Guide to the Collection of the Purim Association of New York City (1862-1902), undated, 1865-1902, 1979

Processed by Rachel Oliveri

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



© 2020  American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Finding aid was processed by Rachel Oliveri in Fall 1992. Finding aid was encoded by Marvin Rusinek on January 18, 2007. Description is in English.
February 2016 Added dao link by Eric Fritzler.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Purim Association
Title: Purim Association collection
Dates:undated, 1865-1902, 1979
Abstract: Contains two minute books for the years 1871-1892 and 1896-1906 of the activities of the Association including the constitution, by-laws and amendments, and a list of members, and also a scrapbook of correspondence containing information on charitable disbursements. Contains also a 1866 Purim Ball Program (scroll) and miscellaneous documents.
Languages: The collection is in English.
Quantity: 0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box)
Identification: I-20
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
Location: Located in AJHS New York, NY
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Historical Sketch

Purim Association (1862-1902)

In the January 13, 1860 issue of the Jewish Messenger, Myer S. Isaacs, co-editor of the paper, submitted an editorial which stated that "Purim should be selected as the occasion of a good fancy dress ball, the proceeds to be donated to charity." Isaacs' idea, based on the traditional Purim ritual of giving gifts to the poor and the influence of the Italian carnival from medieval times on fancy dress and costume, served as the stimulus for the founding of the "Purim Association of the City of New York" which lasted from 1862-1902.1 Although the 1870s and 1880s were the most active years of the Association's existence, its early success can be attributed to the effective leadership of Isaacs, who subsequently served as its first president. Isaacs was not only the co-editor of the Jewish Messenger, but a lawyer and judge committed to Jewish communal work and the municipal affairs of New York City.2

In March of 1862, a group of Jewish, predominantly wealthy young men conducted the first Purim ball on Shushan Purim. Soon after the ball, they held a meeting and decided to form their ideas into an organization that provided social entertainments for charitable purposes.

Although the Purim Association was founded by Jews, people of all faiths could be invited by the Association's members to attend the balls. Over the years, the Association raised approximately $180,000 for over twenty five educational and religious organizations.3 This display of high society entertainment with a philanthropic emphasis clearly had a positive effect on the attitudes of both Jews and non-Jews toward American Judaism at the time. The Purim Association gave Jews a way to escape the pressures of society, enjoy themselves in the festive celebration of a Jewish holiday, and at the same time reveal to the non-Jewish American community their humanistic and philanthropic qualities.

The annual Purim balls of the Association proved to be an incredible success. The first ball sold over 1300 tickets at $5.00 each and set the standard for the balls to follow.4 As news got around of this unique opportunity to enjoy a masquerade, each ball increased in attendance and ticket price and became a highlight in social entertainment for both Jews and non-Jews alike. Every successive ball was lavishly decorated and costumes, although originally of Purim and other Jewish characters for the most part, ranged from "Little Red Riding Hood" to the "Goddess of Liberty."5

The second ball held at the Academy of Music clearly indicated the desire to accommodate Judaism to American values through its red, white, and blue streamers, patriotic music, and gas-lit sign flashing, "Merry Purim". A description of one of the Purim balls in a newspaper article read, "Another procession epitomized the history of Jewish persecution, and epitomized the victory of Religious Liberty over Prejudice". This largely successful event was the fifth annual Purim ball held March 1, 1866 and noted for its high attendance by Christians who experienced a Jewish celebration for the first time. Tickets for the ball were priced at $10.00, but this did not discourage the abundant attendees. Secular papers such as the Evening Post and the Daily Tribune praised the ball as a "brilliant and in many respects a unique affair."6

Successive balls were held in noteworthy places such as the Metropolitan Opera House, Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Music Hall.7 By housing the balls in such highly regarded and well known places, the Purim Association was further proving that Jews could hold a respectable place in American society.

In order to raise a substantial amount of money for its recipient organizations, the Purim Association purchased bonds, charged an initiation fee and annual dues for its members and held many social fundraising events such as the annual balls, anniversary dinners, theatre, ballet performances and private parties. Members of the Association voted as to how the money would be distributed and if one organization would be the sole benefactor of the annual ball or if many organizations would share in the donations.

