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Lehman's Historic Past

Photo of Herbert H. LehmanLehman College was established as an independent unit of The City University of New York on July 1, 1968, following a decision by the University's Board of Trustees to create a comprehensive senior college in the Bronx with its own faculty, curriculum, and administration.

The College took over the campus that, since 1931, had served as the Bronx branch of Hunter College, known as Hunter-in-the-Bronx. Adjacent to the historic Jerome Park Reservoir, the first four buildings in the plan-Gillet and Davis halls, the Music Building, and the Gymnasium-were completed in 1931 by the New York State WPA. The original campus plan called for nine buildings, but the Great Depression delayed construction, and the ambitious plan was later abandoned by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia.

For a decade before the entry of the United States in the Second World War, only women students attended, taking their first two years of study at the Bronx campus and then transferring to Hunter’s Manhattan campus to complete their undergraduate work.

Shortly after U.S. entry into the war, the students and faculty vacated the campus and turned over the facilities to the U.S. Navy, which used them as a training station for the newly organized WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

To commemorate this period, the Navy later installed a ship’s bell from the U.S.S. Columbia on the campus. In 1946 the campus won a niche in world history when it was made available to the United Nations at the urging of New York City officials. From March to August 1946, the first American meetings of the Security Council were held in the Gymnasium Building where intercollegiate basketball, archery, swimming, and other sports have been played. During festivities marking the 40th anniversary of the United Nations in 1986, the Southern New York State Division of the United Nations Association presented the College with a commemorative plaque, now displayed outside the Gymnasium Building. The College participated in the United Nations’ 50th anniversary activities in 1995-96.

Normal collegiate activity resumed at the campus in 1947, but, in addition to women, the Bronx branch began accepting former servicemen, who studied in separate classes. In 1951 the campus became fully coeducational and a four-year curriculum was introduced. The process of separating the Bronx campus from Hunter College into a separate unit began in 1967. Dr. Leonard Lief, chairman of the English Department, was named provost and made responsible for overseeing the transition. On July 1, 1968, Lehman College began an independent existence, with Dr. Lief as president.

The Board of Higher Education named the new college after Herbert H. Lehman, in recognition of the commitment to public service exemplified by the four-time governor of New York State who later became a U.S. Senator and was the first director-general of UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). The College was formally dedicated on March 28, 1969, the 91st anniversary of Governor Lehman’s birth. Each year, on or about March 28, the College commemorates the double anniversary by inviting a distinguished speaker to deliver the Herbert H. Lehman Memorial Lecture.