People A-Z / Selig Adler
Historian and Author. Distinguished Professor.
Distinguished Professor Selig Adler (1909-1984) chronicled the history of the Jewish community in Buffalo from the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, which was published as From Ararat to Suburbia: A History of the Jewish Community of Buffalo (with Thomas Connelly, 1960). Selig Adler was an historian of twentieth century American foreign policy at the University of Buffalo and the author of The Isolationist Impulse: It’s Twentieth-Century Reaction (1957), The Uncertain Giant, 1921-1941 (1965) and American Foreign Policy Between the Wars (1965) among other works. A faculty member of the History department of the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1958 to 1980, he was named a State University of New York Distinguished Service professor in 1975.
Selig Adler was born in 1909 in Baltimore, Maryland, but after the unexpected death of his father in 1925, he completed his last year of public schooling in the home of a relative, attending New Utrecht High School, Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Della née Rubenstein, a Buffalonian, returned to her family in Buffalo, and Selig joined her after graduating High School in 1927. He attended the University of Buffalo in 1928 and was awarded a BA in 1931. He then went to the University of Illinois, completing both an MA and PhD in history by 1934. He worked as a High School teacher in the Buffalo school system from 1934 to 1937 and married Janet Sukernek in 1936. From 1938 to 1947 he worked as a part-time instructor at the University of Buffalo, and was subsequently appointed an Assistant Professor of History in 1947. By 1952 he was a Full Professor and in 1958, he was named the Samuel Paul Capen Professor of American History (a position he held until his retirement in 1980). During the 1950s and 1960s he authored four history texts that became classics in their fields.
In addition to an active historical research agenda, Selig Adler was immersed in various roles at Temple Emanu-el and heavily supportive of Rabbi Isaac Klein in the early beginnings of Kadimah School of Buffalo. He was a regular speaker at Jewish communal events for the Jewish Federation and many other local organizations. Moving to the state level, in 1952 he was appointed to Kosher Law Advisory Board by Governor Dewey, and held this role until 1979. Increasingly from the beginning of the 1960s, he was involved in the expansion of the University of Buffalo from a small private local institution into a large state funded body with a significant second campus in the suburbs as an active faculty representative. From 1961 to 1965, he was Chairman, of the Educational Policy and Planning Committee of the Faculty Senate and from 1962 he served as Chairman of the Faculty Committee on the merger with State University of New York as well as Chairman on the Faculty Conference on the merger with State University of New York in 1963. He was also appointed to the State University of New York Faculty Senate and Faculty Senate Executive Committee. He served as Chairman of the History Department from 1966 and was a visiting professor at Cornell from 1968-1970. He became a Distinguished Service professor in 1975 and retired from the University of Buffalo in 1980.
Soon after retirement in 1980, he was hired by the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, to create an archives of Jewish Buffalo historical materials for both public use and historical research. Four years later, he had assembled five major collections as well as the papers of Rabbi Isaac Klein, which were jointly dedicated as the Selig Adler Jewish Archives of Greater Buffalo at Buffalo State College in June 1984. Just a few months later on November 8, 1984, he died. The archives he organized with the aid of Sister Martin Jones were subsequently moved to the University at Buffalo in 2006. They formed the basis of a resource subsequently expanded by the community sponsored Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, that developed more than fifty more collections over a ten-year period under the auspices of the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies.
Milton Plesur, “Selig Adler, Distinguished Historian is dead at age 75,” Reporter, Vol. 16, no. 1-, November 15, 1984, p. 4.
Milton Plesur, ed. An American Historian: Essays to Honor Selig Adler, Buffalo: The State University of New York at Buffalo, 1980.