About:

About:
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, December 7, 2012

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York 1911 and Tazreen Fashions Fire, Bangladesh 2012: When will we ever learn?

Steven A. Levine 
Coordinator for Educational Programs


Triangle Shirtwaist Fire New York 1911

            When we shop for clothing, price is often paramount in our considerations and we too often neglect to ask who makes our clothing and what are their wages and work conditions, until these conditions become deadly and appear on the front pages of our newspapers.  I could be referring to last month’s factory fire in Bangladesh, but the “high cost of low prices” has a long history and the parallels between the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York and the fire  at the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh are eerily similar.  (To learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, check out the memorial created by State Senator Serphin Maltese, who lost family members in the fire. For more information on the Tazreen Fashions factory fire go to “Fatal Fire in Bangladesh Highlights the Dangers Facing Garment Workers”Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire” and “Horrific Fire Revealed a Gap in Safety for Global Brands.”)

            Both factories paid low wages to a predominantly female work force. In the early 20th century, New York was the center of the garment industry and Bangladesh today exports $18 billion in clothing, second only to China.  Triangle sold blouses to the major department stores; Tazreen produced clothing for Wal-Mart and other global retailers.  The New York Times coverage of the two fires sadly makes clear that workers in both factories had similar deaths because of unsafe conditions.
Witnesses described a desperate scene, as workers leapt from the upper floors of the factory, trying to land on nearby rooftops and escape the smoke and flames. Others suffocated inside the factory building, as the blaze apparently rendered stairwells impassable.  .  .  “These international, Western brands have a lot of responsibility for these fire issues,” said Ms. Akter, the executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. “In this factory, there was a pile of fabrics and yarn stored on the ground floor that caught fire. Workers couldn’t evacuate through the stairs. What does this say about compliance?
The New York Times, November 26, 2012, “Garment Workers Stage Angry Protest After Bangladesh Fire”

Most of the victims were suffocated or burned to death within the building but some who fought their way to the windows and leaped met death as surely, but perhaps more quickly, on the pavements below.  . . .  The one little fire escape was never resorted to by any of the doomed victims.  Some of them escaped by running down the stairs, but in a moment or two this avenue was cut off by flame.  The girls rushed to the window and looked down at Greene Street, 100 feet below them.  Then one poor, little creature jumped.  There was a plate glass protection over part of the sidewalk, but she crashed through it, wrecking it and breaking her body into a thousand pieces.  Then they all began to drop . . .
The New York Times, March, 26, 1911, “141 MEN AND GIRLS DIE IN WAIST FACTORY FIRE; TRAPPED HIGH UP IN WASHINGTON PLACE BUILDING; STREET STREWN WITH BODIES; PILES OF DEAD INSIDE.”

            The Triangle Shirtwaist fire led to the creation of the Factory Investigating Commission led by Senator Robert F. Wagner (Chair), Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith (Vice- Chair), along with a reinvigorated movement to protect workers and improve factory conditions and the enactment of 25 New York State laws to implement the Commission’s recommendations.
  
            After the deadly fire in Bangladesh, thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand justice.  The horrific fire there, like the one a century earlier, makes clear that workers cannot achieve justice without the right to organize unions and employers and the global corporations whom they sell to must respect the rights and lives of their workers above that of their profits now stained by the deaths of 112 workers. As we shop for clothing, we must also think about the consequences of our consumption.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Public Housing Discussion on Brian Lehrer's CUNY TV progam

Archives staff Tara Hickman and Steven Levine and public housing historian Nicholas Bloom discuss the history of NYC public housing and how the Archives uses the NYCHA collection in teaching at LaGuardia Community College on Brian Lehrer.TV.  Check it out on You Tube.  The public housing segment begins at minute 31.



Monday, October 22, 2012

Mayor Wagner Campaigns for George McGovern, 1972


Standing on a sidewalk of New York are (L-R) Professor Richard Wade; Mayor Robert F. Wagner; Mrs. Matilda Krim; Senator George McGovern; and Arthur Krim, the head Of United Artists.



Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

“George McGovern is a man of tender and responsive conscience . . . of strong loyalties, high principles and fierce convictions. He has shown that he does not flinch or flag in the face of either opposition or of even the most prohibitive odds. “ Mayor Robert F. Wagner, New York State Chairman of the McGovern presidential campaign, at the opening of the Buffalo, NY Democratic Headquarters, 1972.
(Click here to read Mayor Wagner's complete speech.)

Senator George McGovern lost in a landslide to President Richard Nixon in 1972, but this son of a Methodist minister, decorated World War II pilot, and historian should be remembered for his commitment to peace, civil rights, social justice and opposition to the Vietnam War.  He was a hero and a patriot.  (Click here to read his New York Times obituary.)


Friday, October 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Eleanor Roosevelt, October 11, 1884

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Mayor Robert F. Wagner, 1956
Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
In 1963, a year after Eleanor Roosevelt’s death, Mayor Robert F. Wagner memorialized her at the National Roosevelt Day Dinner of the Americans for Democratic Action, the liberal organization she co-founded in the late 1940s. Click here to read Mayor Wagner's speech.
Wagner's relationship with President Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was closer than the ones he had with most New York politicians. His father, Senator Robert F. Wagner was a close confidant of the president, going back to their days in the New York State Legislature and the young Wagner knew the future president and first lady from his childhood. But in his years as mayor, Eleanor Roosevelt became both critic and adviser to him. “She instructed me, she criticized me, both publicly and privately. On more than one occasion, she censured me, to my profit, I might add. . . . She was more than a great lady, more than a great personality, more than a great humanitarian. She was a great phenomenon in a phenomenal age.”


If you want to learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt or use other Roosevelt related materials in your classroom, please contact me or Tara Jean Hickman
thickman@lagcc.cuny.edu at the Archives.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Democratic Conventions Past and Present: 1964 and 2012


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Mayor Robert F. Wagner and President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Last night as President Bill Clinton recounted President Eisenhower bringing in the National Guard to desegregate Little Rock High School in 1957, I was struck by the diversity of the delegates attending this year’s Democratic Convention and how much change has taken place in the last 50 years. The picture was quite different at the 1964 Democratic Convention when President Lyndon Johnson and Mayor Robert F. Wagner had a phone conversation about the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. (Click here to listen to the conversation.)
A controversy had broken out about who would be seated at the Convention: the white supremacist “regular” delegates of the Mississippi Democratic Party (MFDP) or the interracial Mississippi Freedom Democrats, who had been elected in parallel elections organized by civil rights activists that summer. Fannie Lou Hamer, an MFDP delegate and sharecropper, gave a riveting and powerful speech before the Credentials Committee of the Convention describing the violence and terror faced by African-Americans who challenged white supremacy in Mississippi. (Click here to listen to speech.)
President Lyndon Johnson had recently signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he opposed seating the MFDP delegates out of fear that other Southern delegations would walk out of the convention and support his Republican opponent Senator Barry Goldwater. He offered a compromise of two at large delegates to the MFDP and began locking down votes on the credentials committee for it. LBJ looked at the compromise as a political decision to keep the Southern delegations on board, while most of the MFDP delegation saw it as a moral issue which could not be compromised.
Johnson had called Wagner asking him to canvas the two New York delegates on the credentials committee on how they would vote. Wagner indicated that John English was sympathetic to the MFDP but movable, while the other, Joyce Austin an African-American woman who worked for him, was likely to support the MFDP. (Click here to listen to their phone conversation.) Wagner told LBJ he would ask Austin how she would vote, but he turned to Mary Burke Nicholas, an African-American urban planner who also worked for him, to get this information. In a LaGuardia and Wagner Archives oral history, she described what happened.
[H]e didn't know how Joyce was going to vote, and I remember he called me up to his suite and asked me if I could find out. He said he hadn't seen her, and he said, I want you to find out how she is going to vote, but I don't want her to know that I'm the one that's trying to find out. He said, I don't want to influence her vote in any way. If she knows I'm trying to find out, she may think I'm trying to influence her vote. I want her to vote her conscience, but I need to know which way she's going to vote so I can tell Johnson the count for the New York delegation. He said, that's a simple assignment that I'm giving you. I said, thanks a lot, Mr. Mayor. How am I going to do this? . . . So I finally decided to leave a note under her door that night, late that night, and ask her to join me for coffee the next morning on the way to convention hall. She did, she accepted and left a note under my door and said she'd be there . . . Of course, we finally got to the subject, and she said she was going to vote for the seating of Fannie Lou Hamer. We went on talking about other things and all, and I don't think she knows to this day what that was about, but I was able to report to the mayor, who told Lyndon Johnson, who wanted to know just for his head count of how the votes were going to go . . . He always knew how to go around and get the answer without upsetting the person or wanting the person to feel that he was trying to convince them to vote a certain way. If he wanted to convince them to vote a certain way, he would be usually a little more direct about it.
Please feel free to leave comments below if you would like to learn more about the Archives or have any questions about the 1964 Democratic Convention.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mayor Ed Koch on Gun Control


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
I have watched with great sadness and anger the recent epidemic of gun violence in the United States, most notably in Arizona, Colorado, Wisconsin, and today at the Empire State Building. While the motives for these despicable acts of violence have varied, one common denominator has been the prevalence of semi-automatic weapons.
Sadly, this is not a new issue. Twenty-three years ago, Mayor Ed Koch gave a speech calling for federal and city semi-automatic assault weapons bans after five children were murdered in a California schoolyard by a killer with an AK-47. He told his audience that “It’s true that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do.’ But it’s also true that killers and armed criminals can create large numbers of victims by using a semi-automatic assault rifle.” (Click here to read the speech.) The Archives’ City Council Collection also has a resolution in 1991 calling on the State Legislature “to prohibit the unlicensed possession of semiautomatic assault weapons,” showing that this remained an important issue. (Click here)
The Archives has a wealth of material about issues of gun control and gun violence, including the Bernhard Goetz shootings of 1984. If you would like to learn more about these issues or use documents in your classroom, please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Social Security Act Became Law August 14, 1935


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs


President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Postmaster-General James A. Farley,
and Senator Robert F. Wagner, circa 1936.


Seventy seven years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.  New York’s Senator Robert F. Wagner was the law’s lead sponsor in the Senate and he had been a fierce advocate of this legislation to protect the elderly, unemployed and children.*  In May of 1935, he gave a speech on WEVD, a mostly Yiddish language radio station, to rally support.  In the midst of the Great Depression and mass unemployment, he set forth a vision of the United States based on economic security for all, particularly the most vulnerable.
The time has come when our government, backed by overwhelming sentiment of the American people, is prepared to raise men from a level below that of machines and place them on a higher level.  It is our objective to lighten the burdens of unemployment, of uncared for childhood, and of neglected old age, thus making life more enjoyable and secure for the vast majority of Americans.  (Senator Wagner’s complete speech can be read here.)
As the presidential candidates today debate the future of the programs begun by the Social Security Act in 1935 and our nation and the world confront a new economic crisis, Senator Wagner’s words and vision are well worth remembering.


*While the law increased security for many Americans, it also excluded many women, African-Americans and other minorities by not initially covering agricultural workers, domestics, teachers, nurses, and social workers.  Southern Democrats in Congress used their political power to prevent the inclusion of most African-Americans.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Triborough Bridge Opens: July 11, 1936




Stephen Weinstein
Assistant to the Director

July 11 Marks the anniversary of the Triborough Bridge's opening in 1936. Spanning the Harlem River, the Bronx Kill and the Hell Gate, its 3 main bridges connect Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.  

This is part of a film celebrating the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority's 30th anniversary in 1964. The full video is the property of the MTA Bridges and Tunnels-Special Archives and has been edited by the La Guardia and Wagner Archives

Built largely with money from the federal government, the bridge provided the first rapid access between Queens and the Bronx. Indeed, 1936 was a crowning year in improving New York's infrastructure because in addition to the great bridge, 11 WPA pools opened that summer just in time for one of the hottest summers on record, and two federally-funded public housing projects, the Harlem River Houses in Manhattan and the Williamsburg Houses in Brooklyn, began construction. See our NYCHA Black History Month Celebration of the Harlem River Houses for more information.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"I Am An American Day" 1941 and 1945


Steven A. Levine 
Coordinator for Educational Programs


In celebration of Independence Day, I hope you will take the time to watch the Archives’ YouTube video “I Am An American Day: 1941 and 1945” and consider the meaning of U.S. citizenship today and also what it meant to Americans during World War II. In 1940 Congress created “I Am An American Day” to honor Americans who had reached voting age and immigrants who had become citizens. The event in Central Park in 1945, as World War II came to a close, attracted more than one million people.


Monday, July 2, 2012

June 27, 1956: Federal Interstate Highway Act Becomes Law

Stephen Weinstein
Assistant to the Director



On Friday, June 27, 1956 President Dwight Eisenhower signed the greatest public works act in this country’s history. The Federal Interstate Highway Act committed the federal government to pay 90% of the cost of building 41,000 miles of highways over the following ten years to connect 90% of American cities with a population greater than 50,000. Before this act, the federal government covered only 50% of construction costs. In New York, Construction Coordinator Robert Moses had already persuaded Congress to change its original plans and include within the Act those roads leading to toll bridges. Among Moses’s proposals were the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened in 1964 (see photo from the Archives City Council Collection 05.002.12232linking Brooklyn and Staten Island, the Throgs Neck Bridge (opened in 1961 with its approach roads financed by the federal government) connecting the Bronx and Queens, and two Manhattan highways that never happened—cross-town routes along 30th Street and Broome Street that would have defaced Manhattan’s streetscape.

Nowhere in Moses’s plans, however, was there any provision for mass transit as part of this highway construction. While planning the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens, Moses adamantly refused to allocate any money for a mass transit line to run along the center median to Idlewild (now Kennedy) Airport. Fifty years later at a far greater expense, mass transit was built between Jamaica and Kennedy Airport, running along the Van Wyck median.
One Moses project that got completed was the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx, connecting the Triborough Bridge and the New England Thruway. At the opening of the Bruckner Expressway in 1962, Mayor Robert F. Wagner nonetheless warned that constructing new highways not only did not end traffic bottlenecks, but encouraged additional traffic. He said: “The trouble with expressways is that the minute they are opened, if they are good, they attract increasing amounts of traffic; and then, during peak traffic hours, they, too, become choked up, and movement can easily become paralyzed.” For Mayor Wagner’s complete comments, click here. Mayor Wagner called for more funding for mass transit. Mass transit has a capacity of moving 40,000 to 50,000 people an hour; in contrast, standard highways move 1,500 cars an hour. This debate over funding for mass transit or highway construction still rages today.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 16 - National Industrial Recovery Act signed by President Roosevelt

Stephen Weinstein
Assistant to the Director





June 16th marks the anniversary of the most important legislation of the New Deal, the signing of the National Industrial Recovery Act by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Come see the pen President Roosevelt used to sign the Act in the La Guardia and Wagner Archives, Rm. E-238, as the president later gave the pen as a gift to Senator Robert F. Wagner Sr. of New York, the leading proponent of New Deal legislation.
Title 1 of the Act brought industry, labor and government together to establish fair competition in industry and to establish trade union rights. Title 2 established the Public Works Administration (PWA), father of enormous public works projects throughout the country. No city reaped greater benefits from this legislation than did New York, thanks to the concerted effort of the newly-elected mayor, Fiorello H. La Guardia. In prior administrations, New York had a deserved reputation for mismanagement and lackluster interest in federally-funded projects. La Guardia, however, overcame President Roosevelt’s intense hatred of New York City Parks Commissioner and Triborough Bridge Authority leader Robert Moses to garner federal funding for new bridges, highways, parks, playgrounds, public housing, and schools throughout New York City, including the Triborough Bridge, Riverside Park, the Henry Hudson Parkway, Orchard Beach, the Sixth Avenue subway and the Holland Tunnel. The Archives’ La Guardia Collection contains correspondence between Mayor La Guardia and Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior and chief administrator of the PWA that reveal the Mayor’s micro-management of the city’s affairs. To see a telegram from La Guardia to Ickes urging federal action regarding the purchase of slum property in Brooklyn to construct public housing, click here to see PDF:
After Title 1 was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States in May, 1937, President Roosevelt worked with his chief ally in the Senate, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner Sr. to craft the National Labor Relations Act (known as the Wagner Act) in July 1937. This act strengthened many of the labor provisions from Title 1. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Title IX Passed 40 Years Ago

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Feminism was on the rise as a political, economic and social movement in 1972 and Title IX was just one example of its increasing influence. The importance of women’s rights as a political issue could also be seen in the presidential campaign of New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay. In a campaign speech in Miami in March 1972, (click here) he declared his support for women’s equality, listing the accomplishments of his administration in support of that goal. “What this means, for women, is that their work must be counted at full value - - whether they work in the home or on the job. Women who want a job or need a job, to earn a second income, or support themselves, or their children, must have equal opportunities, and full pay, and the same chance for promotion that men enjoy. And the rights to proper child care and to abortion are just as legitimate and necessary to equality as an end to job discrimination and the exploitation of women workers.”
      Forty years ago today, Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, declaring that "No person in the U.S. shall, on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal aid." This single sentence gave legal standing to women demanding equal access to all aspects of federally funded education, opening doors to women and girls in elementary, secondary and higher education. Title IX was a response to pervasive sex discrimination in education raised in congressional hearings in 1970 by Rep. Edith Green (D-Ohio), chair of the subcommittee that dealt with higher education and championed by Title IX's co-author Rep. 
Pasty Mink, the first Japanese American from Hawaii.*   While it did not end sex discrimination, Title IX greatly increased opportunities for girls and women in education.
To learn more about Title IX and women’s rights, go to the Archives’ Women’s Leadership website and curriculum.  What are your thoughts about the effects of Title IX and how much progress has been made toward sexual equality 40 years later?  Leave your comments below.
*Title IX was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dr. Jean Pakter Remembered: Women's and Children's Health Advocate


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Last week the New York Times reported the death of Dr. Jean Pakter at age 101, director of New York City’s Bureau of Maternity and Child Services from 1960-1982. As her obituary noted, Dr. Pakter was not an ordinary functionary, but a pioneering researcher and clinician “who made New York City a national model for providing safe, legal abortions and led an innovative effort to educate women about the benefits of birth control, prenatal nutrition and breast-feeding.”
Dr. Pakter was also one of the first researchers to note the rise of unwed mothers and her article “Out of Wedlock Births in New York City, 1961”was cited by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his controversial and influential report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” She also published some of the initial research on abortion in articles such as “Two Years Experience in New York City With the Liberalized Abortion Law-Progress and Problems” in the American Journal of Public Health, June 1973.
She came to prominence in Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s Department of Health compiling reports about the commerce in abortion when it was illegal, including statistics on the number of women injured or killed by illegal practitioners. After New York State made abortion legal in 1970, Dr. Pakter, who had advocated for the law, set up the guidelines for clinics performing abortions and mandated that all abortions performed after 12 weeks be done in hospitals, which became national models. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun cited her research in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
To learn more about Dr. Jean Pakter or public health in New York City please feel free to contact to contact the Archives or go to our Health in America website and “You and Your Health: Public Health in New York City” curriculum. 

Friday, May 25, 2012



In honor of Memorial Day, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives takes a look at the active role women have played in the military with a newsreel footage of the WAVES.  Established by an Act of Congress in 1942, the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES) enlisted more than 100,000 women during World War II. First established at the Iowa State Teacher’s College, the naval training school moved to Hunter College in the Bronx (now Lehman College) in February 1943. Women learned the fundamentals of navy life, but were initially restricted to service within the continental U.S., where they also supplemented the male labor force that was diminished due to military service overseas.
The newsreel film footage shows the WAVES working in Iowa and on the campus of Hunter College in the Bronx. Follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yaw7Gyf2Mpc&feature=youtu.be

Monday, May 21, 2012

VIDEO: Charles Lindbergh's Transatlantic Flight Remembered by Professor Janet Lieberman 85 Years Later


Steven A. Levine 

Coordinator for Educational Programs


Eighty-five years ago today Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. His accomplishment is seen as one of the most important events of the 20th century, but memories have dimmed and, in an age when jet airplanes routinely cross the Atlantic Ocean, we have lost sight of its significance. In a YouTube video, accompanied by film footage of Lindbergh's flight, La Guardia Community College Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman gives her childhood recollections of the event and a Brooklyn parade celebrating Lindbergh, which she attended with her family. The magnificent Brooklyn parade took place on June 16, 1927 its 22-mile route crowded with 700,000 school children and their parents. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R3fGL67mas
Lindbergh was a little-known air mail pilot based in St. Louis in early January 1927, when he heard about a $25,000 prize being offered to the first non-stop flight between New York and Paris. Lindbergh's historic flight earned him this prize and the adulation of the nation. Radio and newsreel film, new media of the age, spread news of his feat in ways unimaginable only ten years earlier. The 1920s was a decade of ballyhoo and heroes, and the Lone Eagle's transatlantic flight made him the quintessential hero of the era. His momentous feat also became the catalyst for the growth and preeminence of the American aviation industry, overtaking its European rivals.

This is only one piece of the Lindbergh story. To learn more about Lindbergh, including the kidnapping of his son, his associations with Nazi Germany, and support of American isolationism, see the excellent biography The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh & the Rise of American Aviation by CUNY Distinguished Professor Thomas Kessner.  
http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryAmerican/19001945/?view=usa&ci=9780195320190

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Re-Segregation in New York City's Public Schools


Tara Jean Hickman
Educational Associate

Joel Motley Talks About the Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education



According to a recent article in The New York Times, New York's public school system is one of the most segregated in the country.

This week in history, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in the historic Brown v. the Board of Education case.

As the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's associate counsel, Constance Baker Motley participated in writing the briefs for Brown v. Board of Education, and had a major impact on ending racial discrimination. Her son, Joel Motley discusses Brown v. Board of Education and the momentum it carried to the Voting Rights Act on our You Tube website.

In addition to these documents, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives has a rich array of primary documents on New York City cultural and social issues. Please feel free to leave comments or questions below.


Remembering the Queens Blvd Trolley and Queens historian Vincent Seyfried


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
Queens Boulevard Trolleys, narrated by Vincent Seyfried

Last month, Vincent Seyfried, “the dean of Queens County historians,” died at the age of 93. Seyfried chronicled the history of Queens and of its railroads and trolleys, publishing more than 30 books in his lifetime. He made important contributions to the La Guardia and Wagner Archives, including descriptions of trolley car lines captured on film in the 1930s. The Archives has made these films and Seyfried’s narrations available on our YouTube site. 
To learn more about Vincent Seyfried, you can read his obituary in the Queens Gazette. If you want to learn more about the history of Queens or have any memories of Vincent Seyfried or Queens history, please leave your comments below.   

