Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives logo

North (Joseph and Helen Oken) Family Papers

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630
tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Heather Mulliner

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 26, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Edited by Heather Mulliner to reflect inclusion of 2016 accretion.  , March 2017

Descriptive Summary

Title: North (Joseph and Helen Oken) Family Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1913-1990
Dates [bulk]: 1930-1970
Abstract: The North (Joseph and Helen Oken) Family Papers (dated 1913-1990) include three generations of family correspondence and memorabilia spanning from the early 20th century to the 1990s. The bulk of the collection relates to Joseph and Helen North, but a significant portion also relates to Helen's family and includes the papers of her father and mother Morris and Jennie Oken, and her sisters Lydia Oken Mates and Mary Oken Wilson. The collection is largely comprised of correspondence, which documents the North and Oken families' involvement in the Communist Party, socialist activism, labor organizing, the Spanish Civil War, and family life. This collection also contains a significant amount of materials related to Joseph North's career as a journalist for the communist publications New Masses and the  Daily Worker.
Quantity: 13.25 Linear Feet in 10 record cartons, 2 oversize flat boxes, 2 shoe boxes, and 1 manuscript box
Language: Materials are in English. A small portion the of materials in this collection are in Hebrew and Russian.
Call Phrase: TAM 605

Return to Top »


Historical/Biographical Note

Joseph North was born Jacob Soifer in Ukraine to Jessie Soifer and Balia Yasnitz in in 1904. The family immigrated to the United States when he was 9 months old and settled in Pennsylvania. Joseph North began working in a Pennsylvania textile mill at the age of 12, and later worked summers in the ship yards of his hometown. Joseph graduated with a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and worked for several years after his graduation as a reporter for a variety of Pennsylvania newspapers. In 1935 he was one of the founders of the weekly New Masses and served as its editor for 15 years. Joseph North also served as a communist party organizer and a correspondent for the  Daily Worker. Through his work as a journalist he reported on a number of major events including labor strikes of the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.

Helen Oken North was born in the Bronx, New York in 1912 to Russian immigrants Morris and Jennie Oken. Helen Oken was the youngest of five siblings, two sisters and two brothers. Her older brother Semyon was her mother's son from a previous marriage who eventually left to live with his father, and her brother Yaksha, born in 1906, died when he was only year old after contracting an illness during the family's passage to the United States. Helen and her two older sisters Mary and Lydia were born in New York and maintained close ties throughout their lives. The Oken family was highly involved in labor and socialist organizations. Helen's father Morris Oken was a textile worker and was active in the Workmen's Circle as well as other labor organizations. Helen was also involved in union activity and worked a labor organizer as a teenager. She later worked as a Communist party organizer in Pennsylvania in the 1930s. Helen's sisters Lydia was also highly involved in political activism and worked as a Communist Party organizer in Detroit and Chicago. She married Abraham Lincoln Brigade volunteer Dave Mates in 1930.

Helen Oken married Joseph North in 1931. Joseph worked as a correspondent for the New Masses in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Helen accompanied him to Spain and worked in the medical service during those years. Helen and Joseph later settled in Manhattan and had three children Daniel, Susan, and Nora. Helen continued to be involved in Communist Party activism. She also assumed the role of breadwinner on many occasions, as Joseph's work as a journalist did not provide enough to support a family and often required him to travel abroad. Helen and Joseph were married for 26 year, but eventually divorced in 1957. Helen married Communist Party of the United States leader Gil Green in 1970. Joseph North also remarried, marrying  Daily World journalist and editor Augusta Strong in 1963. Joseph's wife Augusta died in early 1976 and Joseph died in December of that same year. Helen North died in 1990.

