New-York Historical Society

Redwoods and Hitler: the link between nature conservation and the eugenics movement


Tribute by the California State Park Commission to the Founders of the Save the Redwoods League, 1931. MS 474, Henry F. Osborn and Family Papers

In 1931, the California State Park Commission presented this engrossed certificate in gratitude to Save the Redwoods League founders  Henry Fairfield Osborn, Madison Grant and John C. Merriam. From all appearances, it’s an attractive reminder of the achievements of the early conservation movement. What is less apparent is a darker link between the three founders and prevailing racial theories that would have particularly abhorrent implications in Nazi Germany.

According to the 1890 census, America had effectively closed the frontier after almost three centuries of nearly constant battle with the natural world. That revelation stoked concerns for the survival of the remnants of the nation’s once great wilderness, spurring a conservation fever that would blossom in the new century. In turn, the movement that followed was enormously successful in protecting many of America’s remaining natural treasures.

As great as those accomplishments were, the popular narrative typically omits an unfortunate by-product of the movement — that among those with the drive to preserve nature were individuals who theorized about the preservation of a presumed genetically superior, so-called “Nordic” race. Among these were Messrs. Osborn, Grant and Merriam.


Madison Grant. Our Vanishing Wild Life, New York : New York Zoological Society, 1913


Henry Fairfield Osborn. PR 84, Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection












Osborn and Grant, in particular, are leading figures of their pseudo-scientific cohort. Osborn was a prominent paleontologist, Columbia University professor and long-time president of the American Museum of Natural History while Madison Grant was a lawyer, naturalist, president of the New York Zoological Society and AMNH trustee who expended considerable energy preserving America’s wildlife and flora. Together they helped found the American Eugenics Society, an outgrowth of the Second International Conference on Eugenics in 1921. Perhaps the most glaring declaration of Grant’s views came in his book The Passing of the Great Race, first published in 1916. It boasted an introduction by Osborn and a book jacket endorsement from none other than Theodore Roosevelt.

The Passing of the Great Race, or, The Racial Basis of European History. New York : C. Scribner's Sons, 1932.

The Passing of the Great Race, or, The Racial Basis of European History. New York : C. Scribner’s Sons, 1932.

To proponents of eugenics, America’s evolving cultural and racial landscape spelled disaster for racial preservation. They saw common ground between the destruction of America’s flora and fauna and the genetic decline of the Nordics. In their world, an obvious catalyst was the introduction of foreign populations, via immigration, a dynamic that also paralleled the destructive competition that might result from the introduction of non-native species into a natural environment.

A further link emerged in the negative effects of industry and urban development. For the latter they asserted that Nordics were better suited to taming the wilderness while their genetic inferiors seemed to thrive in “the cramped factory and crowded city.” In The Passing of the Great Race, Grant wrote:

The increase in urban communities at the expense of the countryside is also an important element in the fading of the Nordic type, because the energetic countryman of this blood is more apt to improve his fortunes by moving to the city than the less ambitious Mediterranean.

Still, eugenics cast its shadow beyond race. One of its most troubling facets was how it regarded the “unfit” of the population. In The Passing of the Great Race, Grant laid out their ambitions with shudder-inducing simplicity:

Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.

This statement is quite a reflection of the intersection of Grant’s views on conservation and eugenics. He was one of the pioneering thinkers in the concept of wildlife management, which recognized that given the now-limited free range  and food sources available to a wild population, a herd’s size must sometimes be culled to ensure its overall health. Perversely, Grant and others transferred those principals into the treatment of human beings, particularly those who bore physical and mental disabilities.

With these ideas hovering around it is not at all shocking to learn that the theories embraced by Grant, Osborn and their adherents eventually made their way to Nazi Germany.  Still, it’s hard to fathom a group of Americans so thoroughly connected to the highest levels of American society directly influencing a group at the heart of one of the worst atrocities the world has ever witnessed. And yet so consistent were the rhetorics that Hitler himself referred to Grant’s book as his “bible” and Karl Brandt, his physician, entered excerpts from the German translation of The Passing of the Great Race into evidence at Nuremberg.

Grant's signature in 1934, revealing the effects of his illness. MS 1475, BV Half Moon Club

Grant’s signature in 1934, revealing the effects of his illness. MS 1475, BV Half Moon Club

In an odd twist, Madison Grant suffered from a crippling form of arthritis that left him disabled much in the same way as many of those he decried as detrimental to the population.

“Perhaps Rain, Perhaps Not”: Josh Billings Parodies the Almanac

This post was written by cataloger Catherine Falzone.

Two portraits of Henry Wheeler Shaw (a.k.a. Josh Billings)

Two portraits of Henry Wheeler Shaw (a.k.a. Josh Billings). Meserve Historical Portraits, PR 231.

Continuing our series  of highlights from the American Almanac Collection, another almanac of note is the Farmer’s Allminax by Josh Billings. Josh Billings was the pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (1818-1885). Shaw was a member of a prominent New England family—his father was a member of Congress, and his uncle was Chief Justice of the State of New York. One would have expected him to follow suit, but he chose mischief over maturity and was expelled from Hamilton College for stealing the clapper of the chapel bell. For the next ten years he traveled the country, working as a farmer, steamboat captain, coal miner, auctioneer, and real estate agent.

Shaw didn’t begin writing until he was in his forties. His first published piece, “Essay on the Mule,” was ignored by readers until he reissued it with intentional, humorous misspellings and titled it “Essa on the Muel bi Josh Billings” (1864). This resonated with audiences and he was published widely in newspapers throughout the country. Shaw also became a successful lecturer, performing 80-100 shows per year in character as Josh Billings, and wrote humorous columns in the New York Weekly and Century Illustrated Monthly.

Billings produced a wildly popular series of comic almanacs, Josh Billings’ Farmer’s Allminax, every year from 1870 to 1879. They played with the universally familiar format of the almanac, using the guise of a common household item to deliver his trademark misspelled aphorisms. As seen in the two examples below, every issue of his almanac had a parody of the “man of signs,” the ancient and, by the 1870s, completely esoteric diagram of a man’s body marked with the signs of the zodiac that mapped onto different body parts, frequently found in almanacs. (Note: I have translated all captions into modern English, in case his misspellings are too confusing!)

Two pages from Josh Billings' Farmer's Allminax for the year 1870

“The undersigned is an American brave, in his great tragic act of being attacked by the twelve constellations.—(May the best man win.)”

Josh Billings’ Farmer’s Allminax for the year 1870. N.Y. 1870 .J67 N9

Two pages from Josh Billings' Farmer's Allminax for the year 1873

“Zodiac signs, of the latest patterns, will be furnished heads of families, or hot beds of learning, at a slight advance upon cost, by speaking to Josh Billings about it.”

Josh Billings’ Farmer’s Allminax for the year of our Lord 1873. N.Y. 1873 .J67 N9











Billings also had fun with the weather predictions, another standard component of almanacs throughout history. Click below on the calendar page for February 1874 to see the liberties he takes with his weather forecasts.

February calendar page for Josh Billings' Farmer's Allminax for the year of our Lord 1874

February 1874.
“Now kill ducks/ now kill time/ now swap hens/ now yoke steers
Now tell yarns/ now sign the pledge/ now go to bed.”

Josh Billings’ Farmer’s Allminax for the year of our Lord 1874. N.Y. 1874 .J67 N9.

Billings was a humorist of and for his time. After the Civil War, American humor had a more skeptical and satirical slant, while becoming less regionally specific; he satirized American life from the fictional and stateless backwater of “Pordunk.” Billings and other so-called “phunny phellows” like Artemus Ward and Petroleum V. Nasby relied heavily on the comic potential of “cacography.” By the 1870s, American spelling had been codified, with uniform spelling being taught in schools from Webster’s ubiquitous “blue-backed” spelling book. Because there was finally a “correct” way to spell, readers delighted in seeing it mangled.

Noah Webster was a good speller/ he had better spells than Billings/ go in when it rains.

May 1871.
“Noah Webster was a good speller/ he had better spells than Billings/ go in when it rains.”

Josh Billings’ Farmer’s Allminax for the year 1871. N.Y. 1871 .J67 N9.









Beloved in his era, Josh Billings has been mostly forgotten today. Like fashion, taste in humor changes. However, if you can look past the cacography, Billings is a charming writer, by turns silly and wise. Of course, don’t take my word for it—Abraham Lincoln, a big fan of Billings, once said, “Next to William Shakespeare, Josh Billings is the greatest judge of human nature the world has ever seen.”

The Drag Queen Stroll: Jeff Cowen and 1980s New York City

This article is written by Joe Festa, Manuscript Reference Librarian.

Jeff Cowen, a contemporary art photographer born in New York City, is best known for his portraits and collages, and a painterly approach to his photographic process. Five gelatin silver prints by Cowen are housed within the Photographer File here at New-York Historical Society. Taken early in the artist’s career, these images illustrate Cowen’s artistic practice prior to his formal study at the Art Students League and New York Studio School. They also shed light on New York City’s fringe counter-cultures of the 1980s – specifically, transgender prostitutes living and working in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Untitled, Jeff Cowen (ca. 1980-1989). Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50

Jeff Cowen, Untitled, ca. 1980-1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50

Untitled, Jeff Cowen (ca. 1980-1989). Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

Jeff Cowen, Untitled, ca. 1980-1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.






When New-York Historical acquired these images, Jeff Cowen included a typewritten, four-page narrative he titled “The Drag Queen Stroll.”  In it, the artist details his subjects from their first-hand accounts and his point of view, utilizing an abrupt writing style that’s reminiscent of the Beat Generation.

Cowen maps “The Stroll” from 17th Street and 9th Avenue, running west to the Hudson River, to the southern edge of the Meatpacking District on Gansevoort. His writing draws on the rampant homelessness, drug use, prostitution, theft, and assault in this area at night, which serves as a sharp contrast to the union workers and family men who work in the meat markets and warehouses during the day. Cowen calls this area “a haven for the largest transvestite subculture on the east coast.” And with the advent of crack and HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, he says “the cost of sin has never been higher.”

Untitled, Jeff Cowen. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

Jeff Cowen, Untitled, ca. 1980-1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

In the late 1980s, around the time these images were taken, Cowen was working as assistant to artist Larry Clark. Clark, a photographer known for his controversial and provocative imagery, gained notoriety in 1971 through the publication of his art book Tulsa, and later made mainstream headlines with the release of his film Kids (1995) – two works that share a strong undercurrent of drug use and its consequences.

Like Clark, Cowen brings the harsh realities of urban youth and New York City to the surface, and infuses his images with raw, human emotion. Alongside the artist’s written narrative, these five images demonstrate Cowen’s ability to speak bluntly about drugs, sex, and AIDS, while juxtaposing heavy subject matter with fleeting elements of tenderness and beauty. This emotive quality has since become central to his photographic mission, and remains evident in the artist’s recent work focusing on the human form.


Untitled, Jeff Cowen. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

Jeff Cowen, Untitled, ca. 1980-1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

Untitled, Jeff Cowen. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.

Jeff Cowen, Untitled, ca. 1980-1989. Gelatin Silver Print. Photographer File, PR50.


“We Have Met the Enemy,” or, in Other Words…

This post was written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections

Perry groupAs we continue to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, we pause this week to commemorate the September 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.  Unlike those heroic naval encounters on the high seas, this victory for the young United States was fought on a literal backwater, where existing warships could not move down the St. Lawrence River and the combatants had to start from scratch—racing to find the supplies to build and man lake-worthy warships.  American Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry actually sought this unheralded command, but he, too, would be beset by discouragement when he felt his superior on Lake Ontario was unwilling to provide him with experienced sailors.  Perry, with his Master Mariner Daniel Dobbins, was able to supervise the building of nine warships in as many months at Presque Isle (now Erie) Pennsylvania, while his British counterpart, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, struggled even more with supplies and support.

Perry was especially inspired by the death from battle wounds of his friend Captain James Lawrence off Boston harbor that June.  As he was creating this fleet to meet the British on the Great Lakes, Perry named his flag ship Lawrence and had a local family sew a battle ensign bearing Lawrence’s last, futile but memorable command, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”

In August 1813 Perry took the initiative by successfully moving his newly-built ships into open water and toward the western end of the lake where he could disrupt and challenge the British.  It was the threat of starvation that forced British commander Barclay to give battle on the morning of September 10 as his inexperienced crews were left with only one day’s rations.

Perry’s victory in this bloody encounter was secured in large part by a sudden shift in the wind that allowed him to bring up his gunboats and effectively use his shorter range guns.  Still, his battle plan went awry when his second in command, Master Commandant Jesse Duncan Elliott, did not directly follow the Lawrence into battle with the sister brig Niagara.  This left the Lawrence to endure raking fire from the long-range guns of the two largest British warships.

Perry's Victory on Lake Erie.  Painted by T. Birch, Engraved by A. Lawson, Printed by B. Rogers, Published by Joseph Delaplaine.    Line engraving, hand-colored.  Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, PR 47, no. 245.

Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie. Painted by T. Birch, Engraved by A. Lawson, Printed by B. Rogers, Published by Joseph Delaplaine. Line engraving, hand-colored. Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, PR 47, no. 245.

The heroic turning point in the Battle of Lake Erie can be seen in this engraving when Perry had his few surviving seamen transfer him through the hail of fire in a small boat from the disabled Lawrence to take command of the lagging Niagara a half mile away.  He is shown accurately here with the “Don’t Give Up the Ship” battle flag draped in his arms, the flag that survives now at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.  However, as Walter P. Rybka, Captain and Curator of the now-restored Niagara, quipped, “In actuality the only way to win the battle was to give up the ship and go to the next one.  The real motto was ‘Don’t give up.’”

Costly in terms of casualties and marking the first time an entire British naval squadron was defeated, Perry’s victory gained control over Lake Erie.  The outcome would allow Major General William Henry Harrison to defeat a British and Native American force the following month in present-day Ontario at the Battle of the Thames, thus securing the Old Northwest for the United States.

Oliver Hazard Perry to Commodore Isaac Chauncey, September 10, 1813, 4 P.M. AHMC - Perry, Oliver Hazard

Oliver Hazard Perry to Commodore Isaac Chauncey, September 10, 1813, 4 P.M. AHMC – Perry, Oliver Hazard

Here in manuscript is Perry’s 4 P.M. report of his victory to his superior, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, “It has pleased the Almighty to give the arms of the United States a signal victory over their enemies on this Lake.  The British squadron consisting of two Ships, two Brigs, one Schooner & one Sloop, have this moment surrendered to the force under my command, after a sharp conflict.”  (Naval historians suggest that it was actually one brig and two schooners).


Glorious News.  Herald--extra.  Carlisle, September 24, 1813.  SY1812-15W no. 46

Glorious News. Herald–extra. Carlisle, September 24, 1813. SY1812-15W no. 46

Perry’s other report of this triumph, as noted in this broadside, was scribbled to General Harrison on the back of an old letter at the same time.  It contains the altogether more memorable epigram, “We have met the enemy and they are ours; Two Ships, two Brigs, one Schooner, & one Sloop.”

Turning the Pages of Patriotism with the American Library Association

war service library14[1]

War Service Library book label, 1918.

This post is written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian

Thoughts of World War I do not necessarily conjure up images of soldiers reading for leisure. Rather, we tend to recall seeing photographs of brave young men engaged in trench warfare and scenes of the horrific aftermath of brutal battles. But through the efforts of the American Library Association, thousands of U.S. servicemen and allied forces were given an opportunity to step away from the training camps and battlefields and into the pages of a book, magazine, or newspaper sent from the home front.

Founded in 1876, the American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library organization in the world. The War Department’s Commission on Training Camp Activities extended an invitation to the ALA to provide library service to soldiers and sailors in America, France and several other locations. In 1917, the American Library Association established the Committee on Mobilization and War Service Plans, later known as the War Service Committee. ALA was among seven welfare groups associated with the Commission; together, they were often referred to as the “Seven Sisters”. The other partner organizations were as follows: Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board, Knights of Columbus and War Camp Community Service.

War Library Bulletin, June 1918.

War Library Bulletin, June 1918.

ALA’s Library War Service programs were directed by Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, and later by Carl H. Milam, who earned the nickname of “Mr. ALA”. At the time of the Library War Service’s inception, ALA had a membership of only 3,300 members and an annual budget of just $25,000. Yet through the dedication and perseverance of both library employees and American citizens, they were able to accomplish amazing feats during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. In a guide published by the ALA War Service, the author notes that “previous wars had shown us how to equip and administer commissary departments and canteens, but they taught us little of present day value as to what the men would need in the way of literary or intellectual equipment.”  He goes on to state,  “Not only do the students in khaki call for more than the soldiers in blue and gray, but more is demanded of them in return.”

Every library in the United States was urged to participate not only as a collection site and repository for donated books, but as a source of promotion and publicity for the campaign. Librarians were encouraged to join the “Dollar-a-Month-Club” whereby they contributed their own money to the cause. Library staff catalogued books and placed a War Service label in the front cover and circulation card in the back. Volunteers were solicited to sort, pack and ship the materials to military members at home and abroad. Citizens were invited to place a one cent stamp on the cover

Soldier amidst newspapers. Letter dated January 7, 1918.  Salvator Cillis Papers.

Soldier amidst newspapers. Letter dated January 7, 1918. Salvator Cillis Papers.

of their magazines and place them in the local post box to be mailed to our servicemen. In this 1918 letter Salvator Cillis, a soldier at Camp Upton, Long Island, writes: “You have no doubt seen the little notice printed on all the periodicals, about when the reader gets through to put a one cent stamp and it will be sent to soldiers and sailors. Well in one corner of our barracks there are several piles of them…”. His accompanying sketch brings the scene to life. Cillis continued to send heartfelt, humorous letters with sketches home to his friends and family, even during his time in the trenches.

Wounded soldier enjoys a book with the help of a volunteer. War Service of the American Library Association: Books for the Men in Camp and Overseas, ALA, 1918.

Wounded soldier enjoys a book with the help of a volunteer. War Service of the American Library Association: Books for the Men in Camp and Overseas, ALA, 1918.

The American Library Association mounted two massive financial campaigns and raised several million dollars in public donations and corporate funds. With the help of thousands of library workers (including 212 librarians in the field), ALA was able to collect and distribute over 5 million books, magazines and newspapers to servicemen stationed here in the states as well as overseas. They provided library collections to over 1,500 Army, Navy, and Marine Corps camps and stations, military hospitals, naval vessels and even troop trains. Reading material ranged from local newspapers to classic literature, popular magazines to mechanical/technical guides. Military members could make special requests for items they were interested in receiving. Books in braille were provided for those who had lost their sight in battle.

In 1918, the American Library Association established a library for American military personnel in Paris. Using many of those wartime books as a core for the collection, the library continued and was renamed The American Library in Paris, in 1920. In the spirit of triumph over adversity, the library promoted its mission with the motto: “Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux”, which translates to, “After the darkness of war, the light of books”. Nearly a century later, The American Library in Paris flourishes with twelve provincial branches and remains the largest English-language lending library on the European continent.

"Knowledge Wins". Poster designed by Daniel Stevens, 1918. PR 055.

“Knowledge Wins”. Poster designed by Daniel Stevens, 1918. PR 055.

The original efforts put forth by the Library War Service left lasting legacies. Their prosperous path led to the creation of permanent library departments in the Army, Navy, and Veteran’s Bureau. In 1921, the American Merchant Marine Library Association was founded for the benefit of personnel in the Merchant Marine and U.S. Coast Guard. The Library War Service was also undoubtedly influential in ALA’s ongoing involvement in adult education and international relations. The Armistice ending the Great War was signed on November 11, 1918, but in the end, I think we can confidently say “Knowledge Wins”.


A Slice of the 20th Century – The Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection

This post was written by Twila Rios, Intern in the department of  Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.

It’s tempting sometimes to define history as only items no longer in living memory.  Items over 100 years old usually fit into this definition.  But as an archival student, I’ve often heard the opposite:  “History happens under our feet,” or “history is happening now.”  If we don’t collect more recent items we may not have them when they reach that 100 year mark.  That’s why the Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection is such a wonderful acquisition.  It provides a slice of late 20th century history, interesting now and in the future.

The Beatles with Ed Sullivan

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, PR 276 (Box 7, Folder 104)

With the bulk of the images from the 1960’s and 1970’s, the collection boasts both iconic individuals and those who even now are fading into obscurity.  Largely New York-centric, the collection includes politicians, activists, actors, musicians, writers, artists, and theologians.  Most would recognize the above image of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; but what about an image of painter Georgia O’Keefe, or politicians Dag Hammorskjold or Adlai Stevenson?  For many the names might be familiar but perhaps not the faces.

Georgia O'Keefe, 1972

Georgia O’Keefe, PR 276 (Box 7, Folder 91)

Hammorskjold and Stevenson, circa 1960

Dag Hammorskjold and Adlai Stevenson, PR 276 (Box 7, Folder 99)












Gotfryd’s photographic career began early and under dangerous circumstances.  When school was closed to Jewish students in Poland during World War II, teenaged Bernard Gotfryd got a job as a photography apprentice. Nazi officers often used the shop to develop their film; which sometimes documented atrocities. Young Gotfryd would make additional copies and smuggle them to the Polish underground.  Eventually he was caught and sent to the concentration camps.  A separate series in this collection contains his book of Holocaust survivor stories Anton the Dove Fancier and other Tales from the Holocaust.

Bernard Gotfryd, 1985

Bernard Gotfryd, PR 276 (Box 7, Folder 107), Photo by Howard Gotfryd

After the war Gotfryd immigrated to the U.S. to work and study photography.  In the 1950’s he settled in Queens, New York where he married and raised two children.  He joined the staff of NewsWeek in 1957.  It was over thirty years of photography for Newsweek that forms the basis of this rich collection of portraits of prominent people and of events between 1960 and 1988.


Mississippi John, circa 1965

Mississippi John Hurt, PR 276 (Box 6, Folder 80)

Mississippi John Hurt was a share cropper in Mississippi who recorded some blues in 1928.  But when that wasn’t successful he went back to share cropping for 35 years.  In 1963 he was rediscovered at a time when folk music was on the rise.  He went on a coffee house and concert round which brought him to New York City and the camera of Bernard Gotfryd.


Cooper_Dali, 1973

Alice Cooper and Salvador Dali, PR 276 (Box 6, Folder 76)

In 1973 Alice Cooper came to New York City at the invitation of Salvador Dali.  The artist wanted to make a piece centered around Alice Cooper. The finished piece was a hologram entitled “First Cylindric Chromo-Hologram Portrait of Alice Cooper’s Brain.”  Who knew that the two ever hung out together?  But Bernard Gotfryd was there on assignment to capture some photos.



Max Ascoli, PR 276 (Box 6, Folder 72)

There’s a note from Gotfryd on the back of this Max Ascoli photograph.  Ascoli was a professor at New York’s New School and editor of the magazine The Reporter.  Gotfryd claims Ascoli said “I like the picture a lot because one can see in my glasses what was on my mind.”


Mother Teresa, 1971

Mother Teresa, PR 276 (Box 2, Folder 19)

These two photos of Mother Teresa were taken in New York City in 1971, the same year she established the first Missionaries of Charity home in the United States, in the south Bronx.

These are just a sampling of the many portraits in the collection.  The Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection is available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email  All subject’s names or subject topics are listed in the Bernard Gotfryd Photograph Collection finding aid.

The Wilderness Cure

This post was written by Kate Burch, Library Page.

“…To a man whose life is chiefly within four brick walls, and whose every breath takes up some part of the street and its filth, whose daily work is such that his body and health are a daily sacrifice to the necessities of sedentary life,- to such a man there is nothing in the whole range of remedial agents to make him so sound and strong and well and in so short a time, like the two or three weeks he can spare for a trip in the woods.”

Camps and Tramps in the Adirondacks, 1880 (F127. A2 N8)

Forest and Stream, August 1917. SK. F1

Forest and Stream, August 1917. SK. F1

Every summer, millions of New Yorkers endure endless traffic, long lines, and crowded transportation to seek refuge from the relentless pace of the city by visiting quieter places. For many, that means a trip to the country, to places like the Adirondacks, the Catskills, and the New England Coast. The paths we follow to these destinations date to the late nineteenth century, when the people of New York found a remedy for the malaise of city life: the wilderness cure.


F127 .A2 T2

New York in the mid-nineteenth century was a vast and prosperous metropolis, but even the glamor of the Gilded Age could not mask serious problems. Overcrowded tenements teemed with garbage and disease, foul air and filthy streets made for a sickly populace, and the politicians and businessmen who ruled the city were greedy and morally bereft. Anxious, overworked, and miserable, New Yorkers found a restorative power in outdoor recreation. The clean air and water of the wilderness could heal the body, while the beauty and solitude of life in the woods revived the soul.

The growth of railroads, steamboats, and trolleys made wilderness travel accessible and affordable to a large population, and by the 1890s, camping was a popular national past-time. Competing transportation companies issued camp guide books, like this one from the Adirondack Railway Company, to advertise their routes as the best path to an idyllic retreat.

Henry C. Squires, 170 Broadway, Descriptive catalogue and price-list of sportsmen's supplies, 1890. (Landauer GV747 .H4 S7 1890)

Henry C. Squires, 170 Broadway, Descriptive catalogue and price-list of sportsmen’s supplies, 1890. (Landauer GV747 .H4 S7 1890)

New York City was serviced by a variety of outdoor supply stores and sporting catalogs that proffered tools, shelters, and apparel to city dwellers planning a wilderness vacation. Outdoor-themed magazines were popular, and an endless array of guidebooks were available to instruct travelers on the best methods of camping and trapping. “Be sure you take with you a large stock of patience and good nature,” Practical Hints on Camping (SK601 .H49) recommends, “A good camper accommodates himself to circumstances and is too much of a philosopher to quarrel.”

Rochester, VT. BV Schermerhorn

Rochester, VT. BV Schermerhorn

Above all, guides to camping urged travelers to keep a diary, to serve as a record of their supplies and expenditures, and also to reflect and document their journeys.

Gene Schermerhorn’s Way Up Diary (BV Schermerhorn) is a beautiful example. The illustrated diary depicts his trips to the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, showing daily life in the wilderness.

Despite the idyllic landscapes and fresh air, many campers had trouble coping with life in the outdoors.

BV Schermerhorn

Really big mosquitoes. (BV Schermerhorn)

Common complaints included unrelenting insects, uncomfortable beds, rain, and bad food. In the woods, the restraints of civilized society loosened. While many people found this refreshing, some travelers were especially affronted to see people eating with their hands, and having dinner with their hats on.

“After a few days among these environments,” wrote “A Camper” to the New York Times on May 17, 1900, “it seemed to us as if men and women… who had always appeared most decorous in their homes, had forgotten all sense of propriety, and as the season progressed affairs grew even worse.”

Encounters with wildlife (BV Schermerhorn)

Encounters with wildlife (BV Schermerhorn)

Still, most early wilderness travelers found that these annoyances were small compared to the vigor and vitality they gained.

These intrepid explorers left a legacy of enthusiasm for outdoor activity, and provided the popular support needed to create the nation’s first national parks. By documenting their enjoyment of America’s wild spaces, they ensured that future generations of weary New Yorkers could escape to pristine forests and mountains for a much-needed rest.

Outing (GV1 .O9)

Outing (GV1 .O9)

The Photography of Claire Yaffa

This post was written by Twila Rios, Summer Intern in the department of  Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.

The New-York Historical Society has two collections of photographer Claire Yaffa:  the Claire Yaffa Children with AIDS photograph collection  and the Claire Yaffa New York Foundling Hospital photograph collection.  A portion of the Children with Aids photograph collection is currently on exhibit at N-YHS, through September 1, 2013.


Claire Yaffa Children with AIDS photograph collection,
PR 290 (Box 2, Folder 4)

When looking through these collections a few impressions stand out.  First I am struck by the level of trust that must have existed between Yaffa and her subjects.  Yaffa is able to capture relaxed and genuine portraits of people, often in trying circumstances. I am amazed also at the courage it must have taken to do some of these projects.  Most of the children Yaffa met at the Incarnation Children’s Center died within the ten years that she photographed there.  Yaffa even took photos at their funerals, sometimes with only Yaffa and a few staff in attendance.


Anthony (who died during the Children with AIDS photography project), PR 290 (Box 2, Folder 2)


Yaffa’s courage to take on difficult topics was not limited to the Children with AIDS photos. She photographed the homeless of Westchester County, and also photographed extensively at the programs of the New York Foundling Hospital. Her photos are full of humor, hope and joy despite grim circumstances.  She also insures we see real human beings rather than only the issues at hand.


[Mother and child], New York Foundling,
PR 299 (Box 2, Folder 9)


[Boy with toy], Children with AIDS,
PR 290 (Box 2, Folder 17)

[Girl looking at her own photo], New York Foundling, PR 299, (Box 2, Folder 13)

[Girl looking at her own photo], New York Foundling, PR 299, (Box 2, Folder 13)


[Two children at Puerto Rico Head Start], New York Foundling, PR 299 (Box 1, Folder 6)
















New York Foundling, PR 299 (Box 2, Folder 9)




Yaffa  was prepared to dislike the mothers she photographed at the Foundling’s Temporary Shelter and Crisis Nursery, which were programs to help abused children and their parents. But interacting with the mothers, she began to see them as victims also; individuals as much in need of care and support as their children. Yaffa then discovered that her photos of mothers with their children were having an interesting effect. In the smiling, loving photos Yaffa captured the mothers could see themselves as good parents. They could believe that change was possible and have faith in a happier future for themselves and their children.




New York Foundling, PR 299 (Box 2, Folder 10)




The photos in the two Claire Yaffa collections document the Incarnation Children’s Center and the New York Foundling Hospital in the 80’s and 90’s.  The finding aids can be found via the NYU finding aids portal at Guide to the Claire Yaffa Children with AIDS photograph collection, and Guide to the Claire Yaffa New York Foundling Hospital photograph collection.  The two collections are available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email


Claire Yaffa Children with AIDS photograph collection,
PR 290 (Box 3, Folder 5)


John Jacob Astor: New York’s landlord

This post was written by Sherry Cortes, Summer Intern in the Department of  Manuscripts

Portrait of John Jacob Astor by Gilbert Stuart, published by William Waldorf Astor, 1899.  PR 52 Portrait File

Portrait of John Jacob Astor by Gilbert Stuart, published by William Waldorf Astor, 1899. PR 52 Portrait File

Born in Walldorf, Germany in 1763, John Jacob Astor was the son of a butcher who traveled to America seeking to improve his condition in life.  It was not long before he made his way to New York City, a still fledgling town at the tip of a small, mostly undeveloped island.   It was here that he would carve out a fortune using a sharp business acumen and pure foresight,  eventually becoming a household name synonymous with New York and wealth.

Starting low on the totem pole, Astor labored as a fur worker before his employer recognized his abilities and sent him into upstate New York to trade with the Native Americans for their furs.  From there he quickly rose in the ranks and soon owned his own shop.  Once this business began to flourish, Astor sought investment opportunities to grow his wealth.  At the urging of his brother, Henry Astor, he began buying property in New York in 1799.  However, real-estate investment remained a side-note to his fur trade, which was to become the American Fur Company in 1808, and one of the largest companies in the country until its dissolution in 1837.  Documents for the American Fur Company can be found in the manuscript collection at the New-York Historical Society.

While Astor increased his monetary value, he also improved his social connections, creating relationships that would be integral to his future real estate dealings.  He became a Mason, where he connected with Governor George Clinton, bought a share of the Tontine Coffeehouse, and made important friendships with Stephen Van Rensselaer and Aaron Burr.  Thanks to these acquaintances, Astor was able to slide with relative ease into the upper echelons of society, although there were always plenty of remarks made about the German immigrant who wiped his mouth on his dining neighbor’s sleeve during a meal.

Map for Deed of land sold by John Jacob Astor to Gilbert Coutant in 1828, MS 25, Astor Family Papers

Map of lots of land from deed sold by John Jacob Astor to Gilbert Coutant at the corner of Bowery, Art Street, and Lafayette Place in 1828. (MS 25, Astor Family Papers.)

It wasn’t until the 1830s when Astor turned his focus from fur to solely real estate.  The entrepreneur was quick to learn tricks of the real-estate game, including ‘lending’ money to landowners.  One notable deal made was when he lent money to his friend, Aaron Burr, who needed quick cash after his duel with Alexander Hamilton.  In return, Burr turned over the lease of his tract of land, now Greenwich Village, which can be found in the Astor Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

It was a particular talent of Astor’s to see a plot of land and its potential for profit, no matter how worthless it might have seemed at the time.  He would buy chunks of property for rock-bottom prices, signing his tenants to long term leases of usually twenty one years.  Should the tenant wish to build a house on the property, he could do so at his own expense.  Once the lease ran out, Astor would either buy the house based on a valuation, which usually turned out much lower than what it should have, or he would renew the lease with a much higher rate of rent than before.  He was strict with his tenants, allowing no leniency for those in arrears, thus earning him a reputation as shrewd and hard-hearted.

Map of lots of land from Deed purchased by John Jacob Astor from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1806. MS 25, Astor Family Papers.

Map of lots of land from deed purchased by John Jacob Astor from the Protestant Episcopal Church between Greenwich and Washington Streets in 1806. (MS 25, Astor Family Papers.)


But it was this cold and calculating personality that helped John Jacob Astor become the wealthiest man in the world.  By the time of his death in 1848, he owned a vast portion of New York City, although his real-estate ventures were not limited to the Island of Manhattan.  Astor also owned properties from New Jersey to the city of Astoria in Oregon.  Not bad for a poor immigrant from a small village in Germany.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian

Who among us doesn’t enjoy a cold, creamy treat on a hot summer day? In honor of July being National Ice Cream month, I thought we’d take a little trip down creamery lane to celebrate ice cream in all its delicious glory.

Rivington's New York Gazatteer, November 25, 1773, N-YHS Newspaper Collection.

Rivington’s New York Gazatteer, November 25, 1773, N-YHS Newspaper Collection.

It is estimated that by the 2nd century BC, Alexander the Great was enjoying ice flavored with honey and nectar. Ice cream was widespread among major Arab cities in the 10th century, where they combined milk or cream with yogurt, rosewater, dried fruits and nuts. When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought a recipe that resembled today’s sorbet. In Paris, Procopio Cuto created a crowd-pleasing gelato for his café patrons in the late 17th century.

Recipes for ice cream began to appear in England and America during the early 18th century. Among the earliest were the detailed instructions provided in Mrs. Mary Eale’s Receipts, published in London, in 1718. The Oxford English Dictionary included a definition for ice cream in 1744.

On November 25, 1773, Rivington’s New York Gazetteer featured  the first advertisement for ice cream in the United States. It announced Philip Lenzi’s arrival from London and included a list of fine treats he had available for purchase, including ice cream.

Even Presidents loved ice cream. Accounts show that George Washington bought an ice cream machine for Mount Vernon in 1790 and Dolley Madison served strawberry ice cream at her husband’s Inaugural Ball in 1813.

Advertisement for White Mountain hand-cranked ice cream machine, circa 1900, PR 031, Bella Landauer Collection

Advertisement for White Mountain hand-cranked ice cream machine, circa 1900, PR 031, Bella Landauer Collection

The Quakers also helped introduce ice cream to American colonists when they brought their recipes with them to the U.S.. York County, PA, is known as the birthplace of commercial ice cream production. C. Jacob Fussel, a Quaker from Maryland, built an ice house and ice cream factory with his partner in 1852, creating the first commercially produced and distributed ice cream in the United States.

George Washington may have been the father of our county, but Augustus Jackson is often referred to as “The Father of Ice Cream”. An African American from Philadelphia, PA, he worked as a chef in the White House before returning to his hometown in the 1830s to establish a successful ice cream business and invent a popular technique for manufacturing ice cream.

In 1843, Nancy M. Johnson invented the first hand-cranked ice cream freezer. Over the years, many improvements were made to the original design and electric ice cream makers have gained popularity since the 1960s. White Mountain has been a leader in the industry since 1853. This small advertising card for White Mountain features a replica of their hand-cranked ice cream machine from the early 20th century. The front features their logo and the reverse shows the internal mechanisms of the machine. When opened, the card reveals a pop-up style image with a woman handing the reader a bowl of ice cream.


Entry from shipboard journal of Marcus L. Woodard, April 5, 1861, MS 2869, BV Woodward, Marcus L.

Perhaps a variation on the famous line “One (ice cream), if by land, and two (ice creams), if by sea” would be applicable to the crew upon the Clipper ship, Sunrise, in 1861. In the following entry of his journal, shipmate Marcus L. Woodard writes: “Capt. Raulett tried his skill at making Ice-cream and I never eat better than that which he turned out. He had a regular freezer and plenty of ‘Bordens condensed milk’, plenty of ice and we had for once just as much Ice-cream as we wanted to eat”.

Thanks to German engineer, Carl von Linde, and his development of industrial refrigeration in the 1870s, mass production of ice cream became a possibility and the industry was well on its way to pleasing a broader audience. Prior to the commercialization of ice cream, it was often only available to the wealthy or reserved for special occasions.


Ice Cream and Strawberry Festival, 1863, SY 1863 no. 88

Ice cream even became the inspiration for celebrations and charity fund raisers, such as this Ice Cream and Strawberry Festival, held in New York, in 1863.

Although it may sound like an insult today, the term “soda jerk” became popular in the late 19th/early 20th century, as soda fountain shops sprung up across the country. The soda jerk put flavored syrup into a specially designed glass and added carbonated soda and ice cream. Sundaes were another ice cream parlor favorite. It is possible that the ice cream sundae was invented to circumvent blue laws in some areas that prohibited serving soda on Sundays.


Your Vogue Ice Cream Fun-to-do Book, circa 1930s, PR 031 Bella Landauer Collection.

Italian immigrant, Italo Marchiony, submitted a patent for ice cream cones, originally called “cornucopias”, in 1903. However, legend has it that the modern cone was invented at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, in 1904, by a vendor who’d run out of bowls and began serving ice cream in rolled-up waffles.

Amazingly, this children’s activity book, published in the 1930s by Consolidated Dairy Products Co, Inc., survived without a drop of ice cream on it.

The U.S. Navy commissioned an Ice Cream Barge for military members serving in the Pacific during WWII. An estimated 1,500 gallons of patriotic goodness were pumped out every hour!

As diverse as the people that make up this country, so too are your options for choosing flavors and textures of ice cream. Non-dairy varieties even exist for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant. Statistics show that ice cream is enjoyed by 90% of the nation’s population. So grab your favorite cold concoction and watch out for that brain freeze!



This is a blog created by staff members in the library to draw attention to the richness and diversity of our collections.


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