Abraham L. Freedman papers
Held at: Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center [Contact Us]1210 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA, 19122
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Overview and metadata sections
The Honorable Abraham L. Freedman, a long-time attorney and later judge, was an influential civic leader in Philadelphia’s movements towards political and civic reform in the 1940s and 1950s. As a staunch Democrat, Freedman’s career highlights include helping draft a new charter for the city of Philadelphia (and later serving as city solicitor under the newly instated charter), extensive work as an anti-discrimination advocate for racial and ethnic minorities, and federal judicial appointments with the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals.
Freedman was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1904; his family later moved to West Philadelphia during World War I. He entered Temple University Law School in 1922 and graduated with an LL.B in 1926. He became a member of the Pennsylvania bar that same year; his private legal practice spanned more than thirty years in total, from 1926 to 1952, and then also from 1956 to 1961. He joined the prestigious Philadelphia-based Jewish law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr, and Solis-Cohen in 1929.
Establishing an early interest in legal reform and scholarship, he researched and published numerous articles and book reviews regarding subjects such as building and loan associations, writ of coram nobis, and marriage and divorce law. In 1939, he co-authored the seminal legal treatise, “The Law of Marriage and Divorce in Pennsylvania” with his brother Maurice Freedman. From 1931 to 1944, he taught domestic relations law at Temple University Law School.
From 1940 to 1961, Freedman served as legal counsel for the Philadelphia Housing Association and for the Philadelphia Housing Authority from 1938 to 1949. In his legal practice, he also frequently represented minority clients whose housing applications had been rejected based on racial discrimination. At the same time, he became more involved in Jewish community efforts to combat anti-Semitism, particularly as it related to job and education discrimination.
Freedman became increasingly interested in local politics and civic activities. He served as president of the Jewish Community Relations Council from 1944 to 1947, during which time he worked with other civic and religious leaders to combat mounting racial tension in Philadelphia. He was active in the Democratic Party, as well as Americans for Democratic Action, and subsequently supported 1947 mayoral (losing) candidate Richardson Dilworth. Shortly thereafter, Freedman was appointed to serve on the Philadelphia Charter Commission and its drafting committee, where he played an instrumental role in researching and drafting a new city charter. The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1951 and helped to solidify long fought for political reforms, including reducing the number of political patronage positions, creating a commission on human relations, and increasing the power of the mayor and other executive branch offices. The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter was the first United States city charter to ban racial and religious discrimination in city employment, contracts, and services.
After the Democratic Party won the 1951 election for both Mayor and District Attorney, Freedman was appointed the first City Solicitor under the newly adopted charter. He served as City Solicitor from 1952 to 1956, during which time he successfully defended a number of influential cases. One of the most controversial cases involved the status of Girard College as a public institution governed by Philadelphia under the will of Stephen Girard, which excluded students of color. Freedman, along with Councilman Raymond Pace Alexander, sought to desegregate the school by challenging Girard’s will on behalf of several applicants of color. Although Freedman resigned from his position as City Solicitor in 1956, he was allowed to continue as Special Counsel in the Girard College case. Freedman returned to private legal practice and rejoined his former firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen in 1958. He continued his involvement with religious and civic organizations by assuming various leadership roles with the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Federation of Jewish Agencies, the Greater Philadelphia Movement, and others. He also became an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Continuing to support the Democratic Party’s local, state, and national efforts, Freedman was involved with several campaigns. These included serving as chairman of Citizens for Clark and writing speeches during Joseph S. Clark’s successful 1956 senate campaign, supporting Richard Dilworth in his re-election campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 1959, and serving as co-chairman of Citizens for Kennedy in John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.
In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Freedman to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a position he held until his appointment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by President Johnson in 1964. As a district, and then appellate, judge, Freedman continued with his interests in legal scholarship and civic activities. In particular, he participated in the Ford Foundation’s “Gray Areas” urban renewal project for Philadelphia, as well as helped to form the Philadelphia Council for Civic Advancement. Freedman continued to serve as appellate judge until his death in 1971. He was survived by his wife, Jane, and two children, Robert and Margery.
