Lathrop Brown, Political Dilettante

In this the third in a series of articles on FDR’s longtime friend and Harvard roommate, Lathrop Brown, we take a break from the Pare Lorentz interviews to focus a bit on Brown’s own political career. While FDR battled his way into the New York State Assembly, LB also (coincidentally?) became interested in politics, as the following article, taken from the New York Press, Sunday November 10, 1912, amply describes. An original copy of this piece was donated to Foundation by Pam and Elmer Grossman, LB’s grandaughter and grandson-in-law. The text is so rich, and so much of the period, that I’ve quoted it here in toto, illustrating the article with photos from various sources including the private collection that the Grossman’s have generously shared with the FDR Foundation.


He Wanted Diversion, Being Bored by His Millions and His Sport, so He Has Become Member of Congress-Elect, Incidentally Trampling on the Manly Forms of Charles F. Murphy and W. Bourke Cockran in Getting There

“Woodrow Wilson Wants Me,” This Young Man Announced to the Agriculturalists of Long Island. And I am a Man of Independent Means,” He Added Significantly. That Got Them

The fervid desire of Mr. Lathrop Brown of New York, Harvard and St. James to do something that he had never done before has resulted in tumbling him into the next Congress.

Mr. Brown didn’t really want to go into the next Congress, at least not so soon. He wanted only to be a politician instead of a society man and he finds himself a statesman-elect, the choice of the farmers of the First Congressional District of the State of New York – the farmers who inhabit Long Island between the 34th Street Ferry landing and Montauk Point, and raise potatoes, cabbages, and other flowers.

The original article donated by Pam and Elmer Grossman. This copy will be preserved in the Harvard University Archives

The original article donated by Pam and Elmer Grossman. This copy will be preserved in the Harvard University Archives

Incidentally he played Ivanhoe to the Bois-Guilbert of Charlie Murphy and drove that dread knight shrieking from the plains of Suffolk. Also incidentally, if Colonel Roosevelt wants any Government cabbage seeds for his Oyster Bay garden next year and goes about getting them in the routine way, he will have to address his humble plea to the Hon. Lathrop Brown, House of Representatives, Washington D.C. as the Colonel’s home is in Mr. Brown’s Congressional District. Colonel Roosevelt may think he has a pull with the Congressman-elect, for the reason that the Colonel’s brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, is the business partner of Charles S. Brown, who is the happy father to the Hon. Lathrop Brown.

But the Colonel may find Representative Brown a stern man. His campaign posters have committed his fealty to Princeton. They announced flatly: WOODROW WILSON WANTS LATHROP BROWN IN CONGRESS. It stuck out in big type on three sheets scattered from Miller’s saloon in Long Island City to the Montauk Lighthouse, and from Long Beach to the Wheatley Hills. It impressed the Long Island voter. It told him as plainly as type can tell that that must be a great yearning with Woodrow Wilson. It seemed to say for the Princeton professor that, although he might be elected to the Presidency, he never would be happy unless he knew that Lathrop Brown was at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, watchdogging he Treasury or using a neat nickel-plated reviser on the tariff.

So now Woodrow Wilson must be happy.

Among those who are left unhappy are Fred Hicks, who ran against Lathrop Brown on the Republican ticket, and W. Bourke Cockran who ran on the Progressive ticket. And it all happened because Mr. Brown was bored. Fed full and surfeited with all the joys that money and good looks can bring to a young man, he bounded into politics because it was the only field left unconquered.

Helen Hooper Brown, aged 16. At 17, she became a rich orphan, and promptly hired herself a governess and set off to Europe to complete here education – the first of many signs of an extremely independent nature

Helen Hooper Brown, aged 16. At 15, she became a millionairess orphan, and promptly hired herself a governess, setting off to Europe to complete her education – the first of many signs of an extremely independent nature. Courtesy Pam and Elmer Grossman

It is a terrible thing to discover, at age 30, that life has no new sensations to offer. Mr. Brown found himself almost in this predicament. He had his career at Harvard, with wonderful success in Greek and the germans. He indulged in athletics to the extent necessary to keep him in perfect trim. After the college years he had so much social life in New York that it palled on him. Sport always appealed to him, and he was well known wherever good horses were to be seen, whether on the racetracks or in the hunting field. He owned several good jumpers and raced them with success.

