On November 22, 1943, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, and other dignitaries attended the opening ceremonies for what was then called the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House at Hunter College. The former home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and the president’s late mother Sara Delano Roosevelt, it had been acquired by Hunter to be repurposed as a student center, a pioneer of its kind in the nation.
Hosting an array of religious, social, cultural, and academic groups, including the college’s first African-American club, the house soon came to represent the best of American diversity and democracy during the dark days of World War II. Over the next 50 years, it remained a cherished location for college activities and special events, as a venue for weddings of Hunter students, a center for social and intellectual life, and a site for visits by Eleanor Roosevelt, who spoke here to students as well as to groups promoting the United Nations.
The house was closed in 1992, badly in need of repair after decades of intense use. When new Hunter President Jennifer J. Raab arrived in the spring of 2001, she immediately pledged to rescue this landmark building. President Raab raised funds for a major restoration and the building’s reopening was celebrated on November 15, 2010 when Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon cut the ribbon.
Now known as the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, it continues to represent the vision of Hunter’s wartime, President George N. Shuster, who had the original idea of acquiring it from the Roosevelts in 1942. He had declared Hunter a “forward-looking place” and Roosevelt House represented the next step in that progress. Today, the building hosts activities honoring the legacies of the Roosevelts, serving as a center for the advancement of public policy and human rights. It prepares Hunter College students to become the next generation of informed global citizens, promotes civic dialogue at book talks, conferences, and special events, and further engages the public through exhibits and tours.
Hosting this exhibition at The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College honors the legacies of Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their former home which with their help became, and remains, a special place for generations of Hunter College students. Items have been drawn from the Roosevelt House collection (RH) and the Archives & Special Collections (ASC) of the Hunter College Library. The exhibition has been curated by Roosevelt House Historian Deborah Gardner and CUNY PhD candidate John Winters, and designed by Roosevelt House staff Daniel Culkin and Aaron Fineman. Assistance was also provided by the staff of Hunter College.
This exhibition was made possible by a generous gift from the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust.
Democratic Living: From Roosevelt Home to Hunter Student Center
Franklin Delano Roosevelt married his fifth cousin Anna Eleanor Roosevelt in March 1905, and the next Christmas, Franklin’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, promised them a new home. Architect Charles A. Platt designed a town house with two identical units behind one Georgian-style façade. Late in 1908, Franklin and Eleanor moved in and eventually five children would grow up in the east unit, their grandmother Sara next door. It was from this home that Franklin started his political career, which led him to the State Senate, to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, to become Governor of New York State, and finally, to be elected President for an unprecedented four terms. It is where Franklin recovered from polio and Eleanor began her political and civic work, and laid the groundwork for her unparalleled achievement leading the United Nations taskforce to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Family c.1921 and election victory party 1924.
Politics: Governor Roosevelt meeting with former governor Al Smith late 1290s; FDR, his children James and Anna, and his mother Sara Delano Roosevelt on November 9, 1932, the day after he was first elected president; President Roosevelt speaks at Hunter College October 28, 1940.
The ties between the Roosevelts and Hunter College can be traced to 1940 when Mrs. Roosevelt walked to Hunter College, just three blocks way, for informal visits with students in the offices of The Echo, the college magazine. In October 1940, President Roosevelt dedicated the college’s North Building on Park Avenue, built with New Deal funding, as he was welcomed by the 10,000 students enrolled in what was then the largest women’s college in the world. During the next 20 years, Mrs. Roosevelt spoke at various college events, including commencement, as well as to other groups meeting at Hunter and Roosevelt House. She became a friend and political ally of Hunter president George N. Shuster, who was a specialist in international relations and particularly knowledgeable about Germany. During World War II, he helped refugee scholars at the request of President Roosevelt and served as an advisor to the State Department.
Hunter President George Shuster.
After the death of Sara Delano Roosevelt in September 1941, the double townhouse was put up for sale. President Shuster wrote to President Roosevelt in early 1942 asking if he would sell the house to Hunter to use as a center for the college’s religious and social groups. The Roosevelts were delighted with the proposal and lowered the price from $60,000 to $50,000 (approximately $764,500 in 2018). The President contributed $1,000 (approximately $15,300 in 2018) toward a student library. The purchase money was quickly raised by a group of businessmen and their wives, and the gift of the house to the college announced at commencement on June 24, 1942 where Eleanor Roosevelt was the guest speaker. The building would be named the Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House and be dedicated, noted one speaker, to “the ideal of religious freedom and the democratic way of living.”
Minor renovations made the building suitable for public use and additional funds raised by the Roosevelt House League (later renamed the Association of Neighbors and Friends of Hunter College) and the Hunter Alumnae Association were used to furnish and decorate the rooms. In November 1943, Eleanor Roosevelt attended its dedication. During the next 50 years, the building became a popular center for the social and academic events of students, faculty, and alumni.
Democratic Living: Dedication and Inspiration
The house itself was very elegant, much more so then probably a lot of the homes we came from and so it was a wonderfully charming and special place to be… the way it was furnished, just the location on 65th Street, the whole ambience, the whole feeling of it was special. A dear friend of mine said she remembered the wonderful concert grand piano in the house that she would come to play.
— Irene Dwartz Lindenberg, 1948
It was a wonderful social gathering place. Folks got married there. I had book parties there long after I graduated. It really was a splendid social forum sort of place… It was very spacious, we always felt very privileged. The student council had great events there, the National Student Association had meetings there, all the religious clubs had meetings there, and it was great center of extracurricular activities. I think one thing that appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt about Hunter College is that we were offering free public, excellent education to working people. The other thing that definitely appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt about Hunter was of course her friendship with George Shuster, who was a personal and long-time friend.
— Blanche Weisen Cook, 1962
Founded and opened in the shadow of World War II and Franklin Roosevelt’s famous 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech, Roosevelt House was a living testament to the ideals of “democratic living.” From its dedication through the most important social, civil, and human rights movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, the House would be a public place of activism, education, and learning.
