Papers of Elisabeth Burger, 1880-2013 (inclusive), 1940-2000 (bulk)
- Majority of material found within 1940-2000
Language of Materials
The following folders are closed as noted below: #3.5-3.6 are closed until January 1, 2069.
An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.
Conditions Governing Use
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
12.93 linear feet ((31 file boxes) plus 2 folio folders, 1 folio+ folder, 1 oversize folder, 1 folio photograph album, 13 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder,1 folio+ photograph folder, 3 slides, 7 audiotapes, 1 compact disc)
Most folder headings were created by the archivist; those created by Burger appear in quotation marks. The Schlesinger Library holds the following related collections: Papers of Frieda S. Miller, 1909-1973 (A-37), Additional papers of Frieda S. Miller, 1948-1963 (MC 881), Papers of Pauline Newman, 1900-1980 (MC 324; M-44 ), and Additional papers of Pauline Newman, 1926-1982 (83-M191--83-M198).
Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1880-2008 (#1.1-8.1), includes diaries (the bulk of them covering the years between 1980 and 1998) in which Burger recorded travel, daily events, thoughts about her writing projects, and her feelings about her second husband, her children, and grandchildren. She also discusses therapy sessions; feelings of anxiety and inadequacy, partially due to making life choices that differed from those of Miller and Newman; and her difficulty in recognizing and expressing her own strong feelings, particularly that of anger. (She attributes this largely to the atmosphere in which she was raised, and her childhood feeling that her mother's reserved manner was preferable to Newman's more volatile demeanor.) Diary entries from 1979 to 1986 often address the challenges of caring for Newman, who lived with the Burgers, as she became increasingly unable to care for herself; Newman's frustrations often took the form of violent outbursts. Entries also express Burger's concerns with the life choices of her younger son and his wife, including Hugh's support of the right to life movement.
The series also includes articles about Burger; the transcripts of two oral history interviews; programs for horsemanship shows in which she participated in her youth; financial and medical records; Vassar College grade reports and other material re: Burger's education; and passports. Also included are Burger's writings, which are primarily autobiographical, though in some instances family members appear under different names. Many of these essays focus on her childhood and her feelings of being different from her friends due to her lack of a father; other writings address Hugh Owen's involvement with the Unification Church, Miller's early life, and the challenges of caring for Newman in her last years. Also included are family genealogies, and the correspondence of David, Hugh, and Michael Owen with each other and other family, friends, and associates. Their correspondence with Burger appears in Series II. The series is arranged alphabetically.
Series II, CORRESPONDENCE, 1929-2013 (#8.2-25.4), consists primarily of letters received by Burger. The series includes her extensive correspondence with David Owen, ranging from a few years before their marriage to shortly before his death, with topics including Owen's work for the United Nations and the extensive travel it required, his loneliness when away from Burger, Burger's daily life and activities, and their children's development. Clippings about Owen and itineraries and schedules for his frequent travel are often included with the correspondence, as well as letters sent to Owen by other family members. The series also includes Burger's correspondence with Miller, who frequently used the endearment "Dolly" for Burger, and Newman. (Miller often included letters from others with her letters.) Topics include daily activities, travel, and work. Of particular note is a copy of a letter Newman sent Miller, regarding Miller's relationship with a man and her related behavior toward Newman. For Newman and Miller's correspondence with each other, including further letters on this topic, see Series III. Other correspondents include Chester Burger (including love letters sent before their marriage and a later letter describing Chester's sense of being rejected by Burger); Burger's sons (including letters sent from camp); daughter-in-law Maria Mitchell Owen; stepchildren Roger Owen and Gillian Owen Barratt; and grandchildren (children of Hugh and Maria Owen). Burger's correspondence with Hugh Owen often reflects their differing views regarding abortion, religion, and David Owen's work for Planned Parenthood, while also conveying the deep love she had for him and for his brother Michael. The series also includes letters from male admirers and letters Burger received while at summer camp and while working at the International Labour Office in Geneva. The series is arranged with alphabetical correspondence appearing first, followed by chronological correspondence. Some correspondents may appear in both groups.
