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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 995: DVD-130: Vt-282: Phon-072: T-536

Papers of Vivian Rothstein, 1924-2017


Correspondence, writings, and political ephemera of feminist, anti-Vietnam War, and homeless rights activist Vivian Rothstein.


  • 1924-2017

Language of Materials

Materials in English; some correspondence in German.

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 Vivian Rothstein 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.


8.67 linear feet ((17 + 1/2 file boxes, 1 folio+ box) plus 5 folio folders, 1 oversize folder, 1 supersize folder, 15 photograph folders, 103 slides, 8 audiotapes, 13 videotapes, 7 DVDs, 1 phonograph record)
261.6 Megabytes (1 file)

The papers of Vivian Rothstein include correspondence, fliers, organizational files, interviews, and print material from her work during the 1965 Mississippi Freedom Summer; with Jobs or Income Now and Students for a Democratic Society; from her involvement in the anti-war and women's movements; from her work with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Urban Studies Program, the American Friends Service Committee, and her organizing work in Santa Monica. Also included are personal correspondence, family documents, filmed interviews, and Rothstein's own writing about her life and work as a feminist community organizer.

Rothstein organized the material in a loose chronological order before donating it to the Schlesinger Library. Her original folder titles were maintained and appear in the collection inventory. Archivist-created titles or clarifications are in brackets. The papers are arranged in five series.

Series I, BIOGRAPHICAL AND PERSONAL, 1924-2017 (#1.1-5.19, 19F+B.1, FD.1), includes material related to Rothstein's immediate and extended family, personal correspondence, appointment and address books, awards, writings, and interviews of Rothstein. Family folders document the community work, depression, and suicide of Rothstein's mother, Margot Leburg, as well as Rothstein's uncle Hans Cohn's efforts to provide financial sponsorship and travel assistance to German refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

Correspondence includes letters with Rothstein's close friends from Chicago in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Amy Kessselman, Naomi Weisstein, and Ellen Dubois. With them and others, Rothstein discusses her feelings about the political activism and personal growth work they undertook together, and how feminist political ideas shaped her personal choices then and over time. Files on the commune where Rothstein and her husband lived in the early 1970s (#14.4-14.6) include notes among commune members as well as meeting agendas, household schedules, etc. A number of interviews with Rothstein further explore her political views and experiences with women's liberation, Students for a Democratic Society, and other left activism during the 1960s and 1970s. Most of Rothstein's writing, much of it published in the Boston Review, is autobiographical. Folders in this series are listed alphabetically by title, and chronologically thereunder.

Series II, ACTIVISM, 1964-2014 (#6.1-14.2m, 19F+B.2-19F+B.10, FD.2-FD.5, OD.1, SD.1), includes material on the many areas and topics in which Rothstein has been politically active. Most of the series relates to Rothstein's involvement in Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Students for a Democratic Society projects ERAP and JOIN, anti-Vietnam war activism, the Chicago Women's Liberation Union and the larger woman's liberation movement. Rothstein's letters home to her mother during her 1965 Freedom Summer describe that organizing work in great detail. Chicago Women's Liberation Union material includes posters, meeting minutes, conference agendas and planning documents. Rothstein's anti-Vietnam war activism, including her attendance at the 1967 Bratislava Peace Conference, 1967 trip to Vietnam, 1971 Toronto conference with Vietnamese women activists, and her return to Vietnam in 1992 with a women's delegation, is heavily documented. The series also includes many political buttons.

Material is arranged in a rough chronological order, with like materials listed together. General topic folders are filed after those related to these specific topics. The arrangement, like some of the activism itself, is not strictly chronological. For example, Rothstein's involvement in anti-Vietnam war activism predated her work with the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, but also overlapped. There is considerable overlap in some of these topics as well; Students for a Democratic Society folders often includes anti-Vietnam war material. Rothstein was also involved in a number of reunions of activists in the 1980s and 1990s; her files on these reunions can be found at the end of the series.

Series III, PROFESSIONAL, 1966-2014 (#14.3-18.5, 19F+B.11-19F+B.12), includes correspondence, organizational files, and memorabilia from work for which Rothstein was paid. Some topics overlap with her general activist work, especially in her later work on the issue of homelessness. Series includes files from Rothstein's early work with teenagers in Chicago; American Friends Service Committee work with Jews on the topic of Israel and the Middle East; Santa Monica government work, and labor and homelessness-related work in Los Angeles. The series is arranged chronologically.

Series IV, PHOTOGRAPHS, ca.1965-2015 (#PD.1-PD.16), includes Rothstein's family photographs, photographs from her trips to Vietnam, and Chicago Women's Liberation Union photos. The series is arranged chronologically.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.