Two years ago Mr. Brown married Helen Hooper of Cambridge Massachusetts, an heiress to the great Ames estate to the extent of $10,000,000. She too is fond of horses, for her father formerly owned, under the racing name of ‘Mr. Chamblet,’ one of the greatest stables of jumping horses the American turf has seen.

So Mr. Brown and his bride decided to settle down in a country where good horses could be enjoyed. They bought an estate of 100 acres on St. James Harbor, not far from the home of Mayor Gaynor.

His Start In Politics

A millionaire in search of pleasure of the good healthy sort can find it in infinite variety in that section. He has the Sound for the racing of his motorboats, a fine beach for swimming, the bay and the Nissequoque River for fishing. In the fall he can shoot ducks in the Smithtown Bay until his gun barrels get red hot. On his own acres he can shoot partridge, quail, and the fat English pheasants they bred in that region. There is a fine field for polo and horse racing. His motor cars can skim over roads that are perfect. His eye rests on scenery as beautiful as the North Woods can boast of.

The Brown Home, "Field of Clover" at St James Long Island. This Colonial Revival structure was designed by Lathrop's brother Archibald, a noted architect.

The Brown Home, 'Land of Clover' at St James, Long Island. This Colonial Revival structure was designed by Lathrop's brother Archibald Brown '02, a noted architect. The estate's unique circular stable, based on classical precedents, housed 22 horses. 'Land of Clover' was the first in a long series of spectacular homes built – but sometimes not occupied, like this one – by the Brown family. The house and stables are still extant, known today as the Knox School, which not unexpectedly, is popular for its equine program.

Lathrop Brown enjoyed every one of these things, but, somehow, they did not seem to fill his soul. Perhaps he sight of his neighbor, Mayor Gaynor, rushing away from Deepwells to his work in the city suggested a new pleasure – politics and the activity thereof.

One night Mr. Brown dropped in on the village storekeeper, who was the local Democratic committeeman.

“How,” he asked, “do you get voters out in a Presidential year?”

“Why,” said the committeeman, “they just come out. And if they don’t come out, it’s their own fault.”

“Why doesn’t your state committeeman make them come out?” asked Mr. Brown.

“I guess you’ll have to ask Charley Murphy about that,” was the reply. “He bosses the state committeemen.”

Mr. Brown grew more interested. He knew that Mr. Murphy’s address was 14th street, Borough of Manhattan. What could he have to do with the wilds of Suffolk? He inquired about it.

“Why,” he was told, “Murphy has a summer home out at Good Ground and he thinks that gives him the right to own our State committeeman.

Lathrop Brown made his decision at once. He would have a new sensation. He would battle with Charles Francis Murphy for the supremacy of the Long Island wilderness and he would come back with his shield, or on it.

He unlimbered his snickersnee and put ten gallons of gasoline in the sixty-horse power car he drives himself. He filled his pockets with cigars such as Suffolk county never had smelled before. He kissed his wife and child farewell and fared forth.

He took the old Democrats of Suffolk County by the ends of their beards and led them from their inglenooks out into the sunlight. “We’ve got a Presidential election coming on,” he cried. “What are you going to do about it?”

They hadn’t thought anything about it, he discovered.

“Get busy!” he cried, and proceeded to set an example. He gave diners for the older men of the party and organized clubs for the younger set. In a month he had them properly aroused, and then he confided to them that he was going to whale C. Murphy, just as the preliminary gallop before the Presidential race.

Later, the Browns would buy another Long Island property "Windmill" on Montauk Point. The house was so named for the colonial era windmill Latrhop had disassebled and shipped over to his property from nearby Shelter Island.

Later, the Browns would buy another Long Island property 'The Windmill' on Montauk Point. The house was so named for the 1813 windmill Lathrop had moved from Southhampton and re-erected on his property, using the structure as a guest house. When the site was taken over by the Army during WWII, the windmill was moved again to Wainscott, where it still exists.

