Volume 76, Number 17 | September 13 - 19, 2006


Lillian Milgram Schapiro, 104, art historian’s widow

By Albert Amateau

Dr. Lillian Milgram Schapiro, a pediatrician and widow of the renowned art historian, Professor Meyer Schapiro, died Aug. 6 at the age of 104 at her home in the Village where she had lived since 1931.

A specialist in childhood tuberculosis who lectured at New York University Medical School until 1977, she retired completely from medicine after her husband died in 1996 to oversee his papers for publication, according to her daughter, Miriam Grosof, a professor at Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University.

“She was incredibly single-minded, gathering every scrap of my father’s intellectual output, and she was very successful in getting young volunteers to work with her,” Grosof said.

Born to Benjamin and Doreé Milgram in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on Aug. 20, 1902, she went to P.S. 22 and Girls High School. In 1918 she met her husband, whose family lived in the neighborhood and who was a friend of her older brother, with whom he shared a passion for photography.

“It was three and a half years before they held hands in the street,” said Phong Bui, an artist and an intimate friend of the couple for 20 years. “She was a meticulous record keeper and both of them were so rational — they modeled their life on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant,” said Bui, publisher of the magazine Brooklyn Rail.

Lillian Milgram and Meyer Schapiro graduated from college — he from Columbia and she from Barnard — the same year. Meyer went on to graduate studies at Columbia, and Lillian went to New York University Medical School.

“They were married in June 1928 when she received her M.D. and my father completed his doctorial dissertation,” Grosof said.

The couple moved to the Village in 1931, and in 1934 they moved to W. Fourth St., between 11th and Perry Sts., to the house built in 1869.

“It was the end of bohemia by that time and a lot of academics lived in the Village,” Grosof observed. Among the couple’s friends were literary luminaries, including Irving Howe, Saul Bellow, Delmore Schwartz, Isaiah Berlin and Sidney Hook.

The family traveled in Europe during the summer in the 1930s and Lillian interned in Vienna for a few months in 1933, where she saw the beginning of the Nazi era, Bui said.

Although Lillian declined physically over the last 20 years, she remained mentally sharp and vigorous, her daughter said. In 2004, she suffered a stroke and was cared for by three women from the Visiting Nurse Service.

“They were a mother and two sisters whose attention and devotion was remarkable,” Grosof said.

“I was visiting her two days after her birthday on Aug. 20 when she said, ‘I’m going to see Meyer,’” said Bui. “I’m sure she meant it metaphorically. She never said things like that. A week later she had another stoke,” Bui said.

In addition to her daughter, a son, Dr. Ernest Schapiro, of New Jersey, two grandsons, David and Benjamin Grosof, and three great-grandchildren survive.

A memorial service will be announced later.

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