Monday, April 30, 2012

Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman Remembers the 1939 New York World's Fair

Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman 
Remembers the 1939 New York World's Fair


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs 


On Sunday April 30, 1939, the New York World’s Fair officially opened with a formal ceremony that included a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Fair’s opening was selected to coincide with the 150th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States in New York City.
In commemoration of the Fair’s opening, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives has posted on its YouTube channel a video containing footage of the Fair and the memories of La Guardia Community College Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman visiting the Fair. The video was compiled and edited by Sandy Chase.
The 1939 New York World’s Fair offered a vision of a utopian city of tomorrow—one in which life was going to be easy thanks to new technology that would revolutionize transportation, home economics and daily life. Yet, the Fair made no mention of war, no sense of a troubled present, in spite of the looming world nightmare.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fifty Years Later: The Other America and the Origins of the War on Poverty

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs



At Gracie Mansion, Mayor Robert F. Wagner (left) stands with two other participants in ceremonies announcing the new Mobilization for Youth Program, June 12, 1962.



Fifty years after the writer, activist and democratic socialist Michael Harrington published The Other America: Poverty in the United States, the New York Times recently reported poverty rising to 21% in New York City, a sad commentary on our government’s and nation’s lack of commitment to addressing poverty.  Harrington chronicled the lives of the poor, a group largely invisible in the 1950s.  His book, which estimated a 25% poverty rate, found its way to the Kennedy White House and increased interest in fighting poverty.  The Other America became an inspiration for President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which turned to New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s Mobilization for Youth program on the Lower East Side as a model for reducing poverty. 

Mobilization for Youth (MFY) was an anti-juvenile delinquency project organized by Columbia University Professors Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin.  The MFY sought to empower youth through job training, education, public employment, and neighborhood centers for social services.  It also became involved in rent strikes, support for the civil rights movement and a school boycott by supporters of integration.  By August 1964, the Daily News was accusing MFY of Communist influence and the NYC Department of Investigation was also looking into MFY activities.  The Department of Investigation and an investigation by Mobilization for Youth found little truth in the Communist charges, but did suggest the reorganization of MFY.  Click here to read documents about the investigation. 

MFY’s programs became a model for LaGuardia Community College’s co-operative education programs.  One of the staff members of MFY was Martin Moed, a founder of LaGuardia Community College, who served as a vice president and acting president of the College.

To learn more about the Mobilization for Youth, click here to read a speech by Mayor Wagner.  If you are interested in learning more about the War on Poverty and Mobilization for Youth, please feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Women's Suffrage

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs


Ninety-nine years ago today, more than 6,000 women marched on Washington in support of women’s suffrage.  This is one of the hundreds of facts you can learn from the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives’ “This Date in History App.”  To download the App to your smart phone, click here for Android and here for Apple.  A Spanish version of the App is also available for the Android. 

To learn more about women’s history, you can go to the Archives’ Women’s Leadership click here Website and Curricula.  The Website and Curricula are filled with information and primary sources you can use in your classroom, including the role of women the anti-lynching and prohibition movements, and the struggles of migrant farm workers.   

Thursday, March 8, 2012

New York's Public Heath Champion: Dr. Leona Baumgartner

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Leona Baumgartner and Mayor
Robert F. Wagner holding a child who received free oral polio
vaccination from the mobile free clinic behind them. May 25, 1962

IIn celebration of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives salutes the life and legacy of Dr. Leona Baumgartner, Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s Commissioner of Health.  The first woman appointed to this position, in 1954, she seized the platform to become a leader in public health locally and nationally.  This was especially true in regards to the polio vaccine and the fluoridation of water. To read her speech about the distribution of the polio vaccine in New York City, click here.

Dr. Baumgartner was born in 1902 to Swiss immigrant parents.  Raised in Lawrence, Kansas, where her father was a zoologist at the University of Kansas, she earned degrees there before studying at Yale, where she completed a Ph.D. in immunology in 1932 and became an M.D. in 1934.  Instead of taking these skills to the laboratory or the hospital, Baumgartner became a public health pediatrician.  She worked her way up in New York’s Department of Health, teaching health and hygiene, and coordinating health services in the city’s clinics, including venereal diseases, family planning, and parenting classes. 
As Mayor Wagner’s Commissioner of Health, she oversaw the vaccination of millions of New Yorkers against polio rewrote the sanitary code, spoke regularly about public health to national television audiences, created New York’s Public Health Research Institute, and won the long battle to fluoridate New York’s water supply and sharply reduce tooth decay.  After resigning as commissioner in 1962, she became the director of research at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where she convinced President Johnson to include birth control in U.S. foreign aid programs to developing countries. 
In addition to her speech on polio, you can learn more about Dr. Baumgartner from a biography at the National Library of Medicine and her obituary in The New York Times.  She was also featured in the Archives’ You and Your Health: Public Health in New York City  4th grade curriculum as a "health hero."
If you want to learn more about Leona Baumgartner or the history of public health in New York City, please leave us a comment.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Constance Baker Motley Nominated to be the first African-American Woman Federal Judge


