End of the Year, Gulick-style

So here we are, end of another year. Which prompts us to see how Luther Gulick liked to sum up the past trip around the sun  – and welcome the coming one.  Either way, there were always momentous events to be marked, and anticipated, in Gulick’s momentous life.

Ending the fateful year of 1945, after President Roosevelt’s death and the surrender of the Germans and Japanese, Gulick “swang” (his word) back into peace work and what would be daunting new challenges applying the science and art of public administration to a new world struggling to recover from the worst barbarities in human history.

Two years later,  as 1948 dawned, Gulick was witness to the U.N.’s partition of Palestine and the agitation for a Jewish homeland, and shrewdly foresaw the carnage ahead in the Middle East, although he failed to anticipate the Arab attack on the soon-to-be-declared new state of Israel.  Timely today, indeed!  And he also got Stalinist Russia right — “just plain ideologically crazy.”

Fast forward six years and as 1954 dawns, we have Gulick serving New York’s newly elected Mayor Robert F. Wagner as the first City Administrator. Among Gulick’s many triumphs (despite his troubles drafting “dames” for City Hall power portfolios) was appointing the first female Health (and Hospitals) Commissioner — Leona Baumgartner,  who would become a crucial advocate for fluoridating the city’s water supply.
Another New Year, and, like the song says, “Another Opening, Another Show…”

A Toast to Repeal

Repeal! — The End of Prohibition’s ‘Noble Experiment’
Event Date: 

Reception to Follow (with cocktails and mocktails, of course!)

Roosevelt House is pleased to present a discussion of the historic repeal of the 18th Amendment in December 1933—a signature early reform of FDR’s New Deal. Not that Roosevelt had ever renounced spirits himself, ordering four cases to be delivered, legally, right here to his home on East 65th Street just before Prohibition began. But for 13 turbulent years, the U.S. was officially dry, the improbable triumph of a surging women’s rights movement, religious fanaticism, disproportionate rural voting clout, and nativist rage against Germany and its brewers over the Great War. The alcohol lobby proved no match for a utopian vision of universal sobriety whose time had surely come. Temperance, which had once meant moderation, suddenly meant abolition. And drinkers were too busy drinking to protest.

Americans had been wedded to alcohol since colonial days. The fledgling republic faced its own rebellion when Pennsylvania farmers, enraged by a tax on whiskey, took up arms against President George Washington, until Congress backed down and repealed the tax (which had proved impossible to collect anyway.) By 1830, the average American was consuming two bottles of 80 proof spirits a week—three times more than today. The government itself was addicted—to the alcohol tax: by 1875, the tax was generating a third of all federal revenue.

But intractable forces were in play. By the later 19th century, women were clamoring for the vote, in part to shutter the saloons that were destroying domestic tranquility. Bigotry ran rampant. Liquor was branded the cause of criminal behavior by African Americans, Jews were vilified as brewers and distillers, and the Irish as saloon-keepers. And, by 1913, the government had found another way to finance itself—the income tax.

By the end of 1933, nine months after FDR’s inauguration (March 4, 90 years ago), Prohibition was crushed by popular demand—a return to national sanity with a mixed legacy: sinister new crime lords, corrupted law enforcement, and seismic fault lines of public disorder and official hypocrisy. But, buoyed by the New Deal, Americans were more than ready to raise a glass to the return of John Barleycorn. Happy days were here again. But how exactly could America go suddenly un-dry?

Robert L. Billingsley is vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield, the global commercial real estate services company, and a biographer of his father, Logan, who led a storied career as a developer of the Bronx and leader of one of America’s largest bootlegging clans. Eldest brother of Sherman Billingsley of the Stork Club, Logan served stints in prison for killing his father-in-law and large-scale liquor trafficking before and during national Prohibition. He later became president of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce and a political ally of FDR’s. Robert Billingsley joined the realty firm of Cross & Brown in 1971, eventually becoming its youngest ever vice president, and in 1977 was a founding principal of Colliers ABR, a predecessor of Cushman & Wakefield. He is working on a book about his father.

