Abe and Selma Bluestein Papers, 1930-1991 (majority within 1930-1960)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Abe and Selma Bluestein were active in the anarchist movement in the U.S. in the 20th century. Abe worked as a reporter for the Freie Arveiter Stimme, a Yiddish anarchist publication in New York, and Selma was an artist and worked with the WPA. Both reported on the Spanish Civil War in 1937, which was foundational in the evolution of their anarchist philosophies. While in Spain, Abe also served as an information officer giving radio broadcasts for the anarchist fighters in Barcelona. Back in the U.S., Abe worked for several housing co-operatives while Selma raised their children. The collection documents the couples' personal and professional lives, including correspondence, writings, and art.
- 5.25 Linear Feet
- Finding aid processed by Julie Herrada, December 1998. Encoded to ArchivesSpace by Hilary Severyn, February 2018
- Scope and Content:
The Bluestein papers comprise a variety of materials, including correspondence, writings, translations, histories, family documents, artwork, and photographs. The bulk of these materials range from 1930 until 1990, although some of the photographs and family documents are dated earlier.
The Bluestein Family papers are separated into eight series: Correspondence, Family Documents, Biographies, Writings, Corporate Files, Subject Files, Modern School, and Photographs.
Correspondence contains 1 linear foot of letters to and from the Bluestein family. The files are arranged alphabetically, first generally A-Z, with unknown correspondents following, then by principle correspondent. There are two folders of correspondence between Abe and Selma Bluestein, labeled "Bluestein, Abe to Selma" and "Bluestein Selma (Cohen) to Abe." These letters are mostly dated early in their relationship (1930), then again in 1933 when Abe was living and working at Unity House in Phildelphia, again in 1937, when Selma returned from Spain a few months before Abe. There are a few letters from Abe to Selma in 1946, when he made several short trips away from home for business purposes.* Their letters are significant for the historical information as well as the intimacy they reveal.
In the folder labeled "Bluestein, Minnie", there is one letter to Abe from Minnie, and one letter from Lou (her husband?) while they lived at the Sunrise Cooperative Farm Community in Michigan in the mid-1930s. The letter from Lou discusses life at the Cooperative as well as some gossip and infighting.
There are also letters from Mollie Steimer and Senya Fleshin, Erika and René Fülöp-Miller, Sam Dolgoff, Federico Arcos, Paul Avrich, Augustín Souchy, Harry Kelly, Milly Rocker, Rudolf Rocker, and one three-page letter to Abe from Emma Goldman. Although most of the letters are in English, there are a few in Spanish without translations. Some of the letters are not written to the Bluesteins but are copies of correspondence sent to others.
Selma designed many of the family's greeting cards which were sent out every year, and several examples are included in her biographical file, along with press clippings regarding her art exhibits. Selma often sent Abe drawings in her letters to him, and these were not separated from the letters, so although there is a folder containing her artwork, several examples of her work can be found in the "Bluestein, Selma to Abe" correspondence files.
Several of Daniel Bluestein's published and unpublished works are included the series Writings (Daniel Bluestein). Daniel had a strong interest in his family's history, and in its anarchist past, and much of that interest shows in his writings. Daniel's humorous side shows through in a letter to Abe from "Ronald Reagan." In Writings (Abe Bluestein) can be found Abe's essays, histories, and translations, as well as transcriptions of his lectures. Other people's writings can also be found in this series, including those of Sam Dolgoff and Frank Miller.
There are many newspaper clippings on the subject of Spain during the 1970s, both from Spanish and American newspapers. It was during this time that Abe, frustrated by the lack of accurate information in the American press on the CNT and labor uprisings in Spain, decided to start News From Libertarian Spain, with Sam Dolgoff and Murray Bookchin. The title was later changed to Anarchist News, and after Dolgoff died in 1990, Gabriel Javsicas joined the group.
