Luther Gulick’s A – B – C…


Believe it or not, Luther Halsey Gulick III could be a fun guy. OK, not a laugh a minute, but he could lighten up. Take the Regents’ Inquiry Into the Character and Cost of Public Education in the State of New York. Please.

Seriously, folks, who comes up with racy titles like that? Some people will do anything for attention.

Where were we? Oh right, wild and crazy Luther Gulick.

So, from  1935-39, the New York Board of Regents organized a sweeping study of education in the state “now in the midst of an emergency,” magnified by the Depression. School costs were rising dramatically, as hard-pressed districts cut support.

Calling Luther Gulick! Of course, he was named to direct it (just as, almost simultaneously, he was tapped by President Franklin Roosevelt to reorganize the executive branch.)

The Regents had the Gaul to call it an Inquiry, maybe because it was divided into three parts: an examination of the “educational enterprise” of the state and its outcomes, methods and costs; a critical appraisal of existing conditions; and a formulation of solutions for the future.

By 1939 the effort, budgeted at $500,000 (equal to $8.5 million today), had yielded a torrent of scholarship, 15 volumes in all, including weighty reports like these:

amer life SKM_364e16020413542

It also sparked some controversy, as when a New York University Professor charged Gulick with presenting a distorted version of the findings. It made page one of The New York Times on April 23, 1939.


We had trouble understanding why Gulick would deliberately or inadvertently misrepresent the study that he headed — especially since the Times article contained no response from him, an egregious omission smacking of journalistic malpractice. Today we would call it a hit.

But wait — wasn’t this supposed to be about funny stuff?

Ahh, right.


The year the Inquiry was completed, Gulick and Rudolf Modley, founder of the Pictograph Corporation (you’ll recognize his icons when you see them) coauthored a spoof of the report packaged as a child’s reader, The New York Primer. 

(For spotting this gem, we thank an eagle-eyed member of our crack digitizing team, Sarah Rappo, who is scanning early reports of the IPA Collection under our  Carnegie grant.)

As the text explains, what looks like clunky writing (“A Picture Book for The More Easy Attaining An Understanding of New York’s School Problems”) is a deft poke at the state’s first reader, in use until about 1839, “For the more easy attaining the true Reading of English.” (From this they learned English?)

Anyway, the Gulick/Modley version used the simple sentences and large type of a vintage grade-school reader to explain the Regents report in easy language. They highlighted words beginning with letters of the alphabet, A to Z, and they set it off with illustrative charts of charming yellow pictographs, like this:


and this


and this


That’s the light side of Luther Halsey Gulick III, from A to Z.

One thought on “Luther Gulick’s A – B – C…

  1. What a great post! I know Moses tried to control school funds, at least the building of schools, as well as using funds for modernizing schools (painting and other upgrades). Did you find anything about Moses in the controversy?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *