Louis B. Marshall

Louis B. Marshall

Louis B. Marshall (December 14, 1856September 11, 1929) was a corporate and constitutional lawyer, mediator and Jewish community leader who worked to secure religious, political, and cultural freedom for all minority groups. He was among the founders of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), defended Jewish and minority rights and, though not a Zionist, he supported the Balfour Declaration. He was also a conservationist, and helped found the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Early life and education

Marshall was born to German-Jewish immigrants, Zilli Strauss and Jacob Marshall, who arrived in the US from Germany in 1849, at which time Zilli was self-educated and Jacob barely literate. From childhood, Marshall was both a scholar and a linguist. He applied himself to studying French, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. After completing his studies in 1877 at Columbia Law school in half the usual time, he was admitted to the New York State Bar Association in 1878 and joined the Syracuse law firm of William C. Ruger. Between then and 1894, he argued over 150 cases before the Court of Appeals and rose to prominence in the Syracuse Jewish community.


In 1894, Marshall was recruited by Samuel Untermeyer to join the law firm of Guggenheimer and Untermyer law firm in New York City. After moving there, he became heavily involved in Jewish religious and political affairs. He also was involved in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), acting as the mediator in cloak-makers’ strike in New York City in 1910, and in 1919 was the arbitrator in a clothing-workers’ strike.

In 1914, during a wave of anti-Semitic hysteria, he was part of the legal team representing Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil factory manager convicted of raping and murdering a 14-year old girl. Marshall initiated an appeal of the case to the United States Supreme Court.

Marshall was active in protecting the human rights and civil rights of Jews and on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and fought major legal battles on behalf of all minorities.

Political leader

Marshall was life-long Republican, endorsed Republican candidates for election, and worked closely with Republican congressmen and state legislators. [ [http://www.jcpa.org/jpabsp92.htm Jewish Political Studies Review Abstracts - Volume 4, Number 1 (Nos.1-2) (Spring 5752/1992) ] at www.jcpa.org]

In 1906, Marshall helped found the American Jewish Committee, as a means for keeping watch over legislation and diplomacy relevant to American Jews, and to convey requests, information, and political threats to US government officials. Marshall eventually became the AJC’s primary strategist and lobbyist; after becoming its president in 1912; he held the post until his death. In this position, he opposed Congressional bills that would prevent many illiterate Jews from entering the US. Despite a Presidential veto, one of the bills was enacted in 1917, after a Congressional override.

He was a strong advocate of abolishing the literacy test and said, "We are practically the only ones who are fighting [the literacy test] while a 'great proportion' [of the people] is 'indifferent to what is done". Marshall was also the leader of the movement that led to the abrogation, in 1911, of the US-Russian Commercial Treaty of 1832.

After World War I, Marshall attended the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and helped formulate minority rights clauses for the constitutions of the newly created states of eastern Europe.

He fought a proposal to have the US Census Bureau enumerate Jews as a race. Although he had some differences with political Zionists, Marshall contributed to efforts that led to the establishment of Israel as a Jewish homeland in Palestine. He was instrumental in organizing the Jewish Agency, which brought together Zionists and non-Zionists for the management of Jewish colonization efforts.

Religious leader

After serving as an officer for several years at Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, a Reform congregation, he became its president in 1916. Marshall also became the chair of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, conservative Judaism’s rabbinical school. Despite the implicit contradiction, to Marshall there was only one Judaism.

Marshall also attempted to stop a newspaper owned by Henry Ford, the "Dearborn Independent", from spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. [ [http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij76.htm America's Jewish Enigma - Louis Marshall ] at www.jrbooksonline.com] Marshall and Untermeyer entered the fight against the libelous attacks featured in the paper in 1920, which led to a 1927 libel lawsuit against the automaker in federal court.

Immigration official

In 1902, Marshall was appointed chairman of a commission investigating the slum conditions on New York City’s Lower East Side, where many Jewish immigrants had settled. In 1909, he was appointed chairman of the Commission of Immigration of New York State.


Marshall spearheaded conservation efforts to protect New York's Adirondack Mountains and Catskill Mountains, and at the 1894 New York state constitutional convention, he helped establish the state's forest preserve. He also led a floor fight in 1915 to protect the forever wild clause of the New York State Constitution. For eighteen years after the founding of the New York State College of Forestry (now the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry), Marshall served as president of its board of trustees. He was a leader in its founding, and the second building on its campus, the Louis Marshall Memorial Hall, was dedicated in his honor in 1933.


In 1895, Marshall married Florence Lowenstein (d. 1916); two of their children, Bob Marshall, and George Marshall became noted conservationists. The sprawling Bob Marshall Wilderness, comprising over a million acres (4000 km²) of pristine wilderness straddling the continental divide in northwestern Montana, is named after Marshall's son, who was director of the Forestry Division of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, head of the U.S. Forest Service Division of Recreation and Lands, and wrote several books and articles about wilderness protection.


Marshall Street, the anchor street of a major business district in Marshall's city of birth, Syracuse, New York, is named in his honor.

P.S. 276, in Brooklyn, New York, is an elementary school also named in Louis Marshall's honor.

Louis Marshall's family continues to help out local communities and take interest in politics. Through the Marshall Foundation, the Marshall's helped countless Phoenix children.


External links

* [http://www.cjh.org/academic/findingaids/ajhs/nhprc/LouisMarshall.html CJH.org] - 'Guide to the Papers of Louis Marshall (1856-1929)', American Jewish Historical Society
* [http://www.esf.edu/welcome/campus/marshall.htm ESF.edu] - 'Louis Marshall Memorial Hall', State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry:* [http://www.esf.edu/newspubs/news/2001/01.16.marshalls.htm ESF.edu] - 'ESF Celebrates Bob Marshall's Legacy', State University of New York (January 16, 2001)
* [http://www.historicist.com/untermeyer/marshall.htm Historicist.com] - 'Recruiting Louis Marshall: A Look at Samuel Untermeyer'
* [http://www.jrbooksonline.com/Intl_Jew_full_version/ij76.htm JRBrooksOnline.com] - 'America’s Jewish Enigma—Louis Marshall', "Dearborn Independent" (November 26, 1921)
* [http://www.jtsa.edu/about/communications/press/20052006/20050907.shtml JTSA.edu] - 'Richard D. Parsons, Chairman and CEO of Time Warner, Inc. and Laura Parsons, psychologist and New York City community leader, will jointly receive the Louis B. Marshall Award' Jewish Theological Seminary', (September 7, 2005)

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