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Office of Trusts, Estates, and Gift Planning
Cornell University
130 E Seneca Street, Suite 400
Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: 1-800-481-1865
Fax: 607-254-1204


Giving Wisdom


In 1945, Harriet Morel Oxman ’48 saw her Cornell opportunity. The New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) was newly established, and Oxman thought, “That’s my chance to go.” She still cherishes her “wonderful” letter of acceptance, which opened the door to her lifelong involvement with Cornell and later led to a successful career in education.

Oxman has a firm belief in giving back to her alma mater and a love of learning that she traces back to her undergraduate years. She praises the ILR School faculty for setting her high academic standards. “They were the best. They were scholars. I really got a superior education,” she remembers. Deciding to apply to Cornell Law School after graduation, she was thrilled to have Milton Konvitz, “a brilliant man,” write her letter of recommendation. The acceptance letter from Cornell Law and her acceptance to ILR were “the two best letters I ever got,” she says.

But the news from the law school was also bittersweet. Oxman went home to New York City, and her father—who had returned ill from service in World War I—asked her not to return to Ithaca. “So I didn’t go,” Oxman says, “but I have very pleasant memories of thinking maybe one day I’ll go to the law school’s front door and say, ‘Hey, you accepted me once. I’m here again!’”

Oxman spent twenty-seven years in the New York City School system, most at the prestigious Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. She started out as a social studies teacher and later served as principal for ten years—a position made possible in large part because of her ILR training, according to Oxman. “I became a principal in New York City when there weren’t a lot of women doing that, and I was the first female principal of an academic high school. I really feel I accomplished something,” she says. Oxman adds how an ILR education placed her at the winning side of every labor grievance during her time as a school administrator. She says, simply, “I put into practice what I learned.”

A dedicated and pioneering educator, Oxman is also a devoted alumna. She was a member of the Cornell Women’s Club in New York and served on the secondary education committee, interviewing prospective Cornell students. “I was honest,” she says, “if I didn’t think the candidates were the right material, then I didn’t think they should be accepted.”

With her volunteer roles and half a century of gifts to the university, Oxman has never truly left Cornell. Directed to the Cornell Annual Fund and the ILR School, her annual contributions began soon after she graduated, and they have never stopped. “I got a very good education, and I owe whatever progress I made to the fact that I got a degree from the school and Cornell. I feel an allegiance,” she says.

In addition to annual support, Oxman and her husband, Ted, later set up charitable gift annuities to benefit the ILR School’s Catherwood Library and name its directorship. Oxman has also prepared a bequest plan to further support the school.

“With Harriet and Ted Oxman’s gift, the ILR School will have the resources to ensure it maintains its role as the leading college in the world, addressing work and employment issues.” says ILR School Dean Harry Katz. “Their gift will also help ILR maintain the high quality of student services the school is known for. We can’t thank them enough.”

“In many ways, Harriet is a model Cornellian: intelligent and confident, definitely someone that you want on your side of a dispute!” adds Curtis Lyons, the Harriet Morel Oxman Director of the Hospitality, Labor, and Management Library.

Even after having retired from education, Oxman sustains her love of learning and her special fondness for books. She has even written a book about her travels, titled Around the World with Harriet. “You don’t stop learning when you graduate from college. You have to continue it. Otherwise, it doesn’t mean anything,” she says.