Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MC 709: T-184

Additional papers of Elizabeth Holtzman, 1977-1994


Correspondence, press releases, speeches, photographs, and memorabilia of Elizabeth Holtzman, lawyer and politician.


  • Creation: 1977-1994


Language of Materials

Most material in English; some material in Spanish.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Written permission required during Elizabeth Holtzman's lifetime. For five years after Elizabeth Holtzman's death, written permission is required from the executor of her estate. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Elizabeth Holtzman is held by Elizabeth Holtzman during her lifetime. Upon the death of Elizabeth Holtzman, copyright will be transferred to her heir. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied for researchers who have obtained written permission for access, in accordance with the library's usual procedures. Copies may not be made for deposit in other libraries.


22.52 linear feet ((54 file boxes) plus 18 photograph folders, and electronic records)

This collection documents Elizabeth Holtzman's professional life as District Attorney of Kings County, New York, and as Comptroller of New York City. The papers include correspondence, press releases, reports, photographs, clippings, and memoranda. Also included is material from Holtzman's 1992 U.S. Senate campaign (Series V); her work with the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust in the 1980s (Series VI); and Holtzman's involvement with the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 (Series VI). The bulk of the papers contain speeches and remarks given by Holtzman to a wide variety of groups and organizations (Series II, Series IV). Holtzman spoke on an array of topics including Nazi war criminals (#4.9), women's rights (#5.33), Israel (#4.13), and gave many tributes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (#7.3-7.6). Included throughout are testimonies given by Holtzman to various committees regarding corruption, finance, medical waste, prison overcrowding, workplace safety, pension funds, and urban development (Series III, Series IV). There are virtually no personal or family papers. Holtzman's Congressional Papers are held by the Schlesinger Library (Elizabeth Holtzman Papers MC 793.) The official government records of Holtzman's terms as District Attorney and Comptroller are held by New York City's Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS).

Original folder headings were maintained; titles in brackets were created by the archivist. Organization of the collection follows the order maintained by Elizabeth Holtzman and her offices, with the exception of correspondence and speeches, which were gathered into their own series by the archivist. There is overlap in topics within the clippings kept by Holtzman's staff (Series III, Series IV). Additional material received on floppy disks will be reformatted at some future date. Audiotapes received with the papers have been cataloged separately; see Elizabeth Holtzman Audiotape collection, 1973-1993 (T-184).

Series I, Correspondence, 1982-1992, n.d. (#1.1-4.6, PD.1-PD.2), includes letters to and from Holtzman, as well as reports, pamphlets, and other documents that were sent to her office by constituents and colleagues. Also included are fundraising appeals from Holtzman's various campaigns (#1.2-1.5). Holtzman's correspondence as District Attorney includes letters of congratulations on her election to Comptroller (#3.1-3.5). Holtzman's correspondence as Comptroller includes letters Holtzman sent to other New York City officials regarding issues brought to her attention. Topics include sexual harassment in the Fire Department, wasteful spending, lack of computers in New York City classrooms, and pension funds (#1.6-2.2). There are also thank you letters from Holtzman to constituents and other public officials (#1.6-2.2). There is a small amount of personal correspondence from friends throughout, some regarding trips taken together (#3.6). The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series II, Speeches, 1982-1993, n.d. (#4.7-19.64, PD.3-PD.4), includes speeches, remarks, greetings, outlines, and notes from throughout Holtzman's career as District Attorney and Comptroller. Holtzman spoke often before a variety of groups, including schools, community centers, synagogues, churches, activist groups, neighborhood groups, and professional organizations. Holtzman's speeches encompass a wide range of topics, including the Holocaust, Nazi war criminals, women and the law, gay and lesbian rights, presidential elections, AIDS awareness, Jewish issues, and breast cancer. Many of the graduation speeches are similar in subject matter and tone. Holtzman's swearing-in speech as District Attorney can be found in Series III (#23.9); her acceptance speech and inaugural address as Comptroller can be found in Series IV (#29.23). Speeches from her U.S. Senate campaign can be found in Series V (#51.6-51.7). Greetings are generally three to five minutes long, remarks five to ten minutes long, and speeches between ten and twenty minutes long. Folders contain either the full text of the speech, or an outline of the talk. Very few of the folders contain correspondence. This series was created by the archivist; folder titles are original. When known, speech titles are given in quotation marks. This series is arranged chronologically.