Return to Top »


Scope and Content Note

The North (Joseph and Helen Oken) Family Papers (dated 1913-1990) include three generations of family correspondence spanning from the early 20th century to the 1990s. The bulk of the collection relates to Joseph and Helen North, but a significant portion also relates to Helen's family and includes correspondence of her father and mother Morris and Jennie Oken, and her sisters Lydia Oken Mates and Mary Oken Wilson. The collection largely consists of correspondence written between the 1930s and 1970s, and also includes family photographs, notes, and memorabilia.

Joseph and Helen North's papers document several major themes in their lives including their careers, political activism, economic struggles, and children. A small amount of correspondence relates to their time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War where Joseph worked as a foreign correspondent for the communist publication the New Masses and Helen worked in the medical service. Their papers also include materials related to Joseph's work as a journalist, both before and after Spain. Other materials inlcude correspondence from friends and family and materials related to their three children.

Correspondence between Helen and her sisters is exceptionally rich and provides an intimate look into their personal lives touching on a wide array of topics including their jobs, political beliefs, relationships, family planning and contraception, children, and care of their aging parents. They provide a unique view of how Communist Party members balanced their political activism and family obligation, and the ways in which family influenced political belief.

The papers of Morris and Jennie Oken also make up a small portion of this collection. Morris Oken was active in a number of labor and socialist organization in New York City, and his papers contain a large amount of material related to communism and political activism. The collection also contains a significant amount of materials related to Helen's sister Lydia and her husband Dave Mates. Lydia Oken Mates worked for many years as a Communist Party organizer in Detroit and Dave Mates was a Veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades who was also involved in Communist Party activism throughout his life.

Other materials contained in this collection include clippings, flyers, and ephemera, a small number of negatives, and two artifacts: a hat taken from a Moroccan soldier who died in Spain, and a tsarist-era naval uniform cap from Russia.

Materials added to the collection in 2017 largely relate to Joseph North's writings and his work as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. They include press releases from the Spanish Republican Army's Ministry of National Defense as well as several reports and first-hand accounts from volunteers in the International Brigades. Also included among these materials is unpublished novel titled, I Come from America as well a folder of obituaries and articles paying tribute to Joseph North following his death in 1976.

Many of the correspondents in this collection are addressed by a variety of names throughout their correspondence. Helen and her family often address each other by their Russian names or variations of those names. In much of her correspondence Helen is often addressed as Vezl, Vezlenka, Honushinka, Annunshinka, or Anne. Joseph North, who was born Jacob Soifer, is also addressed as Jacob or Jake on many occasions, and in several instances his letters are addressed to Jacob Sofier. Helen's sister Lydia is often addressed as Lidushka, Liducinka, or Lilian, her sister Mary is addressed as Manya or Maninka; her father Morris is frequently referred to as Mitaya, and her mother Jennie, whose name is often spelled Jenny, is often referred to as Jenja.

Arrangement

This collection has been divided into five series by creator or by form. Correspondence in the first three series is arranged chronologically by recipient while other materials contained in these series have been grouped by creator. Series I has been further divided in four subseries. The first three subseries contain correspondence, which is arranged chronologically by recipient, while the fourth subseries contains memorabilia is arranged chronologically and by form. The last two series of the collection contain photographs and artifacts. Photographs have been grouped by creator.

Return to Top »


Access Points

Subject Names

  • North, Joseph
  • North, Helen Oken
  • Oken, Morris, 1883-1953
  • Oken, Jennie, 1882-1959
  • Mates, David
  • Mates, Lydia Oken
  • North, Nora E.

Document Type

  • Photographs.
  • Correspondence.
  • Scrapbooks.

Subject Topics

  • Journalism, Communist -- United States.
  • Communists -- United States.
  • Women communists -- United States.
  • Jewish communists -- United States.

Subject Places

  • Spain -- History -- Civil War, 1936-1939 -- Participation, American.

