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Miriam Gelfand oral history

Identifier: IWA1024

Scope and Contents

The Miriam Gelfand oral history interview was recorded on July 25, 2016 by Kären Mason in Iowa City, Iowa. The interview consists of a 30-page transcript of the interview discussing her early life in China during Jewish resettlement, family history, education, and career.


  • 2016


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open for research. 

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

Miriam Ifland Gelfand was born on March 20, 1925 in Harbin, China as the only child to Elizabeth Rikoff Ifland, a homemaker, and Jacob K. Ifland, a businessman and realtor. Her grandparents immigrated to China to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia that first began during the late 19th century. Gelfand had a large extended family and most worked on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

At the age of five, Miriam Gelfand and her family moved to Shanghai, China and lived in the French Concession during World War II under the Japanese occupation. Shanghai served as a resettlement area for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust and the rise of Adolf Hitler. Her parents were mostly economically stable, but they lived in small quarters with extended family often living with them. While her parents self-identified as secular, Gelfand had a strong Jewish identity. She also described her environment as multilingual with Russian at home, English in town, and French in school with some Chinese (Mandarin).

In Shanghai, China, Gelfand attended the College Municipal Francaise for elementary and secondary school. She graduated from Thomas Hanbury School for Girls in 1942 and continued her education at St. John's University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1946. She attended graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated with a degree in Slavic Studies.

During the late 1940’s after World War II, Miriam Gelfand supervised staff on corporate correspondence while working for CalTex Oil Company in Shanghai. Gelfand departed for the United States around the same time and became a language teacher of French and Russian for the remainder of her career. Gelfand taught at the University of Washington, University of Hawaii, and University of Wyoming. After moving to Iowa City in 1961, Gelfand served as a professor of French and Russian at The University of Iowa from 1962 to 1994. Gelfand also had a career as an editor and translator of scholarly works from primarily Russian to English in various subject areas.

On June 14, 1953, she married Lawrence E. Gelfand, a historian and University of Iowa faculty member. She later had three children: Julia Lang (born 1954), Daniel Gelfand (born 1958), and Ronald Gelfand (born 1961). Miriam Gelfand died in Iowa City, Iowa in 2022.


0.25 linear inches

Language of Materials



Oral history with Miriam Gelfand, a Jewish immigrant from China who also taught as a professor of French and Russian at The University of Iowa from 1962 to 1994.


One folder, shelved in SCVF.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The oral history (donor no. 1459) was donated by Miriam Gelfand in 2016.

Micaela Terronez, 2018.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)