Who Knew?

As the college archivist at Baruch College, I am always looking for Baruch/C.C.N.Y. related memorabilia that will help shed light on the history of our institution. The Institute of Public Administration archival collection does not disappoint. Hidden away for decades in a dusty carton was a 1917 letter with remarks by Mr. A.S. Root, principal of the New York Public Library School, concerning the “possible cooperation of the library school of the New York Public Library with the library of C.C.N.Y.” The letter was highly critical of the Deputy Librarian of C.C.N.Y. Henry E. Bliss, and there is no evidence that this joint venture ever materialized.

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Some of Mr. Root’s criticisms included:

“It does not seem to me always that the changes which he has introduced do make for real economy”

“The library***seems to me to fail to give the kind of service which a modern college library oght [sic] to be giving”

“Mr. Bliss, upon the upper floor of the library, is in an office out of sight and busily engaged upon tasks such as the checking of periodicals, the checking of bills, and the like, which constantly occupy his time.****the student** do not know that his service is available because he is out of sight.”

Disapproval of the ideas of Henry E. Bliss (1870-1955) was not unusual, since he had developed a controversial library classification system, that was not favorably received by the library community. As the librarian at C.C.N.Y. he reclassified the 60,000 books in the C.C.N.Y library using a system based on the “subject approach to knowledge.”

Henry Evelyn Bliss (Wikicommons)

Even though in the early part of the 20th century his innovative cataloging was often rejected in favor of the established Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress classification system, he remained at C.C.N.Y. from 1891 until 1940. Henry Evelyn Bliss remains a towering figure in the Baruch/C.C.N.Y Hall of Librarians, and was named one of the 100 most influential leaders in the 20th century in library and information science in December 1999.


What’s a President Worth?

Whatever you think of President Obama, the American taxpayer is getting him  cheap compared, say, with a predecessor like Franklin D. Roosevelt.

According to a document prepared for the President’s Committee on Administrative Management — that’s FDR, by the way — the nation’s Chief Executive was paid $75,000 in 1936. That translates to $1.28 million in today’s dollars. (No wonder he wanted to serve four terms.)


Mr. Obama (like every President since 2001) gets a measly $400,000, plus a $50,000 annual expense account, $100,000 in non taxable travel funds, and $19,000 for entertainment. That’s been the pay Congress set 13 years ago and the White House occupants, both of them, haven’t gotten a raise since.

Notice, too, that the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan at the time) made $324,505 in  1936 — equivalent to $5.5 million today. (Meanwhile he was battling unionists in “the strike heard round the world” who were struggling to organize the auto industry for better pay and working conditions.)


The current (also embattled) CEO of GM, Mary T. Barra, gets a salary of $1.6 million plus incentive pay of $2.8 million, but with other boons may end up banking $14.4 million, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

But even at the (relatively) meagre pay, there are no shortage of eager aspirants  for the White House job.


The School Spending Gap, Then and Now

Concern over the sorry state of American schooling is nothing new. Back in 1939, The Advisory Committee on Education — which Gulick served after reorganizing the federal bureaucracy for FDR — examined spending disparities around the country and came away aghast. It found a 500 percent gap between the states in dollars spent per child in 1935-6.


New York came in second, at $ 74.28 a year — equivalent to $1,290 today. California beat New York by 39 cents. (Nevada came in a close third, but its population was hardly comparable.) Arkansas brought up the rear, at $12.16 — about $211 today.


Today we’re spending way more — over $19,000 per student in New York — a 15-fold increase over nearly 75 years.


But guess what? There are still huge disparities. Utah spent the least — $6,212, less than a third of New York’s figure.

And when it comes to generating private money to support local schools, one rich district in San Diego, CA., raised 80 times more than a nearby poor district.


What would Gulick’s Advisory Committee on Education say to that?


Fun and Games in Olde New York

We’ve all seen old photos and films of the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century: the teeming masses of  immigrants struggling to adjust to a strange new life in America.


Their travails in sweatshops and factories was well chronicled. Tragedies like the horrendous 1911 fire at the Greenwich Village blouse factory known as the Triangle Waist Company that cost the lives of 123 women and 23 men made international headlines.

But less is known of  how the denizens of Manhattan’s Old Fourth Ward around City Hall …


…spent their spare time.

In 1916 the New York Bureau of Municipal Research decided to investigate this question.

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Old Fourth Ward

The study, a very thorough affair, was seeking to discover what the adults and children of the neighborhood did inside and outside the home and what forms of entertainment were available to them. The plan of attack consisted of 38 different assignments, with data collected either through onsite observations, interviews, questionnaires, or good old fashioned shoe-leather research of available city data.

When creating the assignments, the Bureau noted the data to be collected,  the source and how it was to be used. For instance, one of the desired data sets was the length of a workday for a worker and what time he or she went home. The data would be used to indicate the amount of time that people had available for recreation. The source of the data would be a questionnaire.

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Assignment Sheet

The easiest assignments involved researching the census and other published data readily available through City Hall or public libraries. Through them the Bureau was immediately able to ascertain such things as population density of the neighborhood, which stood at an average of  245 persons per acre (although the density ranged widely from 98 per acre south of Chambers Street to 383 north of it.) Of the entire population residing there, statistics also showed that 16% were illiterate.

The study required members of the Bureau to blanket the neighborhood to uncover all available options for recreation. Churches, dance halls, clubs, even health centers were scoured to find out as much information as possible. The researchers sought a wealth of information: including reputation of the venue (usually established by asking the officer on the beat), its hours and the type of drinks available.

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Dance Halls and Skating Rings Questionnaire

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Motion Picture Houses and Theatres Questionnaire

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Commercial Establishments Providing Refreshment and Amusement Questionnaire

Even children inside the schools were not safe from the prying inquiries of the Bureau men who created a 43-question questionnaire for children to fill out. As an incentive, children got school credit for their efforts. “By arrangement with principals and teachers part may be substituted as classroom work in English.” The questions covered almost all aspects of the children’s lives and included such questions as “What is the name of your gang or club?”

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Questionnaire to School Children

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The resulting reports from field work painted a rather stark picture of the recreational options available to the residents of the Fourth Ward. In a report with the provocative title “What Would You Do Without Money?” Morris R. Werner, a staffer who was assigned to interview nurses, wrote:

“As soon as a man gets home from work, which is in the average case about seven-thirty in the evening, he doesn’t call for his slippers, as English novelists are in the habit of making their characters do, but he sits down at the table with his wife and children and eats. He usually prays before he eats, but he eats. Then the family reads the one newspaper which the head of the family has bought. As the families are for the most part Hebrew in their faith in the Fourth Ward of the City of New York, the Jewish papers have a tremendous circulation. ”

Any entertainment to be had was to be derived outside the home – in parks or in Coney Island during the summer. Werner pessimistically noted that the wages of the people were so low that they “cannot even buy a copy of the New Republic.”

He ended the report almost apologetically that he could not say more on the recreation available in the home.

“… there is very little to tell about home recreation, since the occupants of the home get out of it as soon as they can, or go to bed as early as they can. The women get no time at all for recreation, because they have to earn a living, cook, and take care of the children. The children go to school, play on the streets, and use the libraries, and the Educational Alliance. The young people people work, use the libraries, use the streets, and go to bed. The adults work, read, and go to bed.”

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Many of his conclusions were seconded in another field report by Howard W. Palmer who wrote “Although abject poverty does not prevail in the district known as the Old Fourth Ward, yet the home conditions are such as to make it practically impossible to get any recreation within the home.”

The average family, Palmer discovered, had six children living in what usually amounted to no more than three rooms. Overcrowding made home activities all but impossible, forcing families to seek recreation outside the home.

His research also indicated a severe lack of playgrounds, so much so that until a child turned 14 he or she almost never went more than a block and a half to play. Playgrounds were so small that they could barely accommodate the children living in their immediate surroundings. A child living even a few blocks away would have no chance of finding an available spot.

And guess what? The problem is still with us.




The Tireless Dr. Gulick…and Emily Hulick

Luther Gulick spent much of 1936 working with two colleagues as the President’s Committee on Administrative Management (“the Brownlow Committee”) to reorganize the federal government.


There was little doubt reform was sorely needed. Virtually every federal entity reported directly to the Roosevelt White House, making for an administrative nightmare.


Gulick and colleagues came up with a five-point program: give the President six top assistants to work with the federal agencies; strengthen the budget office and personnel services; professionalize and expand the civil service; consolidate the more than 100 various agencies, boards, commissions etc., into 12 major departments; and create an independent Auditor General who would monitor expenditures and keep the Executive accountable to Congress.

As it was, Congress, alarmed at the dictatorial excesses across the globe and fearful of adding to Roosevelt’s already sweeping powers, bridled at passing many of the changes Gulick & Co. advocated. The first reorganization bill failed, and when a version finally passed in 1939, it contained few of the measures the President and Brownlow committee had sought. But undaunted, FDR used his executive authority to implement them anyway. By that time, the war clouds were so ominous, Congress made little objection.

Even with so many big issues to grapple with, Gulick typically found time to track down and write an anonymous correspondent for what was then called News-Week magazine (articles at the time carrying no bylines) in praise of his “very intelligent article” on the reorganization. He turned out to be Edward Ware Barrett, later chief of the overseas news and features division of the Office of  War Information, and still later, Dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (when this blogger attended in the 1960s — small world department.)


By 1937, as if reorganizing the federal government had not been enough, Gulick plunged into a study of the federal role in education. It had begun as an inquiry into the federal role in vocational education, but FDR decided quickly that the issue was broader than that.


Gulick was soon caught up in a new bureaucracy that required work-related federal travel to be paid by Works Progress Administration vouchers.


And, by the way, did anyone catch the name of Gulick’s secretary?

Emily E. HULICK! How weird is that?