Devoted To Evolution: The Joel B. Liberman Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"As a rule an author has one or two popular ways of contrasting the past with the present. He can treat the past as lying in comparative doleful ignorance, or he can explain that the past was infinitely superior to the day we live in. Of course, either method is the popular journalism of the moment, and in reality there is no sharp contrast, but a gradual transition which leads the past into the present." - Joel B. Liberman

Born January 17, 1883 in New York City, Joel 'Joseph' Brandon Liberman was the son of Lewis and Elina (Helena) Liberman, immigrants from Warsaw, then part of Russian Poland. After arriving in America, Joel's father passed away. His mother later remarried to Isidor Munstock, a merchant of hunting supplies. He grew up in a large, wealthy, blended Jewish family.

Joel B. Liberman's draft registration card from 1918, the same year he first competed at the U.S. Championships

In the era when socialite Irving Brokaw reigned supreme as the 'skating king' of New York, Joel took up everyone's favourite sport. His skating career wasn't a success from the very start though. When he first participated in the U.S. Championships in 1918, he finished in last place in the men's event.

Grace Munstock and Joel B. Liberman

Throughout the roaring twenties, Joel was a perennial competitor in contests both in New York and elsewhere. In 1923, he won an informal waltz contest held at the first North American Championships in Ottawa with Florence Wilson. That same year, he joined forces with Clara Hartman, Paul Armitage and his stepsister Grace Munstock as the New York four. The first year they entered the U.S. Championships, the Boston four pulled out because of one of the member's illness, so the title wasn't officially 'won'. In 1924 and 1925, the New York four became U.S. Champions. Grace and Joel also won a trio of medals in the pairs event at the U.S. Championships, each time finishing behind Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles.

Grace Munstock and Joel Liberman

Though Joel was certainly a talented skater, his most important contributions to the figure skating world were unquestionably 'off-ice' ones. He was a well-respected judge and referee who officiated at numerous U.S. and North American Championships. He served as an official at the 1930 and 1932 World Championships and 1928 and 1932 Winter Olympic Games. He also served for many years on the executive of the Skating Club of New York and Artists' Skating Club.

Joel's service to the USFSA spanned three decades. He served as the Association's Secretary from 1924 to 1928, and then again in 1931 and 1932. As head of the USFSA's Test Committee in 1922, he was the one who recommended the adoption of the eight test system. As head of the Amateur Status Committee, he developed the first code of rules on sanctioning. A regular contributor to "Skating" magazine, he took great pains in educating the skating world about the rules and regulations of the sport. He was the person responsible for penning reviews of the both first Olympic Games and World Championships on U.S. soil.

From 1934 to 1945, Joel served as head of the USFSA's Judges and Judging Committee, playing an important role in the sport's evolution in America during World War II. In 1942, he penned the Judges Manual, which was sponsored by Heaton R. Robertson. Robertson later remarked, "His Judges Manual... marked the pioneer effort to lay down a better interpretation of the principles upon which judging should be based. The subject of judging is a very large one... We should be most grateful to Mr. Liberman for his splendid work in laying such a substantial foundation for its development."

Outside of the skating world, Joel was a very successful patent and corporate law attorney with an office on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. He served for eight years on Board Of Directors of the Lionel Corporation, which manufactured toy electric trains. He was also a director of a lighting business, Holophane Company, Inc. 

Joel B. Liberman's sketch of Jackson Haines

Joel was also a talented artist who spent two years studying with French born painter Nan Greacen Faure. His painting "Sutton Place" won award at an exhibit of the Bar Association Of New York in 1948. 

Joel B. Liberman's sketch of Ulrich Salchow

Joel lived for many years in Scarsdale Village, New York with two of his sisters, a chauffeur and housemaid. He passed away at the Community Hospital in Elizabethtown, New York on July 31, 1955 at the age of seventy-two as a result of pneumonia and a heart attack. Following his death, a trophy in his memory was donated to the winners of the U.S. junior pairs title. In his obituary in "Skating" magazine, Howard Meredith wrote, "He was a lawyer by profession, a linguist and antique collector by avocation, and in his later years an artist. Skating was perhaps his favorite sport but tennis, handball, sailing and swimming had also been part of his athletic curriculum. He was a fine gentleman and a loyal friend and those who knew him over the years will miss his wise counsel and advice."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":