The Modern School series is of great significance to anyone interested in the perceptions of those who attended. As mentioned earlier, Abe's experience growing up at Stelton had a profound affect on him throughout the rest of his life. In a 1975 letter to Rina Garst he asks the question, "Why does the Stelton experience create such a warm, strong bond among us, regardless of our later living experiences?" His answer was "... living and growing in freedom fosters the development of the strongest possible roots in human beings." Abe started the Modern School Reunions in 1974, and as chair of the Reunion Committee, he held the files of each of the annual events. They are arranged chronologically (with no files for 1985, 1987, 1988), ending in 1991, when Abe handed the responsibility over to Jon Scott. The files contain minutes from the Modern School Reunion Committee meetings, as well as flyers announcing each reunion, clippings, and correspondence from each of the reunion attendees. The correspondence is particularly interesting; it contains not just the usual reunion business, but also reminiscences of childhoods spent at Stelton, thoughts and comparisons of living in a modern world, sad news of illness and death, good news of finding more old Stelton-ites, and some truly heartfelt stories. Some of the correspondents are also represented in the Correspondence series (Paul Avrich, Ahrne Thorne, Thomas Yane, Clara and Sidney Solomon, Nelly Dick, Audrey Goodfriend, Pearl and Victor Morris, Dora Keyser, Federico Arcos), however, the Modern School series correpondence relates only to the Modern School reunions and was kept with the Modern School materials by Abe. Abe saw the historic value in these documents, for in 1975, and again in 1983 he sent out questionaires about remembrances to all the reunion participants, and these responses are included. There are also several histories written by various people, as well as three original record books from the Stelton Modern School (1918, 1924-28, 1936).
There are many photographs in the collection, including a family album, several loose photos, and a large portrait of Abe as a small child with his mother, Esther and his sister, Mae(?). Most of the photographs are unidentified and undated, although David Bluestein helped to identify some of them at the time of the donation. As well as the Bluestein and Cohen families, there are photographs of Rudolf Rocker, Boris Yane, Clara and Sidney Solomon, and Federico Arcos.
Sometime during the 1980s Abe dictated a biography of his life onto cassette tapes. The cassettes were not found with the collection, and no one seems to know what happened to them, however, they were transcribed by Eileen Coto of Richmond Hill, New York in 1991 or 1992. The partially-edited transcription is included in Histories (Oral) - Abe Bluestein.
There are two cassette tapes in the collection. One is a microcassette of an interview with Abe about the Spanish Civil War (Biographies, Box 2). The other is a recording of the Ahrne Thorne Memorial Meeting which took place in New York City on March 27, 1986 (Box 3).
* According to American Labor and United States Foreign Policy by Ronald Radosh (Random House 1969), it appears that Bluestein was in Germany working for the AFL (pp 328-329).
- Biographical / Historical:
Abraham Bluestein was born in 1909 in Philadelphia, the son of Russian immigrant parents, who helped form the ILGWU, and who were members of the Radical Library. Abe's parents, Esther and Mendel, were second cousins. Abe's two sisters, Minnie and Mae, had numerous medical problems, and Abe had eye problems most of his life. (Mae died at the age of 7, and Minnie committed suicide at the age of 60 in 1971). In 1917, Esther took the children and left her husband for his brother, Yusel. Esther, a garment worker, withdrew Abe and his younger sister from the public school and moved to Stelton, New Jersey, the site of the Ferrer Colony and the Modern School, an alternative school based on the libertarian theories of Francisco Ferrer (1859-1909), a Spanish progressive educator. Abe's early experience at Stelton would prove to have a lifelong affect on him, one that would forever advance his ideals of freedom and community. Abe completed his studies at Stelton through the 8th grade, transferred to a public high school in New Brunswick, New Jersey and finished his senior year in New York City. He was active in college with a small student anarchist group and organized many demonstrations and meetings. Abe went on to receive a degree in education from City College in 1934 and soon began a life of promoting anarchist ideals.
Abe met his life partner, Selma Cohen,(1914-1985) in New York in 1930, where they were both active in the Vanguard Group. Selma had been raised in progressive schools, where her mother worked as a school teacher. Selma's father, Herman Cohen, was a Workman's Circle physician and a follower of Daniel DeLeon. At thirteen, Selma lied about her age in order to be accepted into the Art Student's League School. At the same time, she attended Eron Preparatory School. After two years at Hunter College, Selma attended Cooper Union in New York City. After college, Selma and Abe rented an apartment together. Selma worked on art projects for the WPA. Together they were active within the anarchist movement in the U.S., working with such people as Emma Goldman and Rudolf Rocker.
