Supplying water to millions is not simply an engineering and logistical challenge. As David Soll shows in his history of the nation’s largest municipal water system, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of The New York City Water Supply (Cornell Univ. Press, 2013), the task of providing water to New Yorkers transformed the natural and built environment of the city, its suburbs, and distant rural watersheds.
Almost as soon as New York City completed its first municipal water system in 1842, it began to expand the network, eventually reaching far into the Catskill Mountains, more than one hundred miles from the city. Empire of Water explores the history of New York City’s water system from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, focusing on the geographical, environmental, and political repercussions of the city’s search for more water. Continue reading
In A Stripe of Tammany’s Tiger (Cornell University Press, 1966, 2013 Reprint), Louis Eisenstein, a Tammany precinct captain from Manhattan’s Lower East Side, sets out with his coauthor Elliot Rosenberg to chronicle the evolution—or rather devolution—of New York City politics through the first seven decades of the twentieth century.
Eisenstein imbues his lively narrative with an overarching theme: that personal interactions and good faith between those at all levels of power are of paramount importance both for sustained political success and for competent municipal administration. Continue reading
The award winning book, Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life, and Environment of New York Harbor has been updated and reissued in paperback. In Heartbeats, author John Waldman covers the arc of history of New York Harbor from its pristine origins through the ravages of the industrial era to its remarkable comeback today.
First published in 1999, the volume won a New York Society Library Award. The revision includes an epilogue that brings the story of the Harbor to 2012, the 40th Anniversary of the critically important Clean Water Act, and includes the ambitious ongoing oyster restorations; alien species such as Asian shore crabs, zebra mussels, and snakehead fish; the effects of climate change; rehabilitation of the legendarily polluted Gowanus Canal, and even a return of bald eagles to Manhattan. Waldman’s work on New York Harbor also resulted in a Norcross Wildlife Conservation Award and, in 2012, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Conservation Award. Continue reading
January 6 is Joan of Arc’s 602nd birthday. Not many historical figures, very few of them women, are celebrated 600 years after their birth. But the French teenager who led her country to victory after a century of war, changed its history, and was captured and killed by her enemies is an exception. Inspired by angels and saints, she has become an inspiration to many others, and New Yorkers are no exception.
When New York suffragist Inez Milholland, for example, led the women’s March for the Vote in Washington, DC in March 1913, clad all in white and astride a white horse, she didn’t overtly claim to be impersonating Joan of Arc. The electrifying figure she presented was called “the Herald” or simply “the Woman on a Horse,” an evocation of women in the West who already had the vote or a nod to the moral purity of American temperance leaders who frequently dressed in white. But everyone knew who she really was. Continue reading
Using previously unstudied Coast Guard records from 1920 to 1933 for New York City and environs, Ellen NicKenzie Lawson’s Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press, 2013) examines the development of Rum Row and smuggling via the coasts of Long Island, the Long Island Sound, the Jersey shore, and along the Hudson and East Rivers.
With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, “drying up” New York City promised to be the greatest triumph of the proponents of Prohibition. Instead, the city remained the nation’s greatest liquor market. Continue reading
Scholars divide time into periods in an effort to make history comprehensible, but when to draw the diving line can be problematical and historians often disagree where one period ends and another begins.
For the birth of the nation, I am using the end of the colonial period, roughly from the French and Indian War to the end of the War of 1812. The colonial era for me was the time of the settlement of the 13 colonies which would become the United States. That process began in Jamestown and ended approximately 130 years later in Georgia. Up until then individual colonies, notably New York, Massachusetts / New England, and Virginia, dominate the curriculum, scholarship, and tourism, with only passing references to the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Dutch in New York. Continue reading
During the holiday season of 1945, a most unusual conversation was taking place in the Northern New York. It was a pivotal year in the twentieth century―history’s worst war had just ended, and an effort to prevent future wars had resulted in the formation of the United Nations, which officially came into being on October 24. The groundwork had been laid earlier in San Francisco, where delegates from fifty governments joined forces and drafted the original UN Charter.
The next order of business was to find a home for the new alliance, referred to widely then as the UNO (United Nations Organization). Since San Francisco hosted the charter conference, it was considered a favorite in the running. But as the process played out, northern New York was abuzz with the possibility of being chosen as permanent host. Continue reading
The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy (Bloomsbury, 2013) is an an original and illuminating narrative revealing John F. Kennedy’s lasting influence on America, by the acclaimed political analyst Larry J. Sabato.
John F. Kennedy died almost half a century ago — yet because of his extraordinary promise and untimely death, his star still resonates strongly. On the anniversary of his assassination, celebrated political scientist and analyst Larry J. Sabato — himself a teenager in the early 1960s and inspired by JFK and his presidency — explores the fascinating and powerful influence he has had over five decades on the media, the general public, and especially on each of his nine presidential successors. Continue reading
News in 1878 that Vice President William Almon Wheeler of Malone, a recent widower, would be taking First Lady Lucy Hayes fishing in the Adirondacks without her husband, gave New Yorkers something else to talk about besides President Rutherford B. Hayes’s latest feud with New York’s U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling.
Wheeler had been disappearing into the Adirondacks to fish since he was a poor boy growing up in Malone, the county seat for Franklin County, located on the Canadian border. By the time he became a lawyer, state legislator, bank executive and railroad president, his annual fishing trips became newsworthy. As early as 1864, newspapers reported that Wheeler was heading into “the South Woods” or “the great Southern Wilderness” with a group of his political and business friends for a week of fishing. Continue reading
When we visited the national park in Seneca Falls, NY this year we asked Noemi “Ami” Ghazala, superintendent of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, about the significance of the feds reaching the “stakeholder” phase in the Votes for Women trail process. “We really don’t know what it means,” she said. “The criteria may sit there for a short time or remain there for years.”
This was alarming enough. Then we checked into the statistical probability of Congressional approval for funding the Votes for Women federal trail in the Finger Lakes region. We consulted the tracking web site for Congress and stumbled on the prediction that we might find coal in our stockings this year if we’re expecting a reauthorization of a bill that includes a Votes for Women federal trail. This is complicated by the fact that federal funding must be delivered separately. Continue reading
A new biography is shedding light on an overshadowed North Country political figure, the Nineteenth Vice President of the United States. In William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country (2013, SUNY Press), author Herbert C. Hallas leaves no doubt that Wheeler was a more significant political figure than the existing literature may lead one to believe.
The book is the first and only complete biography of Wheeler, a man referred to as “the New York Lincoln,” who helped to found the Republican Party and build it into a formidable political force during the Gilded Age. Wheeler’s life is an American success story about how a poor boy from Malone achieved fame and fortune as a lawyer, banker, railroad president, state legislator, five-time congressman, and vice president of the United States. Continue reading
These days, no one likes a radical, especially one who makes unpopular statements or questions the government. The same can be said for our 19th-century counterparts. They, too, did not like a trouble-maker, particularly William Lloyd Garrison, who was born 208 years ago today, on December 12, 1805. A familiar figure to the women’s rights leaders and daughters I have studied, this Newburyport, Massachusetts native became the most outspoken abolitionist in America. At a time when North and South alike still tolerated the great evil of slavery, he called for immediate and complete abolition.
What is less known about Garrison is his staunch defense of women’s rights. He became the inspiration that led many New Yorkers to insist on women’s as well as slaves’ rights. We could view four periods of Garrison’s life through four New York women, each of whom saw him from a different vantage point. Continue reading
As we anticipate the February, 2017 centennial of women winning the vote in New York it’s a perfect time to focus on New York State’s women’s rights leaders as mothers. Some may ask: Why examine the woman’s rights leaders as mothers rather than speakers and writers? Or, why picture them at the hearth rather than the podium?
Years ago, I began researching the private lives of these women as a matter of survival in the classroom. After teaching women’s history at various colleges in New York through the 1990s and 2000’s, I became dismayed by the dry texts available to my students. Continue reading
The anniversary of the New York victory for woman suffrage (1917-2017) in the not too distant future is prompting proud talk of our state as “the cradle of women’s rights,” which is true enough but only half the story. The phrase refers specifically to the revolutionary movement that began in the small northern town of Seneca Falls in 1848 and was propelled by visionaries like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Frederick Douglass.
That early movement was “cradled,” as in “nourished in its infancy,” by geography. Cities and towns like Rochester and Seneca Falls were the “north star” of the Underground Railroad, places packed with Abolitionists and Quakers and radicals of all stripes. The population nurtured the young women’s movement and provided a base from which its standard-bearers could venture forth to persuade the rest of the nation. Continue reading
For about a week in 1871, New Yorkers were in a quandary about Thanksgiving. On October 25, New York Governor John T. Hoffman designated Thursday, November 23 as Thanksgiving Day for the state. In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, the Tammany Hall Democrat urged New Yorkers to spend time on that day to declare “their gratitude to God for all his mercies” and to “remember especially the poor.”
On October 28, President Ulysses S. Grant recommended that the nation observe Thanksgiving a week after the New York Thanksgiving, on Thursday November 30. In his proclamation, the Republican chief executive called for Americans to “make the usual acknowledgments to Almighty God for the blessings he has conferred on them” and ask “His protection and kindness for their less fortunate brethren.”
What was a conscientious, holiday-minded New Yorker supposed to do? Observe the Democratic Thanksgiving on November 23, or the Republican Thanksgiving on November 30, or both? Continue reading
During the weekend of November 22, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Glens Falls (UUCGF) will present four free events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
“Over the course of the weekend, we aim to shine light on radical and dramatic changes JFK was planning in foreign policy, just prior to his assassination. Specifically, JFK was intending to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam. After the assassination these plans were reversed and kept secret from the public, and these decisions still affect us today,” Sally Strasser, a coordinator of the UUCGF events, said in announcement of the events. Continue reading
Utilizing oral history excerpts, union and corporate archival documents, state police files, and newspapers, Dr. Gerald Zahavi will explore the beginning of aggressive communist organizing in Schenectady during the Great Depression and afterward.
Zahavi will focus on the men and women in the party as well as those who actively fought it — opponents in state and local government, unions and corporations (especially General Electric), religious organizations, and civil rights groups. Continue reading
The Historic Districts Council, along with the Union Square Community Coalition (USCC) have been advocating for the designation of Tammany Hall for several years (USCC first asked for its designation in 1984). Finally, at the end of October the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate Tammany Hall an individual landmark Continue reading
Here’s a quick look at some of the latest New York history resources to hit the web:
The Bronx Zoo is digitizing three dozen scrapbooks of its first director, William Temple Hornaday (from 1896 to 1926). The work is being done with a grant from the Leon Levy Foundation. The zoo director promoted habitat preservation worldwide, and the scrapbooks include letters, postcards, legal briefs, newspaper clippings and pamphlets. His involvement in the infamous Ota Benga scandal in 1906 is not recorded. Hornaday died in 1937. The collection can be found at the Wildlife Conservation Society Library and Archives website. Continue reading
City of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) by urban politics historian Mason B. Williams is a loving exploration of the history of the New Deal and its role in the making of modern New York City.
The story of a remarkable collaboration between Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia, this is a case study in creative political leadership in the midst of a devastating depression. Roosevelt and La Guardia were an odd couple: patrician president and immigrant mayor, fireside chat and tabloid cartoon, pragmatic Democrat and reform Republican. But together, as leaders of America’s two largest governments in the depths of the Great Depression, they fashioned a route to recovery for the nation and the master plan for a great city. Continue reading