The Abraham L. Freedman papers documents the work of the Honorable Abraham L. Freedman, former Philadelphia City Solicitor, lawyer, and judge. This collection, which dates from 1850 to 2011, with bulk dates of 1938 to 1971, consists of correspondence, case files, logs, research, memoranda, writings, speeches, reports, manuscripts, and clippings evidencing the workings of city and state government, especially during the period of the City-County Consolidation. Additionally, the records document social turmoil regarding race relations in Philadelphia, and the efforts of civic associations to change the social climate and opinions on various ethnic and cultural groups. The collection provides an in-depth view of how Philadelphia politics and changes in government shaped the city into what it is today, as well as uniquely documenting the cultural climate in Philadelphia, especially during the 1950s and 1960s.
This collection is arranged into three series: “I. Professional and legal career, 1850-2011,” “II. Writings, speeches, and teaching files, 1918-2006,” and “III. Correspondence and personal papers, 1918-2007.”
The “I. Professional and legal career” series includes records and correspondence that relate to the legal, professional, and civic activities that Freedman took part in during the bulk of his career. The records in this series date from 1850 to 2011. This series is divided into five subseries: “Ia. Private legal practice,” “Ib. Political campaigns,” “Ic. City solicitor,” “Id. Judicial career,” and “Ie. Civic associations.”
The subseries “Ia. Private legal practice” is arranged chronologically and dates from 1850 to 1970, with the bulk of materials dating from 1920 to 1970. This subseries includes records from Freedman’s early career as a lawyer, as well as some of his activities with the Philadelphia Housing Association. This includes drafts and copies of his manuscript, Law of Marriage and Divorce in Philadelphia, which he co-authored with his brother, Martin Freedman. There are also a variety of case file records, such as briefs and opinions, as well as personal logs of Freedman’s daily activities, and correspondence and reports from colleagues and other professionals, mostly regarding housing and labor laws, especially within the Philadelphia Housing Association subject.
The subseries “Ib. Political campaigns” is arranged chronologically and dates from 1920 to 1969, with the bulk of records dating from 1943 to 1969. This subseries includes records from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania campaigns including those of Joseph S. Clark Jr., William C. Bullitt, and Richardson Dilworth (filed under such titles as “Clark for Senate,” “Bullitt for Mayor,” and the “Clark and Dilworth campaign.”) The records mostly consist of correspondence with the candidates regarding campaign techniques and platforms, clippings regarding the status of the campaigns, and a variety of speeches and promotional materials, including a script from a television commercial delivered by Joseph S. Clark, Jr. for the Clark and Dilworth campaign. The subseries also includes financial records, membership reports, and other campaign research materials. This subseries will be of particular interest for researchers interested in Joseph S. Clark, Jr., Richardson Dilworth, and William C. Bullitt and their respective political careers.
The subseries “Ic. City solicitor” is arranged chronologically and dates from 1927 to 1970. This subseries includes records created and collected by Freedman during his tenure as the Philadelphia City Solicitor. Many of these records fall into specific categories, which include “City Charter,” “Girard College” and “Philadelphia City-County Consolidation.” The records include a variety of reports, correspondence, clippings, logs, and research materials regarding duties and issues surrounding the City Solicitor position. Researchers will be interested to find, in particular, detailed records of the process of rewriting the Philadelphia City Charter and proposed City-County Consolidation, including drafts and records of public hearings. The subseries also includes clippings detailing public opinion of the revisions, as well as records of the activities and correspondence of the City Charter Commission. Aside from records of the charter, there are bound copies of Freedman’s opinions as City Solicitor, various case files and research, speeches, a radio broadcast, financial reports, and other records related to Philadelphia city government.
The subseries “Id. Judicial career” is arranged chronologically and dates from 1952 to 2011, with the bulk of materials dating from 1952 to 1971. The subseries includes records created and collected by Freedman during his judicial career, which includes positions on the District Court and Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Many of the records include correspondence regarding Freedman’s bids for judgeship, a variety of letters of recommendation, and clippings regarding the status of judicial appointments and candidates. Also included are congratulatory correspondence regarding Freedman’s judicial appointments, case files, employee records of some of Freedman’s law clerks and messengers, correspondence regarding participation in student moot courts, and a recording of a radio broadcast.
