Born on April 15, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland to David and Minnie Lipshires, Sidney was raised in Northampton, Massachusetts where his father owned two shoe stores, David Boot Shop and The Bootery. He attended the Massachusetts State College for one year before transferring to the University of Chicago and was awarded a BA in economics in 1940. His years at the University of Chicago were transformative, Lipshires became politically active there and joined the Communist Party in 1939. Following graduation in 1941, he married Shirley Dvorin, a student in early childhood education; together they had two sons, Ellis and Bernard. Lipshires returned to western Massachusetts with his young family in the early 1940s, working as a labor organizer. He served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946 working as a clerk and interpreter with a medical battalion in France for over a year. Returning home, he ran for city alderman in Springfield on the Communist Party ticket in 1947. Lipshires married his second wife, Joann Breen Klein, in 1951 and on May 29, 1956, the same day his daughter Lisa was born, he was arrested under the Smith Act for his Communist Party activities. Before his case was brought to trial, the Smith Act was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Disillusioned with the Communist Party, he severed his ties with it in 1957, but continued to remain active in organized labor for the rest of his life. Earning his masters in 1965 and Ph.D. in 1971, Lipshires taught history at Manchester Community College in Connecticut for thirty years. During that time he worked with other campus leaders to establish a statewide union for teachers and other community college professionals, an experience he wrote about in his book, Giving Them Hell: How a College Professor Organized and Led a Successful Statewide Union. Sidney Lipshires died on January 6, 2011 at the age of 91.
Ranging from an autobiographical account that outlines his development as an activist (prepared in anticipation of a trial for conspiracy charges under the Smith Act) to drafts and notes relating to his book Giving Them Hell, the Sidney Lipshires Papers offers an overview of his role in the Communist Party and as a labor organizer. The collection also contains his testimony in a 1955 public hearing before the Special Commission to Study and Investigate Communism and Subversive Activities, photographs, and biographical materials.
The collection is open for research.
Background on Sidney Lipshires
Labeled "progressive" at a young age, while advocating for school reform by publishing an alternative high school newspaper, Sidney Lipshires had already discovered the power of organized social pressure and discourse. His interest in activism, and great skill in leading and articulating such causes, offered lifelong opportunities for action and speech about issues of importance to Lipshires. These issues - ethical and equal treatment for all, charity, and respect for education and hard work - trace back to Lipshires' family and community upbringing in a traditional Jewish household and networked community in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Born on April 15, 1919 in Baltimore, Maryland to David M. Lipshires and Minnie S. Alberts Lipshires, Lipshires moved to Northampton at the age of four. David Lipshires and the extended Alberts' family were active in the growing Jewish community in Northampton, and David Lipshires was a successful and respected businessman, owning and operating two shoe stores, David Boot Shop and The Bootery. A good student and son, Lipshires was influenced by the cultural particularities of his household, including Jewish ethics, linguistics, history, and stories, and by lessons he later ascribed to his father and to years working in the shoe business, such as valuing hard work, physical presentation, outreach efforts, and strong self-confidence and identity.
After spending his childhood and teenaged years in Northampton, in the conservative and Republican environment of his household, Lipshires spent one year at the Massachusetts State College (now the University of Massachusetts), and then transferred to the University of Chicago, where he switched his academic interests to the social sciences, and met and became involved with student activists. While helping to protest a rise in student tuition, Lipshires met several Communists, and was inspired by their activism and political intelligence. He joined the Communist Party in 1939, when he was also made head of the American Student Union chapter at the University. After earning his BA in economics in 1940, Lipshires returned home to Northampton, joined his father in shoe sales, continued his involvements in the Communist Party and the American Student Union in western Massachusetts, and married Shirley F. Dvorin, a student in early childhood education, with whom he had two sons, Ellis and Bernard.