The Sara Delano Roosevelt Memorial House opened its doors to the world on November 22, 1943, with fanfare and a dedication ceremony in the auditorium of the North Building. The National Anthem was played and an array of dignitaries arrived at the stage. Many speakers paid tribute to the ideals embodied by the House, including Charles Tuttle, the president of the Roosevelt House League, who predicted that the house would “serve the educational, spiritual, and social needs of the students and foster religious ideals.”
Sara Delano Roosevelt hosting Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights leader and educator at her home on 65thStreet, 1934.
President Roosevelt, who was abroad at a wartime conference, had written a letter that was read by the First Lady:
I feel that my dear mother would be very happy in the realization of plans whereby the old home in East Sixty-fifth Street, with all of its memories of joy and sorrow, is now to become Interfaith House, dedicated to mutual understanding and good will among students matriculating in Hunter College.
It is to me of happy significance that this place of sacred memories is to become the first college center established for the high purpose of mutual understanding among Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic students. I hope this movement for toleration will grow and prosper until there is a similar establishment in every institution of higher learning in the land, the spirit of which shall be unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and in all things charity.
Ms. Roosevelt speaking at dedication of Roosevelt House.
Mrs. Roosevelt’s own remarks too stressed the continuity between family history and college center:
No houses could have a better background for the use they will now serve. Always in both houses there was an effort to look on all human beings with respect, and to have a true understanding of the points of view of others.
The Roosevelts had welcomed guests of all ethnic, class, religious, and racial backgrounds, comparable to the diversity of Hunter’s students.
New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia affirmed that the city’s progress toward “inter-faith and inter-racial understanding” would be the means of “conquering hatred, prejudice and ignorance.”
Visiting the house a week later, on November 29, Mrs. Roosevelt was delighted with the furnishings and donated art, and the activities scheduled there by dozens of student clubs. She would return numerous times to talk to students and participate in programs, a good friend of the college until the end of her life. Whenever she spoke she inspired Hunter students.
She just was an impressive woman. Well she was huge, as you can see I’m not, and so I was very, very struck by her stature, and more than her stature it was her brilliance. I encountered Eleanor Roosevelt at her visit after the dedication. She was taking us on a tour, and I remember her standing on the lower level, and I was on the second level, and she probably was taller than I even though she was a full floor below me, but she seemed so huge to me because of her brain as well as her stature.
—Lucille Freedberg, 1944
Eleanor Roosevelt set an example for women’s empowerment, without looking for the power, this was the interesting part. She was not part of a feminist push, and a feminist time. She was who she was, and because she was that, and was the First Lady, she set an example that many women followed and adored and set an ideal by what she accomplished. The accomplishments were so extraordinary, and when you met her in person there was a humility behind those accomplishments, which was really admirable. I know she was a constant inspiration; I think that’s a sentence that really covers it all. And the honesty. If she meant anything it was her complete candor and honesty. It was very important.
— Regina Resnik, 1942
But students also remembered President Roosevelt for his connection to the House and his role as the only president many of them had ever known growing up. After his sudden death on April 12, 1945, they brought flowers to Roosevelt House in his memory. The Roosevelt House League published a memorial notice in the New York Times on April 15, 1945, joining dozens of other secular and religious groups mourning the nation’s loss: “Writing from the New York home where he once lived, we bow in profound sorrow to the decree of Providence which took from the nation its great President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.“
Eleanor Roosevelt at Roosevelt House and Hunter College
I remember her enthusiasm, humility, and ability to enjoy us as students. She was a world figure and yet treated us as friends or colleagues.
— Carole Schnure Burns 1945
What Eleanor means to Hunter, certainly, is Roosevelt House, and the fact that she cared enough to bother with a public institution, where everything was free. She was brought up in a time when ladies were ladies. To the fact that she went way beyond that in concern for the underdog and the underprivileged and the ill, and those unseen parts of our society, is quite amazing. There weren’t that many women who did it. Or she had no need to do it. She could have lived a very sheltered life. Or a very upper class life. And chose not to. And I think we’re a better country because of it.
— Elaine Small Klein, 1948
Many of Mrs. Roosevelt’s positions would get her cheers today from women’s liberationists – she had the issues all figured out before the present generation was even worried about a mystique. Some of the credit for our movement belongs to Eleanor Roosevelt who was there before us and will always be with us in spirit.
— Congresswoman Bella Abzug, 1942, (1974)
Mrs. Roosevelt visited or spoke at Roosevelt House and Hunter College more than three dozen times between 1940 and her death in 1962.
Mrs. Roosevelt speaks at the college on February 19.1941, on “Education and Democracy” with student president Bella Savisky, later known as Bella Abzug, seated at right. Mrs. Roosevelt visits with students mid 1940s.
On April 29, 1953, Mrs. Roosevelt visited Hunter to celebrate the 10thanniversary of the dedication of Roosevelt House. At the session in the college auditorium she spoke on “Meeting Youth Around the World.” She was concerned about, and regretted, the effect of the Cold War in creating divisions among young people in different countries. Because the Roosevelt House milestone coincided with New York’s celebration of its 300th anniversary as an incorporated city, the Association of Neighbors and Friends of Roosevelt House sponsored a two week salute to the “Dutch Founders of Our City” and Eleanor’s talk was part of those events. The Association arranged to have an exhibit of Dutch paintings and etchings displayed at Roosevelt House, including fifty, 17thcentury items loaned by the University of Leyden in the Netherlands. This arrangement was particularly fitting because the Roosevelt ancestors of Franklin and Eleanor had migrated to America, then the New Netherlands, in the 1640s.
It was not just on major public occasions that Mrs. Roosevelt met with Hunter students at the college. There were informal and small group sessions. Blanche Wiesen Cook, later Eleanor’s biographer and a professor at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, attended Hunter from 1958 to 1962 and served as president of the student government and also as a vice-president of the National Student Association. Her memories of Eleanor convey both the charisma and caring attitude that she projected:
Each time the experience felt charged: the room simply changed when she walked into it – one felt the air fill with her vibrancy. After each meeting, there was conversation and tea. Eleanor Roosevelt was still, as she had been for decades, an adviser to students – an optimistic galvanizing force for activism and political commitment.