The subseries “Ie. Civic Associations” dates from 1942 to 1970, and is arranged alphabetically by association name, and then chronologically within each association. Associations particularly well-documented in the subseries include the Federation of Jewish Agencies (FJA), the Greater Philadelphia Movement, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement (PCCA). Records consist of correspondence, memoranda, membership lists, minutes, publicity materials, clippings and research, and reports regarding the administrative duties of each organization and plans for projects or goals within the community. Notable projects include the establishment of a medical school by the Federation of Jewish Agencies and the Community Development Program of the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement. These records will be of interest to researchers concerned with the development of Jewish civic associations in particular, as well as other associations involved in preventing racial and social discrimination.
The “II. Writings, speeches, and teaching files” series dates from 1918 to 2006, with the bulk of materials dating from 1928 to 1971. The subseries includes materials that fall into four main categories, which are grouped together and arranged chronologically within those categories. The categories are “Girard College manuscript,” “writings,” “speeches,” and “teaching files.” Materials in the first category relate to Freedman’s manuscript, “A Will and a Wall: Stephen Girard and His College,” which details the history of the Estate of Stephen Girard case, for which Freedman served as counsel. These include many drafts of the manuscript, research materials, general correspondence, press clippings, legal case files, and correspondence with publisher Alfred A. Knopf. The “writings” category includes many original works by Freedman, both published and unpublished. Writings include early prose and poetry, law review and other journal articles, short stories and essays, a play about Leon Sunstein, and eulogies and other tributes. The majority of the writings focuses on legal issues during Freedman’s career, most notably his journal titled “Story of Common Pleas Court” written about his failed attempt to receive a gubernatorial appointment to Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas in 1957; however, more personal works provide insight into Freedman’s creative side, such as short stories and reflections on his career. Speeches include presentations at annual meetings, conferences, conventions, award ceremonies, and seminars, as well as correspondence, research, notes, and other files relating to the speeches. Freedman’s teaching files constitute the final main category. Included are lecture and seminar materials, examination questions, correspondence, and logs from Freedman’s teaching positions at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, photographs and copies of citations regarding his Honorary Doctor of Law degree from Temple University are found in this series.
The “III. Correspondence and personal papers” series, which dates from 1918 to 2007, with the bulk of materials dating from 1918 to 1971, is arranged alphabetically, with larger categories arranged chronologically within that system. The larger categories are “correspondence” and “letters”. Due to previous processing, some context has been lost with materials in these categories, especially the letters, as they do not include both sides of the conversation. Smaller categories include correspondence and financial documents relating to the Freedman residence at 1014 West Hortter Street in Philadelphia, and posthumous records such as eulogies and remembrances of Abraham Freedman. Other materials included in this series are announcements, catalog cards, interview transcripts, a case study by his son Robert L. Freedman, undergraduate education materials, and some photographs and digital reprints.
This collection is unique in that it evidences civil rights struggles in the mid-20th century in Philadelphia; the struggle for equal education for children from ethnic and cultural minorities is a particular focus. Additionally, the collection provides a great amount of documentation relating to large-scale changes in city government structure, such as the City-County Consolidation and revision of the City Charter, as well as the daily workings of the city government and associated branches. Tracing the evolution of Freedman’s career in relation to his strong ties to civil and community associations, along with his passion for civil rights, provides a look at the role of civic engagement in the professional and social lives of mid-20th century citizens.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2013-2014, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article "More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections," the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections or complete any preservation work.
- Bullitt, William C. (William Christian), 1891-1967
- Clark, Joseph S.
- Girard, Stephen, 1750-1831--Estate
- Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia..
- Girard College.
- Greater Philadelphia Movement..
- Jewish Community Relations Council (Philadelphia, Pa.).
- Philadelphia Charter Commission..
- Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement.
- Philadelphia Housing Association..
- Philadelphia Housing Authority.
- Civic leaders
- Civil rights
- Discrimination in education
- Discrimination in housing
- Jewish judges
- Jewish lawyers
- Municipal charters--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Municipal home rule--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Philadelphia (Pa.)--Politics and government
- Philadelphia (Pa.)--Race relations
- Political campaigns--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe, Annalise Berdini, and Steven Duckworth
- Finding Aid Date
- 2013 December 13
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.