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.”


Donor Gulick


Remember “Looter Gulick” — the great man’s own way of poking fun at his collecting mania in vanquished Berlin and wherever else he was posted? We posted on that back in 2014. https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ipaprocessing/wp-admin/post.php?post=1228&action=edit Well, there was more to the story, as we found in three cartons of Gulick files just generously donated to our Newman Library Archives by Luther’s granddaughter Lisa Gulick. The new material was retrieved from his longtime summer home in Greensboro, Vt., that the family recently sold. We’ll be reporting on more fascinating finds as we further excavate this trove.

But here we see: Luther Gulick taketh but he also giveth.

The box with the file we found:

Records in the ART folder showed that even in the middle of his wartime service in Washington, Gulick was acquiring art — here, in 1943, an etching by Albert Durer from 1519 of a peasant couple. It cost Gulick $200 then — about $3,232 in today’s dollars, so hardly a pittance for a working class couple on a bureaucrat’s salary.

But it’s not like Gulick found a Rembrandt. A little research shows that there are multiple prints around and that that one recently sold for $11,250.



By the 1970’s Gulick was continuing his acquisitions, as we see:

But by the 1980’s (he would turn 90 in 1982), he was thinking of how to dispose of his collection.



He ended up giving the tray to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

As far back as 1967 he had loaned artworks (including the Durer) to his alma mater, Oberlin.And by 1980, he again wrote Oberlin with an eye to future bequests.

In 1982 he gifted eight Japanese textiles to the Textile Museum in Washington.

To our astonishment, there were two actual artworks in the file with no further information on their provenance or value.

But one macabre historical treasure continues to elude us. We know that Gulick, rummaging in the ruins of Nazi Berlin after the German surrender, got his hands on Adolf Hitler’s signature stamp.

We were hoping it would be found in the three boxes of new material. So far, no luck.


The Cost of Being a New Yorker — A Century Ago

Stereoscopic colorized image of the Flatiron Building. There are three horse drawn carriages and a few men in overcoats and hats walking.

What gems we find in our Newman Library Archives! (No, not this quaint Stereoscopic view of our Baruch neighborhood in 1925, which comes from the New York Public Library and is featured here just for atmosphere.)

I’m talking about this slender, black-covered book, “The Cost of Living in New York City, 1926”, that turns up — actually, it was turned up by our eagle-eyed associate Sarah Rappo — in the rich municipal collection bequeathed us long ago by the real estate dynast Seymour B. Durst.

What makes Durst’s copy of the book especially noteworthy is that it bears the stamp of the Bureau of Municipal Research, from whence sprang the urban reform movement and Luther Gulick’s pivotal Institute of Public Administration, as followers of this blog well know.

So what do we learn from the book’s look at housing, food, clothing and other prices in Gotham almost 100 years ago?

A lot, it turns out.

But let’s remember that the nickel fare dropped in subway turnstiles in 1926 was not the nickel of today, but more than 15 X as much, or about 78 cents, in today’s money. According to the United States Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 1926 dollar was equal to about $15.79 today. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

Still, when it comes to specific services and products, that’s only a rough conversion tool. Today’s regular transit fare is $2.75 — way above the inflation rate. By that, uh, token, New Yorkers of 1926 would have been paying almost 80 cents a ride. That to us would still be quite a bargain. But the nickel fare then was long sacrosanct since the first subway line opened in 1904.

Some other comparisons: the city’s population in 1926 was estimated at just under 6 million — today it’s about 8.2 million. But the entire United States population then was around 117 million — today it’s over 333 million. So New York City didn’t grow as fast as the rest of the country because it was pretty much already where the rest of the nation was headed.

In 1926, the book tells us, about one-third of New Yorkers, some 2 million people, were foreign-born, mostly from Russia, Lithuania, Italy, Ireland, Germany, and Poland. Today it’s about 40 percent, over 3 million people, principally from the Dominican Republic, China and Mexico.  And following the great migration, the Black population rose from about 150,000 in 1926 to over 2 million today.

Child labor was common. At age 14, almost 7 percent of boys and almost 5 percent of girls were “gainfully employed.” For 16-year-olds, the numbers rose to over 65 percent of boys and 59 percent of girls. Over 40 percent of all males and almost 30 percent of all females — nearly a million employees — worked in New York City’s manufacturing and mechanical industries. Today manufacturing accounts for fewer than 80,000 jobs.