The last times that Mrs. Roosevelt spoke at Hunter were in 1960 and 1961. She attended the convocation on January 28, 1961 in honor of the college’s President, George Shuster, who was retiring, and noted his “great contributions not only to education but to the civic life of the city…a respected and admired citizen.” In October 1961 she and New York Senator Jacob Javits spoke to students about service in the new Peace Corps.
Hunter continued to celebrate its ties with the Roosevelts. On January 30, 1972, the Alumni Association commemorated the 90th birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with the program’s proceeds for the upkeep of Roosevelt House. There was a symposium with FDR’s biographer, Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr., speaking on the former president’s place in history, and Hunter faculty reflecting on the president’s role as a politician, internationalist, and molder of economic policy. In addition, there were reminiscences by Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. and former president George Shuster. Actress Ruby Dee, 1944 read from a script, “The Man from Hyde Park.”
Two years later, on October 10, 1974, there was a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt in the Hunter College Auditorium, on the 90th anniversary of her birth; it was attended by over 1,000 friends and family members including her son FDR Jr., daughter Anna Roosevelt Halsted, and grand-daughter Eleanor Seagraves. Dore Schary, author of Sunrise at Campobello, was master of ceremonies, and actress Jane Alexander read scenes from “Eleanor,” a play by Jerome Coopersmith. Bella Abzug, 1942, who had run for Congress in 1970 on the slogan “This Woman’s Place is in the House…of Representatives,” and won (serving until 1977), announced that she had obtained a Congressional Resolution for a national ceremony (which this tribute fulfilled), and the issue of a commemorative stamp honoring the 90th anniversary of her birth on October 11, 1884.
Student Activities: Co-Operation “Mainspring Of Democracy”
The Hunter College Student Social, Community, and Religious Clubs Association (the Association), the governing body of the House that was chartered by New York State in 1943, mandated that the facilities serve “without discrimination the educational, spiritual, charitable and social needs of the students of Hunter College.”
The House became a community center for campus life. Oversight came from Dr. Margaret Rendt, the first House Director, whose job, as she said, was to bridge the gap between the “office-building” surroundings of the 68th Street Campus with the pastoral setting of Hunter’s Bronx campus. She worked with a council of representatives of the student groups to manage activities and schedules. Alumnae and neighbor volunteers also helped staff the reception desk during evening hours
The rooms were filled with a diverse collection of student groups and organizations, their cooperative use of the House representing a true expression of democratic living. Overall, the House was open to 120 extracurricular clubs including twelve religious clubs and the entire Hunter student and faculty body. Ethnic clubs also had space, as Nancy Vochis Gabriel, ’43, reported:
The Greek Society…there must have been others, The Italian Club. Whatever groups were prominent at Hunter College at that time. And then, periodically, the officers of each of these clubs would meet together, to discuss problems that were of particular interest to their background, and try to see what they had in common
The student groups drew lots for their assignments when the House opened. The religious groups had their offices in No. 49. The Jewish Hillel Foundation was on the third floor, the Catholic Newman Club on the fourth, and the Hunter College Protestant Association groups on the fifth floor. No. 47 was home to social and athletic groups. It had a game room and an office for the Toussaint L’Ouverture Society for the Study of African-American History and Culture, founded in 1936. In addition, the social groups known as “House Plans” occupied the fourth and fifth floors, along with an office for the “Social Secretary” (essentially the building manager). Also in No.47 were the Athletic Association, the Pan-Hellenic Association (the 18 Greek-letter sororities), and the Alumnae Association.
Roosevelt House was a venue for many events that were organized by outside groups or sponsored by the Roosevelt House League, the “association of alumnae, neighbors, and interested persons who support the house and its intercultural, interfaith program.” The League hosted meetings at the House to raise money for its operations and also sponsored cultural or fund-raising events at the College itself.
Religious, Racial, And Ethnic Harmony
I think Sara Delano Roosevelt would have been interested in having work go on in these houses which will bring about greater understanding and tolerance in young people. Tolerance ought only to be the preliminary step which allows us to get to know other people, and which prevents us from setting up bars, just because they may be of a different race or religion. The real value of any relationship is the fact that we learn to like people in spite of our differences.
— Eleanor Roosevelt, November 1943
I was a member of an inter-racial nonsectarian sorority which was the only one of its kind at Hunter and we spent many, many long wonderful hours and days at Roosevelt House just working in our little room, in our little office and it was very important to us to know that this was the place where the president and his wife had lived. I was there maybe every other day during the four years I was at Hunter. I remember walking with my friend Ruby Saunders, who was Black, down Park Avenue and having everyone look at us, because that was unusual, and yet going into Hunter and going into Roosevelt House none of that meant anything to us.
— Helene H. Goldfarb, 1951
The interfaith and interracial missions honored Sara Delano Roosevelt’s ecumenical spirit. Raised a Unitarian and becoming an Episcopalian after her marriage, she respected all religions. She, as well as Franklin and Eleanor, welcomed friends of many faiths and ethnic groups to their home. They all valued their friendship with Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights leader and college president, and advisor to President Roosevelt on African-American matters. Eleanor was a staunch supporter of civil rights for African Americans to be fully engaged and respected American citizens.
From the beginning Roosevelt House was also dedicated to improving inter-racial understanding, part of Hunter’s heritage, having admitted black students in 1873, three years after it opened its doors, making it one of the first colleges in the nation to have an interracial student body. In the years preceding the acquisition of Roosevelt House, the college newspaper, the Hunter Bulletin, reported on racial injustices at other New York educational institutions and supported the Toussaint L’Ouverture Society for the Study of African-American History and Culture in its campaign for a course on “Negro History and Culture.” The course was introduced in the fall of 1943, taught by part-time instructor Adelaide M. Cromwell, the first African-American woman appointed to Hunter’s faculty.
The inter-faith mission of the Roosevelt House was of particular interest to President Shuster who believed that religious belief contributed to the moral and ethical development of citizens in a democracy. Charles H. Tuttle, the president of the Roosevelt House Association in 1943, hoped that the House’s mission would promote a worldview to “foster religious idealism in the students; and to generate, encourage and promote religious activities, and good fellowship.” The students in these early years, despite the horrors of the Holocaust, and rampant anti-Semitism and anti-Catholic prejudice in the United States, believed in harmony and respect among all groups.
Two decades before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin in a range public spaces, Roosevelt House had already opened its doors to students of the major American faiths who organized and hosted calls to worship, meetings, parties, and holiday celebrations. During the next decades, more religious groups would hold events at the House, reflecting the evolving diversity of the student body.
When Dr. Margaret Rendt, faculty director of Roosevelt House, described the Roosevelt House in 1960 as “a little U.N.”, she was responding to the extraordinarily diverse group of commuter students who used the facility and celebrated their cultural heritages. Young women and men (after Hunter became co-educational in 1962) from different classes, races, religions, and countries, worked together in the home of one of the oldest American families. Today Hunter students from nearly every country in the world attend classes and plan events together.
Not all educational activity revolved around the college and the daily realities of student life. The House was truly a campus center for civic life as well as social and academic growth The interests of the Hunter student population reflected the social and political movements that swept the country after World War II. Documentaries on the Civil Rights movement and apartheid were screened and discussed; protests against the Vietnam War were planned. Students met with local and national politicians, international leaders, and activists. Now at Roosevelt House students also meet with UN officials, NGO leaders, and social justice groups to discuss current human rights issues, including refugees, discrimination against LGBQT people, genocide, regional war, famine, and other regional and world crises. So many of these echo the challenges that concerned Eleanor Roosevelt in the years after World War II.
It was Eleanor Roosevelt who I invited here to speak when I was student president. This was 1960/61, she was six feet tall and majestic and she walked in, the energy in the room transformed, it was electric… The most important thing she said was, “Many changes are going on in this country now and there is a fabulous student movement. People are demanding justice and integration and an end to the cruelty and bitterness of segregation.” She encouraged everybody in that audience to go South for freedom, to see for themselves. Practically the next month we hired two buses for Hunter students and we went to North Carolina where we sat in and we saw things we could not imagine. Eleanor Roosevelt really wanted to make things better for people so that she would always ask folks, “Tell me what do you want, what do you need?” So she had this great capacity for empathy. What we’ve all learned from Eleanor Roosevelt is be active, don’t give up, learn everything you possibly can and question authority. That was always her message, question authority, don’t believe the headlines, do your own research, get out there, be an activist, participate in the world around you…. Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy is to live fully and live free.
— Blanche Cook, 1962
Roosevelt House Social Life
What I remember about Eleanor Roosevelt, one time she did visit us when we had a house plan party, and she seemed to be pleased with the way it was going, we would go from one floor to the other, and Eleanor was there with us. But the most impressive thing was when she once addressed us at a meeting, and she encouraged us to be achievers. Which I feel we still are, today.
— Phyllis Tunick, January 1954
Roosevelt House was the fun part of being at Hunter. We’d have meetings. Sorority meetings, house plan meetings, ethnic meetings. My girlfriends, who were other ethnicities, they dragged me off to their meetings, and I would drag them off to mine. We got to meet such incredible people. It was the place where we were relaxed. Where we hung out, we talked. We talked about our goals, the trouble we were having in a class or how well we were doing in a class…The fact that Mrs. Roosevelt had lived there, that the president had lived there. That this was a house where they had thought these wonderful thoughts, these ideas, where they had planned careers and thought up political thoughts and everything else, that to me was touching history, having history touch me, having an impact on it.
— Josie (Josephine) Avellanet Levine, 1964
Roosevelt House functioned as the non-academic “campus” for the urban college. “House Plans” were the primary organizers of social activity on campus, including parties, wartime military receptions, and dances. House Plans were clubs that were founded by students with similar interests. They were akin to sororities, but they lacked national associations and their membership fees were very inexpensive. Lucille Freedberg, 1944, remembered that “the dues may have been 50 cents or a dollar or something like that. And certainly everybody was eligible, nobody had to worry about getting in, everybody was accepted.”
Another house plan member, Joan Swift Hollander, 1949, remembered why the House was special as a “place for socializing, because we were a commuter college and we all after class took the subway home, but this was a place to go to after school, evenings, weekends and have a social life connected with our college.” Patricia Creamer Mulligan, 1953, recalled, “I had a wonderful house plan, Maxwell ‘53 and we all encouraged each other and we all learned from each other. And we had wonderful parties and mother-daughter teas and wonderful meetings.“
Activities changed with the times. During World War II, a house plan was named “Norris, ’46” in honor of a Hunter faculty member who was serving in the South Pacific. There were also weekly canteen evenings for soldiers and sailors who were temporarily in New York before embarking for their overseas assignments. Ruth Goodman Cohen, a 1946 graduate, remembered how, at times, fun contrasted with hard reality:
It was considered our patriotic duty to attend the Roosevelt House canteen to try to build the morale of these fellows. Dancing with a partner wearing paratrooper boots was hard on one’s feet! These battle-bound young men were able to forget briefly what lay ahead, by chatting and relaxing in the pleasant surroundings of Roosevelt House’s upstairs salon [former drawing room, now a classroom]. The House represented for me a bright spot in a terrifying world of depressing events . . . . It was an oasis of stability in a hideously violent world.
For many of the college students who came from low income or working class families, Roosevelt House was a beautiful and luxurious place to visit and enjoy college activities, even decades after it opened.
I was very impressed with the facility and the grandeur of the building… this was a place that you went in to, and especially if you were a young woman and someone who didn’t really have the wealth to belong in such a home. It really inspires you… This is not a place where the average New Yorker lived.