Series V, AUDIOVISUAL, 1942-2016 (#DVD-130.1--DVD-130.7, Phon-072.1, T-536.1--T-536.8, Vt-282.1--Vt-282.13, E.1), includes 7 DVDs, 1 phonograph album, 8 audiotapes, 13 videotapes, and a digital video file. Many of these items are interviews or oral histories with Rothstein in which she describes her political activism in the 1960s and 1970s in some depth. The series is arranged by format and chronologically thereunder.


Feminist, community organizer, and labor advocate Vivian Rothstein was born Vivian Emma Leburg on April 3, 1946 in Jackson Heights, New York, to Margot Johanna Cohn (1908-1989) and Warner Chaim Leburg (1903-1983). Her parents, German Jews, had emigrated to the United States in 1938; their first daughter, Barbara, was born in 1939. Soon after Vivian's birth, Margot and Warner Leburg separated. In 1952, Margot Leburg and her daughters moved to Los Angeles to be close to Margot's brother Hans Cohn, who had financially sponsored the Leburgs and many other German Jewish immigrants to the United States.

Vivian Rothstein graduated from Hollywood High School in 1963 and began college at the University of California, Berkeley, that fall. Over the next two years, Rothstein took part in civil rights demonstrations organized by CORE (Congress for Racial Equity) and was active in the Free Speech Movement. In the summer of 1965 she moved to Mississippi to work on voter registration and school integration campaigns under the direction of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. While in Mississippi, Rothstein was jailed several times, and decided that she did not want to return to school at Berkeley, but rather to continue to work as a community organizer. Rothstein was drawn to the ERAP (Economic Research and Action Project) projects organized by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and moved to Chicago to work on the JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) project. With JOIN, Rothstein worked to organize and support poor white families in Chicago, establishing a food cooperative and educating community members on welfare and other rights. She also worked with youth at Hull House Chicago and later at a YWCA in the western suburbs of Chicago. In April 1967, she married fellow community organizer Richard Rothstein.

Rothstein was active with groups organizing against the Vietnam war, and was invited to participate in a 1967 peace conference in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. She then traveled with fellow SDS member Tom Hayden on a 7-member peace delegation of Americans to North Vietnam in September 1967. The peace delegation visited sites bombed by the United States, met with United States prisoners of war, and with the Vietnamese Women's Union. Upon her return to the United States, Rothstein spoke publically at meetings and events about what she had seen in Vietnam and her opposition to the war. Inspired by the Vietnamese Women's Union, she helped found the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, a feminist organization focused on ending sexism and gender and class inequality, in 1969. She served as the Chicago Women's Liberation Union's first staff member, coordinated its decision-making body, and helped establish its Liberation School for Women.

Rothstein later worked with the Associated Colleges of the Midwest Urban Studies Program, developing curricula and teaching students. In the early 1970s, Vivian and Richard Rothstein formed a commune with 6 other adults in Chicago. In 1974, they moved to Denver, Colorado, where their two children were born. Vivian Rothstein worked for the Middle East Peace Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee, and when the family moved in the early 1980s to Charlotte, North Carolina, she continued working on that project. She later worked for Planned Parenthood.

In the mid 1980s Vivian and Richard Rothstein divorced, and Vivian and her children moved to Los Angeles, where her mother Margot Leburg was living. For ten years Rothstein served as executive director of the Ocean Park Community Center, a nonprofit organization in Santa Monica, California, serving homeless adults, families, battered women and their children. She served as a development consultant for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), working to raise wages for service workers at Los Angeles International airport and for those working in the Santa Monica tourism industry. Rothstein is a board member of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.


The collection is arranged in five series:

  1. Series I. Biographical and personal, 1924-2017 (#1.1-5.19, 19F+B.1, FD.1)
  2. Series II. Activism, 1964-2014 (#6.1-14.2m, 19F+B.2-19F+B.10, FD.2-FD.5, OD.1, SD.1)
  3. Series III. Professional, 1966-2014 (#14.3-18.5, 19F+B.11-19F+B.12)
  4. Series IV. Photographs, ca.1965-2015 (#PD.1-PD.16)
  5. Series V. Audiovisual, 1942-2016 (#DVD-130.1--DVD-130.7, Phon-072.1, T-536.1--T-536.8, Vt-282.1--Vt-282.13, E.1)

Physical Location

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

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2017-M16, 2017-M60

The papers of Vivian Rothstein were given to the Schlesinger Library by Vivian Rothstein in February and April 2017.

Processing Information

Processed: August 2019

By: Jenny Gotwals, with assistance from Ashley Thomas.

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Rothstein, Vivian. Papers of Vivian Rothstein, 1924-2017: 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 the Alice Jeanette Ward 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.

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