Judson Memorial Church Oral History Archive
Language of Materials
The Judson Memorial Church Oral History Archive, documents an oral history project conducted by New York University graduate students in Professor Rachel Bernstein's Fall 2008 Oral History class, in conjunction with the Oridnary People, Extraordinary Lives Oral History Project. The interviewees were selected from a list developed by the Judson Church Oral History Committee and Judson historian Ed Powers and include former pastor Howard Moody and several prominent activists and artists that were involved with Judson Memorial Church programs. The oral history interviews concentrate on activities at Judson from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s, although some material falls outside this time period. The items in the collection include administrative documents associated with the project, student papers and presentations, and recordings of the oral history interviews. Additionally in 2010, one of the former students, Johanna Steinberg, interviewed more people, adding those recordings to this collection.
In 1838, a small group in Greenwich Village, dissatisfied with local churches, founded the Berean Church on the corner of Bedford and Downing Streets. Fifty years later, under the direction of Rev. Edward Judson (1844-1914), a new church was built and named Judson Memorial Church in memoriam to Edward's father Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), the first missionary to Burma. Edward Judson chose as the new location of his church the south side of Washington Square Park, because he wanted to reach out to the neighboring Italian community. His goal was not to convert, but to help supply this community, and any other community in need, with the necessary tools to become successful and independent.
Edward Judson's mission for the Judson Memorial Church was to create a ministry devoted to social outreach, which would meet the needs of the city and of its growing immigrant population. Some of the social service programs developed during Rev. Judson's tenure included a health center, an employment service, sewing and cooking classes, a community woodpile, and the delivery of fresh milk from New Jersey farms.
Judson Church's mission of social outreach continued throughout the years following Edward Judson's ministry. Beginning in the 1950's under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Spike and continuing under Rev. Howard Moody, Judson Memorial Church established programs designed to help those in need despite the controversial or sometimes, unpopular nature of that help. The church, for example, established local networks to aid women who needed abortions, housed and cared for drug addicts and runaway teens, established a Professional Women's Clinic for women engaged in prostitution, and helped provide medical resources for people with AIDS to name only a few of it's progressive programs.
The Judson Memorial Church supported a radical arts ministry. The groundwork for involvement in the arts had been laid by Edward Judson's gospel sings and moving picture shows during the early years of the church. However, the Judson Arts Ministry did not fully take shape until the late 1950's when church members polled local artists to determine how the church could best assist the arts community. The results of this inquiry indicated that artists needed space in which to create and show their work. The Judson Memorial Church responded by making the space of the church available to artists for art exhibitions, rehearsals, and performances. The church also assured that this space was to be a place where these artists could have the freedom to experiment in their work without fear of censorship.
In 1957, the Judson Memorial Church offered gallery space to Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, and Robert Rauschenberg, who were then unknown artists. In 1959, the Judson Gallery showed work by Pop artists, Tom Wesselman, Daniel Spoerri, and Red Grooms. The Judson Gallery became the first home to the "happenings" movement of the 1960's. Hosted by the Judson Group, these "happenings" included Ray Gun Spex and Jim Dines' presentation of an environment called Apple Shrines.
In 1959, the Judson Literary Quarterly, Exodus, was published under the aegis of the Judson Studio. This anthology of poetry edited by Howard Hart and sold in local bookstores, included poems by William Godden, Robert Hanlon, and John Williams. Volumes I, II, and II of Exodus were published in the spring of 1959, the fall of 1959, and the summer of 1960, respectively. Exodus later became The Judson Review, edited by Rev. Al Carmines and Don Katzman. Volume I of The Judson Review was published in 1963 and included the poetry of Jackson Mac Low, Diane Wakoski, and Joel Oppenheimer.
In 1961, the Judson Poet's Theater was founded by Robert Nichols and Chuck Gordone, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a "free-wheeling" Sunday-school teacher at the church. The Judson Poet's Theater laid the foundation for "off off" Broadway theater, by producing plays by Rosalyn Drexler, Chuck Gordone, Maria Irene Fornes, Robert Nichols, Sam Shepard, and Lanford Wilson. In 1967, Rev. Al Carmines restructured the group and renamed it the Judson Musical Theater. The Judson Musical Theater produced musical theater performances throughout the late 1960's and the 1970's.
