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.

Children told Lindsay how the strike disrupted their lives.  “I could not go to school today,” wrote Rhonda Greenstein from the Bronx (age 11).  So she spent the day taking a survey of neighborhood sentiment about the strike:  “1. Terrible; 2. Miserable; 3. Crazy; 4. It Stinks…”  Kathleen Susan Grass (age 7) from Flushing complained “…most of the children cannot go to religious instruction.”  “You should see Main Street,” remarked another child from Flushing.  “During the transit strike,” complained David Philips from Long Island, “my father had to leave for work much earlier than usual.” He was anxious to know “what precautions you have taken in case of another transit strike” in the future.

Excerpt of 4th Grade Class News Report - Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives
Many children connected with Mayor Lindsay on an emotional level.  Matty Podbielski (Grade 7) was “… very sad that on your first day in office this terrible thing had to happen.”  Gwendolyn Perry (age 9) wanted Lindsay to know “how proud I am of you for the way you stood by the people of New York [during] the strike.” Even from Connecticut, Maryclaire Plunkett (age 11) was “worried” and “felt very sorry” for the mayor, “and all New Yorkers.”

Most of the children were eager to put the strike in terms of right and wrong.  Nearly all of them sided with the mayor.  “I am with you all the way,” wrote Podbielski, adding “Mr. Quill harmed many people.”  Greenstein’s survey of neighborhood sentiment concluded, “Everybody…said that you, Mr. Lindsay are a good mayor….Everybody also said that Mr. Quill is a discrace [sic].”  Diana Garry (5th Grade) tried to put herself in the mayor’s shoes.  “I believe you are doing things the way I would do them if I were you….”

Perhaps we should remember to listen to the children and consider their point of view when we approach policy and politics.  Articulating our emotional responses calmly, thinking about right and wrong, and considering the day-to-day practical implications of political decisions for the children of our city and nation might provide some much needed perspective on a whole host of issues.

The digital editions of original documents included here are for research purposes only.  The original documents are the property of the New York City Department of Records/Municipal Archives, 31 Chambers Street, New York, NY  10007, and may not be duplicated or reproduced without their written permission.  We hold microfilm copies of the originals, and as always, you are welcome to come to our archives and view the documents yourself.  Our user friendly finding aids and computerized indexes facilitate rewarding research. 

Researchers wishing to visit the archive in person, please contact Douglas Di Carlo, our Archivist in advance of your visit.  Hours for researchers are generally Monday to Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. We are closed most major holidays. We look forward to your use of our materials. 

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