnobrode. Princeton University Library
referencedIn Boas, Ernst Phillip, 1891-1955. Papers, 1907-1980. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Bornstein, Della Frumerman. Della Frumerman Bornstein photographs, 1911-1947. Milwaukee Jewish Historical Society
referencedIn International Workers Order. Records, 1930-1956 (bulk 1945-1951). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Mendel V. Halushka Papers, 1919-1958 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Workmen's Circle (U.S.). Great Lakes Region. Workmen's Circle of Cleveland records, 1921-1982, 1971-1982. Western Reserve Historical Society, Research Library
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1850-2020 (inclusive), 1936-2008 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn Ruth Fischer papers, 1925-1961 (inclusive) 1940-1961 (bulk) Houghton Library
referencedIn Tenenbaum, Joseph. Dr. Joseph and Sheila Tenenbaum collection Records relating to organizations. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
creatorOf Workmen's Circle (U.S.). Collection, 1905- Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies Library
referencedIn Julius Bernstein, 1919-. Julius Bernstein Papers 1920-1984 (bulk 1950-1977). New York University, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York Labor Records Su
referencedIn Lower East Side Oral History Project. Oral histories, 1991-1994. Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Guide to the Israel Kugler Papers, 1951-2007 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Rukhl Fishman Papers, 1940-1990 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Jacobs, Joseph (1908-),). Joseph Jacobs oral history interviews, 1990 Aug. 15 and Oct. 9. Georgia State University
referencedIn Guide to the Algernon Lee Papers, 1861-1954 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Sidney Hillman papers, 1930-1946 (bulk 1935-1945) Cornell University Library
referencedIn International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Charles S. Zimmerman papers, 1919-1958 [bulk 1920-1945]. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives
referencedIn Julius Bernstein Papers, Bulk, 1950-1977, 1920-1984 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.). Photographs, 1930s-1980s. 1940s-1950s (bulk). Churchill County Museum
referencedIn Minkoff, Isaiah, 1901-1983. Papers, 1930-1984. Churchill County Museum
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Bernstein, Julius, 1919- person
associatedWith Bluestein, Abe. person
associatedWith Boas, Ernst Phillip, 1891-1955. person
associatedWith Bornstein, Della Frumerman. person
associatedWith Boston Workmen's Circle-Brookline, Mass. corporateBody
correspondedWith Fischer, Ruth, 1895- person
associatedWith Fishman, Rukhl, 1935-1984 person
associatedWith Gordon, Irving (1923- ) corporateBody
associatedWith Guskin, Reuben, 1887-1951. person
associatedWith Halushka, Mendel V., 1904-1958 person
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Assistant President. corporateBody
associatedWith International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. Local 155 (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith International Workers Order. corporateBody
associatedWith International Workers Order. corporateBody
associatedWith Jacobs, Joseph (1908-),) corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Labor Committee Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Jewish Labor Committee (U.S.). corporateBody
associatedWith Julius Bernstein, 1919- person
associatedWith Kugler, Israel, 1917-2007 person
associatedWith Lee, Algernon person
associatedWith Lee, Algernon. person
associatedWith Levine, Louis. person
associatedWith Lower East Side Oral History Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Minkoff, Isaiah, 1901-1983. person
associatedWith Minkoff, Isaiah M. person
associatedWith National Committee for Labor Israel corporateBody
associatedWith Tamiment Library. corporateBody
associatedWith Tenenbaum, Joseph. person
associatedWith Ṭsharnobrode, Shimen, 1886-1945. person
associatedWith Tyler, Gus. person
associatedWith Vidal, Gore, 1925- person
associatedWith Yefroikin, S. person
associatedWith Zaidman, Lazar, 1903-1963. person
associatedWith Zimmerman, Charles S. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York City NY US
United States 00 US
Subject
Fraternal organizations
Jews
Working class
Occupation
Activity

Corporate Body

Establishment 1900

Americans

Information

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