Sulzberger, I.O. (1892–1990)

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Sulzberger, I.O. (1892–1990)

American civic leader who oversaw the development of The New York Times in the course of her lifetime. Name variations: Iphigene Ochs; Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger; Mrs. Arthur H. Sulzberger. Born Iphigene Bertha Ochs on September 19, 1892, in Tennessee; died of respiratory failure on February 26, 1990, in Stamford, Connecticut; daughter of Adolph Ochs (a newspaper publisher) and Iphigenia (Wise) Ochs (the daughter of Isaac Mayer Wise, a rabbi and founder of American Reform Judaism); attended Dr. Sachs School for Girls and Benjamin-Dean School, both in Manhattan, New York; attended Barnard College; married Arthur Sulzberger (president and publisher of The New York Times), on November 17, 1917 (died 1968); children: Marian Sulzberger Heiskell (b. 1918); Ruth Sulzberger Holmberg (b. 1921); Judith P. Sulzberger (b. 1923); Arthur Sulzberger (b. 1926).

I.O. Sulzberger was born Iphigene Ochs in Tennessee in 1892, into a Jewish family already involved in the newspaper business. Her father Adolph Ochs controlled The Chattanooga Times, and at the time of Iphigene's birth was lobbying for small newspapers' participation in the Associated Press. Her mother Iphigenia Wise Ochs was the daughter of Isaac Mayer Wise, a rabbi in Cincinnati who founded American Reform Judiasm. Known as "If" or "Iffy" within the close-knit family circle, Sulzberger was schooled at home until the age of eight. Her relationship with her father Adolph proved pivotal to her own interest in the newspaper business, particularly after he purchased the faltering New York Times and moved the family to New York in 1896. Sulzberger then began her formal studies at Dr. Sachs School for Girls and the Benjamin-Dean School, both in Manhattan. In 1910, she attended Barnard College. In addition to her classes, she also received an extensive education in the arts on trips with her mother to New York's museums, and with her family to Europe.

Sulzberger's education in the newspaper business began when her father took her to the paper's offices, although he disapproved of the interest in journalism she cultivated during her years at Barnard College. He did, however, challenge her to think with balanced reason and to cling to factual accuracy—two qualities mirrored in the paper that she would oversee. At Barnard, Iphigene met Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who was engaged in military training in preparation for service in World War I. Although he was due to be shipped overseas, she married him in a ceremony at her parents' home on November 17, 1917. The war ended before Arthur was called to service abroad, and the pair made their home in New York, where Arthur joined his father-in-law at The Times.

Adolph Ochs' death in 1935 propelled both Sulzbergers to prominent leadership positions at The Times. Her father's will made them trustees of the paper, while Arthur also became president and publisher. True to her father's wishes, I.O. Sulzberger remained on the sidelines when it came to running the paper, except for a stint as director of special events during World War II when she coordinated programs to assist the war effort. She was also a tireless worker in civic affairs, concentrating on the conservation of public parks and education. Her activism began in college with her work in the Henry Street Settlement, the Jewish Big Sisters Program, and the Cedar Knolls School for disturbed children.

Sulzberger's service to New York's parks began in 1928 when she joined the Parks Association. As president of the volunteer group after 1934, she was instrumental in winning funding for a chess and checkers house in Central Park as well as the restoration of the Joseph Rodman Drake Park in the Bronx. She eventually became chair of the group in 1950, as well as honorary chair of the Central Park Conservancy, a fundraising group dedicated to the improvement of Central Park. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx also benefited from Sulzberger's commitment to parks beautification. The institution's partnership with a nearby high school to train student gardeners found a vigorous supporter in Sulzberger, for which she was honored with its distinguished service award in 1965.

Sulzberger's interest in children's education led her to foster similar programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which were designed to teach young people how to restore furniture and paintings, as well as a cooperative program in which high school students alternated classroom studies with on-the-job training. She put her fund-raising skills to the test for her alma mater, Barnard College, during the school's drive to build what would become the Adele Lehman Hall-Wollman Library, dedicated in 1960. This was one of many projects Sulzberger saw to

completion as a lifelong trustee of the school. She also acted as trustee and served on the boards of several other educational institutions, including the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the University of Chattanooga and the Cedar Knolls School. The wealth of honorary doctorates she received from other schools—including one from the Bishop College of Dallas, a black school to which she had made substantial donations—proved her impact on children's education.

Although she was a woman of many interests, Sulzberger's most exotic project was her support of Richard E. Byrd's exploration of Antarctica. He expressed his gratitude by christening both a body of water and a mountain after her. Sulzberger Bay and Mount Iphigene are both located near Marie Byrd Land.

Known as the "matriarch of The New York Times," Sulzberger remained a constant in the leadership of the paper as management shifted from her husband to her son-in-law, Orvil E. Dryfoos, who became president in 1957. Four years later, Arthur Sulzberger also relinquished the position of publisher to Dryfoos, although he remained as chair. A stroke in the years before Arthur's death in 1968 necessitated his nearly total reliance on Iphigene. Dryfoos having died in 1963, the paper was now in the hands of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the only son among the Sulzbergers' four children. Joining their mother as directors at The Times were her daughters Marian Sulzberger Heiskell, Ruth Sulzberger Holm-berg and Dr. Judith P. Sulzberger . Having served as the quiet "conscience" of the paper for over 70 years, I.O. Sulzberger died in her sleep of respiratory failure on February 26, 1990, at age 97.


The New York Times Biographical Service. February 1990.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

B. Kimberly Taylor , freelance writer, New York, New York