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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 251

Papers of Sara R. Ehrmann, 1859-1997


Correspondence, financial papers, organizational files, etc., of Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann, civic worker and social reformer.


  • 1859-1997

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. For #5.2-19.6 the written permission of both Robert L. Ehrmann and H. Bruce Ehrmann is required during their lifetimes. Thereafter, written permission of both Robert's daughters, Lisa and Martha, is required during their lifetimes.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Sara R. Ehrmann 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.


7.71 linear feet ((18+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 2 oversize folders, 2 photograph folders, 1 folio photograph folder)
This collection includes personal and biographical papers and materials concerning the League of Women Voters, capital punishment, and Sara R. Ehrmann's other volunteer activities. Most of the papers documenting her work against capital punishment are at Northeastern University. The papers of her husband, Herbert B. Ehrmann, are at the Harvard Law School Library, the American Jewish Historical Society, and the Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The personal and biographical materials include correspondence, clippings, printed material, essays, and photographs. Topics covered include school, family, Lane Bryant Volunteer Awards (1964-1969) and other honors. The photographs are of Ehrmann, Elizabeth Glendower Evans, and others.

The League of Women Voters materials include correspondence, notes, handbooks, bylaws, announcements of meetings, minutes, and financial papers. Many are from the League of Women Voters of Brookline; most of the remaining records are from the Massachusetts and national leagues. Most date from the 1940s. Notable correspondents are Dorothy Bisbee and Vivian Pierce.

The capital punishment materials include clippings, essays, notes, correspondence, and printed material from the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment and the Massachusetts Council for Abolition of the Death Penalty. Notable correspondents are Miriam Van Waters, Vivian Pierce, and Felix Frankfurter. There are also scattered materials, including correspondence and announcements, from the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Massachusetts Civic League, Women's City Club, and other organizations.

Clippings were photocopied and discarded.

Additional material donated between 1997 and 1999 was added to the collection in May 2018. These new materials are housed in PD.3, F+D.1, OD.2, and 4.1-19.6, Mem.1. All other files remain in the same order, but they were renumbered from 1-57o to 1.1-3.14, OD.1. These bulk of these addenda consists of personal and family correspondence which trace many of the relationships among members of two Jewish families especially during World War I and World War II. These include courtship letters between her parents, Abram and Helen Rosenfeld in the 1880s; Sara to her parents during her years at college and during her courtship and engagement in which she describes social events, men she's met, finances, reading, etc.; and the (often daily) courtship and post-marriage correspondence of Sara and Herbert. Sara and Herbert were engaged in the fall of 1915 and didn't marry until May 1917, so their letters to each other cover a host of topics: how to announce the engagement, Sara's college career, their desire to be financially secure before marrying, wedding plans disrupted by the entrance of the United States into World War I, and their social circles especially Herbert's community of Jewish friends and relatives in Boston (Maida Herman Solomon was one of them). They also discuss the kinds of issues Herbert was grappling with in his law practice and Sara was working on at college--suffrage, minimum wage, immigration, war relief, Herbert's play writing, Jewish philanthropic and other civic work--as well as social issues such as racial prejudice. From June 1918 to August 1919 Herbert worked in Washington, DC, while Sara remained in Boston caring for their son, and letters describe his work, the baby's progress, financial affairs, etc. Also included are letters to Sara and Herbert from their siblings, notably Herbert's sister Eva who was married to Sir Reginald Mitchell-Banks, M.P., and wrote from England describing their lives during the war (requests for help from Polish relatives, illness and death of her husband, possible evacuation of her son William, air raids, politics, requests for financial assistance, sponsorships in the United States, etc.) Some letters contain enclosures from other family or friends.

In 2017 the bulk of these addenda was treated by Belfor, a property restoration company, using a HEPA vacuum and sponge wipes as needed. The conservator at the Schlesinger Library also did some cleaning and stabilization of moldy and water-damaged material.


