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Henry Foner Papers and Photographs

Call Number



1922-2013, inclusive
; 1940-2004, bulk


Foner, Henry (Role: Donor)


16 Linear Feet
in 14 record cartons, 1 manuscript box, 1 flat box, and 2 folders in oversize flat boxes, 1 oversize folder in flat-file cabinet

Language of Materials

Materials are in English


Henry Foner (1919- ) was president of the Joint Board, Fur, Leather and Machine Workers Union (FLM) and a social activist. After serving in World War II, Foner was appointed Welfare and Educational Director of the FLM; in 1961, he was elected union president. Foner worked on a wide range of progressive issues, from promoting civil rights to protesting the Vietnam War. After retiring in 1988, Foner taught labor history and wrote a column for the journal Jewish Currents. The records and photographs cover Foner's professional activities, familial relationships, musical interests, involvement with the Rapp-Coudert Committee and academic freedom, and other personal interests.

Historical/Biographical Note

Henry J. Foner (1919- ), longtime activist leader of the Joint Board, Fur, Leather and Machine Workers Union (FLM), grew up in New York, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. His father had a seltzer delivery route, and later owned a garage. In high school, Foner started playing saxophone with a band at hotels in the Catskills. He also started composing comic verses, played to the tunes of popular songs. By the late 1930s, Foner had acquired an interest in history and politics from his older brothers, Moe, Philip and Jack, and began developing the commitment to progressive activism that would shape his life. After graduating from City College with a degree in Business Administration in 1939, Foner organized "Student Caravans for America," which sent groups around the country to perform puppet shows promoting an anti-war message. The puppets were made by Pete Seeger. Foner's own group had its puppets and stage destroyed by a group of vandals in Bristol, Vermont and had to be rescued by the local sheriff.

In 1940, Foner's three brothers were all working at City College when the actions of the Joint Legislative Committee to Investigate the Educational System of the State of New York, known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee - investigating Communism in New York public schools and colleges, and employing tactics that later became a template for the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations - resulted in their suspension, along with fifty other employees of New York City Colleges.

At the time, Henry Foner, who had received his substitute-teaching license in stenography and typewriting, was teaching at Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn. He had already passed all parts of the regular teaching examination, but he was not granted that license because of an "insufficiently meritorious record" after he, too, had been questioned by the committee, and he initiated an appeal from that decision to the New York State Commissioner of Education. Meanwhile, together with two of his brothers, he helped form "The Foner Orchestra and their Suspended Swing" in mock homage to their experience. During the summer of 1941, they played at Arrowhead Lodge in Ellenville, New York, where the post of staff comic was filled by Sam Levenson, a friend of the family who, at that time, was teaching with Foner at Tilden High School.

In the summer of 1942, Foner was drafted into the Army and assigned to the 88th Infantry Division in Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, where he rose to the rank of warrant officer. After his division entered combat in Italy, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Italian Military Valor Cross, "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services." Upon returning from military service in 1946, he resumed teaching, this time at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn, while awaiting the outcome of his appeal to the State Commissioner. During the summers of 1946, 1947, and 1948, he and his brother Jack were part of the orchestra at Arrowhead Lodge, which became the official resort of the Jefferson School of Social Science, whose faculty was made up largely of victims of the Rapp-Coudert Committee, joined by other scholars. During the summer of 1947, he met his wife, Lorraine Lieberman, and they were married in March 1948.

In 1947, together with Norman Franklin, Foner co-authored a musical, "Thursdays Till Nine" that was sponsored by the Department Store Employees Union and performed by its members -- the first labor musical since "Pins and Needles," written a decade earlier for the International Ladies' Garment Worker's Union by Harold Rome. Immediately after returning from his summer employment at Arrowhead Lodge in 1948, Foner was informed that his appeal to the State Commissioner had been denied and his substitute teacher license was withdrawn. At the time, his brother, Philip, had been writing what was to become a history of the fur and leather workers' union, and he introduced Foner to the leaders of the union, which led Foner's being hired as Educational and Welfare Director of the Joint Board Fur Dressers' and Dryers' Unions. In 1961, after the death of Joint Board President Sam Burt, Foner was elected president of the union and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1988. During his 27 years in the leadership of the Joint Board, he not only represented the union's members in contract negotiations in a union that covered workers in the fur, leather, and machine industries in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia, but he helped involve that union in a wide range of social issues, including the struggle for civil rights, helping to mobilize other unions in opposition to the war in Vietnam and joining in the early efforts to achieve universal healthcare coverage. He also established and edited the union's newspaper, FLM Joint Board TEMPO, which, for ten successive years, won the first prize for "general excellence" in the competitions sponsored by the International Labor Press Association. In addition to his union work, Foner also served as a vice-chairman of the New York State Liberal Party, as chair of the party's Labor Committee, as a member of governor Mario Cuomo's Committee on labor practices and as a member of New York City Mayor John Lindsay's Committee of the Judiciary. After the fur industry was attacked by animal rights activists, Foner served on the board of Wildlife Legislative Fund of America and authored a weekly column, "Conservation, Legislation and You" for the trade newspaper, Fur Age Weekly.