Series III, District Attorney of Kings County, 1981-1991, n.d. (#19.65-24.3, PD.5-PD.9), includes reports, memoranda, clippings, press releases, and testimonies relating to Holtzman's two terms as district attorney. Included is material regarding the People v. Pymm case prosecuted by Holtzman's office in 1986 (#21.13-22.1). Also included is material on the two-way video phone system pilot project between the District Attorney's office and the 73rd Precinct Police Department (#23.13). There is also material on the reprimand Holtzman received from the Grievance Committee for the 10th Judicial District for publically criticizing Judge Irving Levine in 1987; Holtzman alleged that Levine had directed a rape victim to demonstrate her attack during the non-jury trial (#21.5-21.7). An investigation revealed it was the defense attorney who requested the demonstration. Holtzman appealed her reprimand to the U.S. Supreme Court who refused to hear her case. Press material includes articles by and about Holtzman re: police brutality, crime victims, school inspections, witness protection, and gun control. Photographs show staff members, Holtzman and her family at her swearing in ceremony in 1981, and Holtzman with Saul Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, and Imre Bathory, the Armenian farmer who saved his life (#PD.6). Speeches and remarks given by Holtzman as District Attorney can be found in Series II. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series IV, Comptroller of New York City, 1984-1994, n.d. (#24.4-43.8, PD.10-PD.17), includes memoranda, clippings, reports, remarks, audits, press releases, and testimonies relating to Holtzman's term as Comptroller. Holtzman held many neighborhood forums on small businesses (#28.38-28.41), health (#28.29-28.31, 28.42), and the environment (#28.35-28.37). Small business forums focused on loan programs offered by the Comptroller's office, and ways New York was trying to make the contracting process more transparent so small businesses could compete for City contracts. Environmental forums focused on pollution, recycling, sludge, and incinerators. Health forums covered breast cancer screening, vaccinations, and affordable health care. Other speeches and remarks given by Holtzman as Comptroller can be found in Series II. Included is material relating to the New York City Charter, section §328c, which gave the Comptroller the right to object to a contract if there was possible corruption in the letting of the contract or if the proposed contractor was involved in corrupt activity (#37.7-40.2). In 1991 Holtzman asked the state legislature to pass a bill which would allow city employees who had served in the Persian Gulf to received retirement service credit for the period they were on unpaid leave (#30.13). The comptroller's office was also charged with conducting audits of other City agencies and public authorities, and private entities that received funding from or generated revenue for the City (#24.15-25.5). Education, child care, public safety, and New York sports teams are examples of agencies audited. Also included is material on Berkman v. The New York City Fire Department, a sexual harassment lawsuit investigated by the Comptroller's office (#43.4-43.6). Press material includes press releases and clippings. The series is arranged alphabetically.

Series V, Senate campaigns, 1979-1993, n.d. (#43.9-51.8, PD.18), includes polls, clippings, financial records, memoranda, reports, questionnaires, and press releases relating to Holtzman's U.S. Senate campaign in 1992. There is a small amount of material from her 1980 campaign when she ran against the Republic candidate Alfonse D'Amato and the incumbent U.S. Senator Jacob Javits in the general election (#48.6). In 1992 Holtzman ran against Geraldine Ferraro, Al Sharpton, and Robert Abrams in the Democratic primary for the chance to challenge incumbent U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato. The primary candidates fought bitterly, accusing each other of various ethical violations such as ties to organized crime and incomplete financial disclosures (#45.7-46.4). Abrams won the primary (#44.1, 49.5). In her concession speech given on September 15, 1992, Holtzman praised her Democratic opponents for all of their hard work, and stated "We all win when Alfonse D'Amato is defeated" (#44.5). Also included are campaign strategy memoranda from Squier, Eskew, Knapp, and Ochs, a political consulting firm that worked for Holtzman (#48.6). Press material includes campaign clippings.

Series VI, Other professional, 1977-1984 (#51.9-53.6), includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes, and background papers. In June of 1977 Sharon Roubeck wrote to Holtzman's New York Congressional office to request federal funding for a experimental drug trial treating post-anoxic intention myoclonus, a rare disease (#53.1-53.2). The medications for this condition were considered drugs of limited commercial value and were not being produced in large quantities, therefore making them very expensive. This issue led Holtzman to file a bill (H.R. 7089) in 1980 to establish an office in the National Institute of Health (NIH) to assist in the development of drugs for diseases and conditions of low incidence (#53.5). Holtzman's bill was not passed, but in 1983 it was re-submitted by Henry Waxman and became the Orphan Drug Act of 1983. Also included is a poem written by Roubeck's father, Melvin Roubeck, thanking Holtzman (#53.5) and Roubeck's testimony at the oversight hearing on drug regulation reform (#53.5). In 1981 the American Jewish Commission on the Holocaust was founded by Jack Eisner, a Holocaust survivor. Its charge was to conduct an objective inquiry into the actions and attitudes of American Jewish leaders and organizations concerning the Holocaust during World War II. Thirty five Jewish leaders, including Holtzman, served on the Commission. The Commission was dissolved in 1982, but wrote several draft reports in 1983 (#52.4-52.6). After reading a draft report, historian Lucy Dawidowicz published "Indicting American Jews," in Commentary (#52.3), where she called into question the actual research done for the commission and its report.

Series VII, Memorabilia, ca.1987-1993 n.d. (#54.1m-54.6m), includes buttons, awards given to Holtzman, and a fortieth anniversary Warsaw Ghetto Uprising keepsake. The buttons are arranged by topic, then alphabetically.

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 [*].


Elizabeth Holtzman was born on August 11, 1941, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Sidney Holtzman, was a lawyer in private practice in New York City, and her mother, Filia (Ravitz) Holtzman, was a professor of Russian at Hunter College. Elizabeth Holtzman graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York, in 1958. After graduating from Radcliffe College magna cum laude (A.B.,1962), she entered Harvard Law School (J.D.,1965). While attending law school, Holtzman joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); during the summer months she worked as a law clerk for civil rights lawyer C. B. King. In 1965 Holtzman joined the Wachtell, Lipton law firm in New York City. Two years later she was recruited to work for New York City mayor John Lindsay, becoming the first woman assistant to a New York City mayor.