— Charlotte K. Frank, 1963
Antoinette Passarello, a 1970 graduate, could still remember what she “experienced the first time I entered Roosevelt House. Since I had come from a large, blue-collar family in Queens, my world opened when I attended Hunter College. I was thrilled to be able to actually enter one of the magnificent brownstones [Roosevelt House] near the college.” She attended many activities in the house and vividly remembered one occasion where she cooked a spaghetti dinner for the Irish Society: she had joined because many of her freshmen friends were Irish, although she was Italian. Hers was a typical New York story. Hunter College was a melting pot, like New York City, for all ethnic, racial, and religious groups. The vision of the first handbook about Roosevelt House had been fulfilled: “We believe that what is called ‘intercultural education” is not something to be found in a textbook but rather to be derived from the experience of living.”
To talk, eat, drink coffee), plan (house-
plans), fraternize (or sororize), be married,
hold discussions, dance, invite or be invited
just to be alone
somewhere in a cranny of the stairs or
walls there is a place;
to read, feed, study or succeed (in win-
ning friends and influencing enemies)
perhaps some Hunterite in party dress
found here some niche in which to shed a tear
to tear the ceiling off the roof with
gaiety and make a smash, dashing week-
end crash, just let them know a few days
in advance, they have room for you;
Or simply, during weekends, long and
Grey winter weekends when the time of the
afternoon is endless, to cuddle with your
(own) cup of instant coffee and a book, to
feel both warm and cozied, curled within the
— Student poem from the Wistarion yearbook, 1961
Roosevelt House Weddings
Hunter students met their spouses at Roosevelt House and sometimes chose to marry there too, in part because of its modest rental fee of $50. Since its reopening in 2010, this tradition has been revived with weddings again celebrated at Roosevelt House,
Irene Dwartz Lindenberg, 1948, met her future husband at a Roosevelt House party for servicemen on Thanksgiving weekend 1945.
Since we didn’t have enough men to go around at our little party we asked one of those, I think he was an Air Force man, to go down to the USO at Temple Emanu-El which was right down the street. So he brought back a couple of guys and we had a very pleasant evening, dancing and we had refreshments. A couple of my friends decided they were going to go out afterwards and ‘would I join them?’ and I said, Well I’d love to, but I can’t.’ Single girls didn’t go anywhere in those days, you went only if you had an escort. I hadn’t met anybody so this soldier came over to me and said ‘Irene, who would you like to go with? Find a guy and I’ll ask him to take you.’ I looked around and I saw this young man standing there, a soldier, who was taller than I was and that was important, because I was 5’7” I said, ‘him.’ My friend went over and spoke to this soldier and said, ‘Would you like to go out with us’ and he said, ‘Well I don’t have a date’ so he said ‘How about her?’ He pointed to me and I watched through the corner of my eye as he gave me the up and down and he said, ‘Sure’ so they brought him over and introduced us. That was it. We went to the Tavern on the Green that night and drank and danced and he was a wonderful dancer and that was the beginning of our friendship and marriage. So fate had him there that night.
A 1947 graduate, Elizabeth Thal Kahn, was married in Roosevelt House. Her family had come to the U.S. in 1937 as refugees, and a decade later she was finishing college and engaged to a graduate student. The Hillel advisor suggested that a modest wedding might be held in Roosevelt House.
This was such a wonderful privilege for me since I always associated President Roosevelt with our escape from Germany and our well-being in this country. To be married under the portrait of Sarah Delano Roosevelt who looked sternly upon us as if saying ‘This is a serious matter’ was awesome . . .Neither my husband nor I could have ever accomplished the things we did in our lives without the city colleges.
Another couple met at Roosevelt House. Gabriella Hoertrich Bender, class of 1948, loved to visit Roosevelt House, “perusing the books in the library.” She found the furnishings like those she “had only seen in museums and felt like a ‘lady’ during my visits there.” In 1946, she was serving as a hostess for her house plan for a social event when she met her future husband, Henry Bender, class of 1950. He was one of the first men to attend Hunter in the Bronx under the GI Bill of Rights, having been discharged from the Navy. They were married two years later.
A wedding was probably the last event at Roosevelt House before it was closed for many years awaiting renovation. Larry Shore, a member of the Hunter Film & Media Studies Department, married Sarah Sills Ragan at Roosevelt House on May 31st, 1992. Larry is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa and Sarah is a New Yorker. Professor Shore reported:
As a faculty member of Hunter’s Human Rights Program, I am proud of the fact that the wedding had a human rights dimension. My wife and I wanted a non-religious ceremony that we could write ourselves. We learned that because Article 16 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the right to marry, the United Nations provides a service where its minister will work with you on the ceremony and officiate at the wedding. And that is what we did with Reverend Hawthorne.
Pictures: Larry Shore wedding May 31, 1992. Dean Michael Middleton, his husband Steven Salee, and their children after their ceremony at Roosevelt House November 17, 2018.
Roosevelt House Reborn
As the home of the Roosevelts, the House was the site for decisions of municipal, state, and national significance that shaped the history of the twentieth century. As a student center at Hunter College, it hosted hundreds of meetings and events each year for Hunter students and their guests over the course of half a century. With its restoration, it is again the only original home of a U.S. president in New York City that maintains its historic integrity and is open to the public.
Today, Roosevelt House has reinvented its 75-year old history and stands as a global center for the advancement of public policy and human rights. It remains connected to the past but is deeply engaged with the present and future as it honors the Roosevelts’ legacy with a public policy institute for Hunter’s students and faculty, and also for New Yorkers and visitors from near and far who value the extraordinary story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and their substantial achievements in the United States and abroad.
The public policy institute is dedicated to research, teaching, and public programs. Two vibrant undergraduate programs offer courses in public policy and human rights. Students, faculty, civic leaders, and the interested public discuss the most pressing policy issues of the day, at conferences, book talks, panel discussions, and film screenings. Visitors take tours of the house and see exhibits that highlight Roosevelt history.
Restoration And Renewal: “A Moral Obligation To Make This House Flourish Again”
Beyond the physical beauty, what is important to me and I know to all of you is that we are not just keeping the physical structure alive, because that is certainly very important. We are also keeping alive the most important legacies in the history of this country. We have turned this house into a public policy institute, and welcomed the next generation of leaders, our students, who take classes here in public policy and human rights, to come to events such as this. They are absorbing the Roosevelt legacy — the Four Freedoms inscribed on the auditorium wall, the history in the house — and they all stand up a little bit taller, a little bit straighter with pride, knowing that Hunter College is part of the Roosevelt legacy and they are now a part of the Roosevelt legacy.
— Jennifer Raab, May 22, 2012, An Evening with Curtis Roosevelt
The house was filled with activities for almost half a century, open from noon to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays, and until midnight on weekends. Student groups held regular meetings and sponsored special events, hosted teas, dinners, and dances; several hundred students might use the building each evening. Academic departments used the common rooms for lectures, seminars, and social events. Hunter advanced the cause of women’s studies in 1984 by providing office space to the new National Council for Research on Women.
After years of intense use, Roosevelt House was in serious need of renovation by 1992 and the college announced its temporary closing until funds could be raised for its repair. The headline in the Hunter Envoy read: “Another One Bites the Dust.” A decorator show house was permitted to use the empty building in 1994, but by 1997, architectural historian Christopher Gray described its sad state: “With its rotting window frames, stained brick and neglected iron doors, the bedraggled town house at 47-49 East 65th Street is certainly not palatial. But the 35-foot-wide house is certifiably presidential.”
When President Jennifer Raab arrived at Hunter in 2001, she immediately recognized the significance of the building in American history, pledged to seek funding to restore it so that it would once again play a key role in the life of the college, and declared: “It’s a moral obligation to make this house flourish again.” President Raab first obtained a matching grant from the Landmarks Foundation to clean and repair the facade of Roosevelt House in 2002. Next, she had ownership of the building transferred from the Hunter College Foundation to the City University so that the college could use public funding for the renovation. More than $20 million was successfully secured from New York State and New York City to pay for a major restoration, and she reignited private fundraising for future programs.
In 2004-05, plans for the restoration of the building — to house a public policy institute and become a center for research, student education and life, and public programs — were finalized, fully reflecting the legacies and ideals of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the close association between them and Hunter College. Work began in 2006 under the direction of the internationally known architecture firm, Polshek Partnership, led by the esteemed James Polshek, and was completed in four years later. On November 15, 2010. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, cut the ribbon at the re-opening of Roosevelt House.
Pictures: Ban Ki-Moon speaking at dedication of Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, November 15, 2010. Four Freedoms Room (formerly dining rooms) and West Gallery (formerly Sara Roosevelt reception room) restored.
Two distinguished advisors assisted President Raab in the restoration project: Curtis Roosevelt and William vanden Heuvel. Curtis, born in Roosevelt House in 1930, was FDR and Eleanor’s oldest surviving grandchild, and had lived with his grandparents at 65th Street and later in the White House for several years. In 1948, he accompanied Eleanor Roosevelt to Paris to help her during the final months of work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During his career he worked at the United Nations for 18 years as an international civil servant. In 2012, when Curtis spoke at the House, President Raab recalled what he did:
Curtis Roosevelt helped save and restore Eleanor Roosevelt’s home at Val-Kill. But what is a little bit less known is that Curtis was also passionately committed to making sure that Roosevelt House was also renovated and restored and reopened. And he worked for that for a long time before I arrived at Hunter. And when we did get to meet, he walked right into my office and sat down, barely said hello and said ‘You’ve got to get this house renovated.’ So it is a great mark of reunion, whenever Curtis comes back, and sees the beautiful work that’s been done here.
William vanden Heuvel has been devoted to the Roosevelts since his teen years when he hitchhiked to Hyde Park to attend the funeral of President Roosevelt. A distinguished lawyer, he served in the administration of President John F. Kennedy, and was U.S. Ambassador to the European office of the United Nations in Geneva (1977–79) and United States Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations (1979–1981) during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. He aided several Roosevelt institutions, was the driving force in raising funds to build the FDR Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, and then advised President Raab on the restoration of Roosevelt House. He has spoken at numerous events since its reopening and serves on the Roosevelt House Board of Advisors. President Raab valued his constant support of the Roosevelt heritage:
Ambassador Vanden Heuvel’s record of public service continued well past his official appointments. He took on the role of strengthening the Roosevelts’ legacies for future generations. He brought that commitment to Hunter students when he advised me on the future of a renewed Roosevelt House as a public policy center. He always believed that we could create a place to teach and inspire the next generation of civic leaders to follow the Roosevelts, and so we have.
Student Programs Today At Roosevelt House
Roosevelt House hosts two undergraduate programs that honor the legacies of the Roosevelts. Their roles in establishing the United Nations, writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and shaping public policy continue to inspire students to follow in their footsteps. With these programs, students are prepared to work for human rights or influence public policy through government service, positions with non-governmental organizations or in any other setting where their commitment can sustain the Roosevelt ideals.
The Human Rights Program gives students the tools they need to address human rights problems intelligently and constructively, whether as advocates, scholars, researchers or informed citizens. Students combine academic study with hands-on experience through practical internships, exploring both the theoretical and practical underpinnings of current human rights debates. Leading human rights experts from around the world meet with students at Roosevelt House. A background in human rights prepares students for careers in government, law, journalism, social work, or a non-governmental or inter-governmental agency. Students who complete the undergraduate Human Rights Program may go directly into entry-level positions in the field or pursue graduate studies in human rights or a related profession. The program may be taken as a minor or for a certificate.
The Public Policy Program is based on the understanding that the preparation of informed individuals is the key to a vibrant participatory democracy. The program strengthens the research and analytical skills that underlie a strong liberal arts education as well as public policy work. Graduates span many majors from Anthropology to Political Science, Chinese and Urban Studies to Biology. Students have an opportunity to interact first-hand with policy experts and practitioners in New York City and Washington, DC, both in the classroom and outside, and learn how policies are created, how communities come together to demand change, who benefits from specific policies, and how to best measure the impact of public policy. These important skills enable students to enter competitive graduate school programs or embark on careers in public affairs and the nonprofit sector at both the national and global level. The program may be taken as a minor or for a certificate.
