Moses Berkman, Class of 1920
Over the course of a distinguished career in newspaper reporting, Moses Berkman developed one of the most pronounced and influential voices in New England.
Born in Hartford, he was educated at Hartford Public High School and Trinity College. He left the College for military service during World War I, and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the United States Army. Restless after military service, he left Trinity after his junior year and joined the staff of the old Hartford Post, which he had served as campus correspondent. In 1922, the Hartford Times purchased the Post, and Berkman moved over to the staff of Hartford’s dominant afternoon newspaper as assistant state editor.
He found his life’s work in 1926, when he was assigned to fill in at the state Capitol during a colleague’s illness. He stayed on that beat for the Times until 1951, earning almost universal admiration for his professional integrity and encyclopedic knowledge of local, state, and national politics. For decades, Berkman’s column, “The World of Politics,” was essential reading in the region and beyond.
Although he worked for a Democratic newspaper, Berkman had an independent spirit and was a staunch critic of machine politics. He established his reputation during the 1930s, when he often collaborated with Gov. Wilbur Cross to thwart both Connecticut’s dominant Republican machine and the Democratic Party’s “Old Guard.” In the middle of that decade, for example, he faced down a special legislative committee that was pressing him to reveal his anonymous sources for a story about a $5,000 bribe paid to a state senator. His columns remain a window onto an era when politics and activist government were transforming American life
In 1951, he became an editorial writer at the Times, but maintained a high public profile through his column and a regular broadcast on the newspaper’s radio station. He died at 59 in 1956.
Among his peers, he was beloved for his high ideals and the relish he displayed for the life of the mind, underdogs, and debate in all its forms. In a memorial editorial, his nemesis, the Hartford Courant saluted him: “Pipe in mouth, he was ready at any time to discuss the state of the world, or any part of it, or its philosophy.” His own newspaper called him vehement about ideas and yet detached, and remembered him as a man who “liked to be where people gathered, hotel lobbies, restaurants, the halls of the Capitol, where he could take part in the exchange of political ideas.” In pursuit of his love of ideas, he was also an ardent book reviewer.
In the Hartford area, Berkman also had a reputation as a lover of the arts and as a talented cellist. He was also a leader of the area’s Jewish community. His wife, the late Florence Toboco Berkman, was also an important local journalist, serving as an arts critic for more than 20 years for the Times, and then for the Courant after the Times closed in 1977. In a bequest she established the Berkman Memorial Prize as an expression of love and respect for her husband and for the profession of journalism.