The ultimate downfall of the Purim Association may be accredited to its selective membership, lack of structured leadership following Myer S. Isaacs, and subsequent lack of interest by current members. When Isaacs resigned in 1864, Moses H. Moses, Esquire presided for all but six years of the Association's existence.8 A lack of effective organization is apparent in the minute books, which cover 1871-1906. Although the first meeting of the Purim Association took place in 1862, the Constitution and By-Laws were not adopted until 1881. In addition, the previous board of officers and directors known as the Board of Management was reelected every year with a few occasional exceptions except for resignation or death. The selective membership clearly outlined in Articles V through XIII of the Constitution required that prospective members be nominated by current members, and their acceptance or rejection reviewed by the Board of Management.

Since the original group of men who organized the Association was in their early to mid twenties when it was formed into an organization, they eventually got married and had families to support which inevitably took away from their dedication to the Association. Over the years, a lack of interest and devotion to the planning and organization of the Association became apparent. There were fewer social entertainments held each year and attendance at meetings steadily declined.

Eventually, the successive deaths of the original members, recorded in the form of numerous obituaries throughout the minute books, ultimately led to the death of the Purim Association. The thirty-seven year history of this widely successful philanthropic Jewish organization came to a close, but not without leaving its mark on American society and even more importantly, American Judaism. It is estimated that the Purim Association contributed over $300,000 to charities, but the amount it contributed to renewing the respectability of Jews and reaffirming their ability to be accepted as productive members of society can not be measured.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection of the Purim Association consists of two minutes books, a scrapbook, and a folder. The minute books date from 1871-1892, 1896-1906 and include a constitution and by-laws, lists of officers and members, financial accounts, applications for membership, obituaries of members and their families, and resolutions. The scrapbook contains correspondence relating to donations given by the Purim Association to other organizations. The folder contains financial records, programs, postcards, articles, members' lists, and minutes.

The collection is valuable to researchers interested in Philanthropy, Purim Observance, Relations with Non-Jews, Societies for men, and the New York German-Jewish community in the late 1800s. The organizations represented in the collection include the Conemaugh Valley Relief Fund, Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society, Hebrew Technical Institute, Hospital Saturday and Sunday Association, Mrs. Louis Down-Town Sabbath and Daily School, Relief Fund of the Essex St. Sufferers, Sanitary Aid Society for the Tenth Ward, Touro Infirmary and Hebrew Benevolent Association, Vicksburg Hebrew Relief Society, and Young Men's Hebrew Association of the City of New York.

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The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic.

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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 Executive Director 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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Digitization Note

Postcard reproduction was digitized of poster announcing a ball "In Aid of the Building Fund of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society" dated Tuesday March 15th, 1881.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Purim Association collection; I-20; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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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 section 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.


Collection of the Purim Association of New York City (1862-1902), undated, 1865-1902, 1979

The collection is in English.
0.5 linear feet (4 folders)

The folders are arranged by topic.

Scope and Content:

See the collection Scope and Content Note.

11Minute Book1871-1892request_box

The minute books, recording the Association's meetings include the following categories. Each category below is followed by an example taken from the minute books:

  1) Constitution and By-Laws.undated
  2) Lists of officers, board of directors and members for each year.October 21, 1877

Meeting held October 21, 1877. Board reelected M.H. Moses, president, Mr. Lawrence J. Gans, vice president, Mr. Sol. B. Solomon, treasurer, and J.S. Isaacs, secretary, as well as directors Bamburger, Fatman, Herts, Reiss, and Schafer.

  3) Amendments to Constitution and By-Laws.October 15, 1879

Meeting held October 15, 1879. Move to change Article XVII of the Constitution so that a portion of the funds be retained by the society and not given solely to charities, and to fix the dues in Article X at ten dollars. Both proposals withdrawn.

  4) Detailed accounts of expenses and balance statements.March 1882

Meeting on March 1882. Solomon B. Solomon, treasurer, reported the following donations: $6,500 to the Russian Emigrant Fund, $5,000 to the Hebrew Free Schools, $750 to the Ladies Auxiliary Society, $500 to the Hebrew Relief Society, $500 to the Young Ladies Charitable Union, and $1000 to the Training School. The balance to the Charity fund of the Purim Association was $750.

  5) Proposals for membership.March 7, 1887

Meeting on March 7, 1887. M.H. Moses proposed Mr. M. Herman, lawyer for membership. Herman was unanimously elected a member at the March 29 meeting.

