Debra Bernhardt

In memoriam

From: Carol Mandel
Date: Friday, March 23, 2001 10:25 am

Dear colleagues,

With sadness I am writing to let you know that our dear and deeply admired colleague, Debra E. Bernhardt, died peacefully in her home last night. A memorial service is planned for May.

Debra was a labor historian dedicated to documenting the undocumented history of workers in New York. She was head of the Wagner Labor Archives, a program sponsored jointly by NYU and the New York City Central Labor Council, since 1989, and of NYU's Tamiment Library. Prior to this she was an archivist at the Wagner Labor Archives, assistant director of the Program in Public History at NYU, and an oral historian.

In 1998 Debra spearheaded a successful campaign to have the National Park Service declare Union Square Park a national historic landmark. What is now recognized as the first Labor Day parade occurred on that site on September 5, 1882. She was also the guiding spirit behind a traveling photographic and oral history exhibition, "100 Years of Labor in New York City," which opened at City Hall in 1998 and subsequently made the rounds of union halls and other sites throughout the city. She is the co-author, with Rachel Bernstein, of the book Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary People: A Pictorial History of Working People in New York City, published by the NYU Press in 2000.

Debra received the John Commerford Award for labor history documentation from the New York Labor History Association in 1995 and the NSDAR (National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution) Award for Excellence in Community Service and Historic Preservation in 2000. In March 2001, labor leader John Sweeney presented her with a Distinguished Service Award from the New York City Central Labor Council.

Following Debra's wishes, her family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent to the Debra E. Bernhardt Fund for the Wagner Labor Archives. 70 Washington Square South, New York, New York 10012.

Posted: 26 March 2001