Ralph Blumenthal, moderator, reported for The New York Times from 1964 to 2009 and is the author of Stork Club: America’s Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Cafe Society about proprietor Sherman Billingsley and his Prohibition roots as an Oklahoma bootlegger. A Distinguished Lecturer in the Library at Baruch College, Blumenthal works with historic collections, including an influential 1936 Rockefeller study, After Repeal.

Blanche Wiesen Cook (’62) is Distinguished Professor of History and Women’s Studies at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her definitive three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt was called “monumental and inspirational…[a] grand biography” by The New York Times. Volume One, on the Times bestseller list for three monthsreceived many awards, including the 1992 Biography Prize from the Los Angeles Times, and the Lambda Literary Award. Volume Two was also a Times bestseller.

Daniel Okrent is the author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, featured in the 2011 Ken Burns series on PBS. He is also the author of Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, and The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of European Immigrants Out of America, winner of the National  Jewish Book AwardOkrent served as the first public editor of The New York Times from 2003 to 2005 and before that was an editorial executive at Time Inc.





A Kennedy Secret?

This could be the newsiest post we’ve ever run — and wildest!

It portrays John Fitzgerald Kennedy, then still a United States Senator, calling his brother Teddy “Yellow Belly” — a coward.

The Brothers Kennedy: Jack, Bobby and Teddy/AP Photo

It’s grounded in a letter we found in the batch of new material that Luther Gulick’s granddaughter Lisa gave the archives early this year. (The trove, to remind you, was rich indeed, and produced two quick posts:



There was lots more. But as we sifted through the packed cartons, one letter in particular jumped out and we’ve been trying to piece together the story ever since. It was written to Luther and his (second) wife, Carol, on Oct. 7, 1979, a year before the presidential election that would pit Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan. The writer was a New Deal pal of Gulick’s — William A.F. Stephenson, a Chicagoan who had joined the Roosevelt Administration in agricultural and housing capacities, helped plan the D-Day invasion, served under General George S. Patton, ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress in Florida, and organized the Florida presidential campaigns for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956. (Not to be confused with the other William Stephenson, another WWII hero known as “Intrepid”, who may have been Ian Fleming’s model for James Bond.)

You can read about our William Stephenson here, from the guide to his papers at the University of Chicago Library:

When Stephenson sat down to write his friend Gulick in October 1979, he was clearly no great fan of President Carter’s. (“I have kept loyal and hopeful on Carter because I am terrorized by the alternatives.”) But Stephenson’s disdain for Teddy Kennedy, who was preparing to challenge Carter for the Democratic nomination, seemed boundless, following Teddy’s ignominious exit from Harvard after a cheating scandal and the ever-mysterious car accident that drowned a young Kennedy volunteer, Mary Jo Kopechne, after Teddy’s car went off a bridge on Chappaqiddick Island one midnight in July 1969 and Teddy failed to report it until 10 the next morning.

So Stephenson, who called Teddy “the coward of Chappaquiddick”, could hardly have been neutral when recalling for Gulick 10 years later something that Stephenson said had occurred in 1958 or 1959 in Senator Jack Kennedy’s office. As Stephenson recounted, he was at the Capitol working with the Senator on an education issue when a secretary said Kennedy’s brother was on the phone. To which Jack supposedly replied, “Which one, Yellow Belly?” as Stephenson recalled, adding that indeed Teddy was then put through with a question for his brother. “There is not the vaguest doubt about what I heard,” Stephenson wrote Gulick, underlining the words for emphasis.

You can read the whole letter here:

For context, we ran the letter by some experts. John A. Farrell, whose 2018 biography of Richard Nixon was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, has a new book on Teddy Kennedy coming out in October.

Farrell said Jack Kennedy’s remark was news to him although “he and Bobby could be caustic about [Teddy].”

Fredrik Logevall is another noted Kennedy biographer, now on leave from Harvard and in his native Sweden working on a sequel to his 2020 book: “JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century: 1917-1956.” Logevall said he was also surprised by Stephenson’s letter while wondering if it had “the ring of truth –WS seems consumed by animus.” Logevall said he would keep an eye out. But in the continuing research for his volume 2, so far covering from Jack’s 1958 Senate reelection campaign to the 1960 presidential primary campaign, “the two brothers work well together and are close.” Volume 1, he said, recounted no evidence of cowardice on Ted’s part — “Quite the contrary, when it comes to campaigning on his brother’s behalf.”

