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Guide to the Edgar J. Nathan, Jr. Papers
1808-1976
 MS 438

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


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Zora Arum

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 06, 2018
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Edgar J. Nathan, Jr. was born in New York City to parents Edgar J. Nathan, Sr. and Sara N. Solis on 28 August 1891. As a young man, Edgar J. Nathan, Jr. attended the Collegiate School, graduating in 1909 and receiving his A.B. degree from Williams College in 1913. Following in his father's footsteps, Nathan then studied law at Columbia University, where he received his L.L.B. After graduating from Columbia in 1916, Nathan briefly practiced law in his father's firm, Cardozo & Nathan (though relatives of Benjamin N. Cardozo worked for this firm, there are no records in this collection of Benjamin N. Cardozo in conjunction with Cardozo & Nathan), before marrying his lifelong wife, Mabel Unterberg, in 1917, with whom he would have two sons: Edgar J. Nathan, III and Frederick S. Nathan. When World War I began, he got a job at the War Trade Board, where he remained for two years. He climbed the ranks of his department, becoming the Chief of the Division of Restricted Imports before he resigned to return to the practice of law at Cardozo & Nathan.

Nathan, a direct descendant of Abraham de Lucena, one of the 13 original Jewish settlers in America, came from a very prestigious bloodline with deep ties to the United States, New York City, Judaism, and Shearith Israel—the earliest Jewish congregation in America, which was founded by Nathan's ancestors upon their arrival in New Amsterdam in 1654. As a result, Nathan dedicated large portions of his life to Jewish service and held positions of power in various Jewish organizations, including such titles as Vice-President, and later President, of Shearith Israel (for much of his life), Director of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Director and Vice-President of the American Jewish Historical Society, Secretary of the Jewish Family Service, President of the League of Fraternal and Benevolent Organizations of the Jewish Education Committee, and Director and President of The Judeans, among others. Nathan also did philanthropic work outside of the Jewish community, working as Director of the Goodwill Industries of New York and Honorary Director of the Knickerbocker Hospital in addition to donating large sums of money to various organizations, including his alma maters, all three of which (in addition to the Jewish Theological Seminary) eventually granted him awards or honorary degrees.

Though Nathan attempted to secure a position as Assistant Attorney General in 1920, it was not until 1937 that he was elected to his first political office, as a Republican delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention. There, he was on the Committees on the Judiciary, Bill of Rights, and Cities, where he worked with such notable politicians as Al Smith and Robert Wagner. One year later, in 1939, he ran for a vacant position on the New York Supreme Court, but failed to obtain the office, and so returned to the practice of law.

In 1941, Nathan successfully ran for Manhattan Borough President on the Republican and Fusion Party tickets. While in office, from 1941-1945, he worked alongside Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses on post-war construction works, including the East River (FDR) Drive and plans for the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX), though it was never built. When he ran for reelection in 1946 and was ousted, he briefly joined the law firm of Gale, Bernays, Falk, Eisner, & Nathan, before Governor Thomas Dewey appointed him to a vacant seat on the New York Supreme Court, in the First Judicial District, in March 1946. That November, Nathan was officially elected to fill the vacancy for a fourteen-year term, and eventually, in 1960, he ran successfully for reelection. He served on the court past the retirement age, remaining on the bench until his death on 30 April 1965.