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Guide to the Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection
1930's - 1950's, 1970's
 PR 295

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

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Susan Kriete

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on April 26, 2013
Description is in English

Descriptive Summary

Creator - Photographer: Lepkoff, Rebecca
Title: Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection
Dates: 1930's-1950's, 1970's
Abstract: This collection consists of approximately 74 photographs of the Lower East Side taken by Rebecca Lepkoff, primarily in the 1940's.
Quantity: 2.09 Linear feet (2 boxes)
Call Phrase: PR 295

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Biographical/Historical note

Rebecca Lepkoff (nee Brody) was born to Russian Jewish immigrants on the Lower east Side in 1916. Her parents emigrated from Minsk in 1910 and settled in a tenement apartment on Hester Street. As the family grew (Rebecca would eventually have five siblings), they moved from tenement to tenement but always within a few block radius. Lepkoff's father worked as a tailor; when Lepkoff was about 11 years old, her mother suffered a nervous breakdown which left her unable to properly care for the children.

As a teenager, Lepkoff became interested in dance, and was hired as one of the dancers for a performance about the history of railroads at the 1939 World's Fair. With her earnings, Lepkoff bought a camera and took advantage of free photography classes offered by the New Deal's National Youth Administration.

In 1941, Rebecca married a man named Gene Lepkoff, who was soon after drafted for military service during WWII. After he returned from service in France and Germany, the Lepkoffs moved into their own Lower East side flat on Cherry Street. Although still dancing, Lepkoff became more and more interested in photographing the neighborhood. In 1945, she joined the Photo League, an organization created in 1936 by New York photographers Sid Grossman and Sol Libsohn. A volunteer organization open to amateurs as well as professionals, the Photo League members were committed to documentary photography that captured the urban experience. Inspired by her classes with Sid Grossman, Lepkoff tirelessly shot photographs of her neighborhood, returning to the same scenes over and over until she captured the image she wanted.

In 1948, the Photo League was black-listed as a communist organization by the U.S. Attorney General, and by 1952 it was forced to close. Lepkoff continued to photograph but her attention was also consumed with raising her children (born in 1950, 1953 and 1962). After her third child was born, the Lepkoffs moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, but they returned to New York City in 1979, after their children were grown. Lepkoff continued to photograph the Lower East Side throughout the 1970's and '80's.

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Scope and Contents note

The 74 photographs in this collection capture the bustling street life of Manhattan's Lower East Side during the late 1930's and 1940's. Many are portraits depicting street vendors, shopkeepers, mothers, and especially, kids. There is also one photograph of a ticket line in Broadway taken in the 1970's.

The majority of the photographs are vintage gelatin silver prints; there are also a few digital reproduction prints.

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Access Points

Subject Topics

  • City and town life--New York (State)--New York--History--20th century--Pictorial works.
  • Street life--New York (State)--New York--History--20th century--Pictorial works.

Subject Places

  • Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century--Pictorial works.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access note

Available by advance appointment only. To schedule an appointment, contact the Print Room Librarian at printroom@nyhistory.org. Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.)

Conditions Governing Use note

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to:

Department of Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194

Permission to reproduce or quote text from this collection in a publication must be requested from and granted in writing by the Library Director, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194.

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation note

This collection should be cited as: Rebecca Lepkoff Photograph Collection, PR 295, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.


Donated by Rebecca Lepkoff, 2013

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Container List

Series I: 8 x 10 (and smaller) prints

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Street scenes (taken with Voigtlander lens)
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Street scenes
Box: 1 Folder : 3-4 Street scenes (children)
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Street scenes (baby carriages)
1938, 1940's
Box: 1 Folder : 6-7 Portraits
Box: 1 Folder : 8-9 Portraits (children)
Box: 1 Folder : 10-11 Street vendors and shops
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Brooklyn Bridge and docks
1938, 1940's, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Elevated trains
1940's, undated
Box: 1 Folder : 14 Ticket line, Broadway theater district

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Series II: Large prints

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 2 Folder : 1-2 Street scenes
Box: 2 Folder : 3-4 Street scenes (shopping)
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Street scenes (laundry and garbage)
1939, 1940's
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Seward Park, winter snow scene
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Portraits
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Digital reproduction prints (signed)
1940's-1950's, 1970, undated
Box: 2 Folder : 9 Digital reproduction prints (unsigned)
Undated (circa 1940's)

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