Access and Provenance 

Biographical Sketch

Scope and Content Note

Box and Folder Listing


A Finding Aid to the

Philip L. Seman Papers

Manuscript Collection No. 578

1897-1957. 8.0 Linear ft.



The Phlip L. Seman Papers were donated to the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives by Mrs. Philip L. Seman of Los Angeles, California, in March, 1958. Property rights were assigned to the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives. All literary rights to materials authored by Philip L. Seman are held by his heirs. Literary rights to materials authored by others are held by the individual author or his/her heirs. Questions concerning rights should be addressed to the Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

The Philip L. Seman Papers are open to all users. The original manuscript collection is available in the reading room of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.


Philip Louis Seman was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 11, 1881. His parents, Louis and Salka (Giezler) Seman moved their family from Poland to the United States in 1892 when Philip was age 12. He had a brother, Dr. Samuel M. Seman (of Brooklyn, New York). Philip studied social service work at Adelphi College in Brooklyn, New York, graduating in 1902 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1908 he earned an LLB from the Law School of Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. In 1932 he received an honorary PhD from the Liberal Church of America.

Seman's career in social work and education began in New York City. From 1897-1900 he served the Educational Alliance as head of the club department. From 1900-1902 he taught at the Orphan Asylum of the Hebrew Sheltering and Guardian Society (where he met his future wife). From 1902-1905 he was club director of the Hebrew Sheltering and Guardian Society

In 1905 Seman moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to become Superintendent of the Jewish Educational and Charitable Association (or Jewish Educational Alliance). The Alliance sponsored concerts, lectures, and clubs (such as the Mothers' Club, Progressive Literary Society, and Dancing Club). Seman remained in St. Louis until 1910. While there he joined the faculty at the School of Social Economy of Washington University. And he actively participated in many civic organizations, including as Vice President of the St. Louis Pure Milk Commission.

In 1910 Seman returned to New York to become Executive Director of the Federation of Brooklyn Jewish Charities, serving there until 1912. From 1912-1913 he served as Associate Director of the Industrial Removal Office in New York City.

In 1913 Seman moved to Chicago to become General Director of the Chicago Hebrew Institute (later renamed Jewish People's Institute or JPI). During the 32 years in which Seman led the organization, the JPI grew tremendously in size and importance from serving the needs of immigrants to serving the Americanized community of the 1940s. During the height of immigration JPI sponsored an accredited elementary and high school. And during the depression, when community colleges were closing from lack of funds, JPI opened People's Junior College.

While in Chicago Seman continued his work of teaching in local institutions of higher learning. He lectured on sociology at Hebrew Theological College (1935-1945) and on Bible at Garret Biblical Institute of Northwestern University (1930-1935). He also helped to found the Hillel Foundation in 1923 and was an active member of the Hillel Foundation Commission from 1930-1947.

After retiring from the JPI in 1945 and Chicago Recreation Commission in 1946 Seman moved to Los Angeles, California, where he continued to further educational and social welfare efforts as a consultant to social service and educational organizations, including: Los Angeles Recreation Commission, Los Angeles Bureau of Education and Jewish Welfare Board. As an educator he served on the faculty and the board of overseers of the University of Judaism beginning in 1949.

Throughout his life Seman was an active member of many local and national civic and social welfare organizations, including: Chicago Recreation Commission (chairman and co-founder), the Jewish Welfare Board (executive commission), National Association of Jewish Community Center Workers (president), Recreation Commission of the Chicago Board of Education (chairman), President Hoover's Commission on Child Health Protection, The Educational and Recreational Program of Cook County (Chicago,Illinois) Jail, National Conference of Jewish Social Service (vice president), Chicago Council of Social Agencies (director), National Association of Jewish Community Center Secretaries (president) and Chicago Recreation Commission (Executive Committee). Letterheads in his scrapbooks document Seman's involvement in many other organizations.

Seman was a prolific writer and lecturer. He contributed to numerous periodicals and wrote nine books, including: Jewish Community Life (1924), Program of a Jewish Community Center (1926), Problem of the Leisure Hour (1927), Training for Leadership (1928), Social Orientation (1930), Community Culture in an Era of Depression (1932). The majority of his writings dealt with social welfare or conquering anti-Semitism and prejudice.

On July 28 1907 Seman married Beatrice R. Prigozen. They met while working at the Orphan Asylum in New York City. She was Supervisor of the Girls' Department for three years during the time he was director of club work. They had three children: Jacob Philip, Louise Salka, and Gertrude Rose.

Philip L. Seman died in 1957, at the age of 76.


Papers describe the career of Philip L. Seman as an organizational executive, social worker and educator and also describes his public appearances and community involvement. The collection consists of 10 record center cartons (8.0 ft.) containing 59 scrapbooks. Materials in the scrapbooks include newspaper and magazine articles, invitations, programs, pamphlets, correspondence, reports, speeches and photographs.. Many of the items are glued onto scrapbook pages. The materials in the scrapbooks span the years 1897-1957 with the bulk dated 1905-1957.

