Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Scope and Content
Title: Shirley Adelson Siegel papers
Collection number: 0303
USC Libraries Special Collections
Language of Material:
1.0 linear ft.
Between 1947 and 1950, attorney and housing rights advocate Shirley Adelson Siegel lived in Los Angeles and became deeply
committee work related to the promotion of civil rights and affordable housing. Although she lived in Los Angeles for less
than four years, her work helped shape legislation that was later developed at both the local and state levels. The collection
consists of publications, press releases, correspondence, meeting agendas and minutes, and supplemental materials related
to her work in the areas of affordable housing and urban redevelopment policy.
Siegel, Shirley Adelson, 1918-
Conditions Governing Access
COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access.
Conditions Governing Use
All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian.
Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended
to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
Scope and Content
The collection contains materials that relate to Siegel's efforts at housing reform between 1947 and 1950, the years that
she lived and worked in Los Angeles. Included are press releases and article clippings; Siegel's handwritten notes; correspondence
exchanged between Siegel, government officials, and other housing rights advocates; memoranda; reports; transcripts from Siegel's
speaking engagements; agendas and minutes from the various committees that Siegel served on; draft legislation, resolutions,
and legal opinions related to housing and urban development policy; pamphlets, newsletters, and publications issued by the
organizations with which Siegel was affiliated; and several copies of a journal article written by Siegel regarding race restricted
covenants. Items in the collection are corganized according to the individual organizations and specific issues that Siegel
worked with during her time in Los Angeles.
Born July 3, 1918 in the Bronx, New York, Shirley Adelson Siegel was raised in New York City by Jewish immigrant parents.
The Great Depression hit the family hard: when Siegel was 13 she and her family were evicted from their Manhattan home when
her father, a struggling businessman, failed to make rent. However, despite the family's financial woes, Siegel excelled in
school. After graduating at the top of her high school class in the mid-1930s, she enrolled at Barnard College and pursued
an undergraduate degree in government. She graduated from Barnard with honors in 1937.
Siegel's foray into housing and redevelopment policy occurred while she was a student at Barnard. Through the National Youth
Administration, an employment program financed through President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, she attained an internship
at the New York Legislative Service and earned 50 cents an hour analyzing housing and urban development legislation. It was
there that Siegel was first introduced to public housing, slum clearance, redevelopment, and discrimination in the housing
market - issues that would later come to define her work and her legacy.
In 1938, Siegel briefly matriculated at the London School of Economics and then enrolled in Yale Law School, where she stood
out as the only woman in a class of 125 men. Keeping true to her interests in public policy and housing, she chose to specialize
in property law - which at the time was considered to be a young, progressive, and obscure arm of the legal profession. She
received her law degree from Yale in 1941 and joined the New York State Bar shortly thereafter.
Initially, Siegel struggled to find work after graduating from Yale, due in large part to what she described as the
double handicap of being both female and Jewish. Finally, in 1942, she accepted a position at Proskauer, Rose, and Parkus where she once
again stood out - this time, as the firm's first-ever female attorney. But even while she worked in private practice, Siegel
never lost sight of her passion for public interest law; her evenings and weekends were spent volunteering at the American
Civil Liberties Union, where she assisted with the Supreme Court case against Japanese internment camps that had been established
during World War II. In 1945, she left her position at Proskauer to become Executive Director of the newly-founded New York
Citizens Housing Council.
Siegel moved to Los Angeles in 1947 after marrying her husband, Elwood, who worked in the entertainment industry. At the time,
Los Angeles was in the midst of a housing crisis that was rooted in a combination of factors, including a shortage of adequate
units for World War II veterans, overt racism in the real estate market, the proliferation of slums, and a lack of action
on the part of elected officials. It was also in the late 1940s that the nation was embroiled in controversy over the Taft-Ellender-Wagner
housing bill, which allocated federal money for slum clearance, redevelopment, and the construction of tens and thousands
of units of low-rent public housing in many of the nation's largest cities, including Los Angeles.
Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, Siegel was hired as Executive Director of the Los Angeles Citizens Housing Council, an organization
that advocated for fair housing and community development policies in the greater Los Angeles area. It was under Siegel's
direction that the Housing Council spearheaded a ballot initiative, California Proposition 14, that called for the creation
of a comprehensive, state-administered public housing program. While the measure was ultimately defeated at the ballot box,
it nonetheless laid the foundation for many future attempts at housing reform.
Siegel also engaged in a considerable amount of
pro bono committee work related to housing and urban development in Los Angeles. She volunteered for the California Housing Association,
first as its Southern California Secretary and later on its Board of Directors; for the Los Angeles County Conference on Human
Relations, as its Housing Committee chair; for the League of Women Voters' Los Angeles Chapter, as its Legislative Action
Committee chair; for the American Jewish Committee, as a staff representative for its Legal and Civic Action Committee; and
for the California Federation for Civic Unity, on its Board of Directors.
In 1950, Siegel and her husband left California and returned to New York, but her work in public interest law was far from
being over. She continued to serve as an active participant in committee work, and in 1959 she was tapped by New York State
Attorney General's office to head its first-ever Civil Rights Bureau. For years, she served as general counsel to the city's
Housing and Development Administration under Mayor John Lindsay, and she also chaired the Housing and Urban Development Committee
at the New York City Bar. From 1979 to 1982, she served as Solicitor General for the state of New York.
Siegel's first husband Elwood died in 1994. In 1997 she married her second husband, Henry Fagin, who had gained notoriety
in his own right as a distinguished architect, city planner, and college professor. The couple remained married until Fagin's
death in 2009.
As of 2010, some 74 years after her career in housing law began, Siegel continued to practice law in New York, specializing
in cases involving foreclosure, eviction, and tenants rights.
The collection was given to the University of Southern California in 2005 by Shirley Adelson Siegel.
[Box/folder# or item name], Shirley Adelson Siegel papers, Collection no. 0303, Regional History Collection, Special Collections,
USC Libraries, University of Southern California
Subjects and Indexing Terms
American Jewish Committee. Los Angeles Chapter. -- Archives
League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. -- Archives
Los Angeles Citizens Housing Council. -- Archives
O'Dwyer, Thomas, Monsignor -- Archives
Siegel, Shirley Adelson, 1918- -- Archives
Agendas (administrative records)
California--Housing--20th century--Archival resources
Civil rights--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
Discrimination in housing--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
Housing--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
Low income housing--California--Archival resources
Minorities--Housing--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
Public housing--California--Los Angeles--History--20th century--Archival resources
Real covenants--United States--Archival resources
Resolutions, Legislative--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources
Speeches, addresses, etc., American--20th century--Archival resources
Urban renewal--California--Los Angeles--History--20th century--Archival resources