Return to Top »


Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection, created by Joseph North and Helen Oken North, was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; North (Joseph and Helen Oken) Family Papers; TAM 605; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Related Archival Materials

Collections related to the Joseph and Helen Oken North Papers include the Joseph North Spanish Civil War Artifacts (ALBA 294), David Mates Papers (ALBA 279), and Series VIII: Publication, Subseries A: People's Weekly World Administrative Records, 1919-2001 in the Communist Party of the United States Papers (TAM 132), which contains files related to Joseph North's work with the  Daily Worker.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Nora E. North in 2012; additional materials were donated in 2013 and 2016. The accession numbers associated with this collection are NPA.2003.013, 2012.013, 2012.090, 2013.046, and 2017.007.

Processing Information

One box of correspondence, a scrapbook, and a felt hat were initially held in the Joseph North Spanish Civil War Artifacts (ALBA 294), these materials were incorporated into the Joseph and Helen Oken North Family Papers in 2014. An Odessa sailor's hat deaccessioned in 2013 was also reincorporated into the collection in 2014.

In 2017 an additional box of Joseph North's papers was added to Series I: Joseph and Helen Oken North Papers, Subseries I.D: Joseph and Helen Oken North Family Records and Memorabilia. These materials were described at the folder level and integrated into the existing arrangement of the series.

Appraisal

Several published materials have been removed from this collection including copies of the Daily Worker and  Daily World, magazines, and new paper clippings. Other materials of limited research value which consisted of receipts, empty envelopes, locks of hair were also removed from the collection.

Return to Top »


Container List

Series I: Joseph and Helen Oken North Papers, 1920-1990. 8 boxes

Scope and Content Note

This series primarily consists of incoming correspondence to Joseph and Helen North from the late 1920s to the 1970s. Correspondence contained in this collection consists of letters from family and friends to Joseph and Helen North. This series also includes materials such as datebooks, account ledgers, handwritten notes, receipts, memorabilia, diplomas, clippings, and drawings.

Subseries I.A: Helen Oken North Correspondence

Scope and Content Note

This sub-series contains incoming correspondence written to Helen North between the 1920s and 1970s. The majority of correspondence written to Helen comes from her sisters, parents, and her husband Joseph North. These letters discuss work, political activism, and family life. A large portion of these letters are in roughly chronological order and are from a wide array of correspondents. Other incoming letters have been grouped by subject or by sender.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1-14 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence
1928-1938
Box: 2 Folder : 1-15 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence
1937-1949
Box: 3 Folder : 1-11 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence
1947-1954
Box: 4 Folder : 1-11 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence
1952-1966
Box: 4 Folder : 12 Helen Oken North: Incoming Family Correspondence from Mary O. Wilson
1943-1946
Box: 4 Folder : 13-15 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence from Mary O. Wilson
1930s, 1958-1965
Box: 4 Folder : 16-17 Helen Oken North: Incoming Family Correspondence from Lydia O. Mates
1936-1958
Box: 5 Folder : 1 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence from Lydia Mates
1958-1965
Box: 5 Folder : 2 Helen Oken North: Correspondence from Linda Weber
1943-1949
Box: 5 Folder : 3 Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence-Los Angeles 1949
1949
Box: 5 Folder : 4 Helen and Nora North: Los Angeles 1949
1949
Box: 5 Folder : 5 Helen Oken North: Outgoing Correspondence (drafts)
1930s, 1940s, 1950s

