William Morris Leiserson

William Morris Leiserson was born April 15, 1883, in Reval, Tsarist Russia (an area we now know as the nation of Estonia). His family came to the United States and New York City in 1890 or 1891. They came to escape persecution of Jews by Russia. He worked at a shirtwaist factory while continuing his education at Cooper Union school. The working and living conditions forced on immigrants in the lower east side in New York City fueled his desire to address labor market ills. He actually passed the entrance examinations for the University of Wisconsin without having formally graduated from high school. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Wisconsin in 1908. He wrote his bachelor’s thesis on the “History of the Jewish Labor Movement in New York City.” He then received a junior fellowship at the New York School of Philanthropy. He also attended lectures at Columbia University and was granted an honorary fellowship there in 1910-11. He was employed by the New York Commission on Employers’ Liability and Unemployment. This allowed him to study unemployment at home and in Europe. The commission sent him to Paris in 1910 as a delegate to the International Congress on Unemployment. While there, he presented a paper on “The Struggle Against Unemployment in the United States.” As a result of his investigations at home and abroad, this paper became his doctoral dissertation. He received his PhD from Columbia in 1911.

Dr. Leiserson then returned to Wisconsin went to work for the state and originated the State Employment Service.