Civic leader in Boston, Massachusetts, Sara (Rosenfeld) Ehrmann was born on June 14, 1895, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the daughter of Abram and Helen Emelie (Uri) Rosenfeld. She attended East High School in Rochester, New York, and graduated from the University of Rochester in 1917 after spending part of her junior year (1915) at Smith College. She took additional courses at Radcliffe College (1921-1922, 1940?) and Boston University (1937-1939). On May 12, 1917, she married Herbert Brutus Ehrmann (1891-1970). They had two children: Hilmar Bruce (born 1918) and Robert Lincoln (born 1923). Her husband graduated from Harvard (AB 1912, LLB 1914), worked in Washington, DC, for the United States Shipping Board in 1918-1919, was a founder of the Greater Boston Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and in 1921 became partner in partner in the law firm of Goulston and Storrs in Boston. He later served as counsel, with William G. Thompson, for Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti during the closing years of their trial. Ehrmann was also the author of a number of plays including Under this Roof.

Following the 1927 execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, Sara Ehrmann devoted much of her life to working to abolish capital punishment statewide as well as nationally. Best known for her work in establishing the 1951 “Mercy Law” in Massachusetts, which allowed juries to opt out of the death penalty on first-degree murder cases, Ehrmann served with the Massachusetts Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty as executive secretary (1928?-1960) and president (1961?-1967), and with the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, first as executive director (1949-1960) and then as executive director and vice president (1960-?). Due to her efforts, the last execution in Massachusetts occurred in 1947.

In addition to helping found the League of Women Voters of Brookline (Mass.) and serving as its first president (1944?-1945), Ehrmann worked with a number of local and national organizations: the Women's City Club of Boston (board member, 1938-1939), Boston Y.W.C.A. (board member, 1960-?), Friends of Framingham (board member, 1951-1957), United Prison Association of Massachusetts (organizer and board member, 1939-1950), American Jewish Committee (national membership chairman, 1952), and others.

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 70-44, 79-M59, 82-M119, 97-M85, 97-M123, 98-M135, 98-M176, 99-M47. Accession numbers 97-M85, 97-M123, 98-M135, 98-M176, 99-M47 were added in May 2018.

These papers of Sara Emelie (Rosenfeld) Ehrmann were given to the Schlesinger Library by Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann in April 1970 and March 1979. Addenda were transferred to the library from the Sara Rosenfeld Ehrmann Capital Punishment Collection at Northeastern University Law School Library in June 1982 and June 1997, and given by her son, Robert Ehrmann, between September 1997 and March 1999.


The following items have been removed from the collection and deposited in Schlesinger Library's vertical file in September 1977:
  1. "If I were a Woman," Judge Ben B. Lindsey, National American Woman Suffrage Association, c1912
  2. 31st Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the State Custodial Asylum for Feeble-Minded Women, Newark, Wayne Co., N.Y., 1916
  3. "Do You Know," Carrie Chapman Catt, NAWSA, 1914
  4. "Chivalry versus Justice," George Creel, Pictorial Review, March 1915
  5. "Is Woman Suffrage Important?" Max Eastman, Men's League for Woman Suffrage
  6. "25 Years of a Great Idea," Kathryn H. Stone, League of Women Voters, 1949
  7. "A History of the League Program," KHS, League of Women Voters, 1949
  8. "40 Years of a Great Idea," League of Women Voters, 1960
The following item has been discarded, February 1992:
  1. Bulletin of Mass. League of Women Voters: May 1947, November 1948, May 1950, February 1959
The following item has been donated to the Harvard Law School, February 1992:
  1. Old John ("The Criminal") Law, typescript by Herbert Brutus Ehrmann

Processing Information

Reprocessed: March 1992

By: Cindy Irvine

Updated and additional materials added: May 2018

By: Anne Engelhart

Additional material donated between 1997 and 1999 was added to the collection in May 2018. These new materials are housed in PD.3, F+D.1, OD.2, and 4.1-19.6, Mem.1. All other files remain in the same order, but they were renumbered from 1-57o to 1.1-3.14, OD.1.
Link to catalog
Ehrmann, Sara R., 1895-1993. Papers of Sara R. Ehrmann, 1859-1997: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
The papers were processed in 1992 with a grant from Clara Goldberg Schiffer.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

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