Herbert H. Lehman

45th Governor Jan. 1, 1933–Dec. 3, 1942
Herbert H. Lehman

A successful businessman, Herbert H. Lehman (1878–1963) proved to be an able and long-serving governor, helping to steer New York through the Great Depression. Lehman modeled state relief programs after President Roosevelt’s national New Deal. Known as the “Little New Deal,” these programs set a minimum wage, provided public housing, and increased unemployment insurance. It was during Lehman’s tenure that the term for governor was lengthened to four years. Lehman resigned to become the first Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.

45th Governor Herbert H. Lehman
About the Artist

Robert Brackman (1898–1980) emigrated from Russia and had a long career as a portraitist. His other subjects included Charles and Anne Lindbergh, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the actress Jennifer Jones for the prop portrait in the 1948 film, “Portrait of Jennie.”


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Historic Documents



Thank You Letter from Herbert Lehman, November 16, 1928
Thank You Letter from Herbert Lehman, November 16, 1928

This thank you letter includes political reminiscences and was written just before Lehman became Lieutenant Governor of New York. A newspaper photograph of Lehman as Governor is attached to this letter.

Loaned By Dennis Holzman Antiques

From The Encyclopedia of New York State

Lehman, Herbert H(enry) (b New York City, 28 Mar 1878; d New York City, 5 Dec 1963). Governor and US Senator.

After graduating from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass, in 1899, he worked for a New York City textile company, becoming vice president and treasurer after six years. In 1908 he was made a full partner at Lehman Bros, a major investment banking firm. Early in his career he also began to support the Henry Street Settlement on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, developing a lasting passion for social reform. During World War I, Lehman held several key federal administrative positions, including those that supervised relief efforts.

He managed Alfred E. Smith’s winning gubernatorial campaign in 1926, and two years later Lehman left private business to lead the national Democratic Party’s finance committee in Smith’s presidential drive. At the same time he won the lieutenant governor’s position in the election in which Franklin D.Roosevelt was chosen for his first term as governor; both were reelected in 1930. Lehman proved invaluable as an active lieutenant governor who resourcefully handled banking crises, state hospital improvements, and prison disturbances.

Upon Roosevelt’s ascension to the presidency, Lehman was elected as the state’s first Jewish governor in 1932 and reelected in 1934, 1936, and 1938, the latter for a four-year term. Through his leadership New York State enacted what later became known as the “Little New Deal,” a series of relief programs modeled after Roosevelt’s national New Deal. With a calm but persuasive resolve born of his business career and his dedicated liberalism, Lehman led successful fights to set a minimum wage, guarantee job insurance, provide public housing, expand the legal rights of organized labor, and increase unemployment relief. Skilled at working with special interest groups, powerful politicians, and bureaucrats, he also enhanced state government operations, brought new regulation to utilities, secured changes in the criminal justice system, and managed to turn a $106 million deficit in 1932 into an $80 million surplus 10 years later.

In December 1942 Lehman resigned as governor to become director of the Office of Foreign Relief and Rehabilitation Operations, a post he held for three years. Although he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate in 1946, Lehman won a special election in 1949 after the retirement of Robert F.Wagner Sr and then won a full six-year term in 1950. He supported most of Pres Harry S. Truman’s programs and consistently promoted liberal causes. He cosponsored a bill to strip Sen Joseph McCarthy of committee chairmanships and advocated his censure in the Senate. In 1956 Lehman retired from politics.

From 1959 to 1961, he worked with Eleanor Roosevelt and others in a reform Democratic movement that led to the defeat of Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio. Lehman was a noted philanthropist for numerous causes, and in 1960 he and his wife Edith donated $500,000 to establish the Children’s Zoo in New York City’s Central Park. Lehman died of a heart attack shortly before he was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Ingalls, Robert P. Herbert H. Lehman and New York’s Little New Deal (New York: New York Univ Press, 1975)
Nevins, Allan. Herbert H. Lehman and His Era (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963)
William Rainbolt


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 880-81].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.