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Clara Mayer papers

Identifier: NS-02-01-02


Clara Woolie Mayer (1895-1988) held a long affiliation with the New School: as a student, as a trustee, and then in administrative roles, including dean of the School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts (1943-1961) and vice president of the New School for Social Research (1950-1961). Dating largely from 1950 to the early 1960s, the collection consists of subject files pertaining to programs, departments, and New School faculty and administration.

Of note is Mayer's correspondence, largely related to teaching and lectures, with well-known figures, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, Berenice Abbott, Alvin Johnson, John Cage and Erich Fromm. There is also a wealth of material relating to Mayer's contributions to post-war European relief efforts. Finally, the collection contains typescript writings by Mayer, including articles, speeches, commencement addresses and translations. Some files are restricted. Please email for details.


  • 1879 - 1976



14.3 Cubic Feet (12 boxes, 2 oversize folders)

Scope and Contents

Dating largely from around 1950 to the early 1960s, the collection consists of files originating in the Deans Office during Clara Mayer's term as dean of the School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts (1943-1961) and vice president of the New School for Social Research (1950-1961).

The collection is organized into three series. However, the bulk of the materials are found in the subject files series. These files contain items pertaining to members of the New School faculty and administration; course offerings; programs, schools, and committees; conferences held at the New School; and scholarship and other financial matters. The material includes incoming and outgoing correspondence, interoffice memos, reports and policy position papers, draft proposals and outlines for various New School departments, programs, schools, and committees, meeting minutes, course proposals and descriptions, and other administrative documents. Of note are name and personnel files of correspondence, largely related to teaching and lectures, with well-known figures, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Albert Einstein, Berenice Abbott, Alvin Johnson, John Cage and Erich Fromm.

Individual faculty files consist largely of course descriptions written by the instructors. The general faculty files consist largely of correspondence pertaining to course descriptions, scheduling, leaves of absence, and other teaching and administrative matters. Also included in this section are materials documenting faculty committees, financial arrangements, meeting minutes, and the graduate school. Subject files also includes materials related to program and department development, much of which relates to the establishment of the BA program. Additional items relate to conferences held at the New School, including a large cache of items about the Goals of Higher Adult Education Conference in 1959, which included a day-long sub-conference on Teaching Science to Adults. Finally, the subject files include a wealth of material relating to Mayer's engagement throughout the fifties with post-war European relief efforts through the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe and Foster Parent Plan.

The collection also contains a small series consisting of writings by Mayer, including typescripts of articles, speeches, commencement addresses, and translations of texts by Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer.

Material covered within the general correspondence and faculty correspondence subgroups may overlap in terms of correspondants and subjects addressed. Researchers in search of individual names or courses are advised to look in both of these subgroups, as well as in the folders of named individuals.

Language of Materials

Materials in the Clara Mayer papers are predominantly in English, although correspondence in German, French and Hungarian is also present.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Files containing student records are restricted for 50 years after the estimated or known death of individual. Files with faculty or other personnel salary, performance reviews, hiring information are restricted for 50 years from creation date of item (or last creation date in file). Please contact for appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives and Special Collections. Please contact:

Biographical Note

Clara "Woolie" Mayer was an important trustee and administrator during the first four decades of The New School. Among other positions, Mayer served as dean of the School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts from 1943 to 1961 and vice president of the the New School from 1950 to 1961.

Mayer was born in New York City in 1895 to Bernhard and Sophia Mayer. Her German-Jewish family amassed a fortune in real estate after emigrating to the United States in the late 19th century. After graduating from the Normal College of the City of New York (now Hunter College) in 1908, Mayer went on to earn a BA from Barnard College in 1910, where she attended lectures by educator James Harvey Robinson and historian Charles Beard, both founding faculty of the New School. After graduating from Barnard, she began graduate work at Columbia University from 1915 to 1919. When Robinson and Beard left Columbia for the New School, Mayer also left in order to attend the new institution. In 1924 she became a trustee. She was actively involved in a major fund-raising effort to construct the New School’s flagship building at 66 West 12th Street, which was ultimately erected by her brothers, the engineers Albert and Charles Mayer.