David Nasaw, biographer of the father of the Kennedy brothers, Joseph P. Kennedy, and recently retired as the Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Professor of History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he was struck by Stephenson’s vitriol.

“My God.  What a letter,” Nasaw said. “Such invective, such passion.” Nasaw said there may have been no specific event behind Sen. Kennedy’s “yellow belly” remark, “but perhaps only the sense that unlike his older brothers–and sisters–Ted was not a risk taker in any sense.  He was the youngest, the baby, overweight, never an athlete, and apparently, in Jack’s mind, scared of his own shadow.”


Russia, Year Zero Minus One

Wow! Look what turned up in the Newman Library Archives the other day! This commercial guide, issued annually by a British publisher in London, has been hiding in plain sight in our offices for years. But it’s not from our Library shelves because it bears a Dewey Decimal Classification number of 314.7 which we don’t use. What’s especially intriguing is the date — 1916, so the year before the Russian Revolution.

According to the borrowing card on the inside cover, it had been taken out for its last, and perhaps only, time on March 23, 1967 — some 55 years ago and almost 50 years after the Revolution. The internet offered a few possible clues to the borrower’s identity but nothing conclusive.


We quickly paged through to see if offered any hints of the carnage to come, but no. In fact, the opening entry is on Emperor Nicholas II and his wife and family, all to be taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks and executed in Ykaterinburg on July 17, 1918. Yes, even 17-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicolaevna, despite rumors of her escape. 



The volume is replete with manufacturing data and charts and tables, befitting a guide for business people, but there are fascinating glimpses of pre-Communist Russia, like these entries for Jews:


From FDR, Christmas 1942

What treasures our Gulick collection yields! (I know, we’ve said this before.) But in going through three cartons of letters and memorabilia recently gifted to our Library Archives by Luther’s granddaughter Lisa Gulick https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/2022/03/donor-gulick/ we found this leather wallet embossed with its evocative dedication: “Christmas, 1942, from F.D.R.” Among items retrieved from Gulick’s longtime summer home in Goldsboro, Vt., it was in a yellowing file folder marked “L.H.G. biography — Programs, resolutions, mementos etc.”

Doing some internet research, we found that Roosevelt handed these out as souvenir gifts bearing war savings stamps to White House staffers and other intimates and that one of them sold at auction in 2015 for $2,500. (It had been given to Dorothy Dow, a secretary to Franklin and Eleanor during the White House years, and the author of a 1984 memoir, “Eleanor Roosevelt, An Eager Spirit: Selected Letters of Dorothy Dow, 1933-1945.”) The second Christmas of the war was hardly festive, with millions of Americans off fighting in North Africa and the Pacific, but it was better than Christmas 1941 three weeks after Pearl Harbor.

And speaking of FDR, we also came across these letters. The first (left) recounts Gulick’s presence at a 45th anniversary New Deal dinner in 1978. Among the 500 guests were playright Dore Schary who wrote “Sunrise at Campobello”; Averell Harriman, whose philanthropist mother, Mary, had bankrolled the Training School for Public Service that enrolled Gulick and Robert Moses; Arthur Schlesinger; and Tommy (the Cork) Corcoran, one of FDR’s original brain-trusters. (“I sat at Tommy Chorcoran’s top table…” — Gulick often acknowledged his struggles with spelling and typing.)

The middle letter, about citizen education, is notable for Gulick’s tribute to Roosevelt’s legendary political instincts, as when he reminded his advisor: “Luther, you can’t get the people stirred up on more than one or two things at any given time.”

Bookending the epistolary trio is Gulick’s account of the 50th anniversary New Deal dinner in 1983, presided over by Roosevelt’s eldest son, James. The 500 alumni of five years earlier, now dwindled to 350, marveled over each other’s white hair and watched film clips of FDR’s first swearing in and his “mighty moving” inaugural address with the line, “…we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”