The scrapbooks are arranged chronologically. The bulk of the scrapbooks contain a limited range of years however some cover an extended period of several decades or two separated time periods. Several scrapbooks with extended or separated time periods are fiiled by the bulk dates (Example: Folder 8/2 contains material dated 1908-1953 but is filed by the bulk dates of 1949-1950). The collection is divided into three series based on chronological divisions that relate to the major periods of Seman's life. Note that materials within some scrapbooks may overlap the time periods of multiple series.

Series A. 1897-1913 (New York, St. Louis and return to New York) consists of 1.5 record center cartons (1.2 ft.) containing 9 scrapbooks. Materials in the scrapbooks are dated 1897-1952, but the bulk is dated 1905-1912. Photos are contained in scrapbooks 1/1 (2 photo strips of 3 unidentified young women from early 20th century), 1/2 (one photo of an entertainment of the Jewish Educational Alliance in St. Louis) and 1/3 (2 photos of a dinner meeting in the 1940s-possibly a 1948 meeting of the Washington University Alumni Association in Los Angeles). Folder 9/4, filed in Series C, contains one article re: Seman and the Jewish Farm Movement dated 1907.

Series B. 1913-1945 (Chicago) consists of 1.5 record center cartons (1.2 ft.) containing 9 scrapbooks. Materials in the scrapbooks are dated 1897-1952, but the bulk is dated 1905-1912. Following are some notable items in the scrapbooks in Series A: Folder 2/4 and 3/1contain reports re: Chicago Hebrew Institute and Jewish People's Institute, as well as 5 of Seman's books. Folder 4/3 contains material concerning Nazis in the United States, 1933-1934. Although the bulk of material in Folder 4/6 pertains to 1935-1940, it also contains items dated as early as 1912 and includes a list of publications by Seman. And Folder 6/6 contains material pertaining to recreation during wartime for both World Wars, although the bulk of material refers to the later wartime.

Series C. 1946-1957 (Los Angeles) consists of 2 record center cartons (1.6 ft.) containing 11 scrapbooks. Materials in the scrapbooks are dated 1907-1957, but the bulk is dated 1946-1957. Although the bulk of material in this series refers to Seman's activities in Los Angeles, a significant number of items reflect the fact that he continued to receive news from and associate with Chicago and national organizations.


Box Folder     Contents

         SERIES A:  1897-1913 (New York, St. Louis, and return to New York)

1  1     "1897...on St. Louis events"- news articles, programs and photos, includes: Seman
            Progressive Circle, Jewish Educational Alliance, 1897-1905
   2     Programs, announcements of events and 1 photo- includes: Jewish Educational
            Alliance of St. Louis, acknowledgement of gift of thesis to New York Public
            Library(1898), United Jewish Educational and Charitable Association of St.
            Louis, Bezalel Society of St. Louis, Pure Milk Commission, 1898-1910
   3     Correspondence and misc.- includes: Educational Alliance of New York (job 
            references), speech, 2 photos (glued in), 1899-1948
   4     Letterheads, correspondence, and misc. from various organizations for which
            Seman served or belonged, 1899-1952
   5     News articles and misc.- Jewish Educational Alliance, St. Louis, 1906-1908
   6     Correspondence and misc., 1907-1910

2  1     Scrapbook  "Vol. I"-  articles (bulk by Seman) re: Jewish charity, Educational
            Alliance (St. Louis), 1906-1919
   2     News articles- Jewish Educational Alliance, St. Louis, 1908-1912
   3     Correspondence and writings, 1910-1912

         SERIES B:  1913-1945 (Chicago)

   4     News articles re: Seman's activities, including: speaking engagements, Milk
            Commission/Milk Station, Chicago Hebrew Institute (general and new
            gymnasium building), offices held by Seman, peace movement, meetings and
            reports, 1910-1916
   5     Correspondence and programs re: speaking engagements, 1911-1928
   6     Programs, brochures, letterheads, correspondence, 1914-1929

3  1     Reports by Seman (bound), including:
            Chicago Hebrew Institute Superintendent's Reports, 1915-1918
            Jewish People's Institute General Director's Reports, 1921-1922
            Reprints from Observer, published by Jewish Community Centers of Chicago:
              The Community and Its Leisure: How to Fill the Gap, 1923
              Jewish Community Life: A Study in Social Adaptation, 1924
              The Jewish Community Center: A Basic Program in Civic Education, 1925
              Program of a Jewish Community Center: An Adventure in Community
                 Cooperation, 1926
              The Problem of the Leisure Hour-A Challenge, 1927

   2     News articles, speeches- includes: Chicago Hebrew Institute, Jewish People's
            Institute, Lawn Building, National Conference of Jewish Social Service, 1917-1932 
   3     Correspondence, programs and notices re: speaking engagements, 1925-1956
   4     Printed Matter- articles, programs, pamphlets, 1926-1931
   5     News articles by or about Seman and misc., 1931-1933
   6     50th and 60th birthday greetings and congratulations for receiving Boy's Club
            honor, 1931, 1941-1942

