Tag Archives: Political History

1920s KKK Recruiting Efforts in Northern New York


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BrthNation posterWhile we often look back fondly on the Roaring 20s for a number of reasons, it was a very dark period in the North Country in at least one regard: bigotry. For several years, the region was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity during a high-profile recruiting effort. The assumption today might be that the effort failed miserably among the good people of the north. But the truth is, the Klan did quite well, signing thousands of new members to their ranks.

The original KKK died out in the 1870s after focusing on racial issues in the post-Civil War period, but the KKK of the 1900s was a different animal. Its resurgence in 1915 was linked to a movie released that same year, Birth of a Nation, based on a book titled The Clansman. While the movie was lauded for groundbreaking filming techniques, it was also highly offensive, featuring blatant racism and the rewriting of history. Continue reading

Paul Stewart: Albany’s Underground Railroad History


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NY UNderground Railroad RoutesAlbany was a busy port city throughout the nineteenth century. During its most active Underground Railroad days, the city was occupied by lumber and other businesses at the riverfront and numerous retail establishments along Market Street (our current Broadway), Pearl Street, and corresponding cross streets. Although it was the state capital (since 1797) Albany truly began to expand only after the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which enhanced the city as a destination for riverboat shipping and traffic.

Commerce along the Hudson and Erie Canal system, and new forms of transportation such as the steamboat and the railroad, greatly increased the opportunities for people, including fugitives from slavery, to travel from port to port, and city to city. The new transportation systems, as well as burgeoning social movements of the antebellum period, such as Sunday School, temperance and women’s rights movements, provided abundant opportunities for the sort of networking that facilitated Underground Railroad efforts. Continue reading

Civil War Politics: Rockland County Homefront Disputes


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Brian JenningsA evening lecture by Brian Jennings, History Librarian of the New City Library, will be hosted by The Historical Society of Rockland County on Thursday, June 12, 2014. “Civil War, Politics, and Peace: Disputes on Rockland’s Homefront” will include a discussion of the 1860 presidential election, as well as Rockland County’s response to the firing on Fort Sumter.

Jennings will discuss the early companies formed in Rockland County, as well as the response of citizens to support their soldiers and the controversial peace conventions in Rockland. His analysis will be drawn largely from the coverage of events in local newspapers and from enlistment records and census documents. Continue reading

‘The Nation’ Launches Blog Focused On Its Archives


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the_nation_1950_cover_imgLast week The Nation published its first installment of “Back Issues: Guided tours through the archive of America’s oldest weekly,” a new blog to be written by Richard Kreitner (Twitter: @richardkreitner).

The blog’s goal is to use the magazine’s historic archives (dating back to 1850) to cast light on news of the day. The inaugural post, “Come Explore the Treasure Chest That is Our 1950 ‘Spring Books’ Issue,” was published to coincide with publication of The Nation’s biannual books issue. Continue reading

The Law That Saved Solomon Northup, And Others


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12 years a slaveThe amazing, and fortuitous, rescue of Solomon Northup was made possible by a New York statute that was signed into law, and became effective, on May 14, 1840.

Following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves into the U.S., enacted by Congress, the kidnapping of free blacks for sale as slaves became a larger problem. The ban reduced the “supply” of slaves, and with “demand” unchanged, prices rose, along with the potential profit for kidnappers. In 1817, in a description of a kidnapping case, the City Hall Recorder noted that, after 1808: “the practice of kidnapping was commenced, and has been carried to an alarming height.” Continue reading

Warren Harding’s Chair: A Battle of Valcour Island Relic


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Warren Harding LOCIt’s remarkable how two unrelated historical events sometimes converge to form a new piece of history. In one such North Country connection, the job choice of a future president became linked to a famous encounter on Lake Champlain. The future president was Warren Harding (1921–23), and the lake event was the Battle of Valcour Island (1776). The results weren’t earth shattering, but the connection did spawn coast-to-coast media stories covering part of our region’s (and our nation’s) history.

In 1882, Harding (1865–1923) graduated from Ohio Central College. Among the positions he held to pay for schooling was editor of the college newspaper. In 1884, after pursuing various job options, he partnered with two other men and purchased the failing Marion Daily Star. Harding eventually took full control of the newspaper, serving as both publisher and editor. Continue reading

James McGuire:
Syracuse ‘Boy Mayor’ and Irish Nationalist


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James NcGuire Syracuse MayorJoseph E. Fahey’s James K. McGuire: Boy Mayor and Irish Nationalist (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2014) is the story of a self-educated, charismatic leader who overcame personal tragedy in childhood and was elected the youngest mayor of a major city in America at age 26.

A reformer with a knack for politics, James McGuire (1868–1923) was elected mayor of Syracuse three times as a Democrat in a Republican bastion. Fahey argues that as a candidate for governor in 1898, McGuyire nearly derailed the rise of Theodore Roosevelt and that his ideas and positions informed the candidacy of William Jennings Bryan in his quest for the presidency and the platform of the Democratic Party in those elections. Continue reading

John Jay Manhattan Walking Tour May 3rd


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John Jay (Gilbert Stuart portrait)On May 3, 2014, John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, N.Y. will sponsor a walk through lower Manhattan titled John Jay’s Not-So-Big City.  The walking tour will trace John Jay’s haunts in New York in the late 18th century.

Founding Father John Jay, New York’s second Governor and America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century. Continue reading

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Civil Rights Act of 1964


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Civil Rights Act of 1964 AnniversaryIn this 50th anniversary year of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new book by Vanity Fair editor and Politico senior writer Todd Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Henry Holt & Co., 2014) recounts the dramatic political battle to pass this important law that in many ways helped create modern America.

Pardum’s book revisits a turbulent time in America, a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, and the March on Washington. During this time, John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations. Continue reading

Public Mourning:
Why Should Feminists Care About Funerals?


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Victorian MourningWhat do state funerals, AIDS activism, 300-year-old remains of former slaves, and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act have do with each other?

On Thursday, April 24, Dr. Michelle Martin-Baron, Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, will present a lecture, “Why Feminists Should Care About Funerals: the Politics of Public Mourning.”  This talk will use a feminist approach to explore what each of these examples can tell us about public mourning practices. Continue reading

Suffrage History: Long Island’s Three Wagon Women


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1-AlbanyMarchWhen New York women won the right to vote in 1917, the national suffrage movement received a huge shot in the arm after the number of women voters doubled nationwide. The state’s 1917 victory can be traced, in part, to how the movement utilized the media, as well as benefitted from sustained and substantial grassroots organizing.

New York’s women organized the state from top to bottom for the vote, and the movement’s visibility and victory paid off when the tide turned nationally. Continue reading

Kelly Adirondack Center:
Adirondack Environmental History Going Online


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Kelly Adirondack CenterGovernor Al Smith helped block the construction of a highway along the shore of Tongue Mountain, but it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who was instrumental in protecting the east shore of Lake George, documents in the Apperson-Schaefer collection at the Kelly Adirondack Center at Union College in Schenectady suggest.

With funding from the bond acts of 1916 and 1926, much of Tongue Mountain and many of the islands in the Narrows were now protected, permanently, as parts of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

But by 1926, John Apperson, the General Electric engineer who dedicated much of his life to the protection of Lake George, had become concerned about the future of the east side. Continue reading

New Exhibit: Wilderstein And The White House


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WildersteinWilderstein house museum in Rhinebeck, New York, has announced that its 2014 exhibition will explore the connections between the Wilderstein estate and American Presidents over two centuries. The exhibit will feature costumes, textiles, decorative arts, photographs, books, and more – all from the Wilderstein collections.  Many of these objects will be on public display for the first time.

The exhibit opens with their regular tour season on May 1 and will run through the end of October, Thursday to Sunday, from noon until 4 pm.  A preview party will be held on Saturday, April 26 from 4 to 6 pm. Tickets are $25. Please RSVP to 845.876.4818 or wilderstein@wilderstein.org. Continue reading

Kate Field: “A Babe in the Woods” of the Adirondacks


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kate profileAt the height of her career in mid-1873, Kate Field was said to be “a more prominent journalist than Clemens [Mark Twain].” The Washington Post said she was “one of the foremost women of America,” and the Chicago Tribune called her the “most unique woman the present century has produced.” Yet in her tales of adventure in the Adirondacks, she called herself “a babe in the woods.”

She wrote, “To be a babe in the woods watched over by a human robin redbreast, is as near an approach to Eden before the fall as comes within the ken of woman.” Continue reading

Frances Perkins: Secretary of Labor Under FDR


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Frances Perkins meets with Carnegie Steel Workers in 1933Any recognition of influential and famous American women should include Frances Perkins and rank her close to the top of such a list. Perkins was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secretary of labor during his entire time in office, from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman cabinet member in our history.