  6) Obituaries of members and their families; some handwritten, others typed and in the form of newspaper articles.[1871/1892]
  7) Plans for balls, anniversary parties, and other assorted entertainments.May 2, 1876

Meeting on May 2, 1876. Plans for an anniversary celebration for May 30 including a theatre party and banquet costing $200. Committee consisting of Herts, Gans and Isaacs appointed to make arrangements.

  8) Decisions on which organizations to give donations.December 12, 1878

Meeting held on December 12, 1878. Agreement to give $100 to the Yellow Fever sufferers in New Orleans and Vicksburg.

  9) Debates and subsequent resolutions on the wearing of costumes and masks at the Purim balls.February 8, 1880

Meeting on February 8, 1880. Debate between members wanting to dress in costume and members feeling it caused a lack of decorum at the balls. Meeting on January 13, 1882 resulted in the adoption of the resolution "that it is the sense of this meeting the members do not appear in costume."

  10) Proposals to establish permanent quarters for Association.October 21, 1877

Meeting held on October 21, 1877. Mr. E. Milius, member, moved that the Purim Association secure suitable rooms for its use rather than meeting in member's homes, hotels, and rooms in the YMHA.

  11) Plans to increase membership.December 17, 1855

Meeting of December 17, 1855. J.S. Isaacs, secretary, expressed need to increase the roll of membership in the Association.

  12) The appointment of different committees.January 23, 1890

At the January 23, 1890 meeting, M.H. Moses appointed a "Committee on Membership" comprised of Mess. Fatman, Herts and Herzog.

  13) Attempts to reorganize.[1871/1892]
12Minute Book1896-1906request_box

The minute books, recording the Association's meetings include the following categories. Each category below is followed by an example taken from the minute books:

  1) Constitution and By-Laws.undated
  2) Lists of officers, board of directors and members for each year.[1896/1906]
  3) Amendments to Constitution and By-Laws.[1896/1906]
  4) Detailed accounts of expenses and balance statements.[1896/1906]
  5) Proposals for membership.[1896/1906]
  6) Obituaries of members and their families; some handwritten, others typed and in the form of newspaper articles.1906

The last page of the 1896-1906 minute book gives a list of deaths of members of the Purim Association including the May 24, 1904 death of Myer S. Isaacs.

  7) Plans for balls, anniversary parties, and other assorted entertainments.[1896/1906]
  8) Decisions on which organizations to give donations.[1896/1906]
  9) Debates and subsequent resolutions on the wearing of costumes and masks at the Purim balls.[1896/1906]
  10) Proposals to establish permanent quarters for Association.[1896/1906]
  11) Plans to increase membership.[1896/1906]
  12) The appointment of different committees.[1896/1906]
  13) Attempts to reorganize.January 26, 1898

Meeting of January 26, 1898 with the following attempts to reorganize proposed by director Mr. S.J. Gans: making the annual dues five dollars, increasing the number of directors from seven to eleven, striking out Article XII, suspending Article IX for one year and making the $15 dues cover three years. None were adopted.


The scrapbook includes the following inserted loose papers:

  1) An anonymous letter written to a member of Myer Isaacs family accounting for $180,000 raised by the balls of the Purim Association over the course of 30 years.undated

The author of the letter expressed his hope that someone would write up a history or the Purim Association in order to record its accomplishments and perhaps to serve as an inspiration for future generations to form a similar organization. This is the letter Philip Goodman quotes as his incentive for writing an article about the Purim Association in the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society.

  2) Two sheets of paper listing by date from 1850-1890 all the different organizations the Purim Association gave to and the amount they donated. The handwriting of these two sheets is identical to the letter described in Item 1).1850-1890
  3) A piece of paper listing the four members lost by death, the six lost by resignation, and the original nine that were left including M.S. Isaacs, A.L. Sanger, Sol Weill, S.B. Solomon, J.A. Levy, L.G. Schiffer, and M.H. Moses.undated

The vast majority of the scrapbook consisted of letters of thanks to the Purim Association from the secretaries of presidents of the following organizations for donations between $25.00 and $10,000. The thank you letters ranged from 1865-1896.

