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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 640: T-372: Vt-178: Phon-55

Papers of Beatrice Sobel Burstein, 1928-2001 (inclusive), 1954-1991 (bulk)


Papers of Beatrice Sobel Burstein, member of New York State Commission of Correction, lawyer, judge, and advocate for prisoners' and children's rights.


  • Creation: 1928-2001
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1954-1991


Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Although most of the papers are open to research, those folders access to which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy are closed as noted.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Beatrice Sobel Burstein is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


8.73 linear feet ((14 + 1/2 file boxes, 2 folio+ boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 1 oversize folder, 8 photograph folders, 2 folio photograph folders, 1 audiotape, 2 videotapes, 1 phonograph record, 5 objects)

This collection documents Burstein's career as Commissioner of Corrections in New York State, advocate for prisoners' rights, and judge on New York's District, Family, and Supreme Courts. Relatively little personal material is included. The collection includes speeches; correspondence (some with prisoners and parolees); scrapbook pages; articles and other publications; certificates; clippings; photographs; an audiotape; videotapes; and a phonograph record. Most of the folder headings were created by the processor; those created by Burstein appear in quotation marks.

Additional material received in 2019 (accession number 2019-M79) was added to the collection in September 2021. These materials are housed in #15.5-15.6 and PD.8-PD.10. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1932-2001 (#1.1-3.10, 16F+B.1-17F+B.6, OD.1, Mem.1-Mem.5), contains clippings about Burstein and her family, including husband Herbert, daughters Karen and Ellen, and son John ("Slim Goodbody"); awards and certificates; resumes, and other biographical information. The series is arranged with biographical information, clippings, and scrapbook pages appearing first, followed by an alphabetical arrangement. Personal correspondence, including letters from Burstein's husband and children, is located in Series II.

Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1935-1996, undated (#3.11-4.12, 15.5), includes invitations and correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues; correspondence related to Burstein's law practice and involvement with the National Association of Women Lawyers, the Nassau County Women's Bar Association, and several organizations concerned with the rights and well-being of children. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series III, SPEECHES AND WRITINGS, 1954-1994, undated (#4.13-6.13), consists primarily of speeches and articles by Burstein.

Subseries A, Speeches, 1954-1994, undated (#4.13-6.9), includes such topics as "Discipline in the Home," "The Adolescent and the Law," "The Role of Non-Partisan Organizations in Political Affairs," and "Sentencing: A Judge's View." Commencement addresses, speeches on the 1956 presidential campaign, correspondence regarding speaking engagements, and programs for events featuring Burstein are also included, as well as speech fragments. For additional speeches, see #9.7-9.8, and #10.11-10.12. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Subseries B, Writings, 1962-1981, undated (#6.10-6.13), includes articles focusing primarily on family life and juvenile delinquency. The subseries is arranged chronologically.

Series IV, PROFESSIONAL, 1949-1992 (#6.14-15.4, 15.6, 17F+B.7m), documents Burstein's work as a judge and for prisoners' rights. It is arranged in seven subseries, each arranged chronologically.

Subseries A, New York State Commission of Correction, 1949-1961 (#6.14-8.2), includes meeting minutes, reports of inspections and investigations of correctional facilities, correspondence (some regarding jail conditions and prisoners' mental and physical health), regulations for jail management, and lists of prisons and reformatories.

Subseries B, International Federation of Women Lawyers, 1951-1969, 1990-1991 (#8.3-9.1v, 17F+B.7m), documents Burstein's involvement with the organization. She served as business manager, treasurer, chair of the domestic relations committee, and as a vice president. The subseries includes correspondence, newsletters, conference programs, membership applications, treasurer's reports, and a commemorative canvas attache case from the Federation's 1960 conference. (The organization was also frequently referred to as Federacion International de Abogadas.)

Subseries C, Children's Court campaigns (Nassau County, New York), 1955-1958 (#9.2-10.12), contains correspondence, speeches, press releases, and publicity materials related to Burstein's unsuccessful 1955 and 1958 campaigns for a seat on the Children's Court.

Subseries D, Services for Prisoners' Aid in Nassau and Suffolk (SPANS), 1960-1965 (#11.1-11.15), documents the organization established by Burstein to assist released prisoners in obtaining jobs and housing. It includes correspondence with prisoners and their family members; correspondence regarding halfway houses (including correspondence with Dismas Clark, known as the "hoodlum priest"); and material on an awards luncheon and other programs.

Subseries E, District Court (Nassau County, New York), 1961-1969 (#12.1-12.13, 15.6), includes a small amount of campaign material, a transcript of Burstein's induction ceremony, and correspondence with and about prisoners and parolees.

