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Fiorello H. La Guardia Papers, 1917-1945

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About this Collection

Introduction: The Fiorello H

Introduction: The Fiorello H. La Guardia Papers, 1917-1945


Fiorello H. La Guardia was born in New York City on December11, 1882, to Italian immigrant parents. When his father, a musician byprofession, joined the U.S. Army as a bandmaster in 1885, the family left NewYork and moved west. After moving several times to various army posts, the LaGuardia family finally arrived at Whipple Barracks, Arizona Territory in 1892.Here, Fiorello spent the longest period of his childhood.


In 1898 when Fiorellos father was discharged from the armybecause of ill health, the family moved to Italy and settled in Trieste.However, in 1900 the young Fiorello left home for Budapest, Hungary, where hebecame employed as a clerk at the U.S. consulate. In 1904 he moved to Fiume tobecome the U.S. consular agent.


A young man with ambition, La Guardia resigned his post inFiume in 1906 and returned to the United States. The next year he took a job asan Ellis Island interpreter, while he attended New York University Law Schoolas an evening student. When he received his law degree in 1910, La Guardiaresigned his position with the Immigration Service and became a practicingattorney.


La Guardia was appointed deputy attorney of the state of NewYork in 1915. The next year he ran for Congress and became the first Republicansince the Civil War to be elected from the Lower East Side. In 1917, La Guardiatook a leave of absence from the House of Representatives to serve as a pilotbombardier in World War I. Upon his return, he was reelected to Congress butresigned to run for president of the New York City Board of Alderman. In 1921he returned to Congress to represent an East Harlem district that was to sendhim to Washington for five consecutive terms until 1932.


Although nominally a Republican, La Guardia was one of thenations most progressive congressmen. He campaigned for a graduated incometax, enlisted in the crusade against monopoly, and was consistently pro-laborin outlook. Nevertheless, in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelts Democratic landslideswept La Guardia out of office.


Undaunted, in 1933, La Guardia ran for mayor of New YorkCity and was elected on an anti-Tammany fusion slate. During the next twelveyears of the Depression and war, La Guardia labored tirelessly to raise thequality of urban life. Although he was not a Democrat, he worked closely withPresident Roosevelt. He convinced Washington to finance many ambitiousemployment and public works programs in New York City. Under La Guardiasleadership, the New York City subway system was unified and brought underpublic ownership, and public housing programs were begun. During the depths ofthe Depression, with the citys treasury stretched to the breaking point, hemanaged to reform the welfare system and make it one of the nations mostprogressive. In addition, La Guardia opened New Yorks first major airport innorthern Queens (later named La Guardia Airport), and in 1942 ground was brokenfor Idlewild in southern Queens (later JFK International Airport).


In 1945 Fiorello La Guardia, sixty-two years old andexhausted, left City Hall. Still, he was unwilling to retire and becamedirector of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation program. La Guardiadied on September 20, 1947.


The microfilm of The Fiorello H. La Guardia Paperswas prepared by The New York Public Library under the sponsorship of theNational Historical Publications and Records Commission. La Guardia gave hispapers to The New York Public Library during the period between 1939 and 1947.In addition, there are La Guardia papers housed in the Municipal Archives ofNew York City.


Scope and Content


This microfilm collection documents La Guardias career as acongressman from New York City, 1917-1921 and 1921-1933; president of NewYorks Board of Aldermen, 1919-1921; and three-term mayor of New York,1933-1945. The two largest portions of the papers are the congressional andmayoral correspondence files. Included are letters received and carbon copiesof responses written either by La Guardia, or by his secretary on his behalf.Clippings, greeting cards, printed House bills, invitations, photographs,memorandums, notes, press releases, printed material, and telegrams areincluded among the correspondence.


Series I, Congressional Correspondence (1919-1933),is divided into two parts. First, the General Correspondence is organizedchronologically, with the letters filed alphabetically within each year.Correspondence from La Guardias period as president of the Board of Aldermenis included on roll 1. Second, the Subjects Correspondence is filedalphabetically by subject, and chronologically within each subject. These filesconsist primarily of letters received from constituents requesting help withemployment, naturalization, and other problems, and from citizens around thecountry offering their opinions on La Guardias stands on issues beforeCongress. Prohibition is a major topic.


Series II, Mayoral Correspondence (1933-1945), isarranged chronologically, with the letters filed alphabetically within eachyear. This series consists largely of correspondence with members of the publicwho wrote requesting help with education, employment, immigration, prisonterms, and other problems; suggesting appointments for various city offices;and offering appreciation, birthday greetings, congratulations, get wellmessages, ideas, and opinions. Very little appears to document the dailyoperations of city business.


Series III consist of Press Releases, Speeches, andWritings. Series IV, Miscellaneous Papers, encompasses varioustopics and is organized alphabetically by subject.


Series V, Printed Material, is also arrangedalphabetically by subject, and Series VI contains two Scrapbooks ofclippings on various topics for the year 1920.