Aguilar Free Library Society
Aid Society of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Shearith Israel
Beth-El Society
Children's Aid Society
Educational Alliance
Emanuel Home-Day Nursery
Emanu-El Sisterhood Society
Fresh Air Fund
Hebrew Benevolent Society
Hebrew Free School Association
Hebrew Technical Institute
Hospital Saturday and Sunday Association
Kindergarten Society
Ladies Auxiliary Society of the Mt. Sinai Hospitals
Ladies Benevolent Sewing Society
Mayor's Court N.Y. (for funds given to the relief of the fever stricken inhabitants of Jacksonville and Conemaugh Valley)
Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids
Mrs. Louis Down-Town Sabbath and Daily School
Mt Sinai Hospital and Training School for Nurses
New Amsterdam Eye and Ear Infirmary
Passover Relief Association
Russian Transportation Fund
Sanitarium for Hebrew Children
Silver Book of Life (Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews)
Sisterhood Ahaveth Chesed
Touro Infirmary & Hebrew Benevolent Association
United Hebrew Charities
Vicksburg Hebrew Relief Society
Young Men's Hebrew Association of the City of New York

The following two examples of thank you letters included in the scrapbook were of particular note because of their historical merit and their display of the great sums of money the Association donated to charity:

1) Thank you letter from Myer S. Isaacs, founding father of the Purim Association, who was then the chairman of "Alliance Israelite Universelle." He expressed his gratitude for the receipt of $100 from the Purim Association in aid of schools maintained by the Alliance. The letterhead read: "Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights." Dated March 19, 1886.

2) Letter from Jacob A. Schiff, president of the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids thanking Moses H. Moses, Esq., President of the Purim Association for the donation of $10,255 from the proceeds of the February 14, 1886 Purim ball. Schiff praised the Purim Association for its continuous and tireless commitment to giving charity for a quarter of a century teaching "the kinship of mankind" to the world. Dated 1886.

14Folderundated, 1865-1902, 1979request_box
  1) Two balance statements by Solomon B. Solomon, treasurer of Purim Association, for Charity Fund Purim Association.April 20, 1901
  2) Two brochures from Yeshiva University Museum including a description of their Purim exhibit which included a poster on loan from the American Jewish Historical Society advertising a Purim Association Fancy Dress Ball.undated
  3) A program for a Purim ball in the form of a mini-megillah from 1866.1866

This was given as a gift to the Society by Lee M. Friedman in 1946. Front section reads, "Fifth Annual Invitation, Fancy Dress Ball of the Purim Association, Academy of Music, Thursday March 1st, 1866. The invitation was divided into three sections. The first was a list of the order of dancing, the second was a list of the promenades, and the third was a list of the floor committee headed by Myer S. Isaacs, and the reception committee headed by Adolph L. Sanger.

  4) Three postcards on the poster described above announcing a ball "In Aid of the Building Fund of the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society," Tuesday March 15th, 1881.March 15, 1881
  Postcard reproduction 
  5) An article from an unidentifiable newspaper entitled, "The First Purim Ball" which was held on March 17, 1862.undated

The article describes how a committee of men asked the mayor of New York if they could hold the ball. He said the law prohibited masquerades, but advised as long as nothing was said to the police, there would be no trouble. No admission was charged and tickets were given only to subscribers. The article describes the ball as "the merriest affair ever known in our city." It also notes that the second ball was held at the Academy of Music where 1300 tickets were sold followed by many more balls in subsequent years.

  6)A large picture from New York's The Daily Graphic entitled, "A scene at the Purim Ball at the Academy of Music last Tuesday Night."March 19, 1881

The people in the drawing were adorned in elaborate costumes including mice, cats, clowns, and colonial soldiers. A few people wore masks and some couples were just formally dressed in tuxedos for the men and long gowns for the women. Most everyone was depicted wearing hats or bonnets.

  7) A list of members of the Purim Association for January 1901.January 1901

There were 38 names in all, 8 of which were crossed out. All names were male.

  8) Another list of members for October 1902.October 1902

Thirty-two names were listed, five of which were crossed out. At the bottom of the paper was a note that stated twenty-seven members in January 1907. Again, all names were male.

  9) Typed minutes entitled "Meeting #2, page 2" describing the amendments of articles of the constitution.undated

Amendments were all related to fixing the initiation fee and annual dues at a lower cost. Five propositions for membership were also listed.

  10) Handwritten sheet of minutes for Wednesday, April 21, 1898 including roll-call and Mr. Isaacs recommendation as chairman of the committee to change the dues.April 21, 1898

This was approved 3 to 1.

  11) Article from unidentifiable newspaper about the Purim Fancy Dress and Masquerade Ball at the Academy of Music.March 16, 1881

The article gives a description of the elaborate decorations which included a bridge with a water fall beneath it, "mammoth vases of growing plants," and tons of artificial flowers.

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