Lipshires was drafted and joined the United States Army in June 1943, serving for two and a half years, working as a clerk and interpreter with a medical battalion in France for over a year. While abroad, Lipshires stayed true to his values of charity and equality, persuading his superior officers to provide a midday meal for the malnourished French workers who were under his supervision. Returning from duty in France in 1946, Lipshires was asked to be the Secretary (the top leader) of the Communist Party of western Massachusetts, a post in which he was extremely active and held until 1951. He ran for city alderman in Springfield on the Communist Party ticket in 1947, and although he was not elected, Lipshires garnered lots of press during his campaign and afterwards, and communicated his and the Party's reasons for pursuing election as a third party alternative, such as rent and price control and anti-discrimination legislation.
The Korean War altered the political climate in the United States, making public political activity harder for Lipshires and the Communist Party. Due to these political limitations, along with legal difficulties stemming from Lipshires' 1951 marriage to his second wife, Joann Breen Klein, before either of them was divorced from their previous partners under Massachusetts law, the Lipshires decided to move to Rhode Island, and were then asked by the Party to temporarily leave New England. For about a year the pair lived under aliases in Los Angeles, California, halting their activities in the Communist Party.
The couple returned east in 1952, feeling it was both safer and time again to be active in the political community. They were asked to aid Party organization efforts in Providence, Rhode Island, and then later in Boston, where Lipshires became Boston City Secretary in 1953. The couple utilized new aliases in each location, aware that they had both been under F.B.I. surveillance for several years. As an organizer and Secretary, Lipshires arranged and attended meetings, and acquainted himself with the Party organization and personnel. He also wrote internal reports, conducted community surveys, handled outreach and electoral activities, and taught classes on subjects such as anti-white chauvinism and the Farmer Labor Party. Lipshires also acted as a liaison and reporter between various committees and units in Boston, including some "underground" or "unavailable" units which were out of the spotlight for the Party in an attempt to ease the political environment for Communists, and other working groups, such as the packing and textile industries in Boston and nearby areas.
From 1953 to 1955, the Special Commission to Study and Investigate Communism and Subversive Activities and Related Matters in the Commonwealth, also known as the Bowker Commission or the Massachusetts Commission on Communism, summoned Communists and others to testify in public hearings as a part of its investigations. These hearings were events of both significance and spectacle in the lives of those summoned and in local press coverage. Lipshires, along with his wife and mother-in-law, was called before the Commission on September 14, 1955, where they appeared without attorneys. By then, Lipshires had become the acting District Organizer of the Communist Party of New England, a region that excluded Connecticut. Lipshires presented his general opinions on Communism, freedom of speech, and non-violence during his testimony, but refused to discuss, under coercion, the specifics he would later discuss in a Springfield media interview.
Returning to work, Lipshires continued to rise through the Party ranks, becoming the Secretary of the Communist Party of New England in October of 1955. Lipshires was especially concerned about the United States Communist reaction to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, where breaking with prior practice, Khrushchev critiqued the cult of personality, dictatorship, and violence of Joseph Stalin. Lipshires organized his own report and discussion group on this topic, but it was halted, when on May 29, 1956, the same day his daughter Lisa was born, Lipshires was arrested under the Alien Registration Act of 1940, or the Smith Act, for his Communist Party activities.
After a week in jail, Lipshires continued some Party activities, participating in national debates through published opinion pieces, but mostly withdrawing from political activity to work fulltime on his self-defense and on that of his co-defendants. He became the executive secretary of the Massachusetts Smith Act Defendants Committee, publishing a pamphlet introducing the group of defendants and outlining the law and questionable tactics used under the Smith Act. Lipshires also produced a detailed autobiography in preparation for trial. This document would not get used in his defense, however, for before his case was brought to trial, the United States Supreme Court ruled the Smith Act unconstitutional. Growing frustration with the Communist Party's stagnancy and slow reaction to the revelations about Stalin, and disillusionment with politics in general, led Lipshires to officially resign from the Party in March 1957. He took a position as the manager of a shoe store that his father had helped him establish in New Britain, Connecticut, and eventually returned to school.