Human Rights And Public Policy Students Speak About The Programs
I truly enjoyed all the special events hosted by the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House as well as the wealth of opportunities to interact with professionals in the field, whether they were guests or welcomed a class to their work environment. A trip to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman was one highlight that stands out.
— Sarah Settineri, Human Rights Minor, 2016.
From taking the introductory class, to the more specific human rights topics classes, my ability to understand human rights texts has definitely improved. I’m able to analyze and connect various documents to create compelling arguments. The classes I’ve taken in the Human Rights Program have exposed me to human rights issues that I wasn’t aware of, and they have also prepared me to confidently go into the professional world.
— Samantha Putri, Human Rights Minor, 2016.
Once I visited Roosevelt House, I knew I wanted to take a class in this beautiful building. The Human Rights Program offered intimate classroom settings with dedicated professors. These were discussions facilitated by teachers that were willing to listen and learn from their students. These were professors that worked in the field of human rights while teaching, bringing their knowledge from their jobs outside of teaching to the table. I still keep in contact with a lot of my professors to this day. I was sad to go. Roosevelt House offers amazing, exciting programs I haven’t seen anywhere else.
— Naima Blasco, Human Rights Minor, 2017.
I have always been interested in human rights but I never knew that I could study it until I transferred to Hunter and talked with the Political Science Department about my interest in helping women. That’s when I learned about the Human Rights Program. I saw it as an opportunity to enhance my work through an interdisciplinary perspective. The most rewarding experience was my internship at Human Rights Watch because I was able to apply all that I had learned about the nature of human rights and about the issues in our politics and international relations that are essential to understanding today’s world.
— Hawa Fainke, Human Rights Minor, 2017.
Roosevelt House at Hunter College has provided me with a multitude of amazing experiences. As a public policy student I took engaging classes that taught me about the political climate of New York City as well as the world. This allowed me to find my passion in public affairs work including interning at the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau. Roosevelt House led me to the Grove Fellowship Program where I worked on better housing practices in New York with former Council Member Daniel Garodnick. It also connected me with the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women program which provides young women with public affairs internships and opportunities throughout New York City. Through Roosevelt House I traveled to Washington D.C. where I engaged with people that work at the ACLU and Center for American Progress. The events at Roosevelt House bring in people at the top of their fields to speak to Hunter College students. Roosevelt House provided me with the ability to explore and find my passion in public affairs work in New York.
— Nicole Retsepter, Certificate in Public Policy, 2018.
Roosevelt House for me is the educational and professional platform that allowed me to be an agent of advocacy and social change. As a student of both programs, I had the privilege to learn from Human Rights and Public Policy practitioners the insights of how government agencies and NGOs work to confront social, economic, and political challenges. By attending lectures from human rights professionals, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the politics that control how human rights violations are interpreted and mitigated. The dialogue-centered atmosphere is unique to Roosevelt House. The Human Rights Program also provided the opportunity to go out to the field, on a required internship, to learn and assist with the day-to-day operations of an organization that provides services and advocacy for individuals with justice involvement. The Public Policy Capstone class expanded my knowledge of housing policy in New York City and its complexities. With the expert guidance of passionate academics, I learned advanced research skills that helped me obtain my current employment, assisting the city’s most vulnerable secure affordable housing. Roosevelt House has followed Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy of championing the most basic human rights and social justice, by empowering individuals like me to follow this commitment. Roosevelt House will always be my academic and advocacy inspiration.
— Juan Diaz, Human Rights Minor/Public Policy Certificate, 2018.
To me, Roosevelt House means an opportunity to build upon a progressive legacy in the 21st century. More than any one person, the progressive policies that originated in this building - ranging from President Roosevelt’s radical New Deal to his almost revolutionary Economic Bill of Rights – are still inspiring a new generation in the United States to struggle for progressive programs, something that is more important than ever in these trying times. A society may not be able to change itself overnight, but with the prospect of an education anyone can have the information necessary to question and to confront the world around them. The education I received at Roosevelt House will have me questioning the world, ready to challenge it, for the rest of my life.
— Jeffrey Reyes, Minor in Public Policy, 2018.
Roosevelt House has been a hallmark of my college career. Not only have I learned about policy areas I was not familiar with in my classes, but I have been encouraged to actively engage with leaders of the fields I am most passionate about. From working with former City Councilman Daniel Garodnick on issues of affordable housing, to speaking alongside U. S. Senator Dick Durbin on a DACA panel, my time at Roosevelt has been filled with incredible opportunities. During my time at Hunter, I have been an Eva Kastan Grove Scholar and Fellow, which has prepared me for my current role as the Jennifer J. Raab Presidential Public Service Fellow. I am forever grateful to the wonderful staff, faculty, and students of Roosevelt House, who have made its curriculum as enjoyable as it is comprehensive.
— Isidora Echeverria, Minor in Public Policy, 2018.
Global cooperation is only achievable through discourse and Roosevelt House allows us to do this every day, to sit across from one another and learn to discuss and disagree on matters, with both patience and respect for our view points; or what has been most elating, to find comfort in others who also have felt the same injustices that one feels so deeply; what it is to be identified with both classmates and professors. To remain objective while standing forthright in our minds and the words with which we wish to express them, but always lending an ear to what a colleague or classmate has seen that perhaps we had not. Through discussion and the ways that we esteem each other to the point that we may engage each other is the basis for any peace work and progress. I have found a home at Hunter in Roosevelt House; a cozy nook with large winding staircases as well as winding and weaving conversations that do convince me that progress is indeed possible through dialogue. In such times that we feel push against us and our dreams of the future and what could or should be, policy studies enlighten us and beg us to question and review what has been said and done; we see through our review that there is surely much for us to work on.
— Ashley M. Arancibia, Minor in Public Policy, 2019.
As a first generation college student and child of undocumented immigrants, Roosevelt House holds immense importance to me. The first time I ever stepped foot into Roosevelt House, I was in awe; to be standing and learning where the Roosevelts once stood, seemed unreal to me. My parents came to this country for a better life and I am always grateful for the opportunities I have been granted because they made that decision. Learning where the Roosevelts once resided not only makes me feel like a part of a powerful history but also someone who can help bring change as well. I do want to devote my life to fighting for human rights. Of course the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not law and there are flaws within the system, but Roosevelt House has taught me how important it is to continue fighting for human rights in any way, shape or form that I can.
