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Guide to the Shirley Hayes Papers
1948-2001 (Bulk 1952-1979)
  MS 292

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jan Hilley and Tiffany Schureman (2011); updated by Joseph Ditta (2021)

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on August 23, 2021
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

Shirley Zak Hayes was born on June 15, 1912 in Chicago. She attended the University of Wisconsin and studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and studied at the Goodman Theatre of School of Drama. In 1932 she moved to New York to pursue her career as an actress. While in the show "Hamlet", she met her husband James. Together they had four sons. Hayes and James divorced in 1965.

Shirley Hayes was a community activist most of her life. The main focus of this activism was on the Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park areas. The movement she is most known for is the fight to close Washington Square Park to traffic. In 1959, she finally succeeded. Some of the other causes she fought for were contesting large apartment buildings on the square, fighting the New York University Bobst Library, and getting more playgrounds in the area. She was also instrumental in renovating the park after it was closed to traffic. The Washington Square Park Committee was formed to help conserve the park, and Hayes was Chairman of the committee for many years. Other community organizations she was on were the Greenwich Village Association and the Community Planning Board #2.

She was also involved in local politics. She worked on John Lindsay's re-election to Congress in 1964, his mayoral election in 1965 and mayoral re-election in 1969. During this time she also worked at WNYC, the city run radio station. She was the first woman announcer at WNYC. While at WNYC she became active in the American Federation of Television and Film Arts.

In 2001, the Parks Department of New York City honored Hayes with a plaque in Washington Square Park. The plaque tells of her fight to close the park to traffic. Hayes passed away on May 6, 2002.