In 1972 Holtzman ran a grassroots campaign against long-time Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Emmanuel Celler. She won, becoming the youngest woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Holtzman served on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and as a freshman representative participated in the Richard Nixon impeachment proceedings. In 1978 Holtzman worked in Congress to extend the deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment, and passed legislation to expel Nazi war criminals from the United States. In 1980 Holtzman ran for the U.S. Senate, winning the Democratic primary, but losing in the general election to Alfonse D'Amato.

In 1982 she was elected as New York City's first female district attorney, heading the city's largest office, Brooklyn. As District Attorney of Kings County, Holtzman led a successful effort to reform New York State's rape laws, and established Brooklyn's first comprehensive rape counseling center. She also established a narcotics bureau with a special crack unit to investigate and prosecute major drug dealers. Her office worked to strengthen New York State's whistle blower statute. Holtzman developed new programs to support crime victims, including a crime victims counseling unit, and instituted New York State's first victim impact statements at sentencing hearings. In 1985 Holtzman was re-elected on the strength of her record of achieving the highest conviction rate in New York City for 1983 and 1984. In 1986 Holtzman's office brought charges of assault, falsifying records, and reckless endangerment against the Pymm Thermometer Corporation in Brooklyn. For years the company extracted mercury from old, broken thermometers without permits, ventilation, or regard for the health of its employees. One man suffered permanent brain damage. In 1987 Holtzman introduced a pilot project to use a two-way video phone system between the District Attorney's office and the 73rd Precinct Police Department. The project aimed to speed up the arrest process; a year later the program was extended to five other Brooklyn precincts.

In 1989 Holtzman was elected as New York City's first female comptroller. That same year she joined the newly formed Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), founded by a small group of investors after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March of 1989. In 1990, the City of New York negotiated a new city charter to improve the contracting process. One section of the charter, §328c, gave the comptroller the right to object to a New York City contract if there was possible corruption in the contract terms, or if the proposed contractor was involved in corrupt activity. Holtzman's office used this power to investigate contracts within the five departments affected; Housing Preservation and Development, Department of General Services, Department of Correction, Department of Transportation, and the Department of Environmental Protection. As comptroller Holtzman also launched programs to encourage minority- and women- owned firms to submit bids to manage the City's pension funds, and oversaw the divestment of millions of dollars of New York City's pension fund assets from South Africa as a protest against apartheid.

In 1992 Holtzman ran again for the U.S. Senate, running against Geraldine Ferraro, Al Sharpton, Robert J. Mrazek and Robert Abrams in the Democratic primary. Abrams won the primary. Holtzman lost her bid for re-election as Comptroller in 1993; her term ended in 1994.

Holtzman has co-authored three books with Cynthia Cooper, Who Said It Would Be Easy: One Woman's Life in the Political Arena (1996), The Impeachment of George W. Bush: a Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens (2006), and Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution, and What We Can Do about It (2012). Holtzman has blogged periodically for The Huffington Post since 2006; topics include politics, women's rights, and the civil rights movement.

Holtzman has practiced law at Herrick Feinstein, LLP, in New York City since 1994.


The collection is arranged in seven series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence, 1982-1992, n.d. (#1.1-4.6, PD.1-PD.2)
  2. Series II. Speeches, 1982-1993, n.d. (#4.7-19.64, PD.3-PD.4)
  3. Series III. District Attorney of Kings County, 1981-1991, n.d. (#19.65-24.3, PD.5-PD.9)
  4. Series IV. Comptroller of New York City, 1984-1994, n.d. (#24.4-43.8, PD.10-PD.17)
  5. Series V. Senate campaigns, 1979-1993, n.d. (#43.9-51.8, PD.18)
  6. Series VI. Other professional, 1977-1984 (#51.9-53.6)
  7. Series VII. Memorabilia, ca.1987-1993, n.d. (#54.1m-54.6m)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 82-M178, 94-M161

These papers of Elizabeth Holtzman were given to the Schlesinger Library by Elizabeth Holtzman and Sydelle Berman between 1982 and 1994.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library. See Elizabeth Holtzman Papers, 1945-1981 (MC 793), Elizabeth Holtzman Moving image collection, 1974-1993 (Vt-11; MP-23), and Elizabeth Holtzman Audiotape collection, 1973-1993 (T-184).


Donors: Elizabeth Holtzman

Accession number: 94-M161

Processed by: Cat Lea Holbrook

The following items have been removed from the collection:

  1. Audiotapes [T-184] were removed and cataloged separately.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2012

By: Cat Lea Holbrook, with assistance from Samuel Bauer.

Holtzman, Elizabeth. Additional papers of Elizabeth Holtzman, 1977-1994: 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 gifts from the Radcliffe College Class of 1956, the Jane Rainie Opel Fund, and the Zetlin Sisters Fund.

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.

3 James St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA