Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Steinway Hall: A Place for the Piano in Music, Craft, Commerce and Technology

"There’s a separate world inside 109 West 57th Street, and it has nothing and everything to do with the world outside.  Everything because it’s a house of music, and music connects to all people…and all things….  And nothing, because – well, because it’s a world of pianos. The name of the place is Steinway Hall." – Kyle Kevorkian, “The House of Steinway,” 1992

Steinway Hall, W 57th St., c.1925
Earlier this week, Steinway & Sons opened a new Steinway Hall, the third in the history of the city.  But what is Steinway Hall?  Is it a concert venue?  A piano showroom?  An intimate home for artists and music lovers?  The corporate presence of Steinway and Sons in the cultural heart of America?

Steinway Hall, E.14th St., 1860s
Since 1866 when the first Steinway Hall opened on East 14th Street, Steinway Hall has stood uniquely as a nexus of music, craftsmanship, commerce, technology and the cultural life of New York City.

When William Steinway agreed to let the Women’s Suffrage Association use Steinway Hall in 1871 (the subject of last month’s Blog post for Women’s History Month), he not only rented his hall (the second largest in the city) for a major civic meeting, he also knew it was an opportunity to advertise pianos.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Women’s History Month: Steinway Hall and the Women’s Rights Movement

"There is no escaping the fact that the principle by which the male citizens of these United States assume to rule the female citizens is not that of self-government, but that of despotism; and so the fact is that poets have sung songs of freedom, and anthems of liberty have resounded for an empty shadow."

Victoria Woodhull spoke these words on November 20, 1871 at the original Steinway Hall on 14th Street in Manhattan.  The following year, again at Steinway Hall, Woodhull broke from the Woman Suffrage Association to advance a more radical women’s rights agenda.  The delegates from the convention who followed Woodhull from Steinway Hall to Apollo Hall the next day nominated her as the first woman candidate for President of the United States – in 1872!
Victoria Woodhull at Apollo Hall, 1872
Source: M.F. Darwin, One Moral Standard for All, New York: Caulon Press
Courtesy University of Michigan/Hathitrust

We hold in our Steinway Collection the letter that made the 1872 convention of the Woman Suffrage Association possible.  Women were, apparently, not to be trusted with business matters in the 19th century.  It was a legal issue – women, particularly married women, could not sign contracts.  So it took a man to secure rental of Steinway Hall for the convention.  On February 6, 1872, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most famous and powerful men in America, wrote a letter to William Steinway, president of the Steinway and Sons piano company, which owned the hall in Manhattan that bore the family name.  Beecher promised to pay for the rental of the hall for the women, “should the Association fail to meet the expenses.”  Beecher was motivated by his sister Isabella Hooker, a supporter of Woodhull and active in the Woman Suffrage Association.  If you can’t read Rev. Beecher’s handwriting, we've transcribed it for you here.

Steinway Hall remained an important venue for the women’s rights movement through the late 19th and early 20th century.

As the repository of the Steinway Collection, we invite you to explore the papers, pictures and other materials of the Steinway family and their Steinway & Sons piano company.

To help you, we have prepared some wonderful webpages on The Women of Steinway and Sons, which offer a unique look into both women’s labor and craftsmanship at the Steinway factory, and the place of Steinway family women in the company’s business.

For more on the National Woman Suffrage Association, try here.

For more on Victoria Woodhull, try here and here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Black History Month: The Story of John Louis Wilson, Jr. and the Harlem River Houses

Architect John L. Wilson, Jr. with Borough President 
David Dinkins, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington,
 and others at the 50th Anniversary of the Harlem River Houses
©New York City Housing Authority
"At the request of the Federal Government we are putting a negro architect on the Harlem-Macombs Place Project. His name [is] John Louis Wilson.”  Even setting aside the now offensive reference to an African American, this quote from a 1935 letter by Langdon Post (then head of the New York City Housing Authority) and the story behind it is shocking.  Or maybe it just should be.

The team initially selected to design project now known as the Harlem River Houses, did not include any African Americans, even though it was the first and premier public housing in Harlem, the heart of black culture in America.  The Harlem River Houses was intended to be a high profile and symbolic project: a statement of commitment to the black community in a time of segregated housing.  Even today, it is considered among the best designed housing ever built by government.

Architects Rendering of Harlem River Houses
©New York City Housing Authority
It took federal intervention for Wilson to be added to the team.  Some of the white architects, while denying personal racism, complained that Wilson’s appointment set a bad precedent because he had not participated in the initial qualifying competition.  And they decided that Wilson’s share of the profits would be 1/3 less than their own, justifying this with an unlikely estimate of the work remaining on the project as of Wilson’s appointment. 

The Housing Authority identified only two qualified black architects to fill the post.  John Louis Wilson, Jr. was unquestionably qualified.  He was the first black graduate of Columbia University’s prestigious School of Architecture, graduating in 1928 and fully licensed by 1930.  The other candidate was already working on another federal project, perhaps because it was so hard for black professionals to find work in the private sector. 

We have collected a great many resources for you to explore the history of John Louis Wilson, Jr. and the Harlem River Houses. 
  • Here is the in depth story of Mr. Wilson and the Harlem River Houses, including photos, documents and news clippings.
  • Here is the 1935 letter confirming Wilson’s appointment to the Harlem River Houses project, along with the responses by the original architects team.  We are proud to be the official repository of the New York City Housing Authority, from which these letters are selected.  The collection can be further explored here.  
  • Although not available online, we also have in our LaGuardia Collection an oral history interview with John L. Wilson himself, conducted by Professor Richard K. Lieberman (Director of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives), and recorded during a class at LaGuardia Community College.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Letters to Mayor Lindsay: Children Respond to the 1966 New York City Transit Strike

Children from all over New York City, and around the country wrote to Mayor Lindsay during his first year in office.  The new mayor was, after all, a highly visible man, a strikingly tall and energetic figure.  Many simply asked for a picture or autograph.  But more than any other subject, children wrote to the mayor about the 12 day transit strike, the worst in the city’s history.  Many witnessed it in their daily lives.  Others saw it on television.  Some talked about it in classrooms as far away as Massachusetts.  Here is a selection of their letters.