4  1     Programs and notices for speaking engagements, 1932-1934
   2     News articles: includes Jewish People's Institute, 1933-1934
   3     "Pelkup Liberation Magazine"  contains typed copies of anti-semitic articles and
            speeches, correspondence (many B'nai B'rith and ADL), reports on Nazis in
            U.S. and on a Nazi meeting in Chicago, speech on combating anti-semitism
            (none by Seman), 1933-1934
   4     Activities, news articles, 1933-1936
   5     Printed Matter- programs, reports, announcements, bulletins and articles, 
   6     Correspondence, articles by or about Seman, programs, re speaking engagements,
             list of articles by Seman for publication (1909-1921), and personal items,
            1912-1940 (bulk dates, 1935-1940)
   7     Programs, notices and reports, publicity brochures, articles and pamphlets by
            Seman, 1936-1937

5  1     News articles- including: Jewish People's Institute, speeches, day camp and
            Chicago Recreation Commission, 1936-1937 
   2     News articles, 1937-My, 1938
   3     Correspondence (bulk re: speaking engagements), radio address (N, 1939 re: desire
            for peace for Thanksgiving), programs, 1927, 1937-1956 
   4     Programs and announcements, report on Chicago Voluntary Associations, 
            1935-1938 (bulk 1938)
   5     Printed matter- includes: Anti-Defamation League, Works Progress
            Administration, Jewish People's Institute, Los Angeles Recreation
            Commission, 1938-1942 (bulk 1939)
   6     Newspaper articles, includes: Jewish People's Institute, recreation, 1938-F, 1940
   7     "Articles by and about Dr. Seman"-  newspaper articles and misc.,  1938-1944

6  1     Programs, articles, misc.- including: Jewish People's Institute, speeches, articles,
            offices held, 1939-1940
   2     Programs and announcements, 1939-1941
   3     Articles, bulletins, programs, includes: youth, Jewish Welfare Board, Jewish
            People's Institute, recreation, women's clubs, 1940

   4     News articles by or about Seman- including: speaking engagements, refugees,
            education, youth, women's clubs, Jewish Welfare Board, recreation, Jewish
            People's Institute High School,  F, 1940-Ja, 1941
   5     Printed matter-  programs, journals and pamphlets, 1940-1942
   6     "Dr. Seman Programs, 1942-1945"- pamphlets, program, newspaper articles,
            bulletins, including: wartime recreation, Chicago Council of Social Agencies,
            National Conference of Community Centers, Boy's Clubs, Jewish People's
            Institute, Recreation Congress, Chicago Recreation Commission, adult
            education, Hillel, Jewish Welfare Board, 1917-1945 (bulk 1942-1945)

7  1     Get Well Messages, 1941
   2     News articles by or about Seman, Jewish People's Institute radio talks, adult
            education, Los Angeles, Works Progress Administration, recreation, 
            1941-Ap, 1942
   3     "Recreation Commission"- talks and activities, news articles, programs,
            announcements, Ap, 1943-1944
   4     "Printed Matter, Programs"  includes:  Jewish People's Institute, National Jewish
            Welfare Board, Jewish Agricultural Society, 1943-1944
   5     "By and about Dr. Seman"- news articles and misc., My, 1943-F, 1944
   6     Seman's 30th Anniversary at Jewish People's Institute- correspondence and news
             articles, 1943-1944
   7     News articles and misc., F-N, 1944 
   8     News articles, pamphlets, programs, bulletins and talks- Chicago Recreation
            Commission (Chairman), Jewish People's Institute, 1944-1945

8  1     News articles, pamphlets, programs and bulletins- Recreation Commission, 
            1944-1948 (bulk 1944-1945)
   2     "Messages Sent to Dr. Philip L. Seman upon his retirement as General Director of
            the Jewish People's Institute, November 1, 1945"  included correspondence,
            dinner program, list of dinner guests, articles re: career (dated 1907-1946) and
            retirement, 1907-1946 (bulk 1945-1946)

         SERIES C:  1946-1957 (Los Angeles)

   3     "Programs" and misc. (Printed Material)- Chicago and Los Angeles, 1944-1949
   4      News articles by or about Seman, including: community centers, Recreation
            Commission, 1945-1949
   5     News articles (bulk), programs and minutes- includes, education, Hillel, Jewish
            Welfare Board, Recreation Commission, University of Judaism, 1935-1950
            (bulk 1948)
   6     Articles by or about Seman, programs, pamphlets-  including: education, social
            work and Seman's activities, bulk from 1949-1950, but includes miscellaneous
            material from 1908-1953

9  1     Articles and programs, 1950-1951
   2     News articles and printed matter- including:  education, Jewish history, 1952
   3     News articles and misc.- including: Jewish history, recreation, social service, 
   4     Articles and programs, 1953-1954 (and one 1907 article from St. Louis re: urban
            migration to farms)
   5     Reports and articles by or about Seman, 1954-1957

10 1     News articles and printed matter- including:  education, Jewish history, 1954-1957
   2     News articles and printed matter- including: Jewish Agricultural Society, Jewish
            Community Centers of Chicago, 1956-1957


Copyright © 1999 Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives