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 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.


Packing It In At The Supreme Court, 1937


The Supreme Court that President Roosevelt failed to pack with 6 additions in 1937, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, center front. It was FDR’s worst defeat but he salvaged a victory when the Court started upholding New Deal programs.

On Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., sponsored a virtual forum on FDR and the Supreme Court, notably the court-packing fiasco, with Prof. John Q. Barrett of St. John’s Law School, and me, representing Baruch and our Newman Library Archives collection on Luther Gulick and his Institute of Public Administration.

You can watch it here:

So where do we — Baruch College — fit in?

Well, here:

In the machinations behind the court fight, one of the conservative Justices, Willis  Van Devanter, a Taft appointee, retired after 26 years on June 2, 1937, opening the way for a Roosevelt pick. Roosevelt was pressed to name his loyal ally, Arkansas Senator and Democratic Majority Leader Joseph Taylor Robinson (here with the First Couple enroute to the first term Inauguration, 1933).


But Roosevelt dragged his feet on the appointment, partly out of fear that, given a lifetime appointment, the Southerner might join the conservative bloc and turn against the New Deal. Yet Robinson had worked himself literally to death for the President’s court bill — collapsing and dying on July 14, 1937, a week before the ill-fated legislation he was championing.

And then who was there in Little Rock to escort Robinson’s body off the funeral train but one of his two closest friends — Bernard Baruch!

The anecdote is aired in a masterful contemporaneous (1938) account of the court battle, “The 168 Days” by Turner Catledge and Joseph Alsop.

Catledge was the Times correspondent covering the court controversy (and managing editor when I joined the paper in 1964.) Alsop was a staff reporter at the New York Herald Tribune, magazine journalist and syndicated columnist and, with his brother, Stewart, related to the Roosevelt family — their mother, Corinne Robinson Alsop, was a first cousin of Theodore Roosevelt’s niece Eleanor, Franklin’s wife.

Baruch College also crops up in the court saga via the Gulick Papers in our Library Archives.

The packing controversy blew up just as Gulick and his two colleagues Louis Brownlow and Charles Merriam were struggling to reorganize the executive branch in the biggest restructuring of the federal government since 1787, producing the potent modern presidency.

The Secret Science of Government Reform

The court battle distracted Roosevelt, so the White House reorganization — roundly opposed by Congress already up in arms over the packing uproar — didn’t go through until 1939. (We have a ceremonial signing pen FDR presented Gulick.)

The New York Times was deeply interested in the executive reorganization, as evidenced by this letter from John H. Crider, an assistant to Washington Correspondent Arthur Krock, to Gulick on July 21, 1937 (a day before the court bill was ignominiously sent packing, back to committee and oblivion).

In his “strictly personal and confidential” reply to Crider a week later, Gulick confessed to some pessimism over the reorganization effort, in part because of the court fight.


Crider (who went on to a distinguished career at The Boston Herald where he won a 1949 Pulitzer Prize for editorials on international economics) agreed with Gulick that Congress was so shell-shocked by the court fight that there was little hope of advancing the executive reorganization.

What do we draw from this foray into history?

Maybe this.

President Biden, lacking FDR’s 1936 landslide victory and more cautious by nature, may also feel thwarted by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, but he is not about to repeat his predecessor’s doomed crusade.