Sylvia and Max Wohl
Max Wohl spent decades of his life in service to the ACLU. He worked with other leaders such as Judge Jack Day and Benson Wolman to ensure that throughout the twentieth century the ACLU remained at the forefront of civil liberties issues in Ohio. Max believed in “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world,” and that principle, coupled with his commitment to socialism, became the guiding force behind Max’s work. Max helped to establish the Cleveland ACLU chapter in the 1950s, which was officially recognized as an affiliate of the national organization in 1954. Over the years he served as a board member of both the Cleveland and statewide ACLU organizations.
In 1908, Max Wohl was born in Cleveland, and after graduating high school in 1926, went to work for Tremco Manufacturing Co. as an office boy. Forty one years later, when he chose to go into early retirement, Max was vice president of finance for the company. After retirement, Max became a full-time volunteer with the Cleveland ACLU, which at the time was struggling with low membership and little support. In 1969, the state office for the ACLU moved to Columbus, and Max directed the reorganization and coordination of the new Cleveland office.
Although Max was not a lawyer and did not work on any litigation matters, his time and effort were invaluable in supporting the ACLU office. Max often coordinated legal committees and answered telephones, receiving complaints of civil liberties abuses from citizens across Ohio. Furthermore, Max often provided substantial financial support when the ACLU was at its weakest, helping to nurture the organization until it could become more influential and effective. After years of dedicated work, Max became the chairman of the ACLU of Cleveland, all while raising his three children, Lenore, Edward, and Arthur (killed in an auto accident), with the support of his wife Sylvia. He and Sylvia met at a socialist meeting in the 1930s, and were married for more than fifty years.
In a 1995 interview, Max said he wanted to “build a world of peace and plenty and prosperity.” He spent decades of his life committed to the causes of the ACLU, working without pay, in order to protect and uphold the civil liberties of every citizen. He noted, “Those of us who are interested in building a better world realize that unless there are civil liberties, it’s very difficult to have a better world -- civil liberties are fundamental to building a better democratic society.”
In May of 1975, Max Wohl was one of five volunteers honored for his hard work by the ACLU of Ohio Foundation. Later, the Cleveland chapter of the ACLU named Max the Civil Libertarian of the Century. Max passed away in 1999. In 2001, the ACLU of Ohio’s new Cleveland home was named “The Max Wohl Civil Liberties Center.”
- Read the transcript of a 1995 interview with Max Wohl.
- Read the ACLU Cleveland chapter’s July 1988 newsletter commemorating Max Wohl’s retirement.
- In 1998, the ACLU of Ohio newsletter reprinted a Cleveland Jewish News’ article recognizing Max’s dedication to the Workmen’s Circle and the ACLU of Ohio.
Written by Hannah Feldman, a Beachwood High School student, as part of her senior project.