Series III, FRIEDA S. MILLER AND PAULINE NEWMAN, 1889-2003 (#25.5-31.12), documents the personal and professional lives of Miller and Newman. The series includes biographical information on both Miller and Newman as well as notebooks, scrapbooks, a sketchbook, legal documents belonging to members of the Segelke family, and Miller's correspondence with her grandmother Augusta Segelke, aunt Louise Segelke, and sister Elsa Segelke Carroll. (Some of these documents are in German.) Also included are a travel diary kept by Miller during her 1923 trip to Europe with Newman, with entries ending before Burger's birth, and a notebook in which she recorded Burger's birthdate and some of Burger's developments, such as weight gain, during the first weeks of her life. The series also includes Miller's correspondence with professional associates and friends, including Newman. Of particular note are the letters Newman sent Miller expressing her feelings over what she viewed as Miller's secretiveness in regard to her relationships with men and Miller's disregard for Newman's feelings (#26.4-26.7). These letters discuss both Newman's feeling in 1923 when she learned of Miller's pregnancy and her feelings decades later upon learning of Miller's involvement with a man she met at a conference in India. Also of note is the material related to the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, at which Miller was a member of the US delegation; she served on a committee that focused on refugees and attended a meeting of women delegates and advisors organized by Eleanor Roosevelt. This group issued an open letter to "the women of the world," which is included in the series. The series also contains a small amount of material related to the Women's Bureau, and writings by Miller.
In addition to the biographical material on Newman and her correspondence with Miller, the series includes Newman's correspondence with friends and acquaintances and her will and obituary. The series also contains writings by Newman, including her draft memoir and Michael Owen's reminiscences of her. Of particular note are an oral history conducted by Barbara Wertheimer and "'Love, Paul': Pauline Newman and the Formation of Women's Friendships, Families, and Identities in America, 1910-1975," which details Newman's relationships with Rose Schneiderman and with Miller. Also of note is a scrapbook compiled by Newman, containing photographs of Newman alone and with fellow feminists including Schneiderman, Miller, Josephine Conger Koneko, and Esther Peterson. The scrapbook also includes articles by and about Newman, including articles on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. The series is arranged with Miller's material, arranged alphabetically, followed by Newman's alphabetically arranged files. Correspondence with Burger appears in Series II.
Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, AUDIOVISUAL, AND OVERSIZED, ca.1850-2007 (#PD.1fv-PD.17, T-218.1 - T-218.7, CD-83.1, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1), includes photographs of Burger alone, with Newman and Miller in her infancy, and with her husbands and children. Included are photographs of her wedding to David Owen and Burger with a trophy cup she won for horsemanship. The series also includes photographs of Newman and Miller's trip to Europe during which Burger was born. Also included are photographs of Miller with government officials including Harry Truman and Frances Perkins, and with members of labor and women's organizations such as the Minimum Wage Board for the Cleaning and Dying Industry and the National Council of Catholic Women. Photographs of Newman include images of her inspecting labor conditions for women in Germany and speaking at a meeting of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. The series also contains photographs of members of the Owen and Burger families and photographs of unidentified members of the extended Miller family.
The series also includes an audiotape of an interview of Burger regarding her early life with Newman and Miller; audiotapes of celebrations of Newman's 87th and 89th birthdays, with reminiscences of her life and career; an interview she participated in regarding women in the labor movement; the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union memorial service for her; and an interview of Miller about the economic life of women in the Far East. In addition, the series contains oversized items, including a souvenir folio of the "American Woman" stamp (presented to Miller), posters promoting a speech by Newman and her Congressional campaign, the certificate appointing Miller director of the Women's Bureau, and a drawing of Newman. The series is arranged with chronologically arranged photographs appearing first, following by the audiovisual material, arranged first chronologically and thereunder by format, and finally by oversized items.
Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.
During Burger's early childhood, Miller worked for the Joint Board of Sanitary Control and for the State Charities Aid Association and the New York City Welfare Council. In the 1930s, she worked first as director of the Division of Women in Industry and Minimum Wage at the New York State Department of Labor, where she played a critical role in the passage of New York's Minimum Wage Law for Women and Minors, and then as Industrial Commissioner of New York. In 1944 President Roosevelt appointed her to the position of director of the Women's Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, and she remained in this role until 1953. After leaving the Women's Bureau she worked for the International Labour Organization, conducting surveys of working conditions for women and children in Asia and the Middle East, and as a United Nations representative for Child Welfare. Pauline Newman was active in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the Women's Trade Union League, serving on a number of committees and holding various appointments within the organizations. She also served on five Minimum Wage Boards for New York State, as a consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service in the field of industrial hygiene, and as a visiting expert for the U.S. Army in Germany, where she investigated the conditions of working women.