Bailey was the State committeeman for the district, and he was Murphy’s man. Mr. Brown couldn’t [waltz] into Fourteenth Street and tap Mr. Murphy on the skull with a blackjack; that isn’t proper political procedure – but he could make open war on Bailey.

And he did. He picked up Harry Keith for his candidate. Keith is a Democrat who frequently had opposed Bailey, but always got trimmed when he came before the Committee on Credentials. That’s old Tammany stuff. The late Senator Grady said that “the dirtiest day’s work of his life” was done as the chairman of a Committee on Credentials.

Mr. Bailey ran to Mr. Murphy and told him that his job as Street committeeman was in peril. Mr. Murphy loves to own State committeemen and he felt that he could ill afford to spare one. He learned that Mr. Keith held a State job. Mr. Keith lost his State job the next day. He laughed, because Lathrop Brown laughed.

“Coarse work” said Mr. Brown. “That will win us a lot of votes in the primaries.”

It did. Keith won the primaries. Bailey made the customary bluff at a contest. For every lawyer that turned up in his interest, Mr. Brown turned up with three. For every dollar Bailey had to spend to make a contest, Keith turned up with five.

The Lathrop Brown windmill, now in Wainscott, Long Island.

The Lathrop Brown windmill, now in Wainscott, Long Island.

Some kind friend took Mr. Murphy aside and told him that Brown was ready to play politics as Commodore Vanderbilt played poker.

“Let that fellow alone,” said the counselor. “Brown has more millions than you will ever have. And he stands all raises and calls all bets.”

Keith is the committeeman.

Lathrop Brown now turned to the job of electing Wilson. He visited the editor of almost every Democratic newspaper in Suffolk and Nassau counties and talked Presidential triumph to him until the editor felt as important as Henry Watterson. He bought an interest in a newspaper in Port Jefferson and wrote its political editorials. He boomed Wilson for the nomination and screamed at the Democrats of the Island to wake up and get together.

So far as the political slates were concerned, Mr. Brown had everything his own way after Keith beat Bailey. But the wise young man let the conventions make their own choices. It so happened that these were usually his choices.

His the Laurel Wreath

It came time to nominate for Congress and some of the Brown enthusiasts suggested that he grab the nomination himself. Mr. Brown replied that grabbing was no fun for him. He was having the time of his life and he liked it. He wanted to be just a politician.

A lot of the Bailey-Murphy crowd wanted to see Brown nominated for Congress. When he ran Keith against Bailey they said Brown was a joke and they kept on saying it until the State Committee was forced to take Keith to its bosom. Now, if they could get Brown to take the Congress nomination, they could say that that was a joke. They didn’t think that Brown or any other Democrat could win.

Two years ago the district upset all political traditions by electing a Democrat, Martin W. Littleton, over William W. Cocks, who had been the Republican Representative for some years. Littleton, who didn’t live in the district at all, went into the fight mostly to help out the State ticket. His wife “Peggy O’Brien” helped him, and between them they turned the hard shell old district on its back.

All the wiseacres said it could never happen again; that Littleton, if he ran this year, would be beaten. The district is made up of part of the County of Queens and all of Nassau and Suffolk. It runs from Long Island City to Montauk point, and contains farming district that is normally strongly Republican. Mr. Littleton told his friends that he wouldn’t run again unless he was sure of being beaten, for the reason that going to Congress put a large crimp in his law practice.

With Littleton out of the field Mr. Cocks wanted to try his hand again, but the Republican convention turned him down and nominated his brother Fred Hicks. This may sound queer, but it’s true. When Fred Cocks was very young he was adopted by a rich Long Islander, Mr. Hicks, and became his heir. The Progressives nominated former Representative Bourke Cockran.

Lathrop Brown as Congressman. Brown ran again in 1914, but was defeated by handfull of votes. The election was contested all the way to the New York Supreme Court, and his opponent, Frederick Hicks, was not seated until late in his term.

Lathrop Brown as Congressman. Brown ran again in 1914, but was defeated by handful of votes. The election was contested all the way to the New York Supreme Court, and his opponent, Frederick Hicks, was not seated until late in his term.

The Democratic situation was very much up to Lathrop Brown. His friends urged that, with the Republicans split, he might win. Brown had intended to ascend the political ladder by easier stages; possibly with a term or two in the Assembly of the State Senate. He had heard that there was plenty of action to be had in Albany. In the end his partisans seized him and bound the laurel wreath of nomination to his brow. He took it.

Brown’s campaign circulars provided welcome reading for the Democrats of Long Island. No one could mistake wording like this: “Mr. Brown is a man of independent thought, independent action, and independent means.”

They had read circulars before from office seekers who boasted of independent thought and action, but that INDEPENDENT MEANS stuck right out and meant something new. It meant even more than WOODROW WILSON WANTS HIM.

And Brown was elected.

Lathrop Brown is a tall, lithe young man, with a small brown mustache, a ready smile and a pleasant address. He doesn’t dress too well, which helps some in politics in the country. Although very affable, he is also a very positive young man. He wants what he wants when he wants it, and he lets you know it. So far he has accomplished the most rapid political ascension that Long Island has ever observed, and performed the feat principally by stamping on the manly forms of Charles F. Murphy and the mellifluous Cockran.

For a political debutante, he is a wonder.

Lathrop Brown and FDR: The Harvard Years

(This is the second installment in a continuing series taken from the unpublished notes of filmmaker Pare Lorentz. For the introduction to these articles, click HERE.)

The Lathrop Brown Interviews: Part II – The Harvard Years


Lathrop Brown at Harvard

Having a good time was of major importance in those days at Harvard. Customary procedure was to study for ten days with a tutor before an examination and never open a book for the rest of the time. FDR and LB were both loyal to this tradition and quickly found activities to fill their time. FDR went to work on the Harvard Crimson, spending one year trying out, the next as an editor, and the third as editor-in-chief.

Many students carefully arranged their schedules so as to have no Saturday or afternoon classes. FDR was not as trivial about this as some of his classmates. He took the usual courses and achieved no scholastic honors, but he was extremely interested in his newspaper work and in the people he met. L.B. remembers that he was always agitating for something, but does not recall any specific matters.

FDR’s paramount interest was people, hence his liking for reporting. He met a great many more students and professors because of his work on the Crimson than he would have without it. LB cites an instance when he and FDR amused themselves one evening checking off their class list (about 600) to see who knew more of them. FDR won; he knew (had spoken with them, that is) perhaps half of the 600; LB isn’t sure but thinks this incident may have occurred late in their sophomore year.

LB and FDR's first Harvard Yale Game. Certainly they were there, though the stadium wasn't: it was still three years away. These tickets incidentally, have convenient match strikers on the back: so much easier to light your pipe!

LB and FDR’s first Harvard Yale Game. Certainly the two were there, though the stadium wasn’t: it was still three years away. These tickets, incidentally, have convenient match strikers on the back: so much easier to light your pipe! Courtesy: Harvard University Archives

FDR came to Harvard as just another inconspicuous freshman. Once again, he was not outstanding in athletics. He continued rowing for exercise, but did not participate in interscholastic contests. He did not become a campus hero, but was well liked by all who knew him. He liked to go to parties every so often; he liked making noise and having a good time, but he was definitely not interested in dissipation. He would take a drink with his pals and get as much pleasure out of it as another would get out of a dozen drinks. He bubbled over easily.

A gentleman's dance card of the period. Courtesy Harvard University Archives.

A gentleman’s dance card of the period. Courtesy: Harvard University Archives.

FDR enjoyed social activity. He dined out frequently with relatives and friends in Boston. Boston families, LB notes, were extremely hospitable toward Harvard students, especially if they had debutante or pre-deb daughters. FDR and LB were invited to the “Friday Evenings” – dances attended by the younger girls who had just put up their hair, lengthened their skirts, etc. The more sophisticated Harvard lads refused to attend, but FDR and LB, dutiful and proper, went regularly and enjoyed themselves…..

Harvard students who lived in Boston frequently invited out-of-town classmates, such as FDR and LB, to spend the weekends with them… FDR and LB roomed together throughout their Harvard years, but their interests were not always the same. FDR was concentrating on the Crimson, LB on football. [Editor’s note: LB managed the freshman team his first year, and the Varsity his last.]

LB notes that FDR was like a racehorse that makes a slow beginning and then comes up from behind. During senior year, it was the custom to elect several students for such prominent roles as First Marshal of the Class, Chairman of Class Day, etc. There were three marshals, and usually the captains of the baseball, football and rowing teams were elected. The chairmanship of Class Day usually went to some busy fellow who liked to run things. All four were invariably campus celebrities – “front runners”  – who, after their brief spurt of glory, faded into oblivion.

FDR was elected to none of these posts. [He ran, and lost – his first taste of electoral defeat.] Instead he was chosen as class chairman, his job being to keep in touch with members of the class after graduation.

LB recalls a rip-roaring fight which FDR spark-plugged at the class reunion three years after graduation. It was customary for the class’s executive committee to be composed of graduates who lived in the Boston-New York-Philadelphia area and this committee had a tendency to become self-perpetuating, giving the rest of the class no opportunity to kick out those they didn’t like. LB feels fairly certain FDR was fighting from within; i.e. he was one of the committee anyway, but that he resented the injustice of the set-up. FDR started a big fight about it and managed to get everything changed.

misc room

For years, we’ve wondered what the medals are that we so often see hanging from pictures in period Harvard student rooms like the one above. (Check out the picture at the far right) Thanks to LB’s comment about the Institute, and a bit of detective work, now we know….

FDR belonged to the usual number of clubs. He was a member of the Hasty Pudding, also of the Institute of 1770 (named after the year of its inception). The institute may have started with high purpose, as a literary society perhaps, but it wasn’t that in FDR’s and LB’s day.

In answer to the question about social consciousness: LB feels FDR definitely demonstrated this during his years at Harvard. It was plain enough, says L.B., that FDR’s attitude was not that of a reactionary Republican. Many a Harvard student, with similar background and upbringing spent his college years sitting in a club, looking out of the window and criticizing everyone who went by.

[The Porcellian, the most exclusive of Harvard’s final clubs, was famous for this, having installed a mirror that scanned the Mass Ave, obviating the need for members to present themselves at the window. FDR tried, and failed to be admitted. FDR had no inclination for this kind of activity. Instead of sitting around with his pals, he was out working for the Crimson, getting to know as many people as he could, talking with students and professors. He was constantly reaching out and broadening his interests.

An Institute of 1770 metal, given to candidates upons successful completion of their initiation. The latin motto reads: "These studies nourish youth." Indeed!

LB recalls FDR sang first bass in the Freshman Glee Club [LB sang second]. LB also recalls his and FDR’s initiation into ‘the Dickie,’ [The  DKE, the next step after the Institute of 1770, and required of social climbers interested in joining a final club] which he described as a rough, beer-drinking organization. The freshman (chosen in “10’s”, to a maximum of 70 or 80) went through a week’s hazing, which called for their looking, and acting, like tramps. Unshaven, dirty, they had to do everybody’s errands. Everything had to be done on the run. No walking permitted. This week was a real test – no holds barred – and ended up with a wonderful party that called for a considerable amount of physical endurance. FDR had a fine time.

LB does not think FDR was particularly influenced by any of his professors at Harvard. As for his eligibility, LB says they never gave it a thought. Some of the Boston mothers may have, but not the lads and lassies themselves.

Third Annual FDR Memorial Lecture and Gala Dinner Plans Finalized

Below you’ll find the official press release for the FDR dinner in February, with details for ordering tickets and securing accommodation. Just one important note for those of you who have become members over the last year: you need to apply to me (Michael) at mweishan at fas dot harvard dot edu, not the Harvard Box Office to receive your discounted, or in some cases, free tickets. (You know who you are!) Unfortunately the box office isn’t equipped to handle such a complicated system, so just drop me a line, and I’ll make your arrangements personally. And for those of you who haven’t joined, please consider doing so before year’s end. It pays to be a member!

