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COLLECTION Identifier: 89-M41--2010-M17

Papers of Pearl Katz Wise, 1895-2010


Correspondence, clippings, photographs, etc., of Pearl Katz Wise, first woman to be elected to the Cambridge (Massachusetts) City Council.


  • 1895-2010

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Pearl Katz Wise 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.


1.63 linear feet ((1 carton, 1+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio photograph folder, 3 folio+ folders, 1 videotape)
The collection is arranged in two series:

Series I, Personal and biographical (#1-36), includes photographs of Pearl Katz Wise and family, and correspondence from family and friends. Clippings, programs, notes, and a videotape document Wise's awards and honors, particularly the dedication of the Pearl K. Wise Library at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (1983). There are also clippings and articles by or about Henry Wise and other family members. The family correspondence consists mainly of letters from Wise's daughters and grandchildren. There are a few cards from Henry Wise to Pearl Wise (1972), and a significant number of condolence letters regarding Henry Wise from family, fellow lawyers, neighbors, former constituents, and members of the Jewish community.

In addition to providing some biographical information, this series reveals Wise's involvement in running her household and taking care of her family. Her daily life is documented by floor and landscape plans, recipes, household and gardening notes, some bills, and other financial material.

Series II, Work and political activities (#37-113), is divided into five subseries:

Speaking engagements (#37-38) includes notes and drafts of speeches, programs, photographs, correspondence, and clippings of the events at which she spoke.

Organizations and volunteer activities (#39-47) contains notes, correspondence, programs, newsletters, and clippings documenting Wise's early public service work with various organizations and committees. The organizational material is not extensive but demonstrates her commitment to improving the quality of life in Cambridge, particularly for children.

Cambridge School Committee (#48-76). Wise's years on the School Committee are well documented by photographs, campaign material, clippings, correspondence with constituents, motions, minutes and reports. Wise also kept subject files on special projects and issues. These folders are arranged in chronological order.

Cambridge City Council (#77-108) documents Wise's involvement in several controversial issues, including urban renewal. This subseries contains correspondence, campaign material, clippings, motions, and some photographs. Wise also kept separate files on special projects and issues, including the Beltline project and urban renewal; these folders are arranged in chronological order. The correspondence reveals public opinion on both sides of these issues and provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into local politics.

The papers of Henry Wise are at the Harvard Law School Library.


Pearl Katz Wise, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, public official, had a long political career in local government. The eldest child of Julius Katz, she was born in Kovno, Russia, September 15, 1901. She emigrated with her mother and two older siblings, Benjamin and Abraham, to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1905. Two other sisters, Ruth and Anna, were born in the United States. The family settled in Colchester, Connecticut, where her father and uncle were the village blacksmiths. Wise graduated from Bacon Academy in Colchester in 1917; her teacher advised her father to send her to Smith College because she was such a talented student, but her father said that "only boys go to college; girls get married." While her formal education thus ended after high school, Wise was an avid reader who believed strongly in the importance of public libraries, and later worked diligently to establish libraries during her terms on the school committee and city council.

The family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1921. Wise's first job was as secretary to the chairman of the Democratic State Committee, a position that introduced her to local politics and civic activism. In 1927 she married Henry Wise, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. Henry Wise had a long career in labor law, continuing to practice well into his eighties. Active in both the private and public sector, he also served on the Cambridge Housing Authority and was a major proponent of public housing and urban renewal legislation in Massachusetts.

Following her marriage, Wise began her civic career, first with the Cambridge League of Women Voters, serving as chair of the Committee on Women in Industry (1928-1941) and as president (1942-1945). During World War II she chaired the Consumers' Information Division of the Cambridge Public Safety Committee. After the war she worked to establish a strong coalition of Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) in Cambridge, and became the first president of the Cambridge High and Latin School PTA.

Wise's first foray into politics was to run for a seat on the Cambridge School Committee in 1941. While she lost that election by 210 votes, she later served three consecutive terms (1949-1955). She campaigned for the School Committee as the mother of four children (Robert, Abigail, David, and Rebekah) who had gone through the Cambridge school system. Successful resolutions she introduced included establishing a Citizens' Advisory Committee to help plan new schools, hot lunch programs, school libraries, and the observance of Negro History Week.

In 1955 she was the first woman to be elected to the City Council under Cambridge's Plan E charter form of government. She served four terms, consistently championing citizen involvement in local policy making. As a City Council member, she called for equal representation of women on all city boards and commissions, and introduced orders establishing a Citizens' Advisory Committee on urban renewal. In 1956, she arranged for an exhibition of two African-American artists' paintings at Cambridge City Hall in observance of Negro History Week. During her last term, Wise cast the deciding vote against a controversial East Cambridge renewal project. Her vote saved 115 houses in the Wellington-Harrington area from demolition. Her actions also initiated neighborhood participation in urban planning.

After retiring from the City Council, Wise served on the Citizens' Advisory Committee of the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs, and was the first woman appointed to the Cambridge Housing Authority, where she supported tenant associations and the Model Cities Program. Henry Wise died in 1989 and in 1996 Wise moved to a retirement home in Manchester, Massachusetts. She died August 7, 1999.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 89-M41, 89-M137, 89-M151, 89-M162, 96-M54, 2006-M198, 2010-M17

The papers of Pearl Katz Wise were given to the Schlesinger Library by Pearl Katz Wise in 1989, by her children in 1996 and 2006, and by Abby Simons in 2010.


The following items have been removed from the collection and deposited in the Widener Library, December 1996:
  1. Boston Directory, 1789
The following items have been removed from the collection and deposited in the Schlesinger Library book division, December 1996:
  1. Fish and other Productions of the Sea: A Choice Collection of Recipes


  1. Carton 1: 1-65
  2. Box 2: 66-92
  3. Box 3: 93-112

Processing Information

Preliminary inventory: October 1996

By: Katrin D. Hardikar

Additional material added: May 2019
Link to catalog
Wise, Pearl Katz, 1901-1999. Papers of Pearl Katz Wise, 1895-1990: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
The collection was processed with funding from Pearl Katz Wise and family members.

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.

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