Subseries F, Family Court (Nassau County, New York), 1963, 1968-1973 (#12.14-13.12), contains material on Burstein's 1963 and 1968 campaigns; a transcript and program for her induction; and correspondence and reports regarding Nassau County's Children's Shelter, regarding cases and complaints, and with and about prisoners and parolees.

Subseries G, New York State Supreme Court, 1971-1992 (#13.13-15.4), includes campaign material; a program and transcript for Burstein's induction; correspondence (including some pertaining to Family Court matters); and material regarding custody issues.

Series V, AUDIOVISUAL, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND OVERSIZED, 1928, 1948-1991, undated (Phon-55, T-372.1, Vt-178.1 - Vt-178.2, PD.1-PD.10), contains recorded interviews of Burstein, photographs, scrapbook pages, and other oversized materials.

Subseries A, Audiovisual, 1962, ca.1988-1991, undated (Phon-55, T-372.1, Vt-178.1 - Vt-178.2), consists of recordings of interviews of Burstein and a videotape of a dinner honoring her.

Subseries B, Photographs, 1948-ca.1985, undated (#PD.1-PD.10), includes photographs of Burstein alone (including in judicial robe) and with family and colleagues.

Subseries C, Oversized, 1928, 1954-1987 (#FD.1, 16F+B.1-17F+B.9, OD.1), serves as a shelflist for oversized materials in the collection and includes scrapbook pages, diplomas and certificates, a campaign poster, and other oversized items.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].


Judge and advocate for the rights of children and prisoners, Beatrice (Sobel) Burstein was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 18, 1915, the daughter of Joseph and Tillie (Star) Sobel, immigrants from what is now Poland. After attending New York University, she graduated from the School of Law at St. John's University in 1937, passing the bar exam in 1940. In 1937, she married lawyer Herbert Burstein. They had six children: Karen (a lawyer and judge on New York City's Family Court), Ellen (a television news anchor), Patricia (an author), Jessica (a photographer), John (a children's health activist known as Slim Goodbody), and Judd (a lawyer). She practiced in her husband's law firm before founding Burstein & Agata, a firm specializing in family law, in 1958. Burstein was the first woman appointed to the New York State Commission of Correction; appointed in 1955, she served until 1961. In 1955 and 1958, she ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat on the Children's Court in Nassau County, New York, on both occasions facing criticism from the opposition for not remaining home with her children.

In 1961, recognizing a lack of services for parolees from county jails and detention centers, Burstein founded SPAN (Services for Prisoners' Aid in Nassau); the organization eventually also included Suffolk County. She also helped establish the first school in the Nassau County jail. She was elected to the District Court in Nassau County in 1962, and after an unsuccessful run in 1963, to the Family Court in 1968. In 1972, she was elected to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 10th Judicial District, where she served until her retirement in 1991. The recipient of numerous awards, Burstein lectured and wrote widely on youth and family problems, and was active in many organizations, including the International Federation of Women Lawyers and the Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children. Beatrice Burstein died in her Long Island, New York, home on January 6, 1991.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1932-2001 (#1.1-3.10, 16F+B.1-17F+B.6, OD.1, Mem.1-Mem.5)
  2. Series II. Correspondence, 1935-1996, undated (#3.11-4.12, 15.5)
  3. Series III. Speeches and writings, 1954-1994, undated (#4.13-6.13)
  4. Series IV. Professional, 1949-1992 (#6.14-15.4, 15.6, 17F+B.7m)
  5. Series V. Audiovisual, photographs, and oversized, 1928, 1948-1991, undated (Phon-55, T-372.1, Vt-178.1 - Vt-178.2, PD.1-PD.10, FD.1, 16F+B.1-17F+B.9, OD.1)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2001-M111. Accession number: 2019-M79 was added in September 2021.

The papers of Beatrice Sobel Burstein were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughter Karen Burstein in July 2001 with an additional donation by her daughter Jessica Burstein in May 2019.

Processing Information

Processed: July 2010

Updated and additional material added: September 2021

By: Susan Earle

Burstein, Beatrice Sobel, 1915-2001. Papers of Beatrice Sobel Burstein, 1928-2001 (inclusive), 1954-1991 (bulk): A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Carl & Lily Pforzheimer Fund, Pforzheimer Fund for the Schlesinger Library, Sybil Shainwald Fund at the Schlesinger Library, and Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund, Radcliffe College Class of 1957 and an additional gift from the Burstein family.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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