In May 1937, Abe and Selma went to Spain, Abe to report on the Spanish Civil War for Freie Arbeiter Stimme, the Yiddish anarchist weekly in New York, and Selma to be involved with the artist's community. Abe also served as information officer for the CNT, gave radio broadcasts for the anarchist fighters in Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia, and sent weekly news bulletins to U.S. and British publications. Their experiences in Spain had a profound affect upon them and helped to shape their anarchist ideals. They witnessed, first hand, how well collectivization worked. Selma returned to the U.S. a few months before Abe, in order to resume her work with the WPA, and a number of love letters between them during that separation (September-December, 1937)are included in this collection.
In 1939, Abe and Selma's first child, Michael, was born. During this time, Abe was active in the Jewish labor movement and worked as a reporter for the Jewish Daily Forward and the American Labor Union. Abe and four or five other young people began a weekly anarchist paper, Challenge, which lasted about 18 months. He was also organizing anti-Nazi boycotts as the Executive Director of the Jewish Labor Committee. Selma continued as an artist and did many one-woman shows. She gave birth to three more children, Ilsa, Daniel, and David.
In 1945, the Bluestein family moved to Croton-on-Hudson, New York, a residential community noted for its "Red Hill," where many radicals had lived, including John Reed. By 1946 Abe and Selma had four small children. Since there was no nursery in town, they organized a cooperative nursery school. And although neither Abe nor Selma had been raised with a religious tradition, they also helped to organize Temple Israel of Northern Westchester, in order to instill a Jewish background in their children.
After WWII Abe was hired in the Public Relations Office of the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he helped to reorganize the structure of the organization to include more lay people and organized courses of study for the lay staff. After serving as Director of the Diabetes Association for several years, Abe felt the need to work at something that was more in harmony with his philosophy. He was hired as a manager of one of the housing co-ops run by the Amalgamated Housing Cooperative.
Selma took an eight-year break from her artwork to raise their children. By the late 1940s she was painting again, and was getting some recognition for her work. In the late 1940s, a man came to the house to complement her on her work which he saw on display at Temple Israel. He turned out to be the author, René Fueloep-Miller, and he helped to promote her work and brought her to the Artists Gallery in New York City, where her work was shown annually. Selma illustrated a book for René, The Web: A Trilogy of Novellas (New York, Abelard Press, 1950). She also became close friends with René's wife, Erika, and many letters from both Erika and René and can be found in the collection.
From 1969 to 1972 Abe worked as a manager of Co-Op City, a very large group of cooperative housing and community facilities in the Bronx.
Selma's younger sister, Meta, was very close to both Selma and Abe. There are a number of letters in the collection from Meta to Selma. Meta was a very vibrant and bright young girl, whose letters were full of opinion and energy. Her correspondence were written to both Selma and Abe.
In the late 1970s, Abe, with the help of Paul Avrich, started organizing the Modern School Reunions. These reunions brought together many people from throughout the School's history at Stelton. The reunions are very popular, with about 75 people, including former students as well as anarchists and historians, attending each year. They are held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The archives of the Modern School at Stelton are housed in the Special Collections Library at Rutgers.
Selma, who smoked cigarettes most of her life, died of cancer in 1985. Michael Bluestein, the oldest child, died in 1986 at the age of 47. Michael had a wife and six children. Daniel(pseud. Daniel B. Thomas), a published poet and writer, whose subjects were often his parent's and grandparents' lives, died in 1987. The surviving Bluestein family was devastated by these losses.
Abe stayed involved in anarchist activities throughout his life, helping to found the Libertarian Press Service, which distributed anarchist publications world-wide. From 1975 to 1977, following the death of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, he coedited the journal News from Libertarian Spain, with Sam Dolgoff and Murray Bookchin, and its successor, Anarchist News (1980-1982). He was also active with the Spanish Refugee Aid, which was founded by his old friend, Molly Steimer. There are a number of letters in the collection from Steimer to Abe and Selma.
In 1990, Abe moved in with his youngest son, David and his family in the same town of Croton-on-Hudson. A few years later, David was no longer able to care for Abe, and Abe moved into a nursing home in Ossining, New York, not far from Croton. David's wife, Sara, died of cancer in June 1997. Abe Bluestein died on December 3, 1997.
- Acquisition Information:
- Collection was donated to the library by David Bluestein.
- Processing information:
Processed by Julie Herrada
The Abe and Selma Bluestein papers are separated into seven series: Correspondence, Family Documents, Biographies, Writings, Corporate Files, Subject Files, Modern School, and Photographs.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find any related finding aids on this site.
- Anarchism -- Spain -- History
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Abe and Selma Bluestein Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Library)