After service on the New School’s board of directors, Clara Mayer held a variety of administrative positions. She was assistant director from 1931 to 1936, and associate director from 1937 to 1943, and vice president from 1950 to 1961. She also served as dean of the School of Philosophy and Liberal Arts at the institution from 1943 to 1961. Mayer served under four New School presidents--Alvin Johnson, Bryn Hovde, Hans Simons, and Henry David--and received an honorary doctorate from the New School in 1948.

Mayer's New School career ended abruptly in 1961 when incoming president Henry David forced her resignation as part of efforts to put the school, a larger and more complex institution in the 1960s than it had been in the 1920s, on what he considered to be a more appropriately professional institutional footing. Shortly thereafter, the board of trustees fired David, in part because he had fired Mayer. Mayer was asked to resume her association with the school but declined the invitation and permanently severed ties with the New School.

Mayer continued to live in New York City at least into the 1980s. A 1982 New York Times article notes her participation, at age 87, in a Manhattan nuclear disarmament demonstration. At the New School’s 1987 commencement, Clara Mayer was the ninth recipient of the Founders’ Medal, the highest honor the school offers; her niece, Stella Saltonstall, accepted the medal on her behalf. The following year, on July 16, 1988, at age 93, Clara Mayer died of pneumonia in a Los Angeles nursing home.



Craven, Kenneth. Reflections of a Quintessential New Yorker. Chapter 3: “Greenwich Village and the Soul of a Woman.” August 9, 2002. Mss. 46 pp.

Mayer, Clara. The Manmade Wilderness. New York: Atheneum, 1964.

Montgomery, Paul L. “Throngs Fill Manhattan To Protest Nuclear Weapons.” The New York Times, June 13, 1982, p.A1.

Raushenbush, Esther. "Three Women: Creators of Change." The Higher Education of Women: Essays in Honor of Rosemary Park. Edited by Helen S. Astin and Werner Z. Hirsch. New York: Praeger, 1978.

Rutkoff, Peter M. and William B. Scott. New School: A History of the New School for Social Research. New York: The Free Press, 1986, p.34.

Vidich, Arthur J. With a Critical Eye: An Intellectual and His Times. Knoxville, Tennessee: Newfound Press, 2009, pp.188-190.


Organized in 3 series: 1. Biographical; 2. Subject files; 3. Writings

Custodial History

The original Custodial History note for this collection when first published read, "Retrieved by representatives of the New School's Fogelman Library from Clara Mayer's New York City apartment on August 1, 1988." New School archivists have determined that only a portion of the present collection originated from this 1988 donation. Some files in the collection post-date Mayer's departure from the university in 1961, and represent the activities of her successors, as well as other New School officers, such as Arthur Swift. It is surmised that they may have been integrated into the collection at various stages, beginning in the 1980s, by volunteer archivists during a time when the university was attempting to establish intellectual control over its records. Files may have been retrieved from storage facilities at the university, or from other, now unknown sources, and combined with the papers from Dean Mayer's possession. Because it is impossible to determine the provenance of each file, The New School Archives determined to leave the arrangement of the Clara Mayer papers as is, but to include this explanation about the origins of the collections. Researchers should use caution in attributing documentation to Mayer, particularly faculty correspondence post-dating 1961.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the archives from Raymond Fogelman Library in 2012.

Guide to the Clara Mayer papers
Aaron Winslow
June 2, 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • July 18, 2017: New School Archives staff changed a folder title and added digital object links.
  • September 30, 2020: Jenny Swadosh significantly expanded the Custodial History Note to reflect Archives staff observations.
  • August 17, 2023: Victoria Fernandez reviewed restricted material of the collection and revised restriction periods to conform to ASC's confidentiality policy. One folder was reintegrated into the collection (Series 2. Subject files: Student files: Daisy Williamson, 1956-1957).