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In celebration of African-American History Month, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives is featuring a video of Joel Motley, discussing the nomination of his mother, civil rights attorney Constance Baker Motley to the federal district court by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Find out why Senator Robert F. Kennedy planned to nominate her, but then withdrew his support because of a conflict in the Democratic Party about who would control the New York State Legislature.  Motley, who won 9 of 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was an ally of Mayor Robert F. Wagner and had been serving as a New York State Senator and Manhattan Borough President before she became the first African-American women to serve as a federal judge. 

The Archives has developed related civil rights materials including a web page Black Suffrage and the Struggle for Civil Rights and two lessons Jim Crow and Voting Rights and Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964. 


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mayor La Guardia, Japanese Internment and World War II: 70 Years Later

Manzanar Relocation Center, by Dorothea Lange
(National Archives)
Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Seventy years ago on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident Japanese aliens on the West Coast of the United States into camps (along with much smaller numbers of Germans and Italians). As Japanese-Americans began to be released in 1944, a few hundred were re-settled in New York City. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia vehemently opposed their arrival using language tinged with, for him, an uncharacteristic racism, which was nonetheless common throughout the U.S. during World War II.
The La Guardia and Wagner Archives holds the fascinating correspondence between Mayor La Guardia, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and La Guardia confidante C.C. Burlingham on this subject. The Archives has also developed a webpage about Japanese internee Mitusye Endo's struggle for freedom and a lesson on Japanese Internment. If you would like to learn more about La Guardia and/or Japanese Internment, please contact me or Tara Jean Hickman thickman@lagcc.cuny.edu .
            In his correspondence with Interior Secretary Ickes on April 11 and 21, 1944, La Guardia deemed Japanese-Americans a security threat, despite their having been vetted by the U.S. Government. He asked "Is there one single solitary United States official who will vouch for each and every one of them." He ominously wrote that "If anything happens, the responsibility is not with the city. The responsibility is with the Federal Government." He proposed that all evacuees return to the states of their original residence and it was "unfair . . . to force them upon New York City."
            Ickes berated La Guardia's narrow-minded views in a personal letter and in a statement published in The New York Times on April 28, where he accused him of "playing the discordant theme of racial discrimination." When C.C. Burlingham, his patrician adviser, learned of La Guardia's position, he responded with dismay, you are "in bad company and the sooner you clear yourself the better," and since "penitence is out of your line, I suggest subtlety." He proposed that La Guardia should adjust his position to state that he saw "no reason, military or legal, for interning loyal citizens or transferring them from their homes."
            If La Guardia responded to Burlingham, the Archives has no record of it, but his response to the arrival of a few hundred Japanese-Americans citizens to New York City is indicative of the racism and demonization of the enemy that invariably occurs during wartime.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Terry Parker Discusses His Experiences During the Integration of his North Carolina High Schools



Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In celebration of African-American History month, the Archives is featuring a video of Terry Parker, the LaGuardia Community College's Coordinator of Media Services, on our website's featured page.   In the video, Terry describes his experiences during the desegregation of the two North Carolina high schools he attended in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He captures an important moment in his own life and in U.S. history, as Jim Crow education came to an end in North Carolina.  Terry describes the fear, ambivalence, conflict, cooperation and excitement that occurred for him, his family and the communities affected by this radical change.  It is a moving story, which tells a larger story of race in American history.

I hope you will take the time to watch the video and let us know your thoughts.