Tananbaum, Duane, Drawn to public service

(New York, NY :  Columbia University Libraries,  c2009.)



Jump to page:

Table of Contents

  Page 11  

Instead of entering the family business immediately after graduating
from Williams College in 1899, Herbert Lehman worked for a textile man¬
ufacturer for a few years before joining Lehman Brothers in 1908 when his
oldest brother Sigmund retired from the firm. Two years later, Herbert
married Edith Altschul, whose father was affi.liated with Lazard Freres,
another prominent investment banking house, Edith Lehman shared her
husband's sense of social responsibility and his philanthropic endeavors
over the next fifty-three years. She also became his closest political advisor.

When Herbert Lehman was fourteen, a school tour of the Lower East
Side made a lasting impression on him. Sixty-five years later, he still remem¬
bered "the poverty and the filth and bleakness" that led to his lifelong com¬
mitment to Lillian Wald's Henry Street Settlement House. After college,
Lehman organized a club for 12-14 year old boys from the neighborhood at
Wald's request, and he kept the group together for four years. The boys later
recalled that Lehman was "utterly devoid of that patronizing attitude" that
they "sense[d] in some of the other Settlement workers," and how impressed
they were with Lehman's "absolute sincerity and honesty of purpose" and his
desire "to encourage and spur young people onward and upward." In 1917,
Lehman joined the Board of Directors at Henry Street, and he remained a
director through his years as Governor of New York and United States
Senator. When their son Peter was killed in World War II, Herbert and
Edith Lehman donated the money for a new building called Pete's House
which allowed Henry Street to expand its efforts to lure neighborhood
youngsters away from gangs and into more wholesome activities.^

During World War I, Herbert Lehman extended his philanthropic
activities far beyond the Lower East Side when he helped establish the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The Joint, as it became
known, was funded mostly by American Jews of German descent who
wanted to unify and expand efforts to help European Jews displaced by the

^ Herbert Lehman Oral
History Transcript
(HHLOH), Columbia
University Oral History
Collection, p. 34; Morrie
Golden to Herbert
Lehman, March 29, 1938,
and attached "Extracts
From Letters By Some
of Your Patriot Boys,"
Herbert Lehman Papers,
Special File, Herbert H.
Lehman Biographical
Data. The Special Files
of the Herbert Lehman
Papers are now available
on the web at: Idpd.lamp.

  Page 11