Subseries I.B: Joseph North Correspondence

Scope and Content Note

This sub-series contains correspondence related to Joseph North. A large portion this section consists of incoming letters to Joseph North which have been arranged in chronological order. This sub-series also contains letters related to the Spanish Civil War, which have been incorporated into this collection from the Joseph North Spanish Civil War Artifacts, ALBA 294. Many of the letters contained in these folders were written by Joseph North and addressed to his wife Helen.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 5 Folder : 6-18 Joseph North: Incoming Correspondence
1930-1959
Box: 5 Folder : 19 Joseph North Letter to "Comrade Gurewitsch"
undated
Box: 5 Folder : 20 Joseph North: Correspondence
undated
Box: 5 Folder : 21-22 Joseph North: Incoming Correspondence - Spanish Civil War
1936-1938
Box: 5 Folder : 23 Joseph North: Spanish Civil War Correspondence and Clippings
1936-1938
Box: 5 Folder : 24 Jim Lardner to Joseph North
undated
Box: 6 Folder : 1-2 Joseph North: Correspondence in Spain
1937-1939
Box: 6 Folder : 3 Joseph North: Incoming Correspondence: Sympathy Regarding Death of Augusta North
1976
Box: 6 Folder : 4 Joseph North and Nora North: Correspondence
1976
Box: 6 Folder : 5 Correspondence and Materials related to Death of Joseph North
1976-1977
Box: 6 Folder : 6 Joseph North: Correspondence and Materials related to I.O.S. speech in Helsinki
1976
Box: 6 Folder : 7 Joseph North: Notes and Ephemera
1976
Box: 6 Folder : 8 Jacob Sofier: Correspondence
1932

Subseries I.C: Joseph and Helen Oken North Correspondence

Scope and Content Note

This sub-series contains correspondence addressed to both Helen and Joseph North from their friends and family. A significant amount of materials contained within this sub-series also relate to Helen and Joseph's children Daniel, Susan, and Nora North. Many of these letters are addressed to the North children, either individually or collectively, while other letters contained in this section relate to the North children but have been addressed to their mother Helen. There is also a small amount of undated notes and correspondence between Joseph and Helen North.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 6 Folder : 9-15 Joseph and Helen Oken North: Incoming Correspondence
1930-1959
Box: 7 Folder : 1 Joseph and Helen Oken North: Correspondence from Anna Sokolow
undated
Box: 7 Folder : 2 Joseph and Helen Oken North: Correspondence from Friends
1938-1948
Box: 7 Folder : 4 Notes between Joseph and Helen North
undated
Box: 7 Folder : 3 Assorted Correspondence between Helen and Joseph North
1938-1950
Box: 7 Folder : 5 Miscellaneous Correspondence
1930s and 1940s
Box: 7 Folder : 6 Joseph and Helen North: Correspondence
1930s-1950s
Box: 7 Folder : 7 Notes Helen and Joseph North
1930s
Box: 7 Folder : 8-12 North Children: Notes and Correspondence
1935-1959
Box: 7 Folder : 13 Correspondence regarding Daniel North
1939-1952
Box: 7 Folder : 14 Daniel North letters to Helen North-Summer Roadtrip
1948
Box: 7 Folder : 15 Notes and Correspondence related to Susan North
1936-1957
Box: 7 Folder : 16 Notes and Correspondence related to Nora North
1942-1973

