MS 55 The Louis E. Shecter Collection

Posted on December 6th, 2012 by

Louis Shecter as a graduate from Baltimore City College, 1918. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1974.21.4

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Louis E. Shecter (1901-1992)?Collection

n.d., 1921-1985

?MS 55

Jewish Museum of Maryland


The Louis E. Shecter Collection was found in the collection as MS 55.? Multiple accessions have been identified as materials donated by and related to Louis E. Shecter and probably incorporated into MS 55: 1973.013; 1974.021; 1975.020; 1982.015; 1985.104; and 1985.105.? However, none of the materials in the manuscript collection can be positively identified with these accessions.? Because of this the collection was given the FIC accession number 2012.061. The collection was processed at some unknown date then reprocessed and given a finding aid in June 2012 by Jennifer Vess.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.? Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.? Papers may be copied in accordance with the library?s usual procedures.


Louis Shecter (1901-1992) was born in Baltimore and graduated from Baltimore City College in 1918.? He began work at the Baltimore Sun then left for the Joseph Katz advertising company.? In 1928 he became the advertising director for the Hecht stores until 1931 when he and his brother-in-law, Jack L. Levin, started their own advertising company.? Shecter also began to invest in real-estate and businesses, ultimately owning several theaters (The Rosalyn, The Rex, The Roxy, and The Times ? now known as the Charles Theater).? Other businesses included the Famous Ballroom and two bowling centers.

Rosalyn M. and Louis E. Shecter on their way to London aboard the R.M.S Queen Mary, 1946. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1982.15.17

In 1939 Shecter married Rosalyn Margareten (d. 2009).? Rosalyn was born inNew York City and attended first Hunter College then later the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for sculpture.? Louis and Rosalyn had three children: Alan, Mark and Alyce.? In 1961 Rosalyn was appointed vice chair of the Maryland Board of Motion Picture Censors.? Rosalyn focused on preventing children from being exposed to adult content in films, and she played a minor role in the implementation of the current movie rating system.

Louis Shecter was involved with a number of political figures and also became a collector and promoter of the arts.? Shecter died on November 9, 1992.? Rosalyn died on November 24, 2009.


The collection is divided into three series: Series I. Louis E. Shecter, n.d., 1921-1985, Series II. Rosalyn Shecter, n.d. 1931-1984, and Series III. Children and Grandchildren, n.d., 1949-1983.? Series I. is further divided into eight subseries: Subseries A. American Jewish Congress, n.d., 1957-1983, Subseries B. Business, n.d., 1924-1984, Subseries C. Politics, n.d., 1944-1985, Subseries D. Genocide Convention and Civil Right Activities, n.d., 1954-1981, Subseries E. Charitable Contributions, n.d., 1945-1985, Subseries F. Art Collection, Museums and Culture, n.d, 1953-1983, Subseries G. Personal Correspondence, n.d., 1921-1984, and Subseries H. Misc, n.d., 1932-1984

Louis Shecter with Ladybird Johnson, 1962. Courtesy of Louis Shecter. 1975.20.33a

Series I. Louis E. Shecter, n.d., 1921-1985 contains correspondence, programs, clippings, and writings related to Shecter?s business dealings, civil rights activities, charitable contributions, art collecting, and personal life.? The series is divided into eight subseries. Subseries A. American Jewish Congress, n.d., 1957-1983 contains correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, meeting minutes and programs related to Shecter?s work with the American Jewish Congress in Baltimore.? Subseries B. Business, n.d., 1924-1984 contains correspondence and clippings related to Shecter?s work with the Joseph Katz advertising firm, the Hecht Company, his own advertising firm, his real-estate ventures, the Advertising club, etc. Subseries C. Politics, n.d., 1944-1985 contains invitations, correspondence, clippings and programs related to Shecter?s interaction with politics and political figures at the local and national level. Subseries D. Genocide Convention and Civil Right Activities, n.d., 1954-1981 contains correspondence, clippings and talks related to Shecter?s work promoting the Genocide Convention and Civil Rights.? Subseries E. Charitable Contributions, n.d., 1945-1985 contains correspondence, clippings, invitations, etc., related to Shecter?s involvement with charitable organization and his own charitable contributions.? Subseries F. Art Collection, Museums and Culture, n.d, 1953-1983, contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, lists, newsletters, magazines and minutes related to Shecter?s art collection activities, his donation of art, and his interactions with museums and other cultural institutions and organizations. Subseries G. Personal Correspondence, n.d., 1921-1984, contains Shecter?s personal correspondence including a collection of letters (photocopies) to and from H.L. Menken.? Subseries H. Misc, n.d., 1932-1984 contains membership materials to the Masonic Lodge and Beth Tfiloh, invitations, play programs, writings, etc.? All of the materials are organized alphabetically within each subseries.

