A feminist before her time, Adele Bildersee was an advocate for women in education. Born to Barnett Bildersee, a businessman, and Flora (Misch) Bildersee in New York City on September 4, 1883, the oldest of three children who all became respected educators, she devoted her life to scholarship and research. Her parents were also born in New York, to a family of Russian Jewish descent that had migrated first to England and then to the United States in the early nineteenth century. Her sister, Dorothy, became a school principal in Brooklyn, and her brother, Isaac, was an associate superintendent of schools, who is memorialized by a junior high school in Canarsie that bears his name.
Adele Bildersee was a serious young woman and dedicated student who graduated with the first class from Hunter College, then an all-women’s college, in 1903. After Hunter College, she went on to receive an M.A. in 1912 and a Ph.D. in 1932 from Columbia University. In her early days, she was a teacher in the public schools of New York City and then became an English instructor at Hunter High School in 1907. In 1910, she joined the faculty of Hunter College and was named assistant professor of English in 1921. Her book Imaginative Writing: An Illustrated Course for Students, published in 1927, was a widely used text.
Bildersee distinguished herself as a prominent figure at Brooklyn College, which she helped found. With establishment of a Brooklyn branch of Hunter College in 1926, she was appointed acting dean of women. In 1932, Bildersee became dean of women in the newly established Brooklyn College, a position she held until she was named dean of students in 1938. In addition to her role as dean, she served as director of admissions from 1944 until her retirement in 1954. Bildersee continued to teach English throughout her entire tenure as an administrator. On her retirement, she was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters and the title of dean and professor emerita.
Always serious and conservative, Bildersee was a music lover who believed that anything more recent than Schubert marked the onset of the modern era with sounds too dissonant for her taste. A dedicated lover of nature, she took pains to catalog for her great-nieces and -nephews the wildflowers and birds that she observed on her nature walks. Sunday strolls in the lovely Brooklyn Botanic Garden, located directly opposite her home, were a source of aesthetic joy and restoration of spirit.
Bildersee was also known for her interest in Jewish biblical history. She was principal of the Temple Beth-El religious school in Manhattan and produced several textbooks for Jewish children, such as The Bible Story in the Bible Words and Jewish Post Biblical History Through Great Personalities. After her retirement from Brooklyn College, at age seventy, she published The Hidden Books: Selections from the Apocrypha.
Adele Bildersee died at age eighty-eight on November 19, 1971. Thomas Evans Coulton, in his book about Brooklyn College, A City College in Action, said of Bildersee, “It was to the students, their social and emotional life, that Adele Bildersee gave her particular attention. Ever a faithful and devoted officer and teacher, she fostered their clubs, their newspaper, their dances, their interfaith movements, and the Country Fair … and took the first steps in establishing a program of personal counseling for them. She carried with her in full measure the very special gift of a deep concern for youth.”
SELECTED WORKS BY ADELE BILDERSEE
The Bible Story in the Bible Words. 6 volumes (1924–1930); The Hidden Books: Selections from the Apocrypha for the General Reader (1956); Imaginative Writing: An Illustrated Course for Students (1927); Jewish Post-Biblical History Through Great Personalities from Jochanan ben Zakkai Through Moses Mendelssohn (1918).
Bildersee, Adele Sarah [great-niece]. Personal recollections.
Coulton, Thomas Evans. A City College in Action; Struggle and Achievement at Brooklyn College, 1930–1955 New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1955.
Obituaries. Brooklyn College Alumni Bulletin (Winter 1972), and Long Island Press, November 20, 1971, and New York Daily News, November 20, 1971, and New York Post, November 20, 1971, and NYTimes, November 20, 1971 34:4, and Newsday, November 20, 1971.
WWIAJ (1926, 1928, 1938).
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Bildersee, Adele Sarah. "Adele Bildersee." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 15, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bildersee-adele>.