Subseries I.D: Joseph and Helen Oken North Family Records and Memorabilia

Scope and Content Note

This sub-series contains a variety of memorabilia related to Joseph and Helen North. Materials related to Joseph and Helen include membership cards, memorabilia, pamphlets, drawings, and ephemera. Several materials contained in this section related to their children including homework, drawings, other memorabilia related to schooling and childhood. There are also several documents related to Joseph and Helen North's financial struggles including documents related to a rent dispute in 1945 and an Internal Revenue Service audit between 1948-1950. Also contained in this sub-series are a number of personal items such as account books, diplomas, date books, wallets and billfolds, notebooks, and autograph books.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 8 Folder : 1-2 Joseph and Helen Oken North: Assorted Notes and Drafts
1930s and 1940s
Box: 8 Folder : 3 Drawings and Sketches
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 4 Joseph and Helen Oken North: Assorted Clippings and Ephemera
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 5 Joseph and Helen Oken North: IRS Audit
1948-1950
Box: 15 Folder : 1-4 Joseph North: I Come From America (unpublished manuscript)
undated
Box: 15 Folder : 5 Joseph North: Obituaries and Death Announcements
1976
Box: 8 Folder : 6 Joseph North Rent Dispute
Feb. 1945
Box: 15 Folder : 6-7 Joseph North: Spanish Civil War Reports and National Defense Press Releases
1937-1938
Box: 8 Folder : 7 Paris Memorabilia
1938
Box: 8 Folder : 8 Children's Drawings and Homework
1948-1951
Box: 8 Folder : 9 Daniel North Homework
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 10 Daniel North Travel Diary
1948
Box: 8 Folder : 11 Susan North Diploma and Graduation Programs
1953, 1957
Box: 8 Folder : 12 Nora North Notes and Ephemera
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 13 Materials Related to Helen Oken North Memorial
1912-1990
Box: 8 Folder : 14 Anna Sokolow Posters and Programs
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 15 "The Young Pioneers of America - Course for Pioneers of Leadership"
Jul. 23, 1938
Box: 8 Folder : 16 Pamphlets: First Aid and Child Care
1932-1938
Box: 8 Folder : 17 Pamphlets: Labor Organizations
1930-1940
Box: 8 Folder : 18 Joseph and Helen Oken North Certificates
1928, 1943-1944
Box: 8 Folder : 19 Joseph and Helen Oken North Wallets and Passports
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 20 Helen Oken North Account Book
1941
Box: 8 Folder : 21 Helen Oken North Autograph Book
1925
Box: 8 Folder : 22 Helen Oken North Communist Party Membership Book
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 22 Helen Oken North Datebook
1953
Box: MSOS 006 Helen Oken North Diplomas
1925, 1928
Box: 8 Folder : 24 Helen Oken North Engagement Calendar
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 25 Helen Oken North Notebook and Telephone Numbers
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 26 Helen Oken North Working Cards and Membership Booklets
undated
Box: 8 Folder : 27 Nora North: Desk Diary
1960
Box: 8 Folder : 28 Spanish Song Books
undated

Return to Top »


Series II: Morris and Jennie Oken Papers, 1920-1953. 1 box

Scope and Content Note

This series contains materials related Helen Oken North's parents Morris and Jennie Oken. This series consists of correspondence written to the Okens from friends and family as well as several materials related to union involvement.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 8 Folder : 29-32 Morris and Jennie Oken: Incoming Correspondence
1920-1943
Box: 9 Folder : 1-6 Morris and Jennie Oken: Incoming Correspondence
1944-1953
Box: 9 Folder : 7 Morris Oken: Correspondence Regarding Injury at New York Naval Yard
1945-1946
Box: 9 Folder : 8 Mary Oken Wilson Correspondence
1944-1953
Box: 9 Folder : 9 Morris Oken: International Workers Order Flyers and Pamphlets
1946-1952
Box: 9 Folder : 10 Morris and Jennie Oken: Notes and Clippings
1950s
Box: 9 Folder : 11-12 Morris Oken: Labor Organizations
1920s-1950s
Box: 9 Folder : 13 Morris and Jennie Oken: Labor Organizations
1951-1953
Box: 9 Folder : 14 Morris Oken: Membership Cards and Membership Books
1913-1946
Box: 9 Folder : 15 Morris and Jennie Oken: Notebooks and Billfolds
undated

Return to Top »