Due to Newman and Miller's professional lives and their personal interests, Burger grew up in a circle of women activists including Dorothy Kenyon, Rose Schneiderman, and Maud Schwartz. She noted in an oral history conducted by Eva Moseley that being the only child in a group of adults "...certainly wasn't too good from the point of view of learning how to get on with your peers. It's fine for learning how to be an adult." Her childhood was spent in New York City, where she attended the City and Country School and the Friends' Seminary and participated in horse shows with Patricia Kennedy, Jacqueline Bouvier and William F. Buckley. She did not learn that she was Miller's biological daughter until she was seventeen, and she did not learn her father's identity until after his death. Throughout her life, she tried to come to terms with the circumstances of her birth, the lack of a father figure in her life, and her mother's choice to withhold certain information from her. In later life she began writing her memoirs as a way of resolving these issues.
Burger graduated from Vassar College in 1944 with a degree in economics. In 1946, she accompanied Miller to London, where Miller was a delegate at the first General Assembly of the United Nations. In 1947, Burger joined the staff of the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, as a research assistant. Her main duties were research and editorial work in the areas of women and young workers, as well as issues related to vocational training and manpower. She remained in this position through 1949. While in Geneva, she met Arthur David Kemp Owen (known as David), Under Secretary General for Economic Affairs and chairman of the Technical Assistance Board of the United Nations; they married in 1950 and had two sons, Michael (born in 1952) and Hugh (born in 1954). Owen also had two children, Roger and Gillian, from his first marriage.
Since Miller and Newman, both unmarried, led active professional lives, Burger felt some guilt about the different life path she had chosen. She also had some difficulty in finding fulfilling work outside the home, partly due to Owen's frequent travel and the demands of motherhood. She was a member of the East Manhattan Branch of the League of Women Voters from 1951 to 1956, working on the League's economic program and she was also active in the Parents' Associations of her sons' schools and on the Independent Schools Committee of the Public Education Association. In the late 1950s she took some classes towards a master's degree in education at Columbia University's Teachers College and in 1964, she took part in the Seven College Vocational Workshop intended to re-orient mature women to the needs of the work force.
In 1969 Owen became General Secretary of the International Planned Parenthood Federation; he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II the following year. He died unexpectedly in 1970 and in 1971 Burger married Chester Burger, a management consultant based in New York. Elisabeth Burger began working with the Council on Foreign Relations in 1971, and also served in the United Nations Secretariat for International Women's Year in 1975. Among her other civic activities she was a member of the board of directors for Planned Parenthood in New York. Miller died in 1973 and when Newman's health began to fail a few years later, she began living with the Burgers, dying in 1986. Chester Burger died in 2011 and Elisabeth Burger died in December 2013.
- Series I. Biographical and personal, 1880-2008 (#1.1-8.1)
- Series II. Correspondence, 1929-2013 (#8.2-25.4)
- Series III. Frieda S. Miller and Pauline Newman, 1889-2003 (#25.5-31.12)
- Series IV. Photographs, audiovisual, and oversized, ca.1850-2007 (#PD.1fv-PD.17, T-218.1 - T-218.7, CD-83.1, FD.1-FD.2, F+D.1, OD.1)
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers of Elisabeth Burger were given to the Schlesinger Library by her son, Michael Owen, in November 2014.
Accession number: 2014-M179
Processed by: Susan Earle
The following items have been transferred to the Schlesinger Library books and printed materials collection:
- How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty? New York and the Women's Suffrage Movement 1848-1920. A Short History of the Suffrage Movement and of the New York Women Who Helped Make It Possible Prepared by: New York State Senator Catherine M. Abate, 1995
- Royal Commission on Equal Pay 1944-1946 Report. London: His Majesty's Stationery Shop, 1946
- The Voice of Labor: A Selection of Verses Written by Members of the Women's Trade Union League as They Appeared from Time to Time in Life and Labor and in Other League Publications. Chicago: National Women's Trade Union League of America, May 1, 1919
By: Susan Earle, with assistance from Meghan Pipp, Ella Lesatele, and Margaret Dalton.
- Adopted children
- Compact discs
- Family records
- Fathers and sons
- Female friendship
- Government consultants--United States
- Labor leaders
- Labor movement--United States
- Legal documents
- Mothers and daughters
- Mothers and sons
- Oral histories
- Photograph albums
- Ration books
- Unmarried mothers
- Voyages and travels
- Women government executives
- Women labor leaders
- Burger, Elisabeth, 1923-2013. Papers of Elisabeth Burger, 1880-2013 (inclusive), 1940-2000 (bulk): A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- EAD ID
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