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Roosevelt House Acquires Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Collection of Books on Presidential History

A trove of 65 books on American political history, covering the presidency from the age of John Quincy Adams to the era of Bill Clinton—with a special emphasis on Franklin Delano Roosevelt—has been donated to Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute by Alexandra Schlesinger, widow of the late historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Professor Schlesinger collected the volumes personally during his long career as a revered scholar, acclaimed writer, and influential White House advisor.

The books, most of them personally inscribed to Schlesinger by their authors, will become part of the holdings at the Roosevelt House library, which occupies the original second-floor room that FDR used as a study and office during his residence at the East 65th Street town house from 1908 through his departure for his own presidential inauguration in March 1933.

“This is a wonderful gift that enriches the Roosevelt House collection and will surely benefit scholars who come here to conduct research in the house that Franklin and Eleanor used as their New York City base from the earliest days of their marriage until the beginning of his presidency,” commented Jennifer J. Raab, Hunter College President. “We are deeply grateful to Mrs. Schlesinger for choosing Roosevelt House as the repository for this generous gift. And we extend special thanks to our own Roosevelt House Advisory Board Member, Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, for helping to arrange the donation.

“FDR loved reading history, and it is so fitting that these books, authored by a virtual who’s who of 20th-century historians and amassed by no less than the historian of the century, can now be housed here at Roosevelt House.”

Commented Ambassador vanden Heuvel: “It is the poetry of history that part of Arthur Schlesinger’s book collection should now be situated at Roosevelt House and in the very library that FDR himself once used. Now, the pre-eminent historian of the Roosevelt era has found a perfect spot for his treasured collection of books.”

Announcement of the gift was made this evening—the 136th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birth—at a Roosevelt House public program devoted to a new biography of the historian, Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian, written by Richard Aldous.

Harold Holzer, the Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Roosevelt House, introduced the event by noting: “Today we add to our collection not only a new book illuminating the life of Arthur Schlesinger himself, but also some of the very books the great historian welcomed into his own collection during his extraordinary career. Roosevelt House has long served as a convening place for students, scholars, and the public—so it is an honor for us to make this trove of books part of our collection—as well as a constant reminder of how much policy work, history, and scholarship this house and its occupants have inspired and interpreted.”

The books—by authors from Jonathan Alter to Tom Wicker, include several volumes on the family and presidency of John F. Kennedy, in whose Administration Schlesinger served as a special advisor and so-called “court historian” from 1961 to 1963. These include JFK works by Lord Longford, William Manchester, and Herbert S. Parmet, a volume on Ted Kennedy by James MacGregor Burns, and On His Own: Robert F. Kennedy, 1964-1968, co-authored and inscribed by William vanden Heuvel.

The Roosevelt era is particularly well-covered. In addition to Alter’s 2007 book, The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (inscribed to Schlesinger “with great affection and respect for all you have contributed to enriching the life of this country”), the collection includes: Frank Friedel’s 1973 Franklin D. Roosevelt: Launching the New Deal (“To Arthur Schlesinger, who has sustained us all in his shadow, with admiration and affection, Frank); and the monumental biographies by James MacGregor Burns, the 1956 Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (inscribed “with best wishes and keen appreciation of The Age of Roosevelt”—a Schlesinger book), and the 1970 Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom (“For Arthur Schlesinger—fellow toiler in the FDR vineyard, with great affection and regard, Jim Burns”). Also included is a first-edition of Joseph Lash’s beloved Eleanor and Franklin (1970), for which Schlesinger contributed the foreword, and a 1947 volume of Wartime Correspondence Between President Roosevelt and Pope Pius XII.

Among Schlesinger’s own books in the collection are War and the American Presidency (2004) and Journals 1952-2005 (2007), along with a film script for the 1970 production, The Journey of Robert Kennedy. The donation also includes a signed copy of New Viewpoints in American History, a 1928 classic by Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., the historian’s equally eminent father.

Books about other presidents include William Safire’s 1987 Freedom: A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The collection also features books on Richard M. Nixon (by Tom Wicker), Ronald Reagan (by Frances Fitzgerald), and Woodrow Wilson (volumes by Herbert Clifford Francis Bell, August Heckscher, Godfrey Hodgson, and Arthur S. Link), as well as an original treatise by Wilson himself (Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, 1901). One of the oldest volumes is a printed eulogy, Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States, delivered in 1848 by former New York Governor (later U. S. Senator, presidential aspirant, and Secretary of State) William H. Seward. Another rarity is the biography Martin Van Buren to the End of his Career (1889) by George Bancroft, considered by many the first great American historian.

The collection includes a remarkable number of books by and about unsuccessful candidates for the U.S. Presidency: a memoir by James G. Blaine (who lost to Grover Cleveland in 1884); Emily Smith Warner’s 1956 volume, The Happy Warrior: A Biography of my Father Alfred E. Smith, the New York Democrat who lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928; Jane Dick’s 1952 book, Whistle-stopping with Adlai [Stevenson], defeated by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956; Richard Michael Marano’s Vote Your Conscience: The Last Campaign of George McGovern as well as McGovern’s own 1968 book, A Time of War. A Time of Peace (inscribed: “To Arthur—with always growing esteem and friendship—George”); and Douglas Brinkley’s book, Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (Kerry was defeated by George W. Bush in 2004).

Perhaps the most extraordinary volume within this category is Donald R. McKoy’s Landon of Kansas, a 1966 biography of Kansas Republican Alfred M. Landon, whom FDR resoundingly defeated for the presidency in 1936. The book is bluntly inscribed to Schlesinger by Landon himself: “For Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.—You meet a lot of sons of bitches in politics. You make a lot of friends whose memory endures over the years like you. With admiration and affection, Your friend, Alf M. Landon.” (Landon lived 21 years to age 100.)

Books by other political figures include onetime Democratic vice presidential candidate Thomas Eagleton’s 1974 War and Presidential Power (“To Arthur Schlesinger—one of the nation’s fine minds and a fine guy as well), and the 1984 Preserving the Constitution: The Autobiography of Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. (“To Arthur M. Schlesinger—the gifted historian, for his gracious permission to quote in this book his excellent treatise, “The Imperial Presidency”).

The Roosevelt House Library already includes six volumes on presidential history by Schlesinger, to which the new acquisitions will now be added. Many more Schlesinger books can be found in the main Hunter College Library.

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