The Judson Dance Theater, which began in 1962, provided a venue for dancers and choreographers such as Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, David Gordon, and Yvonne Rainer to create and show their work. Among others, these dancers and choreographers shaped dance history by creating post-modern dance, the first avant-garde movement in dance theater since the modern dance of the 1930's and 1940's. Judson Dance Theater was founded by a group of young choreographers who had taken Robert Dunn's choreography course at the Merce Cunningham studio from 1960-1962. These choreographers decided to present a concert of work they had created during the Dunn course. Judson Memorial Church welcomed the group and provided space for rehearsal and performance. A Concert of Dance #1, open to the public and free of charge, was presented at Judson Memorial Church on July 6, 1962. This concert proved to be the beginning of the evolution of post-modern dance.
In the 1970's, the Judson Memorial Church hosted various art shows and multi-media events. Most notable among these multi-media events was the People's Flag Show of November 1970, a six-day exhibition of painting and sculpture on the theme of the American flag. The exhibit and the accompanying symposium, featuring speeches by Abbie Hoffman and Kate Millet, attracted widespread attention from the public, the press, and the police. During the final days of the exhibit, three of the contributing artists were arrested, Rev. Howard Moody was served with a summons, and the District Attorney closed the exhibit on charges of desecration of the American flag.
In the 1980's, the Judson Memorial Church sponsored various political theater performances, such as those by the Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater. These performances included Insurrection Opera and Oratorio, performed in February and March of 1984. In this performance, the Bread and Puppet Theater, under the direction of founder, Peter Schumann, used opera and the company's now signature oversized puppets to convey an anti-nuclear message.
The Judson Memorial Church celebrated its Centennial in 1990 with performances and symposia involving many of the artists who had been involved with the arts ministry in the 1960's and 1970's. The Judson Memorial Church continues its support of the arts and its social outreach to the community today. Among the church's present day arts-related activities is a free dance concert series coordinated by the dance organization, Movement Research, and held at the Judson Memorial Church on Monday evenings.
The materials are arranged alphabetically by either student or interviewee name. The collection is organized into four series, two of which have been further divided into subseries. The series and subseries arrangement of the collection is as follows:
Series I: Administrative Papers
Series II: Student-Produced Material
Subseries A: Fieldwork Analysis Papers
Subseries B: Student Presentations
Subseries C: Student Presentations CDs/DVDs
Series III: Oral History Interview Audio Discs
Subseries A: Audio - Access Copies
Subseries B: Audio - Originals
Series IV: 2010 Oral History Interviews
Scope and Contents
The Judson Memorial Church Oral History Archive contains oral history interviews and related documents concerning 21 prominent individuals associated with the Judson Memorial Church. The work was conducted by New York University graduate students in Professor Rachel Bernstein's Fall 2008 Oral History Class. The materials include administrative documents, student papers and presentations, and digital audio files of the oral history interviews.
The oral history interviewees were selected by the Judson Church Oral History Committee and Judson historian Ed Powers. The interviewees include political and social activists, artists, Judson Memorial Church clergy, and congregation members. The interviews cover a wide range of topics but focus primarily on the lives of the interviewees and the social, political, artistic, and religious activities of the Judson Church, with emphasis on the period of 1950 through the 1970s.
The original individuals interviewed include:
Anna Lou Pickett
In 2018, an additional 11 oral history digital audio recordings were added to the existing collection. These interviews were conducted by Joanna Steinburg, one of Bernstein's former students on the oral history project. The 2010 interviews were primarily with artists in the Judson Dance Theater (including Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer), as well as congregants who had been part of the Judson Poets Theater. These interviews cover new ground, exploring the social context of the church, and recording the artists' reflections as they look back on their involvement at Judson 50 years later.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open to researchers.
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder. In particular, student work in Series II may not be reproduced or quoted without permission of the student authors. Please contact the Fales Library and Special Collections, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-998-2596.
Identification of item, date; Judson Memorial Church Oral History Archive; MSS 232; box number; folder number; Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Judson Memorial Church Oral History Archive was acquired from New York University Professor Rachel Bernstein in 2009 after completion of the Oral History course. The accession number associated with this gift is 2009.232.
An accretion to the collection was donated by former Bernstein student, Joanna Steinberg, in July 2018. The accession number associated with this gift is 2019.011.
About this Guide
Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2019 are unknown. In 2019, the accretion flash drive was labeled and information was recorded into medialog.