The Third Annual FDR Memorial Lecture and Gala Dinner

Saturday, February 27 | 4:30-11 PM

Location: Adams House

Return to Cambridge this February for a once-in-a-lifetime evening celebrating America’s 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This black-tie event begins at 4:30 with Curtis Roosevelt, FDR’s oldest grandson, discussing the political dynamics of FDR’s and Obama’s first years, followed by a cocktail reception and signings of Mr. Roosevelt’s new book, Too Close to the Sun, in the Gold Room at Adams House. Then festivities really swing into gear with the Bo Winiker Big Band as we sit down to a candle-lit dinner in the elegant Adams Dining Hall, musically counting up the years of FDR’s presidency. Dessert and dancing complete the gala evening.

Proceeds of the event will support the FDR Suite Project at Adams, an all-volunteer effort to restore Roosevelt’s student rooms in Wesmorly to their 1904 appearance as the only memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Harvard.

Ticket Information:

Lecture $20

Lecture and cocktail/ hors d’oeuvres reception $45

Full board with dinner and dancing $175  (limited to 180)

Full board seated at the Roosevelt table $375 (limited to 8 )

Tickets available beginning 4 January 2010 through the Harvard University Box Office: (; or by calling: 617.496.2222 | TTY: 617.495.1642. Special one and two night accommodation packages are available at both the Boston Mandarin Oriental and the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

Lathrop Brown and FDR: The Groton Years

Sometimes, in the glow of presidential personality, it’s easy to forget the fact that there were two residents of the FDR suite: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his Groton chum, Lathrop “Jake” Brown. While almost every part of FDR’s life has been minutely documented, Brown’s story is much murkier, generally surfacing only in reference to his much more famous roommate. This summer, I became very interested in learning more about Brown, not only because we need to track down items for the Suite that accurately reflect the man and his tastes, but also because, beyond a few published facts – successful business man, married, father of two daughters, one-term congressman from Long Island – there is very little information available on Lathrop Brown’s life. Always game for new historical quests, I hit the Harvard Libraries and the Internet – and quickly came up short. Then, through pure luck, I was able to track down Brown’s granddaughter, Pam Canfield Grossman, in California. She and her husband Elmer were delightful, generously sharing a whole host of stories and family photographs that do much to fill in a life in many ways as varied and interesting as FDR’s. Concurrent with these discoveries, I also received a surprise from the FDR Archives at Hyde Park: the notes from extended interviews that Brown gave to Pare Lorentz, the famous Depression era film maker, in 1949. It seems Lorentz had contacted Brown at his ranch at Big Sur, with the idea of doing some advance groundwork for a film about FDR. While the production never took place, the interviews did, and the notes, compiled by Lorentz’ assistant Fanya Carter, provide an invaluable personal look into the times, and the men, who occupied the FDR Suite in Westmorly Hall. Over the next month or so, I’ll be posting in installments extended portions of the Brown interviews, which to my knowledge have not been previously published, along with many of the pictures provided by Pam and Elmer, which flush out not only fascinating details of FDR’s life and times, but also illustrate the 50-year friendship between Brown and the man who would become the 32nd President of the United States.

Notes from the Lathrop Brown Interviews: Part I – The Groton Years

FDR entered Groton at the beginning of of third form when he was 14 or 15. Most students began in the second form at 13, but LB was in third form at 13, due to an earlier altercation with the principal which had resulted in his being “kicked upstairs” ­– hence his being in the same form as FDR, despite difference in ages. Brown shared a dormitory and also parts of summer vacations, with FDR joining LB on Long Island, and LB visiting FDR at Campobello. Actually, students entering later than third form were pretty much out of the running, for school friendships had already established. Hence FDR arrived in time to become one of the boys, although he was never particularly outstanding. The one and only way of achieving distinction at Groton was on the athletic field; everybody tried out for everything, but only those who were outstanding in such competitive sports as baseball and football won the admiration of their classmates. FDR at that time was big-boned and clumsy, giving the general impression of always falling over his feet. He lacked the right kind of coordination (adds LB: he could never play golf worth a damn). Baseball was particularly important at Groton because of a long-standing rivalry with St. Marks. When FDR failed to make the team, he turned to rowing as a second choice. Rowing however was not sufficiently important to justify competition with other schools, so little attention was paid to it.