Series III: Lydia Oken Mates Papers , 1921-1975. 1 box

Scope and Content Note

This series contains the papers of Helen Oken North's sister Lydia Oken Mates and her husband Dave Mates. This series is comprised primarily of correspondence written to Lydia by her sisters and parents. Some correspondence is also addressed to Dave Mates. Also included in this series are union membership cards; materials related to Lydia's education including diplomas, a graduation program, and an autograph book; and other assorted ephemera.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 9 Folder : 16-26 (Mixed Materials [31142063165750]) Lydia Oken Mates: Incoming Correspondence
1921-1965
Box: 10 Folder : 1-2 (Mixed Materials [31142063165743])
Box: 10 Folder : 3-7 Dave and Lydia Oken Mates: Incoming Correspondence
1959-1974
Box: 10 Folder : 8 Lydia Oken Mates: collection of Letters of Daniel North to his mother Helen North
Aug. 1948-Dec.1948
Box: 10 Folder : 9 Lydia Oken Mates: Letters and Clippings related to the death of Alice Herz
Mar. 1965-May 1965
Box: 10 Folder : 10 Dave and Lydia Oken Mates: Materials related to Communism in China and Vietnam
1974
Box: 10 Folder : 11 Dave Mates: Sales Reports
1967
Box: MSOS 006 Lydia Oken Mates: Diplomas and Certificates
1923-1927
Box: 10 Folder : 12 Walton High School Graduation Program
Jan. 26, 1927
Box: 10 Folder : 13 Lydia Oken Mates: English Assignment "The Modern School of Stelton"
May 3, 1927
Box: 10 Folder : 14 Lydia Oken Mates: Labor Union Membership Cards
1929
Box: 10 Folder : 15 Lydia Oken Mates: Autograph Book
1924-1927
Box: 10 Folder : 16 Dave and Lydia Oken Mates: "Museum of First Congress-CPC" Postcards
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 17 Memorial Materials: Harry and Esther North, Abe Soifer
2002-2003
Box: 10 Folder : 18 Lydia Oken Mates: Sketches
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 19 Lydia Oken Mates: Brochures and Clippings related to art
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 20 Dave Mates Wallet
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 21 Cocolo by Bettina Elrich
Jan. 1, 1945
Box: 10 Folder : 22 News of Peace
Oct. 1951-Mar. 1953

Return to Top »


Series IV: Photographs, 1935-1972. 0.75 Linear Feet

Scope and Content Note

This series consists primarily photographs and negatives related to Joseph and Helen Oken North and Dave and Lydia Mates. Images related to Joseph and Helen North consist of prints and negatives that date from 1935-1937 and depict their son Daniel as a baby and other events with friends and family from those years. Images related to Dave and Lydia Mates date from the 1950s to the 1970s and document their various travels, including trips to China and Russia.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 11 Spanish Civil War Scrapbook
1937-1939
Box: 10 Folder : 23 Joseph and Helen North Family Photographs
1935-1937
Box: 10 Folder : 24 Helen North: X-Ray
1946
Box: 10 Folder : 25 Photograph: Nora North
Jan. 1951
Box: 10 Folder : 26 Photograph of Helen and Lydia Oken
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 27 Joseph and Helen North: Unidentified
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 28 Morris and Jennie Oken: Photograph "Matutinal Ablutions"
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 29 Lydia Oken Mates: "Snow"
undated
Box: 10 Folder : 30 Lydia and Dave Mates Photographs- [China]
1950s
Box: 10 Folder : 31-34 Lydia and Dave Mates Photographs
Sep. 1972, Nov. 1972, undated
Box: 14 Lydia and Dave Mates Unidentified Negatives
undated
Box: 14 Lydia and Dave Mates Slides: Berlin
undated
Box: 14 Lydia and Dave Mates Slides: Kremlin
undated
Box: 14 Lydia and Dave Mates Slides: Leningrad
undated
Box: 14 Lydia and Dave Mates Slides: Moscow

Return to Top »


Series V: Artifacts, circa 1930s

Scope and Content Note

This series contains artifacts related the Spanish Civil War including a hat taken off of a Moorish soldier who died in the war, a record of Flamenco music, and Spanish castanets. The series also contains an Odessa sailor's hat and several assorted pins and metals related to various Communist and peace organizations.

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 12 Hat: From a Tsarist-era Russian Naval Uniform
undated
Box: 13 Hat: From a Moroccan Soldier during Spanish Civil War
undated
Box: 12 Record of Flamenco Music: Cante Jondo by Orestes Menendez with Carlos Montoya on Guitar
Box: 14 Spanish Castanets
Box: 14 Pins and Medallions Related to Communist and Peace Organizations
undated

Return to Top »


Return to Top »