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Cohnstaedt Family fonds
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MSS 484 (A2014-095)
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c. 1850-2000 (Creation)
- Cohnstaedt Family
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1.5 m of textual records and other material
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Name of creator
The Cohnstaedt family acquired a degree of prominence as German journalists during the second half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Ludwig Cohnstaedt (1847-1934) and his son Wilhelm Cohnstaedt (1880-1937) were senior editors of the Frankfurter Zeitung, a prominent liberal newspaper founded in 1856. When Wilhelm refused to write an editorial welcoming Hitler to power and endorsing the new Nazi regime in 1933, the Cohnstaedts, who were Jewish middle class liberals, had to leave Germany. Wilhelm moved to Paris and then to New York, where he wrote for the press and worked on a book about the collapse of the German (Weimar) republic before taking his own life in 1937. His eldest son, Hans Jacob, immigrated to England and then to Chicago. His daughter Ruth, a communist, was arrested, fled to Italy, and after returning to Nazi Germany, also took her own life. Martin (1917-2002), Wilhelm’s youngest son, was sent to England by his mother Else (nee Goebel; 1881-1974), a non-Jew who taught French, English and Italian and had an interest in organic farming and vegetarianism. Martin completed his secondary education at Leighton Park, a Quaker Secondary School in Reading, and at Woodbrooke, a Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. He immigrated to the United States in 1937, where he was joined by his mother. Martin’s pacifism and his belief in Quaker philosophy would guide him throughout his life.
In the United States Martin studied vocational agriculture at Rutgers University in New Jersey (BSc, 1937-41), agricultural resource economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (MA, 1942-43), and rural sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (1948-50), where he earned his PhD in1954.
In 1940, while at Rutgers Martin was nominated for membership in Alpha Zeta, a national agricultural fraternity but declined the offer because the fraternity excluded non-whites. A year later, in 1941, Martin refused to register for military service and was classified as a conscientious objector. His wartime service consisted of working as a milk tester in rural Virginia and in 1946 he participated in an UNRRA mission, shipping cows and horses from the United States to Poland. Because he had refused military service his application for American citizenship was denied after the war. Aided by the American Friends Service Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union, Martin appealed his case all the way to the American Supreme Court, where he won the right to citizenship in 1950.
Martin’s academic career and his community work took him and his family - he had married Rebecca Boone and they had two sons - to a number of American colleges and universities. In 1946-48, he taught economics and sociology at Sterling College in Kansas; from 1948 through 1952, he was a teaching assistant and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin and at Downer College in Milwaukee; in 1952-53 he was a visiting instructor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; in 1955-56, he was assistant professor at Wisconsin State College in Milwaukee; and from 1956 through 1966, he was an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. After Martin and Rebecca divorced in 1961, Martin increasingly combined his work as an academic with the practical application of his Quaker philosophical beliefs and social ideals. At Antioch College in Ohio, where he was a visiting associate professor of sociology in 1964-67, he became involved in the War on Poverty. He worked as an organizer with the Supporting Council of Preventative Effort (SCOPE) on the “Head Start” and the “Moving Ahead Together” (MAT) projects in Dayton, Ohio, helping local Blacks claim their rights to health care, education and food.
In 1967 Martin took up a position as Professor of Sociology at the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan (after 1974, the University of Regina). In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, he participated in the organization of community self-help groups (aboriginal and low-income single mothers), researched the impact of a potash mine on the small rural community of Lanigan, Saskatchewan, and studied small arctic communities along the western shore of Hudson Bay as part of the University of Saskatchewan Institute for Northern Studies. Soon after moving to Regina Martin met and married Joy Rowe, an art teacher who shared Martin’s commitment to pacifism and community development. They adopted two children and a daughter was born in 1971. By 1969, Martin’s non-academic work as a community organizer, and his efforts to bring sociology students into the departmental decision-making process, including curriculum and the hiring of faculty, caused tension with faculty and the university administration. Although an internal university review committee (the Zacaruk Report, 1969) concluded that criticism of Martin was unjustified, the administration relieved Martin of his administrative responsibilities as acting chair of the Sociology department. In 1971 a dispute concerning Martin’s teaching methods culminated in his suspension from teaching although a second external review committee (the Woods Report, 1972) concluded that Martin had been treated unfairly. Until he was forced to take early retirement in 1978, Martin focused on community development work with non-status Indian and Métis peoples in northern Saskatchewan, including helping them organize opposition to uranium mining. In response to his forced early retirement, Martin sued the University of Regina for wrongful dismissal. When the Supreme Court of Canada finally upheld his case and awarded him more than $200,000 plus costs in 1995, Martin Cohnstaedt was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away in Toronto in November 2002.
The accession was donated by Joy Cohnstaedt.
Scope and content
The papers consist of: 1/Cohnstaedt family documents, including copies of birth, marriage and death certificates; fragments of family correspondence; a diary/photo album, ca. 1927; family trees; xerox copies of newspaper clippings on the family’s history; and a large number of German-language librettos and booklets on opera. 2/ Correspondence, grant applications, reading lists, research notes, newspaper issues and clippings, and a book manuscript produced by Wilhelm Cohnstaedt (1880-1937), senior editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung, during his final sojourn in the United States (1933-1937). And, above all, 3/ the personal documents, correspondence, student papers and doctoral dissertation, petition for naturalization, scholarly research papers and reports, and documents concerning community development work and disputes with the University of Regina produced by Martin Cohnstaedt (1917-2002), a professor of sociology at several colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
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