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The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection

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A Lady Vanishes

January 21, 2014

The Disappearance of Juliet Stuart Poyntz

The following information is based on the manuscript by Elias Lieberman "The Mysterious Disappearance of Juliet or A Lady Communist Vanishes."  Lieberman first met Poyntz when they were both working for ILGWU Local 25, she as the Educational Director, and he as the chairman of the Educational Committee which provided the approval for her educational plans and programs.  Their paths would cross later when Lieberman represented Poyntz in Surrogate's Court.  Lieberman's manuscript uses his personal knowledge of Poyntz and involvement in the case to discuss Poyntz's history, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, and the many theories that circulated regarding her vanishing.

Sitting in her apartment at the American Women’s Club in New York City, Juliet Poyntz received a phone call on June 5, 1937.   She soon left her apartment, never to be seen again.  Four months later in October 1937, after the rent went unpaid and mail piled up, the apartment manager notified Marie MacDonald, a friend of Ms. Poyntz.  Then Ms. MacDonald subsequently contacted Elias Lieberman, a friend and attorney who had been representing Ms. Poyntz in Surrogate’s Court in regards to her late husband’s estate.  Lieberman and MacDonald quickly went to inspect apartment No. 1215 only to discover a neat and orderly place with clothes and luggage in the closet and items undisturbed including documents, passports and a bank book.  Lieberman initially performed a private investigation himself, interviewing hotel personnel and reviewing missed telephone messages and undelivered mail, before finally contacting police.  In December 1937, the disappearance became official and sensational headlines were splashed across the newspapers.  Theories circulated regarding her disappearance including that she was a double agent, that she was abducted by the Soviet Secret Police, or that she was kidnapped and taken to Russia, yet all the speculations centered on her involvement and activities within the Communist Party.

Juliet Stewart Points was born on November 25, 1886 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Her father, John James Points, was a certified public accountant, and her mother, Alice Eulalie Stewart Points, a school teacher.  At the age of nine, Points’ parents separated and she moved with her mother and younger sister to the East Coast, where she attended school in New Jersey before entering Barnard College.  While in college, Points decided to change the spelling of her name to Juliet Stuart Poyntz.  After graduating from Barnard in 1907, Poyntz went on to receive her master’s degree from Columbia University.  She received the English Fellowship by the American Federation of Women’s Clubs and studied at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.  In London, Poyntz met Dr. Frederick Franz Ludwig Glaser and they were married in New York on October 8, 1913.  Due to their differences in backgrounds, personalities, political views, and life expectations, the couple separated within five years.  Having married a German citizen, Poyntz lost her U.S. citizenship, and it was not until 1924 that she was naturalized by the Supreme Court of New York County under the name Juliet Stuart Glaser. 

With her return from England, Poyntz joined the Socialist Party and immersed herself within Socialist organizations.  While working in the research department of the Rand School of Social Science, she became friends with Morris Hillquit, a lawyer for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU).  Hillquit needed Poyntz’s assistance researching economic data regarding cost of living for New York garment workers to be utilized during arbitration for wage increases.  Poyntz’s work and friendship with Hillquit led to her employment as the first educational director of the Dressmakers’ Union.  In a 1916 report of the Ladies’ Waist and Dressmakers’ Union Local 25, Poyntz is identified as the director of the newly created Organization and Education Department.  And beginning June 1916, she was the editor for “The Message,” the official magazine of Local 25.  In her role as educational director, she developed a program of adult labor education, set up lecture series by professors, and organized dancing and recreation classes.  She also launched some of the early cooperative housing initiatives for the young and unmarried immigrant girls of the union, and the concept of “unity houses” soon expanded into vacation retreats, whose popularity led to the union’s purchase of the Unity House summer resort in the Poconos.  After much success instituting programs, Poyntz was offered the position of Education Director of the ILGWU.  Unfortunately, her increased political activity caused a strain with the union leadership and she soon resigned. 

Poyntz continued her involvement in the Socialist Party, and during the split within the party, appeared to officially belong to the Centrists.  There is little direct evidence that she participated in the formation of the Communist Party in the United States, but she did play a role in the Workers Council in 1921 and its inclusion at the convention of the Workers Party of America. By 1924, Poyntz was actively participating with the leadership of the Communist Party USA and her activity and standing continued to increase so that in 1928 she attended the Sixth World Congress of the Communist International and became the head of the Women’s Department of the CPUSA.  Her work continued with the Communist Party, and she eventually became employed by the Soviet Secret Police.  In 1936, Poyntz secured a new passport with the name Julia Stuart Glaser and in October traveled to Europe.  During this time, Poyntz had been in contact with Elias Lieberman, whom she had met while working at the ILGWU.  Lieberman, an attorney for the union, had been representing Poyntz in Surrogate’s Court.  Upon learning of her estranged husband’s death, Poyntz set out to secure a portion of his estate.   When she returned in February 1937, her case and application for widow’s allowance had been secured by Lieberman.  Meeting in early May 1937, Poyntz impressed upon Lieberman the urgent need for the money from the settlement, mentioning that she was eager to get away as soon as possible.

With her lengthy trips to Europe, many surmised Poyntz was still in the Soviet Intelligence and Lieberman later recounted her increased anxiety and fear in the spring of 1937.  During her last overseas trip, she arrived during the “treason trials” in which leaders in the Communist Party where charged with treason and purged and murdered.  Poyntz may have become fearful for her own life as she wrote a letter to Lieberman requesting that he take possession of her belongings in the event of an emergency.  She also continued her interest in settling her late husband’s estate, presumably to acquire enough funds to leave.  Friends maintained that she did not commit suicide as she had made a purchase of mothballs from Macy’s the day before indicating her intent to store her winter garments.  Likewise, her disappearance was not voluntary as she left behind her passport and documents.  It is reasonable to assume that Poyntz disappeared through foul play.  The last few months she was reported as seeming nervous, anxious, and fearful that her life was in danger.  On the day she vanished, Poyntz received a telephone call from a German speaking man.  Theories abounded as to what actually happened to Poyntz.  Carlo Tresca maintained that she was lured by her former friend and lover Shachno Epstein to Central Park where she was kidnapped.  Other reports declared that Poyntz’s disappearance was caused by the Soviet Secret Service to prevent her from publishing a book criticizing Stalin.  On October 26, 1944 in the Surrogate Court of New York County, Juliet Stuart Glaser, also known as Juliet Stuart Poyntz, was declared legally dead and her estate bequeathed to her sister.  Over a half century later, the unsolved disappearance of Juliet Poyntz still remains a source of mystery and intrigue.

Guide to the Elias Lieberman Manuscripts:  6036/001

There is very little else of Juliet Stuart Poyntz in the collection, but some information is available regarding her work with the ILGWU and Local 25, including:
"The Message," the official magazine of the Ladies' Waist and Dressmakers' Union of which she was editor from June 1916-1918:  5780/071
Report of the Ladies' Waist and Dressmakers' Union Local 25, 1916 (Box 1, folder 34):  5780/169
"The Ladies' Garment Worker," the offical publication of the ILGWU, mentions of her work with Local 25 in the following issues:
Volume 8 Issue 6
Volume 8 Issue 10
Volume 8 Issue 12
Volume 9 Issue 3
Volume 9 Issue 7
Volume 9 Issue 11