Lipshires earned his Masters from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, 1965, and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Connecticut in 1971, while already employed as a professor at Manchester Community College (MCC) in Connecticut, where he was hired in 1966. A storyteller with a flare for both comedy (although sometimes admittedly corny comedy) and drama, Lipshires found another natural fit as a lecturer and teacher in his new environment at MCC, where he taught classes on European history and Western civilization.
Lipshires continued to stay active in organized labor, and was instrumental in the establishment of a statewide union for teachers and community college professionals, the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, or CCCC, or the 4C's. Lipshires joined with music professor and friend, Bob Vater, to enlist support for the union, first at MCC, and then on other community college campuses. The union was established in 1973, with Vater as its first president. Lipshires would be its next president, leading the union for eighteen years as it managed new affiliations, followed and drove trends in Connecticut and higher education, and worked to serve its community and increase membership. Lipshires' experience growing and leading the union is narrated in his self-published 2007 book, Giving Them Hell: How a College Professor Organized and Led a Successful Statewide Union.
Lipshires interests and connections in organized labor and activism helped him have influence beyond MCC and 4C's, often working on behalf of employees or for progressive causes in general in Connecticut and New England. He was involved with the Connecticut State Employee Association, and was a member of the "Colt 45," during a civil-disobedience sit-in at Colt Firearms factory in 1986. Lipshires' retirement from MCC in 1992 was met with a celebration of his services to the college, including an official last lecture and a large retirement party. He would retire from the 4C's three years later, at the same time as his longtime friend and the 4C's first professional staff member, Sonia Berke. Both were instrumental in the history and actions of the organization, and were recognized and deeply respected by friends and colleagues for their service and vision.
After retirement, Lipshires passions for political thought and commentary did not abate, and were funneled into his writing. His unpublished book, Tired of Waiting for Lefty?, is a critique of, and advice book for, labor and the Left, offering analysis of past movements and decisions, and outlining solutions for more social justice and political achievements. Lipshires stayed connected with family throughout the years, and had a work relationship with Lisa Lipshires, who helped him research, write, and distribute Giving Them Hell. Lipshires died on January 6, 2011, at the age of 91. At his request, Lipshires was buried in the cemetery of Congregation B'nai Israel, the synagogue his father and family had helped to establish in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his headstone projecting boldly his life's commitments: "Solidarity Forever."
The Sidney Lipshires collection is organized into three series, and covers eight decades of history in Lipshires' life and professional, political, and activist issues in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the rest of New England. Although divided by theme and material, the series, understood within the whole, reveal deep-rooted interconnections between the personal and public in Lipshires' life and passions. The biographical aspects of Lipshires' upbringing and environment, his family, culture, education, and progressive inclinations, run strongly throughout his professional life and his activism, whether political or organizational in nature.
The first series, Personal, Professional, and Family Materials, contains biographical records relating to Lipshires and his academic and professional life, as well as materials from and about his family members. Legal, professional, financial, and military documents and certificates, as well as newspaper clippings and other print materials, limited correspondence, and especially various typescripts, speeches, and condolences by and about Lipshires provide information about his biography, personality, and personal and social commitments to equality, education, labor politics, and activism.
Lipshires' youth is least covered, but his participation in the military, abroad in France during World War II, as a young man is documented in government and correspondence records. His other professional activities are noted in the second series, as well as in several professional documents and a late curriculum vita in the collection. While Lipshires' career as a professor of history at Manchester Community College is documented by only a few items in this collection, his academic interests in social, intellectual, and political modern European history, especially in Marx, Freud, and Marcuse, are revealed in detail in his academic work, research, and writing during the time of his doctorate, in 1971.
