Ephemeral Reminders of the Good Government Movement

By Sandra Roff and Sarah Rappo

Page displaying ephemera including in a report on Boy Scouts in New York City.

Page displaying ephemera including in a report on Boy Scouts in New York City.

For an archivist, opening a box from an unexpected archival collection can reveal strange and often wonderful items that can shed light on persons, places or events. Much of what is found between the pages of reports, tucked into scrapbooks, or loosely scattered in cartons can prove to be unexpected treasures for researchers. Under the umbrella term ephemera, the value of these archival finds has been chronicled in assorted journal articles and in the publications of the Ephemera Society.

In the days before the Internet and digitization, scholars became historical detectives, perusing the shelves of research institutions in search of that elusive bit of history which could be hiding between the leaves of a volume. Archival collections today still have the promise of revealing a unique window into the past, and often this takes the form of ephemera, which may be unique to an archival collection.

An exciting cache of ephemera was brought to light after the Baruch College Archives was deeded the Institute of Public Administration Collection and the Luther Gulick Papers. Arriving at Baruch College in over 700 cartons, the processing archivist had no idea what each carton might hold. The collection dates to 1906 when the Bureau of Municipal Research was founded, precursor to the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) with the motto “An Adventure in Democracy.” An apt motto since opening each box became an adventure, and the cry “look what I found” was almost a daily occurrence.

The Luther Gulick collection is a rich source of ephemeral materials. His long life and involvement with many different projects, people and countries over the years yielded an assortment of ephemera. Luther H. Gulick III (1892-1993) in his long life witnessed monumental events that helped shape his life’s work as a master reformer of the twentieth century. Born in Japan to a missionary family, Gulick began his public service career under the tutelage of historian Charles Beard at the newly formed New York Bureau of Municipal Research and its Training School for Public Service. The Bureau was instrumental in developing methods to make government more responsive to the public while becoming professional, accountable and efficient. Gulick led the Bureau and later its successor the Institute of Public Administration which became an innovator in developing scientific management.

Formed as the Bureau of City Betterment and incorporated in 1907 as the Bureau of Municipal Research (BMR), they believed that “wasteful, ineffective government could not serve democracy well and could not provide the kind of services required by the new urban society.[1]The Bureau consisted of experts who specialized in administrative fields like education, personnel and budgets. They used their expertise and conducted a series of studies of New York City. They gathered information through observations, questionnaires, interviews, and available reference sources. Afterwards, the Bureau published their findings in reports or manuals that aimed to help the organization in question.[2]The first survey undertaken by the Bureau sought out to study the public baths in New York City. Unable to receive any cooperation from city officials or access to the Borough President of Manhattan’s records, the Bureau studied what was observable on the streets rather than fighting in court for access to the records. Their findings were published in a report titled, “How Manhattan is Governed,” which caused a commotion in City Hall and lead to the removal of the Borough President John F. Ahearn.

Luther Gulick III's cane.

Luther Gulick III's cane.

Gulick had an illustrious career, after World War II his efforts revolved around modernizing the functioning of the New York City government, when he was appointed the first City Administrator by Mayor Wagner in 1954. His life and career offer an unprecedented look into twentieth century municipal reform. What kinds of treasures were lurking in this collection, which has the promise of advancing the body of knowledge on the development of the good government movement in America?

Scrapbooks are always an exciting find, and there were several in the collection which contained unique pamphlets and other ephemera. Within reports compiled by the Institute of Public Administration, we have found manuals for snow fighters in New York City as well as pamphlets describing new technology in street cleaning. Found amongst the survey and project files of the Institute of Public Administration collection are news clippings about the projects they undertook. These clippings allow researchers to gain additional viewpoints on topics rather than relying solely on the reports produced by the IPA. Gulick’s scrapbooks contained ephemera that cannot be duplicated. As an article in the Journal of Archival Organization notes, “Scrapbooks…can provide a dual service to researchers. Not only are they useful as evidence of culture even if no provenance information for them exists, but in the case of an individual’s papers, they can provide particularly illuminating information about the way that individual interacted with his or her world.”[3]In other words, scrapbooks give us insight into the owner’s act of curating their ephemera.

Pages from the Ahearn scrapbook.

Pages from the Ahearn scrapbook.

One of the early scrapbooks in the Institute of Public Administration collection is the Ahearn Investigation Scrapbook (May 27, 1907). This scrapbook contains news clippings relating to the ousting of the Manhattan Borough President John F. Ahearn. The Institute of Public Administration, then known as the Bureau of City Betterment, assembled this scrapbook because their research into the Ahearn’s mismanagement of public funds that led to his dismissal as Manhattan borough president. This scrapbook can be viewed as a memento of their success and hard work as crusaders for improving municipal government. Some clippings are from smaller newspapers, including foreign language papers, that may have folded, their own archives lost.

The Baruch College archivists maintain an ongoing relationship with the Gulick family. We have met with them and discussed his collection on many occasions. They have added to the collection over the years by giving us an assortment of ephemeral materials that they had kept, and are continually soliciting from their extended family. One such item is a walking cane. Luther Gulick lived a healthy life and did not require the use of a cane. According to family lore, Gulick used the cane when he strolled through the city as an extra security measure against miscreants. In preparation of selling a family retreat, they are slowly clearing it out so we are anticipating more items in the future. It is important when possible to establish a relationship with family members connected to a collection. They can possibly add materials to the collection and provide information that might be vital to providing context to ephemeral items.

The Institute of Public Administration collection and the Luther Gulick Papers provide a wealth of previously unavailable information on the good government movement, which impacted governments across the world for almost a century. Although the bulk of the collections consist of reports and other printed documents, what is unique is the ephemera that is found alongside these items. Often clippings, scrapbooks and the other assorted ephemera help tell another part of the story. Why were these items saved? Were they thought to have lasting value? How do they fit into the larger picture of Gulick, or the IPA? With the Baruch College Archive initiative to make available the collection digitally to researchers and scholars, the ephemera provides an extra layer of research possibilities for years to come.

Sandra Roff is Professor and Head of Archives and Special Collections at Baruch College.
Sarah Rappo is Assistant Archivist at the Baruch College Archives and Special Collections.


[1] Jane S. Dahlberg, The New York Bureau of Municipal Research (New York: New York University Press, 1966), 31.

[2] Aleksandr Gelfand, Steven Calco, Sandra Roff, Jessica Wagner, Daniel Williams, Anivarul Alam, Hirra Zafar, Ronghui Lin and Nina Savila. Institute of Public Administration Record. March 30, 2015, 5.

[3] Juliana M. Kuipers, “Scrapbooks: Intrinsic Value and Material Culture.” Journal of Archival Organization2, no.3 (2004): 87.