Born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents on December 9, 1909, in New York City's Upper West Side, Joseph Lash would ultimately become one of the most important student leaders of the depression era, as well as a respected journalist and biographer.
As a student at the City College of New York, Lash wrote for the campus newspaper and chaired the college's socialist organization, gaining a reputation as a young radical whose views only grew more committed in the wake of the Great Depression. He became a leader in the Student League for Industrial Democracy, founded the Association of Unemployed College Alumni, and served as an officer in the American Student Union. Perhaps most notably, however, Lash was responsible for organizing various antiwar demonstrations on college campuses from 1934 to 1941.
Lash's antiwar convictions, however, were tempered by Hitler's rise to power in Germany, and by the late 1930s he favored U.S. participation in a coalition to contain fascism and briefly served with Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War before returning home to organize student support for the Loyalist cause. Soon the student movement began to collapse amidst infighting over Stalin's nonaggression pact with Hitler, and Lash placed himself on the anti-communist side of this debate. In 1939, he was summoned to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer questions about Communist infiltration of the American Youth Congress.
It was at this meeting that Lash first met Eleanor Roosevelt. Initially impressed by Lash's record with the AYC on behalf of antiwar causes, she was responsible for involving Lash in FDR's presidential campaign of 1940 as the director of the DNC's Youth Committee. In time, Lash became one of the first lady's most trusted advisers. Both endured criticism for the friendship they shared, Lash from radical colleagues who disdained the bourgeois liberalism of the New Deal, and the first lady from conservatives who recoiled at the idea of the president's wife commingling with upstart student agitators.
Lash remained committed to ER's political work and the Roosevelt legacy after FDR's death in 1945. He helped found Americans for Democratic Action in 1946, and then went to work for the New York Post from 1950 to 1966. It was only after sixteen years with the Post that Lash resigned to serve as ER's official biographer and in 1971 he published the Pulitzer Prize winning Eleanor and Franklin.
Lash spent the next sixteen years of his life writing and editing books about the New Deal era and the Roosevelts. In the process he was awarded the National Book Award and the Frances Parkman Prize. He died on August 22, 1987.
Sources: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org; Maurine Beasley, et al., eds., The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001), pp. 305-308.
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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