Joseph P. Lash '31
Class of 1931
When a teenage Joseph P. Lash was contemplating college, he got strong opposition from his family, which wanted him to run the family grocery store and study at the Jewish Theological Seminary. But an education at City College was what he wanted and that’s what he got, graduating in 1931 and heading for a life in which he became a political activist, a journalist, a man who defied a Congressional committee, and an acclaimed author whose biography of longtime friend Eleanor Roosevelt captured a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.
A native New Yorker who was born Dec. 2, 1909 and raised in Washington Heights, Lash believed that for him a City College education represented freedom and hope. It also meant an introduction to the literary world and the arena of left-leaning politics and helped form his unwavering commitment to the principles of peace and justice.
At the College he joined a group resisting compulsory military training that had been started by The Campus newspaper. After earning a graduate degree from Columbia, his political activities led him to Spain, where he spoke to youth groups to rally support for the Loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War. Many of the organizations he joined in those days had ties to the Communist Party, but when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939, Lash grew disillusioned, resigning as executive secretary of the American Student Union, a national left-wing anti-militarism organization. Three months later, he was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to answer the Committee’s inquiries about other members of the ASU.
It was during that trip to Washington that Lash met Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Lady had taken the same train to counsel Lash and others who had been called to testify. Mrs. Roosevelt then invited the group to dine at the White House. Lash met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; a long friendship with Mrs. Roosevelt was under way. They later co-founded Americans for Democratic Action and their lives touched each other until her death in 1962. For him, the connection survived even her passing.
During World War II, Lash served in the Army Air Force, rising to the rank of second lieutenant. After the war, he worked as an assistant to the Roosevelts’ son Elliott. In 1950, he was hired by The New York Post and became its first United Nations correspondent. In 1960, he was named assistant editor of the paper’s editorial page, writing columns as well as editorials. At the same time, his passion for writing history took hold with his 1961 biography of Dag Hammarskjold, the UN Secretary-General. Lash left The Post in 1966 and having been granted access to Mrs. Roosevelt’s papers, began working on her biography.
In 1971, he produced the book that brought him fame, “Eleanor and Franklin,” the first installment of a two-part effort. It was followed by “Eleanor, the Years Alone,” which told of her life after FDR’s death in 1945. Lash’s other books include “Helen and Teacher,” about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, and “Roosevelt and Churchill 1939-1941: The Partnership That Saved the West.”
Lash died on Aug. 22, 1987, while being treated for a heart ailment. He was 77.