Alfred E. Smith, seen here at age four in 1877 at Coney Island, became governor of New York State in November 1918 five days before the Armistice. He was a good friend and mentor to master builder Robert Moses.
I hope everyone is enjoying their Sunday. Looking out the window right now I see it is clear and bright blue. How cold it might be is another story. I’ll find out when I run some errands in a bit. I spent a good portion of the morning preparing lesson plans for the week, which includes a sizable number of images to accompany the talks. My colleague and I decided to focus our course this semester on Robert Moses, who for good and ill gave New Yorkers most of the city we live in today. What we most want students to get from the class is an understanding of the complexity of Moses’s legacy, that Moses was less a psychotic power broker and more a flawed and complicated public servant who did the best he could within his circumstances to build New York City and State as he believed proper within the historical moment.
In a sense the course picks up where my book manuscript, Incorporating New York, ends. I finish my manuscript about Theodore Roosevelt Sr., Louisa Lee Schuyler, and their cohorts in 1923 with the opening of the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace. Moses gets his first position of genuine authority in 1924, when his friend and mentor Governor Alfred E. Smith appoints him leader of the Long Island State Park Commission. By this time the balance has shifted in New York City from the old Dutch and British families to the Italians, Jews and others who had arrived from the Old World over the previous several decades. The major exceptions to that of course are Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, whose stars are rising in this period and would carry on until Eleanor’s death in 1962. Moses himself holds on until six years after that, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller relieves him of the remainder of his duties in 1968. Over the years the Roosevelts would be friends, allies, and sometimes adversaries of Smith and Moses. I have been rolling up my sleeves and digging in since the start of the year and will proceed thusly until Memorial Day Weekend. It has been a great deal of work but a blast at the same time.
(image/Museum of the City of New York)