Guide to the Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987) Papers,
(bulk 1949-1987)


Processed by Rachel S. Harrison

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



© 2019  American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Electronic finding aid was encoded in EAD 2002 by Rachel S. Harrison in March, 2016. Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Perlmutter, Nate
Title: Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987) Papers
Bulk Dates:1949-1987
Abstract: This collection consists of the papers of Nathan Perlmutter, a lawyer, lecturer, author, political activist, and a long-time leader of the American Jewish community. It contains certificates, newspaper clippings, correspondence—including numerous condolence cards and letters sent to his family after his death—manuscripts and drafts of Perlmutter’s writings, obituaries, printed materials, programs, and subject files relating to topics he was interested in and that he wrote about.
Languages: The collection is in English, with some Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Spanish, and Italian.
Quantity: 7.5 linear feet (15 manuscript boxes)
Identification: P-1012
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Historical Note
Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987)

Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987)

Nathan Perlmutter was born March 2, 1923 in New York City to Hyman and Bella (Finkelstein) Perlmutter, who were both immigrants from Poland. His father was a tailor and worked as a laborer for the Work Projects Administration during the Depression. His mother sold ices from a pushcart and sewed leather purses in a sweatshop. His father left the family when Nathan and his younger brother, Philip, were 16 and 13, respectively. After graduating from Eastern District High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Perlmutter took the civil service exam at age 19. This allowed him to find a job as a clerk-typist at the War Department in the Pentagon while also enrolled at Georgetown University School of Diplomatic and Consular Practice, which he attended from 1942-1943. He also studied at Villanova College from 1943-1944. He volunteered for the Marine Corps and served in Guam and China from 1945-1946. After the war, he attended New York University School of Law and received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1949.

Following law school, Perlmutter joined the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith in 1949. The ADL was founded in 1913 in order to "end defamation of Jews and secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens alike." He was assigned to a post as the ADL’s assistant executive director of civil rights and community relations in Denver, where he moved along with his wife, Ruth Ann (Osofsky), whom he had married April 2, 1943, and their daughter Nina. Their son, Dean, was born in Denver. From Denver, Perlmutter and his family moved to Detroit in 1952, where Perlmutter was the director of the ADL’s Michigan and Toledo, Ohio region. In 1953, he was once again promoted, this time to assistant director of community service for the ADL’s national office in New York. The family then moved to Miami in 1956, where Perlmutter was the director of the Florida region for eight years before returning to New York in 1964, where he was the regional director until 1965. In 1963, he was invited with 11 other ADL leaders to the Federal Republic of Germany to conduct a month-long study of democracy, human relations and the government’s program combating anti-Semitism in the schools and military.

In March 1965, Perlmutter became the assistant director of domestic affairs of the American Jewish Committee, where he ultimately rose to the position of associate national director. He left the American Jewish Committee in 1969 and moved to a position as the vice president of development at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA until 1973. He returned to the ADL in 1973 as the assistant national director and was promoted to national director in 1979. As the director, Perlmuter was responsible for overseeing the ADL's national headquarters in Manhattan, its 31 regional offices in the United States, its overseas offices in Jerusalem, Rome and Paris, and its liaison offices in Latin America.

Throughout his career with the ADL, as well as with the American Jewish Committee, Perlmutter was a strong advocate for American Jews and their interests and worked to promote justice, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. He was often outspoken and did not shy away from controversy, as is evidenced by his interactions with Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson and his positions on topics such as Israel and the Middle East, affirmative action, anti-Semitism, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, and American politics. He published articles in Commentary, New Leader, The Nation, Present Tense, Moment, and The National Review. He was the author of How to Win at the Races (1964), inspired by his and his wife’s love of horse racing. Their horse, Ruthie's Native, won the Florida Derby in 1977. Perlmutter also wrote A Bias of Reflections: Confessions of an Incipient Old Jew (1972). He and his wife, Ruth Ann, co-authored The Real Anti-Semitism in America (1982), in which they argued that anti-Zionism and political isolation of Israel were bigger threats to American Jews than the renewal of activities by overtly anti-Semitic groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Perlmutter received numerous awards for his work combating racism, bigotry, discrimination, intolerance, and anti-Semitism. These include the B'nai B'rith International Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism in January 1987; an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in March 1987; the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in May 1987, from Mayor Edward Koch of New York; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award, in June 1987 from President Reagan.

