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Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Herbert H. Lehman Papers, 1878-2002 [Bulk: 1930-1963]. 

Creator: 
Lehman, Herbert H. (Herbert Henry), 1878-1963.
Phys. Desc: 
607 linear ft. ( 1,357 document boxes, 20 record storage cartons, 23 flat boxes)
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Herbert Henry Lehman was born in New York City on March 28, 1878. He was the son of Mayer Lehman of Rimpar, Germany, and Babetta Newgass. Along with his brothers Henry and Emanuel, Mayer Lehman founded the Lehman Brothers investment banking firm. Herbert Lehman grew up in New York and attended Sachs Collegiate Institute. After graduating from Williams College with a BA in 1899, he worked for the J. Spencer Turner Co., a textile manufacturing company, as a salesman and quickly worked his way up to vice president and treasurer. In 1908, he became a partner in Lehman Brothers. Lehman married Edith Altschul in 1910 and they would adopt three children, Peter, John, and Hilda Lane. When World War I began, Lehman was eager to join the armed services. At 39 he was considered too old to fight, but persisted until he found a position at the Navy Department in the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, where he became responsible for procuring textiles for clothing, uniforms, and blankets. He was eventually made assistant director of the Purchase, Storage, and Traffic Division, which was charged with securing supplies for the Army on a massive scale. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for his work. During the 1920s, Lehman became actively involved in politics and assisted with the presidential campaign of Al Smith. He left business entirely in 1928 and became Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Democratic Party. Lehman was elected lieutenant governor of New York in 1928 and 1930 and worked closely with then-governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, who valued his understanding of business. Lehman was elected governor of New York in 1932 and served four terms from 1933 to 1942. He was the first Jewish governor of the state. During the Depression, Lehman supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt and based New York relief efforts on the New Deal. His “Little New Deal” programs set a minimum wage, provided aid to the unemployed, created options for public housing, created an unemployment insurance program, reduced utility rates, and aided farmers. Lehman also ensured that New York received maximum funding from New Deal programs such as the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. LaGuardia Airport, The Central Park Zoo, the Triborough Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel were among the projects created by New Deal programs. On December 3, 1942, Lehman resigned as governor and become Director of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations for the United States Department of State, an appointment offered by Roosevelt. The remainder of his term--only one month--was served by Charles Poletti. The following year, Lehman was chosen for the position of Director-General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). From 1943 to 1946 he helped organize the distribution of food, supplies, and equipment to European countries. All three of Lehman's children served in the US military during World War II. His son Peter, a pilot who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his missions in Germany, was killed during a practice flight in 1944. Lehman was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from New York in 1946, but was defeated by Republican candidate Irving Ives. In 1949, when Senator Robert F. Wagner retired early due to health issues, Lehman ran in the special election for the remainder of the term and won, defeating John Foster Dulles. In 1950, he was re-elected to a full term and served until 1956. As a senator Lehman faced many challenges. He opposed changes to immigration policies that would base quotas on national origin, arguing that such policies were racist and that family unification, occupational skill, and pleas for asylum were more important considerations. He argued for better enforcement of civil rights legislation and an end to discrimination in housing and employment. Lehman strongly opposed the actions of Senator Joseph McCarthy throughout the 1950s and spoke openly and persistently against him. Lehman retired from the senate in 1956 and did not seek another office, but he was still involved in politics and joined a group of reform Democrats with the aim of removing Tammany Hall influences from the party. Their efforts eventually ended the Tammany political machine. Both Herbert and Edith Lehman were active in philanthropy throughout their lives and were given many awards in recognition of their aid. They funded "Pete's House" at the Henry Street Settlement honor of their son Peter, who had been a youth leader there. They also created the Lehman Children's Zoo (now the Tisch Zoo) at the Central Park Zoo in 1961. Herbert Lehman died on December 5, 1963, at the age of 85.

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the personal and political life of Herbert H. Lehman, who served as lieutenant governor, governor, and senator of New York, and as director-general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. The collection documents Herbert H. Lehman's entire political career, though it focuses most heavily on his years as governor and senator. There is also material relating to his personal life, particularly his family and hobbies. It contains correspondence, speeches, research files, photographs, audio and visual recordings, oral histories, scrapbooks, articles, clippings, book drafts, appointment books, artwork, political cartoons, and memorabilia.

Subjects