Louis Shecter and Senator Edward Kennedy reviewing a painting of President Kennedy and Governor Tawes at the opening of JFK Highway. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1975.20.25a

Series II. Rosalyn Shecter, n.d. 1931-1984 contains correspondence, diplomas, booklets, publications, newspaper clippings, scrapbook pages and genealogical material related to Rosalyn?s education, work and family.? A large portion of the collection relates to Rosalyn?s work with the Maryland State Board of Motion Picture Censors.? The folders are organized alphabetically except for the genealogy materials which are placed at the end of the series.

Rosalyn Shecter being sworn in as chairman of the Maryland Board of Motion Picture censors, 1968. 1974.21.18a

Series III. Children and Grandchildren, n.d., 1949-1983 contains correspondence, invitations and writings related to Louis and Rosalyn?s children and grandchildren.? The series is arranged alphabetically.

Rosalyn, Louis, Alan and Mark Shecter, 1950's. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1974.21.20


The American Jewish Historical Society and Syracuse University Library both have Louis E. Shecter Manuscript collections.

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Louis Shecter with Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, 1952. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1975.20.1


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Read’s Drug Store: The Jewish Connection

Posted on February 21st, 2011 by

If you’ve been following the news in Baltimore lately, you know that a major campaign is underway to save the Read’s Drug Store building from demolition. Part of the West Baltimore downtown shopping district “Superblock” slated for redevelopment, Read’s was the site of an historic civil rights protest in 1955, when a group of Morgan State college students conducted a sit-in at the lunch counter, a full five years before the famous lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Last month I went on a walking tour of the Superblock sponsored by Baltimore Heritage, Inc.

You can read all about the sit-in at the website of Baltimore Heritage, Inc., one of the groups leading the charge to save this historic building. It’s an exciting story, remarkable both for the inspiring and well-coordinated actions of the Morgan students (concurrent with their protest at Read’s flagship store on Howard and Lexington, they staged demonstrations at a Read’s near the Morgan campus in northeast Baltimore) and for the quick capitulation of Read’s officials. Within two days of the sit-in at the downtown store, a front-page headline in the Afro-American announced a victory. Read’s President Arthur Nattans Sr. stated that “We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores, including the fountains, and this becomes effective immediately.”

Read’s Drug Store is the building on the right.

Read’s Drug Store had been owned by the Nattans family since 1899, when Arthur Sr.’s father purchased the original downtown store from druggist William Read. A German Jewish family that had first settled in Washington, D.C., the Nattans moved to Baltimore and became active in Jewish institutions such as the Suburban Club and Levindale. By 1934, the family had forty drugstores in operation in the Baltimore-D.C. area. That year, the Nattans completely rebuilt and remodeled the original Read’s into the Art Deco building that exists under threat of demolition today. The family sold its chain to Rite Aid in 1977.

Domino sugar tablets, wrapped in paper with "Read's" logo, from the collection. 1990.160.001

Because the family kept the original Read’s name on its stores, the chain’s Jewish ownership has been somewhat obscured. The Nattans belong in the same category as the Hutzlers, Gutmans, Hoschchilds, Kohns, Hechts, Epsteins—retailers who made an indelible mark on the Baltimore scene. And like those other Jewish retailers, the Nattans went along with Baltimore’s Jim Crow traditions until forced to change during the civil rights era. (You can read about discrimination against blacks at Jewish-owned department stores in an excellent article by Paul Kramer, “White Sales,” published in our Enterprising Emporiums catalog back in 2001.)

Cigar box with "Read's" logo, from the collection. 1990.160.002

But the speed with which the Nattans desegregated their lunch counters when confronted by the Morgan students indicates that they might not have been enthusiastic participants in the discriminatory practices that were rampant in Baltimore into the mid twentieth century. Most retailers feared that if they served blacks equally, they would lose their white customers, and there is certainly plenty of evidence that their fears were not unjustified. According to the Afro article mentioned above, when the sit-in began, an unnamed Read’s official called Morgan’s dean and asked him to “Please call your students off. . . .  We’re losing business.” The dean refused, and by the end of the conversation, the official told him, “Well, we are in sympathy with this thing—we’ll see what can be done.”

Paper bag with the "Read's" logo and EMPLOYEE PURCHASE across front, from the collection. 1990.160.003.

And the rest is history: Baltimore history, civil rights history, even Jewish history. Let’s hope that city officials recognize the importance of the Read’s store—and the other historic buildings on the Superblock—and redevelop the West Side by building on our heritage, not by tearing it down.

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