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Frederic Ewen Papers

Call Number



1915-1988, inclusive
; 1940-1970, bulk


Ewen, Frederic, 1899-
Ewen, Alexander (Role: Donor)


13.75 Linear Feet in fourteen record cartons and 1 folder.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


Frederic Ewen was an English professor at Brooklyn College from 1930 until 1952, when he resigned after refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee's investigation of communism in higher education. He then organized theatrical lectures and performances featuring blacklisted actors. These stage, radio and television performances included Ewen's dramatic adaptations of literary classics. Ewen was also the author of several books, including a biography of Bertolt Brecht. The collection contains notes, manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, clippings and ephemera.

Historical/Biographical Note

Frederic Ewen (1899-1988) was an author, educator, and champion of the individual's right to self-expression and intellectual freedom. A popular lecturer at Brooklyn College, where he was Professor of English Literature, he dedicated his final book to his former students, who for him had made "teaching a privilege and learning a joy." Dr. Ewen's commitment to freedom of thought, as well as his political activism during the 1930s, led to his becoming a victim of the academic witch hunts of McCarthy Era, and his forced resignation from Brooklyn College in 1952.

Frederic Ewen was born on October 11th, 1899 in Lemberg, Austria, the son of Isaac and Helen (Kramer) Ewen. He was brought by his family to the United States in 1912 and became a naturalized citizen that same year. Ewen grew up in Brooklyn and then attended City College, where he graduated in 1921. He then entered Columbia University, where he received his M.A. in 1925 and his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1932. While studying at City College, he began his career as a teacher, with an appointment as an instructor of English in 1923. In 1930 he became assistant professor of English at Brooklyn College.

In addition to his teaching, Dr. Ewen was a noted author. His first book, The Prestige of Schiller in England, was published by the Columbia University Press in 1932. His Bibliography of Eighteenth-Century English Literature was issued by the same publisher in 1935. With his brother David Ewen, he wrote Musical Vienna, published by Whittlesey House in 1939. The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, by Citadel, followed in 1948.

Within a few years after he joined Brooklyn College's faculty, Dr. Ewen became involved in the two strong political currents of the day, speaking out against the rise of fascism in Europe and against the inequality of suffering during the Great Depression. He became an active member of the Teachers Union, which organized faculty in all the city colleges and sought to end discrimination on city campuses. He was also active in the campaign to support the Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.

In 1940 the New York State Legislature's Joint Committee to Investigate Procedure and Methods of Allocating State Moneys for Public School Purposes and Subversive Activities, known as the Rapp-Coudert Committee, began to investigate allegations of subversive activities in the City's public schools and colleges. Along with seven other teachers from Brooklyn College, Dr. Ewen refused to testify publicly before the panel; in private testimony he called the investigation an "attack on the things that the system stands for and had fought in the last 20 years to obtain." Although Dr. Ewen and the Brooklyn College professors were spared the fate suffered by their colleagues at City College who were investigated by the committee--and dismissed by their school--Dr. Ewen and the other progressive teachers at Brooklyn could not escape a renewed assault during the McCarthy Era. After refusing to cooperate with the McCarran Committee in 1952, Dr. Ewen accepted early retirement and a small pension rather than be fired from Brooklyn College. The loss of his teaching position at the early age of 53 was a bitter blow, as he had dedicated his life to his students.

He married Miriam Gideon, a composer and an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, in 1949. She lost her Brooklyn position in 1954. Frederick Ewen began to organize lectures and readings in union halls, theaters, and other venues. Gathering a team of blacklisted actors who were also in need of work, among them Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and John Randolph, Ewen lectured on literature and drama, and the actors would read excerpts from selected works. With Phoebe Brand and John Randolph, Ewen adapted James Joyce's novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was then produced off-Broadway at the Martinique Theater from 1962-1963. Other adaptations with Brand and Randolph include Thomas Mann's "Magic Mountain," produced at Brandeis University in 1967. Television adaptations by Dr. Ewen include "Two Jewish Stories" in 1966, the "Unknown Chekhov" in 1967, and Chekhov's "Ward Number 6" in 1968, all for CBS.

In 1967, Citadel Press published Dr. Ewen's very highly regarded Bertolt Brecht: His Life, His Art, and His Times. He then began to work on his most ambitious project, a three-volume review of the literature and politics of the mid-nineteenth century entitled A Half-Century of Greatness, the first volume, Heroic Imagination: The Creative Genius of Europe from Waterloo to the Revolution of 1848, was published by Citadel in 1984. In October of 1988, Citadel published The Collected Short Stories of Maxim Gorky, which featured an introduction by Dr. Ewen. Shortly before the Gorky book was released, Brooklyn College formally apologized to Dr. Ewen and the other professors dismissed by the college during the McCarthy Era, and in 1988 a lecture series was established at Brooklyn College bearing his name. Frederic Ewen died on October 18, 1988 in Manhattan.

Frederic Ewen Bibliography:

Bertolt Brecht : His Life, His Art, and His Times. New York : Citadel Press, 1967. 573 pp.Bibliography of Eighteenth-Century English Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935. 28 pp.Heroic Imagination : the Creative Genius of Europe from Waterloo (1815) to the Revolution of 1848. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1984. 742 pp.Musical Vienna. London: Whittlesey House, 1939. 321 pp.The Prestige of Schiller in England, 1788-1859. New York: Columbia University Press, 1932. [and New York: AMS Press, 1973]. 287 pp.The Poetry and Prose of Heinrich Heine, selected and edited with an introduction by Frederic Ewen. New York: Citadel Press: 1948. 874 pp.


Organized into eight series:
Series I: Correspondence
Series II: Personal and Legal Papers
Series III: Scripts
Series IV: Writings by Ewen
Series V: Writings by Others
Series VI: Lecture Notes
Series VII: Research Notes
Series VIII: Subject Files
Series IX: Photographs

Series are arranged alphabetically.

Scope and Content Note

The primary focus of the Papers is on Ewen's teaching career at Brooklyn College. A large portion of the papers is comprised of classroom lecture notes and research materials accumulated for Ewen's many books. There are also many annotated play scripts, as well as Ewen's stage adaptations of the literary classics such as Thomas Mann's, Magic Mountainand The Nihilists, inspired by Dostoyeveski's The Possessed. The correspondence is rich with letters written by Ewen's former students upon learning of his departure from Brooklyn College in 1952. There are legal documents ranging from Rapp-Coudert proceedings to actor's contracts for performances through the Master Institute. The collection also contains photographs used in his publications and family photographs.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created by Frederic Ewen was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Frederic Ewen Papers; TAM 277; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were donated by Alexander Ewen in circa 1999. The accession numbers associated with this gift are 1999.003, 1999.007, 1999.009, and NPA.2005.081.

Custodial History

The Frederic Ewen Papers were donated in circa 1999 by Alexander Ewen. Included were ten linear feet transferred from Brooklyn College, where they previously had been housed, as well as materials received directly from Alex Ewen. The donation of the Frederic Ewen Papers marked the establishment of the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center at the Tamiment Library, NYU.

Related Materials

American Association of University Professors, Academic Freedom Committee Records (TAM 407)
Frederic Ewen Oral History Collection (OH 52)

Collection processed by

Keri A. Myers (2003)

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:27:40 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Photographs were separated from this collection during initial processing and were established as a separate collection, the Frederic Ewen Photographs (PHOTOS 210). In 2013, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Frederic Ewen Papers. The collection was also reboxed in 2013.

Edition of this Guide

Ewen Guide.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012