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.

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. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pope Francis' Visit in Historical Context

It is truly remarkable that Pope Francis will speak before Congress this week.  Democrats and Republicans alike may hope that the pontiff supports their positions on topics ranging from the environment to Planned Parenthood, but no one fears a papal conspiracy to control America.  

As recently as Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1979, newscasters focused their analysis on the separation of church and state, and concerns about papal influence over the White House.  Even as the newscaster in this video suggests that concern over these issues were in the past, the fact that they are the sole content of his report suggests otherwise.  John Paul II himself was sensitive to the political implications of his visit.  We have in our collection a 1979 confidential internal State Department memo stating that “The Pope stressed…that his visit would be pastoral and not political.” “If the Pope does not come this year, he will not visit until after 1980, since he wishes to be totally uninvolved in our election process.”

For most of American history, such fears of papal influence were palpable and often at the center of politics.  Samuel F. B. Morse (the inventor of the telegraph) wrote in 1835, “…emigrant Catholics…confine themselves simply and wholly to increasing the number of their sect, and the influence of the Pope in this country.  The American Party (a.k.a. the Know-Nothings) swept to election victories in the 1850s on the fear of Catholic immigrants and papal control.   

It wasn’t until 1928 that any major party even considered a Catholic presidential candidate.  Alfred E. Smith, a popular and progressive governor of New York lost to Herbert Hoover, in large part because he was a Catholic.  Many believed the rumor that he had wired the pope after losing the election with the message, “Unpack!”  

In 1960, John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was a big issue in the presidential campaign.  Pope John XXIII reportedly joked, “do not expect me to run a country with a language as difficult as yours,” when he heard Kennedy might win.  Many Americans sincerely feared that Kennedy would take orders from the pope, undermining American sovereignty.  To establish his independence from the Vatican, Kennedy made it a point to say, “I did not, would not, nor have I accepted that kind of dictation.” He went on to establish definitively that allowing the pope to dictate American policy would be grounds for impeachment of any president.  

No pope even visited the United States until 1965.  That year, President Johnson met with Pope Paul VI at a hotel room in New York, notably avoiding a visit to the White House.  Magazine inserts and commemorative books, like the selected pages from this one, were titled “Fourteen Hours,” highlighting the brevity of the pope’s visit.  And Paul VI’s main reason for coming to the United States in 1965 was to address the United Nations, a clearly international institution.  Had the pope gone to Washington at all on that historic visit, he would have certainly been accused of meddling in American politics.  

It is truly remarkable that Pope Francis will speak before Congress this week.  It will be interesting to hear this first papal speech before the American government, ever.

View some images from our collection of earlier papal visits to New York.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Big Airport Plans Today and Yesterday: Governor Cuomo, Mayor La Guardia and the Shift from City to Metropolitan Scale

Mayor La Guardia Announces the Opening of
Municipal Airport (La Guardia), 1939
(Source: La Guardia and Wagner Archives)

A fortnight ago, Governor Cuomo, flanked by Vice President Biden announced a $4 Billion reconstruction of La Guardia Airport, a project that will be undertaken by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Why the Governor, the Vice President and the Port Authority? Why not the Mayor?

The announcement seemed to beg for some historical context from those of us here at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives.  In the 1940s, Mayor La Guardia too envisioned big airport plans.  But back then, La Guardia’s dream was a grand new airport on Jamaica Bay, and it was the city, not Albany or Washington, who took the lead in planning its own future.  For La Guardia, the new airport at Idlewild (JFK) was an investment to secure New York City’s future dominance in world trade and travel in the emerging aviation era.  Today, in contrast, many New Yorkers think of the airports as a regional enterprise largely divorced from the city rather than one purposed for the city’s benefit.

Our story of the transition of New York’s airports from municipal to regional is set in the 1940s and begins with the early inadequacy of the airport that bears La Guardia’s name.(1)  Then as now, the airports have reflected the tension between New York as a place of aging infrastructure and jostling crowds, and its demand for grand facilities befitting a great metropolis.  

Vice President Biden’s depiction of La Guardia Airport as overcrowded and outdated is a recurring complaint, dating back almost to the Airport’s origins. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin and the Mets -- A Highlight from the Weprin Collection

Howard Johnson, Nettie Mayersohn, Saul and Mark Weprin

With the Mets’ season in full swing, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives released a new video this week which features former New York Council Member and State Assembly Member Mark Weprin recounting the championship season of the 1986 New York Mets and his own participation in the team’s Old-Timers Day on July 12, a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Amazin’ Mets.  The video goes up just as our Archives YouTube channel reaches over 300,000 views.

This latest video oral history is just one treasure among many from the Weprin family as the Archives has collaborated with the Special Collections and Archives at Queens College to digitize a selection from the Saul Weprin Collection, the entire print collection of which is housed in the Queens College Special Collections and Archives.  

The collection documents Saul Weprin’s tenure as both the 24th District Assembly Member and as Speaker of the Assembly and his actions on political, social and cultural issues that impacted the Queens neighborhoods under his jurisdiction.

Two of the many particularly interesting documents include the Bias-Related Violence Act in 1991—legislation that preceded federal hate crime laws by three years, as well as his support of the 1993 Stalking Law.

The addition of this collection, especially in a conveniently accessible digital form, adds another dimension to the study of New York City history and politics for researchers and students.

As always, we invite you to engage with the wonderful wealth of materials in our collections.  Our website offers user friendly finding aids and computerized indexes facilitate rewarding research.  A number of our videos and images can be viewed at our YouTube Channel and Flikr page.  Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.  Or come and see our materials first hand here at the Archives itself.  We’re located at LaGuardia Community College/CUNY, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Room E-238, Long Island City, NY 11101.  Hours for researchers are generally Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Those interested in using the collections should call or write the Archivist to make an appointment. We look forward to your use of our materials.