Perlmutter was diagnosed with lung cancer in June 1985. He kept a journal for a few weeks after the diagnosis, which was published in the November 24, 1985 New York Times Magazine as "Diary of a Cancer Patient." He continued his work as the director of the ADL, first from his office and then from his home until he entered the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on July 8, 1987. He died Sunday, July 12, 1987 at age 64.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the papers of Nathan Perlmutter, mainly concerning his career with the Anti-Defamation League, both in regional positions and on the national scale. It contains newspaper clippings and subject files relating to topics Perlmutter was interested in and that he wrote about as well as reviews of his writings and of his professional activities. The correspondence in the collection contains letters of appreciation, invitations, a few out-going ADL mailings, and numerous condolence cards and letters sent to his family after his death. There are also manuscripts and drafts of Perlmutter’s two books related to Jewish topics, A Bias of Reflections and The Real Anti-Semitism in America, and of articles he wrote for various publications. In addition, there are obituaries, certificates from various awards and honors that Perlmutter received, printed materials, and a few programs.

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The correspondence and clippings have been arranged chronologically while the drafts, subject files, and obituaries and condolences have been arranged alphabetically. Materials that were originally found in organized folders have been left together and these folder titles have been maintained. The collection has been arranged in five series.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Director of Library and Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information, contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY, 10011

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Related Material

The Center’s reading room has numerous books, pamphlets and archival collections related to the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith, anti-Semitism, and civil rights. The American Jewish Historical Society library has copies of A Bias of Reflections and The Real Anti-Semitism in America, as well as "Not the Work of a Day": Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Oral Memoirs, which contains an oral history by Perlmutter. The YIVO library has a copy of The Negro Revolution and the Jewish Community: An Address, by Leonard J. Fein, which contains remarks by Perlmutter and which can also be found in the collection.

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Separated Material

There is no information about materials that are associated by provenance to the described materials that have been physically separated or removed.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Nathan Perlmutter (1923-1987) Papers; P-1012; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Acquisition Information

Donated by Ruth Ann Perlmutter in 2000.

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Processing information

Processed by Rachel S. Harrison as part of the Leon Levy Archival Processing Initiative, made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation. Items were removed from binders and the entire collection was transferred into acid-free folders and boxes. Loose clippings have been integrated into folders by date. Several books, including bound copies of selected ADL Bulletins, were deaccessioned.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Series I: Correspondence, 1934, 1949-1987

31 folders

The correspondence has been arranged chronologically. Some of the folders are arranged by year only and some by month and year. Some folders are arranged chronologically from front to back and some are arranged from back to front, so that December comes before November, and so on.

Scope and Content:

The correspondence in this series consists of mostly in-coming mail, much of it congratulations relating to awards and honors Perlmutter received, as well as other professional accomplishments. There is also personal and professional correspondence and a few invitations.

1 1 Correspondence—Convalescent Home for Hebrew Children 1934 request_box
1 2 Correspondence—Roger Baldwin 1949-1971 request_box
1 3 Correspondence 1952-1969 request_box
1 4 Correspondence—Miami 1964 request_box
1 5 Correspondence 1975-1976 request_box
1 6 Correspondence 1977 request_box
1 7 Correspondence 1978 request_box
1 8 Correspondence—Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty 1979-1980 request_box
1 9 Correspondence 1980 request_box
1 10 Correspondence 1981 request_box
1 11 Correspondence—Horses 1981 request_box
1 12 Correspondence—The Real Anti-Semitism in America 1982 request_box
2 1 Correspondence 1983 request_box
2 2 Correspondence 1983 request_box
2 3 Correspondence 1984 request_box
2 4 Correspondence 1984 request_box
2 5 Correspondence 1985 January-August request_box
2 6 Correspondence 1985 September-October request_box
2 7 Correspondence 1985 November-December request_box
2 8 Correspondence—Diary of a Cancer Patient 1985 request_box
2 9 Correspondence—Insurance 1985 request_box
2 10 Correspondence—Special Mailings 1985-1986 request_box
3 1 Correspondence 1986 request_box
3 2 Correspondence 1986 request_box
3 3 Correspondence 1986 request_box
3 4 Correspondence—B'nai B'rith International Presidential Gold Medallion for Humanitarianism 1986-1987 request_box
3 5 Correspondence 1987 request_box
3 6 Correspondence—Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award 1987 request_box
3 7 Correspondence—Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Doctor of Humane Letters 1987 request_box
3 8 Correspondence—Presidential Medal of Freedom 1987 request_box
4 1 Correspondence—Presidential Medal of Freedom 1987 request_box
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Series II: Drafts and Notes, undated, 1946-1972

