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Death of education advocate and art collector Margaret Seligman Lewisohn

June 14, 1954

Born to a prominent family and married into a wealthier one, Margaret Seligman Lewisohn could have lived a life of luxury and indulgence.  Instead, she used her education and talents to enhance the lives of teachers and students for decades. 

Her father, Isaac Newton Seligman, headed J. & W. Seligman, the bank that served as the fiscal agent for the Union during the Civil War.  Her mother Greta (Loeb) Seligman was the daughter of the founder of the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb, and Company.  An aspiring pianist, Margaret attended the Institute of Musical Art (later known as the Juilliard School of Music), earning a degree in 1914. She also pursued course work at Teachers College of Columbia University, where she was particularly interested in the progressive education ideas of John Dewey and others.

Margaret Seligman married Sam A. Lewisohn, son of Adolph Lewisohn, benefactor of City College and other major New York cultural institutions, on February 2, 1918. The couple raised four daughters and collected major works of art, including a substantial number of modern pieces.

In 1922 Lewisohn joined the Public Education Association, which worked with the city’s board of education to improve the quality of teachers, school facilities, and curricula.  Calling herself “a citizen interested in education,” she became the professional director of the organization in 1941, which worked with the city’s board of education to improve the quality of teachers, school facilities, and curricula.  From 1946 to her death, she served as the chair of the Association’s board of trustees.  She was a trustee of both Bennington and Vassar Colleges and was a member of the Museum of Modern Art’s education committee. 

She often wrote of her views on education, arguing that “the schools will only be as good as we citizens desire them to be.... We must continue to create an aroused public opinion that will demand the best in education and that will be willing to pay for it now.”

On June 14, 1954, she drove Adlai Stevenson, who had been the Democratic candidate for president in 1952, to Vassar College, where he delivered the commencement address.  After his speech, she delivered him to his home, but was killed in an automobile accident on her way back to New York.  In her will, she bequeathed major works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, Vassar College, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Source: Margaret Seligman Lewisohn,” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Death of education advocate and art collector Margaret Seligman Lewisohn." (Viewed on December 22, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/14/1954/this-week-in-history-death-of-education-advocate-and-art-collector-margaret>.

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