— Kelly Cruz, Human Rights Minor, 2020.
Eva Kastan Grove Fellowship Program
The Eva Kastan Grove Fellowship Program at Roosevelt House provides mentorship, professional development, and a financial award to students who are committed to public service, public policy, and human rights. Grove Leaders, accomplished public policy and human rights figures, spend a semester mentoring and leading seminars with cohorts of up to five Fellows to complete a project that advances public policy and human rights locally, nationally or globally.
The Eva Kastan Grove Fellowship Program was made possible by the Grove family in honor of Hunter alumna Eva Grove’s 80th birthday. The Program ensures that Eva’s lifelong commitment to advocacy, social service, and philanthropy endures. Her daughter Robie Spector is active with the program and related Roosevelt House events.
Eva Kastan’s family fled the Nazis when she was just three. She was raised in Bolivia, and at 18, arrived in New York and attended Hunter College where she spent many hours at Roosevelt House. She graduated in 1958 with a degree in pre-social work. Her husband, Andrew Grove, former chairman of Intel and graduate of City College, was also an immigrant, having survived both the Nazi occupation of Hungary, and later, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. For Mrs. Grove, “Hunter opened the doors to America for me.” Hunter College continues to welcome immigrant students from all over the world.
Grove Seminar Leaders:
Dr. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli headed city agencies under three mayors and served as Chair of the New York City Health + Hospitals Board; Charles Kaiser, award winning journalist and book author, and leader of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Jessica Neuwirth, international women’s rights lawyer and activist, now Director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House; Christine Quinn, former Speaker of the New York City Council and now President and Chief Executive Officer of Women in Need; Dan Garodnick, 12-year member of the New York City Council before becoming President and CEO of the Riverside Park Conservancy; Karen Hunter, radio talk-show host, first African-American female news columnist at the New York Daily News, member of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize and Polk Award winning teams; Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City.
Roosevelt Scholars are students with passion for civic engagement and public affairs. They aspire to be a force for constructive change through direct service, social entrepreneurship, and leadership that fosters strong communities and sensible policy. The Roosevelt experience integrates liberal arts study with students’ concern for direct impact.
Roosevelt Scholars explore and public and civic issues through specially oriented courses, and participate in exclusive events with government officials, policy makers, community activists, academics, and social sector organization leaders. Roosevelt House serves as the students’ institutional home.
After the shared experience of the Roosevelt Freshmen Block, students branch off into their own respective majors in any field, and often enroll in the certificates offered by the Roosevelt House programs in Public Policy and Human Rights. Throughout their time at Hunter, Roosevelt Scholars have access to dedicated campus resources, skill-building opportunities, and workshops.
JFEW Eleanor Roosevelt Scholars
The two-year JFEW Eleanor Roosevelt Scholars Program at Hunter College provides meaningful educational and professional opportunities to competitively selected students who are committed to enhancing the status and role of women in the fields of public policy and public service. This program and its unique offerings are made possible by a generous grant from the Jewish Foundation for Education of Women and is open to students of all religious backgrounds.
JFEW Scholars receive tuition assistance, mentorship, a paid summer internship in New York, a three-day seminar in Washington, D.C., dedicated workshops, and invitations to special events at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. In recent years, scholars have interacted with a wide array of venerable policy institutions, including the Brookings Institution, the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the offices of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Carolyn Maloney, the American Civil Liberties Union, Vital Voices, Emily’s List, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, among others.
Whether Scholars are interested in applying to law school, graduate school, or a position in the public service and/or public policy field, the JFEW Eleanor Roosevelt Scholarship Program is dedicated to preparing students for a range of post-graduate endeavors.
Theodore Kheel Fellowship In Transportation Policy
The newest student program at Roosevelt House is part of the Theodore W. Kheel Fellowship in Transportation Policy. The program—offering a fellowship to an outstanding urban policy expert and educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in transportation policy—is made possible by the family and foundation of the legendary Ted Kheel (1914-2010), the visionary New Yorker who memorably designated transportation rights as a civil right for all our citizens. Kheel was an attorney and mediator who helped resolve major labor disputes in New York City during an unsurpassed, 50-year-long public service career. Basing the program at Roosevelt House is a perfect fit since Kheel was named after Theodore Roosevelt, beloved and admired uncle to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and the New Deal funded many transportation projects in New York. Kheel previously assisted the college in establishing the influential Institute for Sustainable Cities, and visited Roosevelt House before his death, his daughter noting “It’s a very meaningful place for our family.”
The inaugural Theodore Kheel Transportation Fellow was Sam Schwartz, one of the country’s most accomplished experts in the theories and practices of sustainable urban transportation policy. Mr. Schwartz served with distinction as New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986, and then as First Deputy and Chief Engineer of the newly organized NYC Department of Transportation from 1986-1990. He is widely credited with inventing the term “gridlock.” He continues to consult on the reconstruction of the World Trade Center and the ongoing modernization of LaGuardia Airport. His most recent book was the subject of a public program at Roosevelt House: Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars. As the inaugural Kheel Fellow, Mr. Schwartz guided a student seminar studying urban transportation policy and the creation of a balanced urban transportation system for American cities.
The second Kheel Fellow was Howard Glaser. Mr. Glaser was a senior advisor to two New York Governors, included serving as Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor, and Director of State Operations – where he was the state’s chief operating officer. As the Governor’s chief manager of infrastructure, he led the recovery plan after Superstorm Sandy; steered the complex process for the approval and design of the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge; oversaw the effort to create the first unified transportation capital plan for New York State; and served as the Executive Chamber point person for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the NYS Department of Transportation, and other agencies critical to the state’s transportation and infrastructure operations and development. At the federal level, Mr. Glaser has served in multiple posts. Mr. Glaser’s course was “Transporting New York: Sustainable Mobility in the 21st Century.”
Roosevelt House Today — Guest Speakers and Special Programs