Herbert H. Lehman was born in New York City to German immigrant parents. His father was Meyer Lehman, the prominent investment banker and one of the founders of Lehman Brothers. Lehman graduated from Williams College and worked for several years in the textile industry before joining his father's investment banking firm in 1906. During World War I, Lehman served with the General Staff Corps in Washington, D.C. and when the war ended he turned to politics, first working for New Yorker Al Smith's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and then serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt's lieutenant governor from 1929 to 1932. He served as governor from 1933 to 1942, and while he had the reputation of being a rather colorless politician, he had a wide appeal and was a very popular governor with a reputation for nonpartisanship. He initiated the "Little New Deal" for New York State and sponsored an array of public assistance programs aimed at providing a safety net for needy New Yorkers.
When the United States entered World War II, Lehman resigned as governor to head the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an agency created to assist citizens of nations that had been occupied by Axis powers. In 1946, he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate but won the seat in a special election in 1949. As senator during the Cold War, Lehman supported President Harry Truman's liberal agenda and became a vocal critic of McCarthyism, voting for the Senate censure of Joseph McCarthy. Known as the soul of liberalism, Lehman remained committed to the liberal agenda regardless of the political consequences.
Lehman chose not to run for reelection in 1956 and continued his political activism by working with Eleanor Roosevelt to fight the political machine in New York that was run by Carmine De Sapio. In 1963 Lehman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest award for public service and statesmanship. He died December 5, just as he was to go to the White House to receive the award.
Sources: Otis L. Graham, Jr. and Meghan Robinson Wander, eds., Franklin Roosevelt: His Life and Times (New York: Da Capo Press, 1985), pp. 238-39; American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org; The Concise Dictionary of American Biography, vol. I, 5th ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997), p. 717.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
For more information, visit The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers home page at https://erpapers.columbian.gwu.edu/.
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