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AFL and AFL-CIO Research Department, Boris Shishkin papers

 Collection 0069-LBR-RG13-001

Boris Shishkin was a Russian immigrant who became a researcher and economist for the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in the 1930s and 1940s. Later he was the AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department director and secretary of the federation's Housing Committee. The collection provides some documentation on Shishkin's early educational and professional career, but, in more depth, his work with the AFL on issues of racial discrimination and housing. Types of materials include subject files, economic research reports, clippings, and pamphlets.


  • 1918, 1927-1971

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


8.10 Linear Feet (19 Hollinger boxes)

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection comprises a mixture of Boris Shishkin's personal and office papers consisting of correspondence, speeches and writings, reports, phone logs and printed material. The collection provides some documentation on Shishkin's early educational and professional career, but in more depth his work with the AFL on issues of racial discrimination and housing. The collection spans the years 1918 to 1968, but most of the material is dated from 1931 to 1971.

Shishkin cultivated wide-ranging interests that are reflected in the correspondence and subject files. Undoubtedly, his Russian origins contributed to a life-long interest in issues concerning that part of the world, and the collection provides some insight into his views on these issues. His participation in war-time boards and agencies, and his work with the Marshall Plan, provides information on World War II and the European recovery.

Biographical / Historical

Boris Basil Shishkin was born October 28, 1906 in Odessa, Russia. In 1919 the Bolshevik seizure of power forced his father, an officer in the Czar's army to relocate the family to Turkey. By September 1923, at his mother's urging, Boris, together with his older sister and parents immigrated to the United States. After taking up residence in New York City, Boris had employment in a variety of fields including joining the teamsters union when he became a truck driver for the American News Company. With financial aid from the Russian Student Fund (especially from Illinois Congressman Morton D. Hull), Shishkin entered Columbia University in February 1927, majoring in economics. After receiving an A.B. degree in June 1930, he continued on at the University's graduate school studying business cycles while working towards a Ph.D. Much of his income came from a small translation bureau he established at the time. He moved to Washington D.C. in 1932 after receiving a fellowship at the Brookings Institution.

Abandoning his academic studies, Shishkin joined the AFL in 1933 as a researcher. His initial duties were as a labor advisor to the National Recovery Administration developing economic data in support of labor's position on issues confronting the agency as well as lining up and briefing spokesmen for the particular unions that are testifying before government hearings. His areas of specialization included the aluminum, lumber, and shipping industries. Shishkin also drafted speeches and articles for AFL President William Green.

In 1935 Shishkin contributed to the contexts of the Wagner Act and the same year helped to launch the Labor Housing Conference. In September 1936 he assumed the post of executive secretary of the Conference on a temporary basis from Catherine Bauer and in 1939 became director of the AFL Housing Committee, a post he held concurrently with his AFL economist position.

In addition to his AFL work, throughout the late 1930s and into the 1940s Shishkin served as a member or consultant to various government committees and agencies, among which were the Housing Authority, War Production Board, Office of Price Administration, and the Presidential Committee on Fair Employment Practice and on Civil Rights. During this period he also did a great deal of public relations work as a spokesperson for labor, participating in over 400 network radio broadcasts as well as several newsreel recordings and television broadcasts.

In 1948 Shishkin took a leave of absence from his post as director of AFL economic research in order to serve as the overseas head of the Labor Division of the Economic Cooperation Administration (Marshall Plan). Returning to the United States in March 1951, he resumed his former duties at the AFL. In 1954 Shishkin contracted meningitis which incapacitated him for almost two years. His recovery coincided with the merger of the AFL-CIO in 1955 and he was named director of the new organization's Department of Civil Rights as well as the serving as secretary of the AFL-CIO Housing Committee. He also was a member of government advisory councils/committees on employment security, atomic energy, and civil rights.

In 1964 Shishkin relinquished his ties to the Civil Rights Department, concentrating all his energies on housing matters. He retired from the AFL-CIO at the end of 1971 and died June 12, 1984. Shishkin married twice: to Julia L. Kitendaugh, April 24, 1931 (Divorced 1949) and the Hildegard M. Blanken, October 18, 1955.

Organization of the Collection

This collection is organized into four series:

Series 1
Subject Files
Series 2
Chronological Files
Series 3
Printed Material
Series 4
Racial Discrimination in Housing

Custodial History

The largest proportion of documents in this collection came from Boris Shishkin's widow, Hildegard Blanken Shishkin, who donated them to the Meany Archives in 1987, a gift that was facilitated by Bert Seidman, a long-time AFL and AFL-CIO staff member. A smaller portion, those records contained in Series 4, came directly from AFL-CIO long-term storage where Shishkin had placed them in 1963. To some degree, therefore, all these records reflect a selection process by Shishkin.

The George Meany Memorial Archives transferred these records as part of a major transfer of their archive and library holdings to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2013.

Related Materials

Related records found at the University of Maryland include:

RG1-014, Office of the President, President's Files, William Green, 1891-1952;

RG1-015, AFL Office of the President, William Green papers, 1888, 1909-1952;

RG1-027, AFL-CIO Office of the President, President's Files, George Meany, 1944-1960;

RG2-007, AFL and AFL-CIO Office of the Secretary-Treasurer, William F. Schnitzler files, 1952-1980;

RG21-001, AFL-CIO Legislation Department records, 1906-1978;

RG22-001, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Committee on Political Education, Research Division records, 1944-1979;

RG9-001, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records,

RG9-003, AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department records, 1946-2000,

CIO Committee to Abolish Discrimination, 1948-1950,

AFL-CIO Director's Files, 1956-1967;

RG9-002, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Discrimination Case Files, 1947-1984.

Closely related materials can also be found in the American Federation of Labor Records at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Series 1 of those papers, "The files of Executive Secretary of the Labor Conference, 1935-1937," (4 boxes) would appear to center on the Conference's outreach to governmental and private organizations, whereas the Shishkin papers at the University of Maryland contain more of the AFL's ties to the Conference during the period. Series 5 of AFL papers at Wisconsin, "Files of the Economists of the AFL" (42 boxes and 4 volumes) contain NLRB material 1938-1940 and "correspondence, personal and official, reports, pamphlets, clippings and other material pertaining to economic and social problems of interest to Boris Shishkin." Most of the items relate to the 1941-1948 time period. Similar material in the Shishkin papers at the University of Maryland is most complete for the early 1930s and the 1950s and beyond.

A great deal of the AFL-CIO's efforts in the area of civil rights came out of the Civil Rights Department's Southern Office. AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, Southern Office records can be found at the Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Separated Materials

Some types of materials were removed from the collection and relocated as follows: photographs (awaiting processing into the Photographic Collection, RG96-001), artifacts (awaiting processing into the Museum/Artifact Collection); and audio discs (awaiting processing).

Note: At the time this finding aid was completed at the George Meany Memorial Archive, the notes indicated where these materials were meant to be moved to. We can only assume these actions were carried out.

Processing Information

Robert D. Reynolds, Jr. at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in 1989. The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker exported and cleaned the finding aid contents from the Eloquent Systems database using OpenRefine, and finally transformed the finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD) using a series of programmatic scripts. The finding aid was ingested into ArchivesSpace in 2018, at which point Rebecca Thayer updated the descriptive content for accuracy. Revisions include changes to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and the creation of new collection numbers. Rebecca Thayer also enhanced custodial histories and re-wrote collection titles to better conform to archival standards.

Guide to the AFL and AFL-CIO Research Department, Boris Shishkin Papers
This collection was processed by Robert D. Reynolds, Jr. at the George Meany Memorial Archive.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742