Belle Moskowitz Collection
Social reformer Belle Moskowitz was one of the first women to exercise major influence in an American political party. For more than twenty years, she worked as a settlement worker and a labor mediator. She later became one of New York governor Alfred E. Smith’s closest advisers. When Smith ran for President in 1928, Moskowitz served as Director of Publicity for the National Democratic Committee and was the only woman on the Executive Committee of the party. At that time, she was considered the most powerful woman in the national Democratic Party.
Belle was born on October 5, 1877, in Harlem, New York, to Isidor Lindner and Esther Freyer Lindner. She attended public schools, Horace Mann High School for Girls, and spent one year at Teacher’s College Columbia University. In 1900 she went to work at the Educational Alliance, an institution that provided cultural and recreational services to the immigrant community of New York’s Lower East Side. At the Alliance, she met Charles Henry Israels, an architect, whom she married on November 11, 1903. While raising her three children, Belle Israels worked as a social reformer in a number of different ways. From 1908 to 1910 she wrote part-time for Survey, a publication devoted to the analysis of social problems. She was also active in the National Council of Jewish Women-New York Section. In 1908, concerned about the impact of unregulated dance halls on city youth, especially girls, she launched a drive to license, regulate, and create substitutes for them. This inspired social workers elsewhere to take up the same cause in their own regions.
Charles Israels died in 1911 of heart disease. Because of her work in dance hall reform, Belle got a job first in the field of recreation and then, through a recommendation from her friend Henry Moskowitz, a settlement worker and industrial reformer, as a grievance clerk and then as head of the Labor Department of the Dress & Waist Manufacturers’ Association. Belle and Henry married on Nov. 22, 1914. After losing her job with the Dress & Waist Manufacturers in 1916, Belle Moskowitz opened a private industrial consultant firm in which she pioneered in the field of public relations. In 1917, during World War I, she organized and then managed the Mayor’s Committee of Women on National Defense.
During the late 1910s Moskowitz grew disappointed with the progressive Republican politicians she had been supporting and threw her support behind Democrat Al Smith, who as Speaker of the New York State Assembly had led the movement for factory reform after the infamous fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (1911). Moskowitz mobilized the women’s vote in 1918 for Smith’s successful campaign for governor of New York. After Smith’s victory, Moskowitz proposed that Smith appoint a Reconstruction Commission to deal with the state’s adjustment to the end of the First World War. Smith accepted her idea and appointed her the Commission’s Executive Secretary. Smith lost his reelection campaign in 1920 but, with Moskowitz’s help, won the governorship again in 1922. After he returned to office, Smith offered Moskowitz a job in state government, but she preferred to work outside of a bureaucratic position and, instead, created the post for herself of publicity director of the State Democratic Committee. She then organized Smith’s subsequent reelection campaigns of 1924 and 1926 and orchestrated his nomination for president in 1928, a race he lost to Herbert Hoover. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Smith for the Democratic party nomination for president. That defeat effectively marked the end of Moskowitz’s political career, although she continued to work for Smith as his own political career went into eclipse. In December 1932, at the age of 55, Moskowitz slipped on ice on the front steps of her house and died two weeks later as the result of an embolism.
The Belle Moskowitz Collection was acquired by Connecticut College in 1945 as a gift from Mrs. Moskowitz’s children as part of the Connecticut College American Women’s Collection.