Excerpt of Child's Letter to Mayor Lindsay - Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives
On January 1, 1966, as John V. Lindsay took the oath of office as New York City’s 103rd mayor, transit workers all over the city, led by Mike Quill, walked off the job.  Our video about the 1966 transit strike uses contemporary newsreel footage to explore the strike through the experience of adults: the mayor and commuters walking to work; long lines; and crowded highways.  Children’s letters to the mayor offer a different perspective.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Wrong Bush

One chilly day in November 2008, former mayor Ed Koch was opening his mail.  Among the letters was an invitation to a Hanukkah reception at the White House.  This was the cover of the card:
Courtesy: The White House

Notice the Christmas tree?  George W. Bush, the President who had started a tradition of separate Christmas and Hanukkah parties at the White House, had sent a picture of the wrong bush.  

We don’t know whether Koch, perhaps the most prominently Jewish mayor in American history, was offended.  We do know that a few days later, on November 28, he RSVP’d his regrets to the Bushes.  He would not be attending.  

A couple of days later he received another card from the White House:
Courtesy: The White House
The menorah on the new card wasn’t just a pretty picture.  It was an image of the menorah given by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to President Truman for his early recognition of the State of Israel in 1948.

Inside was a smaller card that read: 

Courtesy: The White House
That was a nice way of putting it.

By then, the New York Post had reported: “Let Santa Light the Menorah” and “Merry Hanukkah from the White House!”  CNN posted “First White House Chrismukkah cards accidentally sent” on their political ticker blog.  And the White House admitted to reporters that staff had failed to print separate cards for the different holiday events.

The Hanukkah Invitation Gaffe of 2008 can go down in history as one of the lesser known bloopers of the Bush Administration.  Ridicule might have been more aggressive, but holiday invitations are traditionally the domain of the First Lady.  “Mrs. Bush is apologetic,” her press secretary told reporters. “It is something that just slipped through the cracks.”  We’ve all been there.

The cards shown here are from the Edward I. Koch Collection at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives.  You can view a further sampling of family holiday cards from our collection sent by Mayor LaGuardia, Presidents Bush and Obama, and a holiday photo of the Clintons with Borough President Claire Schulman, among others on our Flickr site.

You might also enjoy our wonderful video collection, some of which is available on our YouTube siteTo get a deeper sense of our collections come to our user-friendly website for finding aids and computerized indexes. As always, we welcome you to follow us on Twitter and FaceBook, and if you like, like us there.  

The digital editions of original documents included here are for research purposes only.  You are, of course, welcome to come to our archives and view the documents yourself.  Researchers wishing to visit the archive in person please contact Douglas Di Carlo, our Archivist in advance of your visit. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Housing for Whom? Stuyvesant Town, Housing Segregation and Housing Shortage in 1943

The exclusion of African-Americans from Stuyvesant Town is a “form of fascism,” insisted Bebe Hyslop in her letter to Mayor La Guardia in 1943. La Guardia supported the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that year in its plan to prohibit African-Americans from living in Stuyvesant Town, then being planned in lower Manhattan. The letters presented here, including Ms. Hyslop’s, are a sampling of some 1000+ letters written, expressing the outrage felt by New Yorkers of all backgrounds to the mayor’s decision.  Anger against the mayor in the city’s African-American community especially was fueled by a sense of betrayal as many had considered La Guardia an ally in addressing racial injustices.  La Guardia’s choice to support exclusion of African-Americans from Stuyvesant Town was a contributing factor precipitating the Harlem Riots a few weeks later.

Together these letters from our collection reveal how large historical events of the 1940s helped forge a foundation for the battle over housing segregation and progress of the civil rights movement that followed.  They also invite us to think about the components of our own housing crisis of affordability amidst the greater subtleties of inclusion and exclusion in today’s housing market.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sputnik and the Role of Science, Math and Technology in American Education

Here's a link to our work on the history of science, 
technology, engineering and math in America
On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union set a new trajectory for education in America.  Before the launch of Sputnik (the first satellite ever to achieve Earth orbit), American education had been a local matter, focused on community and citizenship.  After Sputnik, the security and future of democracy seemed to hinge instead on winning a global battle with communism for domination of the world. As Marion B. Folsom, Secretary of HEW put it in his speech to the AFL/CIO two months after the Sputnik launch, “Whether we like it or not…[o]ne of the fundamental facts of our times is that America is a leader among the forces of freedom against the forces of tyranny in a contest which extends around the world.  And education will play a crucial role in determining which system triumphs in the end.”

On this anniversary of the Sputnik launch, let’s take a look together at three documents from our collection to examine the historical shift in American education at the Sputnik moment, and perhaps also for how we might think about science, math and technology in American education today. 

(1) A November 11, 1957 press statement announcing therelease of “Education in the USSR,” a study completed by the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW) shortly after the Sputnik launch;

(2) “The Challenge in Education,” a speech by Marion B. Folsom, Secretary of HEW, to the AFL/CIO on December 5, 1957; and
(3) “Education and Industry,” a speech to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce by John A. Perkins, Under-Secretary of HEW on October 10, 1957.

The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) released “Education in the USSR” a month after the Sputnik launch.  They had been working on it for two years.