7 folders
Scope and Content:

This series contains drafts of A Bias of Reflections and The Real Anti-Semitism in America, a draft of an article about Morris U. Schappes and notes for various articles Perlmutter wrote and lectures he delivered.

4 2 A Bias of Reflections 1972 request_box
4 3 A Bias of Reflections—Draft undated request_box
4 4 Morris U. Schappes Article 1950 request_box
4 5 Notes for Lectures and Writings undated, 1946-1969 request_box
4 6 The Real Anti-Semitism in America undated request_box
4 7 The Real Anti-Semitism in America undated request_box
4 8 The Real Anti-Semitism in America undated request_box
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Series III: Clippings, 1949-1989

43 folders
Scope and Content:

The clippings in this series include articles by and about Perlmutter and the Anti-Defamation League as well as articles relating to Perlmutter’s areas of interest. Some of the topics are also represented in the subject files series. Researchers interested in specific topics should look in both the clippings and the subject files series. There are also some reviews of Perlmutter’s writings. Many of the news clippings in this series were originally in chronologically-organized binders. Loose clippings were integrated by date.

4 9 Clippings 1949-1951 request_box
4 10 Clippings—The Nation 1951-1955, 1962 request_box
5 1 Clippings—The New Leader 1951-1959 request_box
5 2 Clippings 1952-1956 request_box
5 3 Clippings 1957-1959 request_box
5 4 Clippings 1960-1961 request_box
5 5 Clippings 1962-1963 request_box
5 6 Clippings 1964-1965 request_box
5 7 Clippings 1966-1967 request_box
5 8 Clippings 1968-1969 request_box
6 1 Clippings 1969-1970 request_box
6 2 Clippings 1971-1972 request_box
6 3 Clippings—A Bias of Reflections 1972 request_box
6 4 Clippings—Firing Line 1972, 1980 request_box
6 5 Clippings 1973-1974 request_box
6 6 Clippings 1975-1977 request_box
6 7 Clippings 1977-1978 request_box
6 8 Clippings 1979 February-July request_box
6 9 Clippings 1979 August-December request_box
6 10 Clippings 1980 January-June request_box
6 11 Clippings 1980 July-December request_box
7 1 Clippings 1981 January-July request_box
7 2 Clippings 1981 August-December request_box
7 3 Clippings 1982 January-July request_box
7 4 Clippings 1982 August-December request_box
7 5 Clippings—The Real Anti-Semitism in America 1982-1984 request_box
7 6 Clippings—The Real Anti-Semitism in America 1982-1984 request_box
7 7 Clippings 1983 January-May request_box
7 8 Clippings 1983 June-September request_box
8 1 Clippings 1983 October-December request_box
8 2 Clippings 1984 January-May request_box
8 3 Clippings 1984 June-August request_box
8 4 Clippings 1984 September-December request_box
8 5 Clippings 1985 January-February request_box
8 6 Clippings 1985 March-April request_box
8 7 Clippings 1985 May-July request_box
8 8 Clippings 1985 August-December request_box
8 9 Clippings—Jews and Fundamentalists—Reconstructionist 1985 request_box
9 1 Clippings 1986 January-March request_box
9 2 Clippings 1986 April-June request_box
9 3 Clippings 1986 July-December request_box
9 4 Clippings 1987 January-June request_box
9 5 Clippings 1987-1989 request_box
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Series IV: Subject Files, 1941, 1951-1952, 1965-1987

28 folders
Scope and Content:

This series is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically. These subject files relate to topics Perlmutter was personally and professionally interested in, many of which he wrote about for various publications, and include clippings and notes. Many of these topics are also represented in the clippings series and there are possibly duplicates between these series. There are also some personal records and event programs.