October 1899, one year before Harvard. Lathrop Brown, the football team manager is at the top of the stair, in tie. FDR is in the white turtle neck in the second row, third from left. The boys in dark jerseys are clearly the squad. Those with letters? Varsity? FDR's shirt is blank...

October 1899, one year before Harvard. Lathrop Brown, the football team manager is at the top of the stair, in tie. FDR is in the white turtle neck in the second row, second from left. The boys in dark jerseys are clearly the squad. Those with letters? Varsity? FDR's shirt is blank... Courtesy: FDR Presidential Library and Museum

LB remembers FDR in this early period as being very shy and having many of the characteristics of an only child. His half-brothers were not of his own generation. FDR had traveled much more than most boys of his own age. He had also turned to a number of pursuits suitable to a rather solitary existence, i.e. he began “collecting” earlier than most boys. He had an inquiring mind, and unlike other boys brought up like a litter of puppies in a kennel, who spent their time cuffing each other, he had plenty of time to spend on individualistic pursuits. Because of this, he was more mature in many respects than his contemporaries. “His eyes opened earlier.”

Groton’s scholastic standard was extremely high, but FDR found his school work very easy. He was inclined to be studious, but not a bookworm. His interests were always diverse and he never studied one subject to the exclusion of others.

FDR's Last Report Card from Groton. Next stop, Harvard!

FDR's Last Report Card from Groton. Next stop, Harvard! Courtesy: FDR Presidential Library and Museum

At the end of the fifth form, FDR and LB, together with some 800 other boys, took their preliminary examinations for Harvard matriculation. Sixteen points (or hours) were required; of the 800 candidates, FDR was highest with 15 points, LB and several other students had 14 points. FDR owed his one point preeminence to the fact he’d had a German governess fairly late; hence he knew advanced German, and the others did not. Result: FDR needed only one one-hour course to matriculate; LB and a few others only one two-hour course. So they spent their sixth form at Groton doing first-year college work and were therefore able to get their degrees at Harvard in three years rather than four.

Aside: Treasure Hunt

LB recalls a treasure hunt at Campobello when he and FDR were about 15. FDR had a 15-foot knockabout. When he and his friends went sailing, they were always accompanied by an experienced sailor. FDR’s mother insisted on this and FDR never objected. Not only would the sailor make himself useful, but the tides in Campobello waters were extremely dangerous, and there were heavy fogs as well. FDR did the skippering, set the course, etc.

Grand Manan Island

Grand Manan Island

One afternoon the two boys decided to hunt for pirate treasure. The bay of Fundy was supposed to have been one of Captain Kidd’s hiding places. They sailed to a small island near Grand Manan, beached the boat and clambered ashore. They looked for and found the cave where Kidd was supposed to have cached some of his treasure. It was dank, cold and dark ­– just the way a pirate’s cave should have been. The boys took turns digging. Suddenly their shovel reverberated with a hollow clanking sound. They had struck a wooden plank. Excitedly they continued digging until they uncovered it completely. Initials were carved on the plank – K.K. FDR and LB jokingly decided Captain Kidd hadn’t gone to Groton and therefore thought Captain was spelled with a K. They continued to dig, but unearthed nothing more. They never knew whether the plank was the real thing or had been put their by a practical joker. But it didn’t much matter; they’d had a fine afternoon and had been able to feel, for a few moments at least, that they were on the verge of discovering real pirate treasure.

FDR Suite Foundation Receives 50K Pledge

We are delighted to announce that the FDR Suite Foundation, Inc. has received a $50,000 commitment from the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust subject to finalization of the Foundation’s tax exempt status and execution of a proposed grant agreement.

The money, pledged by Amy P. Goldman in memory of her mother, Lillian, is designed to stimulate further giving to complete the Foundation’s approximately $150,000 Suite restoration effort. “It gives me great joy to be able to help you with this wonderful project,” said Amy Goldman.

Lillian Schuman Goldman was born Jan. 17, 1922, in New York City. At 19, she married Sol Goldman, who had purchased his first building at 17. At her urging, Sol Goldman left his family grocery business in Brooklyn and committed full time to the world of New York real estate.

