Herbert Henry Lehman (March 28, 1878 – December 5, 1963) was a Democratic Party politician from New York. He served from 1933 until 1942 as the 45th Governor of New York and represented New York State in the US Senate from 1949 until 1957.
Early life and education
He was born to a Reform Jewish family in New York City, the son of Babetta (née Newgass) and German-born immigrant Mayer Lehman, one of the three brothers who cofounded the Lehman Brothers investment banking firm. Herbert's father arrived from Rimpar, Germany, in 1848, settling in Montgomery, Alabama, where he engaged in the cotton business, and eventually moved to New York City after the Civil War.
He attended The Sachs School, founded by Julius Sachs. In 1895, he graduated from Sachs Collegiate Institute in New York City, and in 1899, he graduated with a B.A. from Williams College. After college, Lehman worked in textile manufacturing, eventually becoming vice-president and treasurer of the J. Spencer Turner Company in Brooklyn. In 1908, he became a partner in the investment banking firm Lehman Brothers of New York City with his brother Arthur and cousin Philip. During World War I, he became a colonel on the U.S. Army general staff. By 1928, when he entered public service, he had withdrawn entirely from business.
Lehman became active in politics in 1920 and became chairman of the finance committee of the Democratic Party in 1928 as a reward for having been a strong supporter of Alfred E. Smith. He was elected lieutenant governor of New York in 1928 and 1930 and resigned from Lehman Brothers upon taking office. He then served four terms as Governor of New York, elected in 1932 to replace Franklin D. Roosevelt (who had been elected to the presidency), and re-elected in 1934, 1936 and 1938. Unlike Smith, Lehman was a supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal and implemented a similar program in New York.
On December 3, 1942, he resigned the governorship less than a month before the end of his term, to accept an appointment as director of foreign relief and rehabilitation operations for the US Department of State. He served as director-general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration from 1943 to 1946.
Lehman was the Democratic nominee for US Senator from New York in 1946 and also ran on the Liberal and American Labor tickets but was defeated by the Republican candidate, Irving Ives. In 1949, he ran again, this time in a special election to serve the remainder of Robert F. Wagner's term. Lehman defeated John Foster Dulles, who had been appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy after Wagner's resignation, and he took his seat on January 3, 1950.
In the campaign, he ran on the Democratic and Liberal tickets, with the American Labor Party urging their members not to vote for any candidate. In 1950, Lehman was re-elected to a full term, running on Democratic and Liberal lines and opposed by the American Labor Party.
Lehman was one of two US senators who were opposed to nominating Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland to be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The other was Wayne Morse of Oregon.) He was also an early and vocal opponent of Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.). Lehman was one of the most liberal senators and was therefore not considered part of the Senate's "club" of insiders. He retired from the Senate after his full term and was not a candidate for renomination or re-election in 1956.
The gravesite of Herbert H. Lehman
On April 28, 1910, Lehman married Edith Louise Altschul (sister of banker Frank Altschul). The couple had three children: Hilda, Peter (1917), and John. Peter and John served in the United States military during World War II; Peter was killed while on active duty. According to a group history published April 6, 1944, the governor's son was to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The medal was set to be awarded to Peter on his father's 70th birthday. Peter married Peggy Rosenbaum in 1938; they had two daughters: Penny Lehman (1940) and Wendy Lehman (1942).
His daughter, Hilda Jane, eloped to Maryland and married Boris De Vadetzky, of French Russian descent, in 1940 when she was 19 years old. After five years, the couple divorced. She remarried and died at the age of 33.
Lehman and Edith adopted a child through Georgia Tann, who operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society, an adoption agency in Memphis and placed children with prominent people. Tann used the unlicensed home as a front for her black market baby adoption scheme from the 1920s to 1950, when a state investigation closed the institution.
In his role as Governor of New York, Lehman signed a law sealing birth certificates from New York adoptees in 1935. Like many other people, Lehman was misled by Tann. It has been speculated that sealing the records was good for his own adopted children and other New York adoptees.
After his retirement from the Senate, Lehman remained politically active, working with Eleanor Roosevelt and Thomas K. Finletter in the late 1950s and early 1960s to support the reform Democratic movement in Manhattan that eventually defeated longtime Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio. He founded the Lehman Children's Zoo (now the Tisch Zoo) in Central Park, which declared that "No Adult Will Be Admitted unless Accompanied by a Child."
Lehman was the first, and until the 2007 inauguration of Eliot Spitzer, the only Jewish governor of New York. During much of his Senate career, he was the only Jewish Senator as well. Unlike most of his Jewish constituents, who had immigrated to the US from eastern Europe, Lehman's family was from Germany.
Lehman spent much of the last two years of his life at his New York City home. He celebrated his 85th birthday in March 1963 in increasingly poor health and died of heart failure on December 5, 1963, at age 85. Lehman is interred at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
In 1957, he received the Solomon Bublick Award of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Lehman died in 1963 and was interred in the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. That same year, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Lehman was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by the U.S. Army for his service as a colonel on the Army General Staff during World War I.
Lehman College of the City University of New York is named after him; a bust of Lehman, by sculptor John Belardo, was dedicated there in September 2005. The High School of American Studies at Lehman College is located on the campus. College dormitories are named in his honor at Williams College, the University at Buffalo, Potsdam College (SUNY), and at Binghamton University.
A ship on the Staten Island Ferry, The Governor Herbert H. Lehman, is named for him. She was retired in 2007 after forty-two years of service and has been sold for scrap.
There is a Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History at Columbia University. Lehman's papers were donated to the Columbia University Libraries and are housed in the social sciences library – which is also named in his honor. In addition, Columbia has a Herbert Lehman Professorship of Government, whose current incumbent is Mahmood Mamdani. Columbia's sister school, Barnard College, has a building named in Lehman's honor; it houses Barnard's library and some social sciences departments. Williams College, Lehman's alma mater, named a dormitory after him in 1928.
Lehman High School (established 1974) on Westchester Square in The Bronx, New York, is named in his honor.
In 1974, Lehman was inducted into the Jewish-American Hall of Fame.
Liman, Israel, in northern Israel is named after him.
A passage from one of Lehman's speeches, "It is immigrants who brought this land the skills of their hands and brains, to make of it a beacon of opportunity and hope for all men," is inscribed in his honor on the US passport, extended-pages version, on page 45.