Then, as now, the city suffered from a housing shortage, reflected in high rents. A state study in 1925 found that the bulk of some 85,000 new units rented for upwards of $15 per room per month, so $237 in today’s money. The typical apartment for a family of moderate means then was between three and four rooms, so up to $950 a month in today’s money, perhaps a relative bargain to us, but more than double what an average family could then afford. Back then, the so-called white collar “element” — a salary of $2,000 a year, or $31,500 in today’s money — came with aspirations of living in the better neighborhoods, rendering you notably vulnerable to the apartment shortage, a 1924 city study found. But between 1914 and 1925, the rents of fancier apartment rose 60 percent, while cheaper places were up more sharply — 90 percent.

And what did these units look like? The better ones had private bathrooms — that is, not in the hall or outside to be shared with other families — but most lacked central heat and some were without hot water or electricity or both, or, for the taller buildings, elevators. A study of Manhattan families on relief found more than three-quarters living without a private bath or central heat. A year’s worth of coal for a stove cost about $700 in today’s money, or $1,168 when kindling and kerosene for lamps were included.

And what about food? Given the difficulty of pricing products in different parts of the city, the investigators for “The Cost of Living in New York City, 1926” relied on sampling and averages, figuring that a man in the “industrial worker type of family” required about 3,500 calories a day, a woman 3,150, and children (who often worked from a young age) about 2,800. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with the decline of strenuous labor, men consume about 2,500 calories; women under 2,000; and boys and girls 6-11, just above or under 2,000.

The study found that a pound and a half of hamburger steak in 1926 cost 31 cents in Manhattan and 36 cents in Brooklyn, equivalent to about $4.90 and $5.68 — around today’s prices. A family’s weekly supply of milk — 14  quarts — was $2.13 in Manhattan — equal to $12.33 in today’s prices. Now that might cost at least $15. Three pounds of carrots went for about 24 cents — $3.79 in today’s prices — about what they would cost now.

Clothing? A man’s suit could be had for $19.73 in Manhattan — about $312 in today’s money. You could find a discount suit for that now, though hardly with a designer label. A woman’s sweater in Manhattan went for $3.30 — about $52 in today’s money. That would be more difficult to match now.

And lifestyles? Almost impossible to compare. “Men will smoke and children will have their candy,” the 1926 account vouchsafed, figuring the adult tobacco ration at two packs a week, and the sweets budget…incalculable.


Letters, We [Send] Stacks an’ Stacks of Letters…*

*(Hat tip to barber/crooner Perry Cuomo and his “Letters” song…)

Today, Luther Halsey Gulick 3d would undoubtedly be firing off emails and posting on Facebook, Instagram — maybe even dancing on TikTok. But in his heyday, Gulick (who, remember, died in 1993 at almost 101) had only his trusty typewriter and telephone. He was especially devoted to writing end-of-the-year letters to far-flung family members, recounting his good-government adventures as an FDR insider, wartime planner, and urban strategist, and sharing his lively assessments of contemporary politicians and the often sorry state of the world.

The collection looked like this when we got it from IPA — with files, letters and diary pages all mixed up.

Our Baruch Library Archives’s collection of his papers and records of his Institute of Public Administration include reams of this correspondence, recently augmented by copies of newsy family letters gifted by his nephew Denny Gulick, son of Luther’s brother Sidney. A granddaughter, Lisa Gulick, recently emptied Luther’s longtime vacation retreat in Greensboro Vt., yielding more files and memorabilia we hope to get a look at shortly.

Meanwhile, the family letters from Denny shed a revealing light on how this public administration visionary viewed and shaped his world.

Take this only faintly readable missive of April 4, 1943 from Luther to his father, Sidney Lewis Gulick, a noted Congregationalist missionary then celebrating his 83d birthday, with copies to Luther’s siblings Ethel and Sidney. (Blame the illegibility on a wartime shortage of carbon paper, or Luther’s admission in a 1944 letter “I had the carbons all in backwards.”)

In the second and third paragraphs, Gulick refers to his work on a government relief program that, in the midst of war, struggled to feed, clothe and house some half-billion refugees. A month’s emergency food allotment was put at close to a million tons. By August 1943 — see below, “When America Fed (and Led) the World” — the monthly global need was put at more than 3.5 million tons. (No need to belabor the obvious — that aiding today’s Afghan, Syrian, Haitian, Latin American, Uyghur and other desperate displaced persons seems absolutely doable by comparison.)


When America Fed (and Led) the World…


This one is easier to read…



Here’s a great find!! (Didn’t we tell you Gulick was an avid collector?)


By the way, we’re still looking for that stamp.

Let’s sign off for now this with this historic gem — Gulick’s tribute to the fallen chief he had served and counseled over decades from Albany to Washington.