After retiring from the union in 1988, Foner helped create the Fur Design Department at the Fashion Institute of technology (FIT) and served for two years as its chair. He also taught classes in labor history at the Harry Van Arsdale School for Labor Studies, the City College Center for Worker Education and the Brooklyn College Institute for Retirees in Pursuit of Education (IRPE), joined the Editorial Board of Jewish Currents magazine and for three years wrote its column, "It Happened in Israel." He was also vice-president of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, treasurer (and later president) of the Paul Robeson Foundation, and a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Labor History Association, whose newsletter, Work History News, he continues to edit. In 2000, he privately published a booklet of his poems and songs, For Better or Verse. The same year, together with labor historian Rachel Bernstein and later joined by Evelyn Jones Rich, he helped found the website Labor Arts ( sponsored by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University, and 1199/SEIU's Bread and Roses cultural program.

Foner and his three brothers were all involved in issues involving labor and radical history. The twins, Philip and Jack, had distinguished careers as historians after their exit from City College in 1940 - Philip at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and Jack at Colby College in Maine. Moe was executive secretary of Local 1199 during its dramatic organizational campaigns in the hospitals of New York City and beyond and later went on to found the Bread and Roses cultural program. In the next generation, Jack's son, Eric, has distinguished himself, as a professor of history at Columbia University and Moe's daughter, Nancy, is currently a professor of sociology at Hunter College. In 1985, the four brothers received the Tom Paine award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee for their actions in defense of civil right and civil liberties. Fourteen years later - in 1999 - they received the Distinguished Labor Communicators' Award from the Metro Labor Press Association. In 2003, Foner received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Jews for Radical and Economic Justice (JFREJ). His wife of 54 years, Lorraine Lieberman Foner, who had received a Special Baccalaureate Degree from Brooklyn College, worked as a social worker at Brookdale hospital in Brooklyn until her retirement in 1988, died of complications of a brain tumor.


This collection has been grouped into six series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Family
  2. Series II: Correspondence
  3. Series III: Writings and Writings by Others
  4. Subseries A: General
  5. Subseries B: Rapp-Coudert Committee
  6. Subseries C: Paul Robeson
  7. Series IV: Subject Files
  8. Series V: Addendum
  9. Series VI: Photographs

Scope and Content Note

This collection is made up of the papers and photographs which have been donated by Henry Foner in numerous batches since 2001. The records and photographs cover Foner's professional activities, familial relationships, musical interests, involvement with the Rapp-Coudert Committee and academic freedom, and other personal interests.


Foner, Henry

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Henry Foner were transferred to New York University in 2001 by Henry Foner. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive. Please contact

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Henry Foner Papers and Photographs; TAM 254; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Boxes 1-11 are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact at least two business days prior to research visit.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials donated by Henry Foner prior to 2001 and in batches since 2001; additional materials were found in the repository in 2014. The accession numbers associated with these gifts are 1950.122, 1950.257, 2001.151, 2001.206, NPA.2005.075, NPA.2005.224, NPA.2006.035, NPA.2006.060, NPA.2006.087, NPA.2007.015, 2011.070, 2014.026, and 2014.147.

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.


Eight front pages of the FLM Joint Board's publication Tempo mounted as plaques were discarded in 2014.

Related Archival Materials

Philip Foner Papers (TAM 153)

Conference on Democracy in Education Records (TAM 221)

International Fur and Leather Workers' Union Records, 1913-1955. Catherwood Library Kheel Center, Cornell University (Collection Number: 5676)

Collection processed by

Alexander Bernhardt Bloom, Keri A. Myers, and Wendy Scheir, 2005. Edited by Margaret to reflect the incorporation of nonprint materials and for compliance with DACS and Tamiment Required Elements for Archival Description, 2013.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:02:50 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid is in English

Processing Information

Photographs were separated from this collection during initial processing and were established as a separate collection, the Henry Foner Photographs (PHOTOS 191) in 2003. Another separate donation of photographs was made by Foner and became the Furriers and Leather Workers Union Photographs (PHOTOS 110). In 2013, both photograph collections were reincorporated into the Henry Foner Papers and Photographs (TAM 254). Subsequent donations have continued from Foner and have been added to Series V: Addendum and Series VI: Photographs.

A box of plaques found in the repository in 2014 was added to the collection as Box 16. A cartoon poster was added to the collection in 2014; the accession number associated with this poster is 2014.147.

Materials found in the repository related to Foner's work with academic freedom were added to Series V in 2014.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Foner, Herny new.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
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