Jacob Marcus, chronicler of American Jews, 99

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CINCINNATI — Jacob Marcus, the father of American Jewish history, died last week at the age of 99.

Marcus was considered the founder of American Jewish history as an academic discipline and was the founder and director of the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

Born in New Haven, Conn., in 1896, Marcus moved here at the age of 15 to enter what was then a nine-year program at Hebrew Union College, beginning with high school studies.

He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati and was ordained at HUC in 1920, one year after returning from serving in the U.S. Army during World War I. That same year he was appointed to the faculty at HUC.

In 1922, Marcus traveled to Berlin to pursue graduate studies, earning a doctorate from the University of Berlin in 1925.

He returned to Cincinnati, where he lived the rest of his life, resuming his teaching duties at HUC in 1926.

In the early 1940s, Marcus turned his attention to what he termed "the growing importance" of American Jewish history.

HUC's course on the history of the American Jew, which he began teaching in 1942, became the first required course in American Jewish history at an American college.

In 1946, Marcus, recognizing a need to preserve congregational records and documents relating to Jewish communal life, called for creating a central institution to preserve and catalog these materials.

The American Jewish Archives was established on HUC's Cincinnati campus in 1947. Marcus served as director of the archives since its inception.

In 1956, he added the American Jewish Periodical Center to the archives, to serve as a central repository for the study of American Jewish journals and bulletins.

His legacy to Jewish history is deep, said Abraham Peck, administrative director of the archives.

"He ranks as one of the great tellers of Jewish history," he said.

Marcus wrote nearly 300 books and articles during his career at HUC. A number of them are considered fundamental works in American Jewish history.

His four-volume series, "United States Jewry, 1776-1985," is considered a definitive work on the history of North American Jewry.

"He left an indelible imprint on his many colleagues and friends. He is irreplaceable," said Alfred Gottschalk, president and chancellor of HUC.