Family materials in the collection offer a broader vision of locations, events, and issues impacting Lipshires' and others' lives during these periods. A scrapbook and speech draft by David Lipshires, Lipshires' father, provides a history and commentary on his shoe businesses in Northampton, Massachusetts, revealing not only the ethics of work and practice in which Lipshires was raised, but also sound theory on business policy and publicity, and specifics of women's retail in a community connected to Smith College and the WAVE officers. David Lipshires and his business partner, Leonard Alberts, (Lipshires' uncle and elder by only a few years,) are also noted in several local newspaper clippings and obituaries, documenting the ties of the Lipshires family to the larger Northampton community, and especially its importance to the Jewish community there. Several folders of materials relate to Lipshires' second wife, Joann Breen Lipshires, many biographical in nature, including a birth certificate and obituary, and various employment, academic, and military records. Correspondence from and to Breen Lipshires, along with an essay about her by daughter Lisa Lipshires, are highlights.
Series 2. Activism, Labor, and Leadership, is the heart of this collection, and documents the issues that were ever at the heart and mind of Lipshires. Fliers, broadsides, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings, along with Lipshires' Bowker Commission testimony transcript, FBI file, and incredibly detailed autobiography and accompanying research notes and materials, document his involvement and connections with leftist politics and the Communist Party, and his eventual arrest under the Alien Registration Act of 1940, or the Smith Act, in 1956.
The assorted materials reveal the internal and external discourses of the Communist Party in America, and specifically New England, during these times, as Lipshires, a paid employee of the Party, grew from running for office in Springfield on the Communist ticket, to leading and critiquing the Party's organization, interests, and effectiveness. Reports, shop papers, and other print material and news coverage document the research, outreach and critiques of the Communist Party and other leftists and labor organizers in New England during the 1940s and 1950s. Lipshires was connected with a number of Communist and activist workers, including the six others arrested as the Massachusetts Smith Act Defendants: Otis Archer Hood, Anne Burlak Timpson, Edward Strong, Daniel Boone Schirmer, Michael A. Russo, and Geoffrey Warner White. Information on the opinions and practices of these individuals and others can be found within the collection as well.
In parallel with the depth of resources on the Communist Party in western Massachusetts and New England, are the materials documenting the establishment of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges, or CCCC or the 4C's, a unified labor union for Connecticut community college professors and professionals initiated by Lipshires, Bob Vater, and others at MCC, and led by Lipshires as president for over 18 years. The history of the union, from before its official inception in 1973, to its ongoing influence and interests, includes coverage of its various forms, struggles, affiliations, members, leaders, and local and state connections.
These issues are documented in numerous ways within the collection, which includes over fifteen years of the 4C's newsletter, the "Congress Chronicles," other official 4C's print materials, Lipshires' presidential correspondence, and a detailed binder of research on the history and organization of the 4C's put together by Lisa Lipshires. In his self-published text, Giving Them Hell: How a College Professor Organized and Led a Successful Statewide Union, Lipshires uses the strength of the 4C's story to illustrate and comment on the larger issues of activism, labor, and leadership that were catalysts for him and so many others. Other writings by Lipshires, especially his unpublished book manuscript, Tired of Waiting for Lefty?, demonstrate his critical and creative take on the political, economic, and social issues in the United States later in his life, from the mid-1990s to 2006, and offer glimpses into leftist discourses on American leaders and issues during these times.
The third and final series in this collection, Photographs, consists of photographs of Lipshires and his friends and family, arranged by size, and then in rough chronological order, including photograph albums from the 1995 4C's retirements of Lipshires and Sonia Berke, respectively. Lipshires' personal and professional lives, including many photographs with his children, at work at MCC, and 4C's events, are well documented. Several family photographs, including ones of David Lipshires' stores, are included. Some of the most striking shots concern Lipshires' involvement with the military and his connections with the Communist Party in New England.
Acquired from Lisa Lipshires, January 2012.
Processed by Blake Spitz, 2012.
Cite as: Sidney Lipshires Papers (MS 730). Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.