Although she is largely unknown to most Americans, many historians credit Perkins as being the architect and driving force responsible for the key achievements of FDR’s New Deal program during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Continue reading

NY Women Helped Frame 1930s Preservation Debate


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Women on Lake GeorgeDuring the first decades of the twentieth century, as women first agitated for and then began exercising the right to vote, many became intrigued by the political process and the possibilities for influencing public opinion. One of the topics of great interest and debate concerned the best use of forest lands in the Adirondack Park, and whether to uphold the protections of Article VII, Section 7, the forever wild clause of the New York Constitution. Although little has been written on this subject, I am convinced that women contributed significantly to this debate.

My source of information is a collection of letters saved by John S. Apperson, Jr., an engineer at the General Electric Company in Schenectady. By 1920, he had earned a reputation as a leading preservationist, and was fighting a vigorous campaign to protect the islands at Lake George. His connection to women’s organizations apparently got its start there, as he became friends with Mary Loines, from Brooklyn, New York, who owned land in Northwest Bay. Continue reading

New Exhibit Highlights Contemporary Iroquois Concerns


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iroquois indian museum logoThe Iroquois Indian Museum in Howes Cave, NY has announced its new exhibition, Standing in Two Worlds: Iroquois in 2014, which will open on April 1st and remain at the Museum through November 30.

The exhibit features over 30 Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) artists and focuses upon contemporary concerns that warrant their attention and creative comment. Exhibition works (artwork and poetry) include those that explore boundaries and borders, environment, hydro-fracking, economy, gaming, the digital/disposable age, sports mascots, the impact of national/international events and decisions, the role of tradition and community, and the state of the arts. Continue reading

The Two Mrs. Boissevains: Inez and Edna


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11399r-Inez on horseThe lives of the two Mrs. Boissevains of New York seem inseparable and incomparable. Both graduated from Vassar College, supported women’s suffrage, endured ill health, believed in free love, and attained popular fame. It is not surprising that they chose the same husband: the charming, witty, handsome Eugen Boissevain. Inez Milholland wed him on July 14, 1913, and after Inez died, he took Edna St. Vincent Millay as his bride on July 18, 1923.

Already known for “making suffrage fashionable,” Inez Milholland shot to fame as the herald atop a white horse at the head of the March 3, 1913, suffrage procession in Washington, DC. It was a shock to the world when a few months later the New York Times announced that Inez had met Hollander F. Eugene Boissevain aboard an ocean liner and married him in London. Continue reading

Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood:
Partners in Command


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Teddy-Roosevelt-and-Leonard-Wood-Partners-in-CommandTheodore Roosevelt was a man of wide interests, strong opinions, and intense ambition for both himself and his country. In 1897, when he met Leonard Wood (a physician who served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Military Governor of Cuba, and Governor General of the Philippines) Roosevelt recognized a kindred spirit. Moreover, the two men shared a zeal for making the United States an imperial power that would challenge Great Britain as world leader.

For the remainder of their lives, the careers of T.R. and Wood would intertwine in ways that shaped the American nation. The late John S.D. Eisenhower’s Teddy Roosevelt and Leonard Wood: Partners in Command (University of Missouri Press, 2014) is a revealing look at the dynamic partnership of this fascinating pair and will be welcomed by scholars and military history enthusiasts alike. Continue reading

The Political History of the NYC Irish Walking Tour


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Hell's Kicthen illustrationThe working class Irish neighborhood of old and new law tenements immediately west of the theater district in Manhattan was once one of the toughest areas in the City where the Irish street gangs, bootleggers, gamblers and mobsters held sway. However, it is today home to major law, accounting and advertising firms, off-broadway theaters and trendy bars and restaurants as well as upscale apartment buildings in which actors and young professionals reside.

Nevertheless, many do not realize that the political leadership of the area has remained the same for the last 100 years. For the past 50 years, the Democratic party district leader of the area has been the legendary Jimmy McManus, fourth generation of the McMani of Tammany Hall, whose McManus Midtown Democratic Club is the oldest continuously functioning Democratic Club in New York City, and has controlled the area politically since 1892 when Jim’s great grand uncle defeated Tammany leader George Washington Plunkitt. Another notable figure the tour will discuss is Frances Perkins. Perkins, a social worker in Hell’s Kitchen who later became FDR’s Labor Secretary and creator of Social Security, got her start in New York politics in 1910 by a chance meeting with Thomas J. McManus. Continue reading