Mrs. Goldman was an active participant in her husband’s business, which by his death in 1987 had become one of the largest private real estate firms in New York City. Always interested in furthering education, especially for women, Mrs.  Goldman wrote poetry and was an avid bibliophile. ”A book is a friend,” she used to say.

After her husband’s death, she turned her attention increasingly to philanthropy, creating the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust to administer her gifts.  Her generous contributions have rebuilt the law library at Yale, helped fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and supported family day care centers, among other causes. Mrs. Goldman died in 2002.

Pending speedy IRS approval, we hope to receive the funds and begin construction work on the Suite in early January, with the initial round of restorations completed before the next FDR Memorial Lecture and Dinner on the 27th of February, 2010.

110 Years Later: Harvard Changed? Yes, and No…

This week, one of our student researchers, Nina Ranalli of Eliot House, has the guest columnist slot. Having myself spent a large part of the last two years sifting through a Victorian twilight of  stuffed daybeds, dances at the Somerset, shooting parties in Sudbury, and Brahmin prides and prejudice, I note that I’ve become somewhat accustomed to the gas-lit feel of the age. Nina however, has the fresh perspective of the class of 2010, and I think you’ll find, as I did, that her impressions are quite revealing – both of our times, and FDR’s.     MDW

As a student researcher, I’ve been having great fun perusing student diaries from the month of March, 1900, collected in the Chest of 1900 project. I’m reading them to find the interesting, amusing, and enlightening aspects of student life in 1900. Here are a few of the tidbits I’ve found that show how much the undergraduate experience has changed since then.

The funniest bit so far is from Richard Derby’s (’03) diary. He describes a bit of a food fight at dinner:


The idea of playfully launching bits of food at our friends wouldn’t be unimaginable to students today– it’s the presence of a tablecloth that seems almost inconceivable!

And continuing on the subject of undergraduate life, I find the last sentence from Harrie Chamberlin’s (’01) dairy entry on March 2th, 1900 more than a little startling:


Fire? Build? Heat?

I have a fireplace in my room, too, but I take for granted that it’s inoperable, long-since sealed over due to safety or energy concerns. In fact, I imagine most undergrads wouldn’t tolerate the hassle involved with maintaining a fire for warmth! We get up in arms enough about the heating systems in the houses laying dormant when we’re a bit chilly. In this case, it’s the stark difference between daily life in 1900 and in 2009 that shocks us.

Not just structural, but social changes have of course occurred as well.  Mr. Lane, the College Librarian who requested all the diaries, kept a journal himself when a group of Cubans visited Cambridge in the summer of 1900. The anti-Catholic attitude of some people at Harvard becomes apparent from his notes. He says:

“Mrs. Gulick is very much annoyed over the fact (as she states it) that the Catholics are taking to themselves the whole credit of the Cuban summer school and have told people that the President is a Roman Catholic and have spread the impression that the College is practically a Catholic institution… Certain Catholic societies to keep open and provide for a waiting room in Harvard for men and in Phillips Brooks House for women and they have called these places salas catolicas. It has been a mistake, it seems to me, to allow this name to be used, but it can hardly be changed now.”

The obvious tension between Catholics and non-Catholics would seem out of place on today’s campus– student groups and organizations disagree all the time, but generally avoid the adversarial attitude implicit in this quote.

Despite the clear changes in undergraduate life, in another entry Harrie Chamberlin manages to convince me that students in 1900 weren’t so different from us after all. Take a look at a paragraph from his March 9th entry.

NR 3

He says, “I find difficultly in deciding whether I am exceedingly busy or only moderately busy and lazy.”

In this case, the similarity between 1900 and 2009 is shocking. I can imagine this very sentence coming from practically any of my friends or roommates. I might even venture to say that packed schedules, deluges of homework, and excessive procrastination are defining characteristics of the undergraduate experience. Furthermore, we love to talk about this busy/lazy dilemma amongst ourselves– how much homework one has and how little homework one has done are probably the most popular conversations on campus.  As much as our day-to-day experiences of College life have changed since 1900, then, perhaps our attitudes haven’t!