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COLLECTION Identifier: 91-M129--95-M12

Papers of Ellen K. Silbergeld, 1968-1994


Correspondence, drafts, research notes, etc., of Ellen K. Silbergeld, environmental toxicologist and research scientist.


  • Creation: 1968-1994

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. During the donor's lifetime, researchers wishing to use the papers must first obtain her written permission.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. The donor transfers her copyright in the papers to Radcliffe College for the Schlesinger Library, except that during her lifetime Radcliffe College will not authorize the publication of quotations from the papers without the donor's written permission.

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


16.42 linear feet ((16 cartons, 1 file box) plus 7 folders of photographs, 4 audiotapes, 1 videotape)

The papers are arranged in five series:

Series I, Personal (#1-9), contains curricula vitae, a will and living will declaration, articles about Silbergeld, and materials related to her participation in 1960s protests against the war in Vietnam and the Catholic Church.

Series II, Correspondence (#10-43) consists of Silbergeld's professional correspondence, is arranged in one chronological sequence, and includes applications for fellowships and employment. After 1982, most of the correspondence relates to Silbergeld's work for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Series III, Professional activities (#44-431), is divided into three sub-series:

Chronological (#44-105) includes materials for conferences Silbergeld attended, appointments to editorial and advisory boards, and other general activities and interests.

Organizations (#106-254) consists of files from her involvement with various national and international agencies such as the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the OECD.

Subject file (#255-431) includes papers in various research areas such as lead poisoning, reproductive toxicology, dioxins, PCBs, hazardous waste, cancer, and asbestos; much of this material is related to Silbergeld's work for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Series IV, Writings (#432-497), includes drafts, reprints, research notes, and correspondence pertaining to published and unpublished works written by Silbergeld alone or with others.

Series V, Reference material (#498-543), consists primarily of copies of the abstracts or introductions of published articles by others Silbergeld kept for reference. There are also unpublished drafts of articles by others and conference papers, some with notations by Silbergeld, and a few letters to Silbergeld.

Most folder titles are Silbergeld's, although cumulative headings are used to avoid repetition in individual folder titles. Titles and other information supplied by the processor are in square brackets [].


Environmental toxicologist and research scientist Ellen (Kovner) Silbergeld was born in Washington, D.C., in 1945 and has degrees in history from Vassar College (A.B. 1967) and in environmental engineering sciences from Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D. 1972). Her professional interests include neuropharmacology and toxicology, and environmental risk assessment. In particular, Silbergeld has studied the effects of dioxins and PCBs on humans, and an interest in lead poisoning has spanned her career. The character "Hester Silver" in Janice Kaplan's A Morning Affair (New York: New American Library, 1989) was based on Silbergeld.

Silbergeld has been an activist from the late 1960s. She was an intern--one of "Nader's Raiders"--at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law, and joined the Center for Christian Renewal, a group of disaffected Catholics protesting racism in the church, "oppressive" teachings (re: birth control, divorce, etc.) incompatible with modern life, and the war in Vietnam. She was detained for attempting to pass out leaflets at a mass in 1969, but charges were dropped. That same year, as secretary and program officer at the National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council, she helped organize a meeting for staff to observe the nationwide moratorium called by the Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. In 1971, Silbergeld was arrested twice as a result of her participation in "Mayday" protests on May 3rd and 5th following the Federal Employees for Peace rally in Lafayette Square. Settlements from this action were reached, only in 1980, as a result of a class-action suit brought by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union ).

After a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins in environmental medicine and neurosciences beginning in 1972, Silbergeld's career closely followed her scientific interests. She worked at the National Institutes of Health (1975-1984) as a staff fellow, as chief of the Section on Neurotoxicology, and as guest scientist in the Reproductive Toxicology Section. Bringing together her skills as scientist and lobbyist, Silbergeld became director of the Toxic Chemicals Program and chief toxics scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in Washington in 1982, leading EDF's scientific effort to end human exposure to lead and dioxins; she is still part of the permanent program staff, since 1992 holding the Environmental Health Chair at the Environmental Defense Fund. She is concurrently professor of toxicology in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, and also teaches in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Because of her expertise and her position with the Environmental Defense Fund, Silbergeld has advised both national and international organizations and advocacy groups, and has been influential in determining policies relating to environmental hazards. She has worked with the Chemicals Program of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) since 1982, and has served on the Science Advisory Board (SAB) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1983-1989, 1994- ). She sat on the Lead Poisoning Advisory Council for the state of Maryland, 1990-1993, is currently an active member of many professional and scientific organizations, and is on the editorial and advisory boards of journals in her fields of expertise.

Silbergeld received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1993, was nominated for a Living on Earth Award, and received the Edward K. Barsky Award of The Physicians Forum of the American Public Health Association. Her husband, Alan Mark Silbergeld, is director of the Washington D.C. office of the Consumers Union. They have two children, Sophia and Nicholas.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 91-M129, 91-M227, 93-M9, 93-M114, 94-M76, 95-M12

These papers were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ellen Silbergeld between August 1991 and February 1995.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Additional papers of Ellen K. Silbergeld, 1982-2001 (MC 637).


  1. Carton 1: 1-28
  2. Carton 2: 29-47
  3. Carton 3: 48-105
  4. Carton 4: 106-135
  5. Carton 5: 136-157
  6. Carton 6: 158-182
  7. Carton 7: 183-206
  8. Carton 8: 207-230
  9. Carton 9: 231-260
  10. Carton 10: 261-288
  11. Carton 11: 289-327
  12. Carton 12: 328-358
  13. Carton 13: 359-385
  14. Carton 14: 386-417
  15. Carton 15: 418-461
  16. Carton 16: 462-519
  17. Box 17: 520-543


  1. ACLUF: American Civil Liberties Union Foundation
  2. ATSDR: Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry
  3. CDC: U.S. Centers for Disease Control
  4. CF: Conservation Foundation
  5. EEC: European Economic Community
  6. EDF: Environmental Defense Fund
  7. EPA: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  8. CASAC: Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee
  9. IEMP: Integrated Environmental Management Project
  10. SAB: Science Advisory Board
  11. FIFRA: Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act
  12. FR: Federal Register
  13. NAS: National Academy of Sciences
  14. BEST: Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology
  15. NRC: National Research Council
  16. NHANES: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
  17. NIEHS: National Institute of Environmental Health Science
  18. NIH: National Institutes of Health
  19. NINCDS: National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke
  20. NSF: National Science Foundation
  21. NTP: National Toxicology Program
  22. OECD: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  23. OSHA: U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  24. RA: Risk Assessment
  25. RCRA: Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  26. SOEH: Society for Occupational and Environmental Health
  27. TSCA: Toxic Substances Control Act
  28. UMAB: University of Maryland at Baltimore
  29. WHO: World Health Organization

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: December 1996

By: Jacalyn R. Blume

Silbergeld, Ellen K.. Papers of Ellen K. Silbergeld, 1968-1994: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
The collection was processed under a grant from Clara Schiffer.

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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