9 6 Affirmative Action 1973-1984 request_box
9 7 Alton Tobey undated request_box
9 8 Anti-Defamation League Conference Attendance Lists 1985-1986 request_box
9 9 Anti-Semitic Incidents 1980-1981 request_box
9 10 Anti-Semitism 1980-1982 request_box
9 11 Anti-Semitism Opinion Polls 1978-1979 request_box
10 1 Anti-Semitism Opinion Polls 1980-1981 request_box
10 2 Appointment Book 1969 request_box
10 3 Appointment Book 1986 request_box
10 4 Biographical Sketches undated, 1976-1985 request_box
10 5 Black-Jewish Relations undated, 1965-1969 request_box
10 6 Black-Jewish Relations 1979-1982 request_box
10 7 Brandeis Commencement Programs 1969-1972 request_box
10 8 Christian-Jewish Relations 1951-1952, 1980-1982 request_box
11 1 Christian-Jewish Relations 1980-1982 request_box
11 2 Christian-Jewish Relations 1980-1982 request_box
11 3 Congressional Record—Diary of a Cancer Patient 1985 December 20 request_box
11 4 Eastern District High School undated, 1941 request_box
11 5 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award Luncheon 1987 May 8 request_box
11 6 Honorary Citizen of Tucson Certificate 1983-1984 request_box
11 7 Jacobo Timerman 1981 request_box
11 8 Jesse Jackson 1983-1984 request_box
11 9 The Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis 1968-1981 request_box
11 10 The Left and the Right 1972-1982 request_box
11 11 Second International Catholic-Jewish Theological Colloquium 1986 November 4-6 request_box
12 1 The Real Anti-Semitism in America—Resources for the Final Chapter 1979-1982 request_box
12 2 Trade with the Arab World 1979-1982 request_box
12 3 United Nations 1975-1982 request_box
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Series V: Obituaries and Condolences, 1987

24 folders
Scope and Content:

Among the notable individuals who sent condolences are American and Israeli political figures such as Mario Cuomo, Alfonse D’Amato, Edward Kennedy, Teddy Kollek, Daniel Moynihan, Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, and Ronald Reagan; and various religious and community figures, including the Bishop of Palm Beach, the Archbishop of Boston, the Archbishop of New York, Elie Wiesel, and the president and officers of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. This series also contains condolences from many people who had never met Perlmutter but who had admired him. There are copies and clippings of obituaries from around the country including the pages of an obituary book and materials from the Shomrim Society Memorial Services and Spiritual Breakfast, where Perlmutter was honored.

12 4 Condolences 1987 request_box
12 5 Condolences 1987 request_box
12 6 Condolences 1987 request_box
12 7 Condolences 1987 request_box
13 1 Condolences 1987 request_box
13 2 Condolences 1987 request_box
13 3 Condolences 1987 request_box
13 4 Condolences 1987 request_box
13 5 Condolences 1987 request_box
14 1 Condolences 1987 request_box
14 2 Condolences 1987 request_box
14 3 Condolences 1987 request_box
14 4 Condolences 1987 request_box
14 5 Condolences—Anti-Defamation League Offices 1987 request_box
14 6 Condolences—B'nai B'rith 1987 request_box
14 7 Condolences—B'nai B'rith 1987 request_box
15 1 Condolences—Notable 1987 request_box
15 2 Miami Memorial Service 1987 July 17 request_box
15 3 New York City Funeral 1987 July 15 request_box
15 4 Obituaries—Copies 1987 request_box
15 5 Obituaries—Originals 1987 request_box
15 6 Obituary—It's Aesthetic When You Win, by David Evanier 1987 September request_box
15 7 Obituary Book 1987 request_box
15 8 Shomrim Society Memorial Services and Spiritual Breakfast 1987 October 11 request_box
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