Mayor William O’Dwyer records

Collection REC0014 - RG 001. Office of the Mayor of the City of New York

Collection REC0014 - RG 001/RG 001.WOD. Office of the Mayor, William O'Dwyer

Abstract

William O’Dwyer was the 100th Mayor of New York City from 1946-1950. This collection predominantly contains the material generated by the daily workings of the Office of the Mayor during his administration.

Extent

409 cubic feet (748 boxes, 109 volumes and 2 flat file drawers)

Dates

1917-1964, bulk 1946-1950



Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Patrons are required to use microfilm or digitized copies for those series for which it is available. Advance notice is required for using original material. Please contact us to arrange access.

Physical Location

Portions of this collection are stored offsite.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of this collection was transferred from the Office of the Mayor to the Municipal Archives during 1954-1958.

Alternate Forms Available

This collection has been partially microfilmed. Microfilm is available on-site or via interlibrary loan.

Processing Information

This collection was partially processed by unknown persons at an unknown date. When the records were transferred to the archives in the 1950s, much of it was interfiled with the records of Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, O’Dwyer’s successor. At some point between 1960 and 1990, archivists separated the material into their respective collections. During 2017-2018, additional processing and description was completed by staff archivist Alexandra Hilton.
The Mayor William O’Dwyer records focus predominantely on the operations of the mayor and its office, effects and interactions with other city agencies and the public. The strongest series in this collection is Series II: Subject files. Here, topical subject headings organize the Mayor’s records on a variety of important issues, such as transportation, housing, construction, and welfare. Also of note are the records in Series I: Departmental letters, which can be used to track day-to-day operations of city’s agencies during his administration. Particularly large in extent is the scrapbooks series, another source for information on a more granular level.

Materials consist of correspondence, departmental reports, manuals, surveys, speeches, press releases, financial schedules, newspaper clippings and memoranda. Also included are architectural plans, blueprints, maps and artists’ drawings of various city projects. Many of these items are oversize and have been separated from the rest of the records. Boxes containing ephemera with unknown provenance became their own series. Included within are various awards, pamphlets and miscellaneous material. Non-manuscript materials, including approximately 600 photographs, sound records and artifacts have been separated from the paper records.
Born July 11, 1890, in Lismirrane, Bohola, Ireland, William O’Dwyer was the eldest of eleven children born to Patrick and Bridget O’Dwyer. Patrick was the headmaster of a three-teacher school in Lismirrane, where his wife, Bridget, also taught as an assistant teacher. O’Dwyer began his education at his parents’ school and attended secondary school at St. Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen. After graduation, he started training for the priesthood at the University of Salamanca in Spain but dropped out at the end of his second semester. Rather than returning to Ireland, he sailed for the United States and, in 1910, arrived in New York City.

During O’Dwyer’s first few years in New York, he took a variety of odd jobs. He worked as a grocery clerk, steamship stoker, hod carrier and plasterer, and bartender at the Vanderbilt Hotel, where he met his first wife, Catherine Lenihan. In 1916, he gained citizenship and began night classes at Fordham University Law School. The following year O’Dwyer joined the police force and remained there until he was admitted to the bar in 1923. He spent a few years clerking for established lawyers before he opened his practice in June of 1926.

O’Dwyer’s first judicial position of note came in 1932 when Acting Mayor Joseph McKee appointed him as a city magistrate. In 1935, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia appointed him to the Brooklyn Adolescents Court and, in 1937, O’Dwyer became a County Court Judge. In 1939, he was elected to the position of Kings County District Attorney. As DA, he became known for his “clean house policy,” and was lauded for bringing down the Murder Inc. crime ring.

After running for Mayor and losing against La Guardia in 1941, he took a leave of absence from the District Attorney’s Office. Just as the United States was on the cusp of entering into World War II, O’Dwyer joined the Army Inspector General’s office. He made his way up the ranks from a commissioned major to brigadier general. President Roosevelt later named him a personal envoy and Executive Director of the War Refugee Board.

Upon his return home to New York in 1945, O’Dwyer was nominated for mayor by the Tammany Democrats and American Labor party. He easily won the election to become the 100th mayor of New York City. At his inauguration, he celebrated with the song, “It’s a Great Day for the Irish.”

William O’Dwyer’s administration was heavily influenced by the depleting effect of World War II on New York City. City Hall directed its energy toward revitalizing the city and toward renewing maintenance and general services. It was the first time the city’s budget clocked in at one billion dollars, and a Bureau of Analysis was created to improve the operation of agencies.

The O’Dwyer administration focused on public welfare, veterans’ problems, modernization of transportation and sanitation, housing, reform, and recreation. His office also sustained programs which concentrated on the building of schools, daycare centers, hospitals, playgrounds adjacent to public schools for student and community use, as well as the construction of various parks and beaches around the city.

Concerned with the rejuvenation of public services, transportation, and sanitation, the administration concentrated its efforts on infrastructure, with the construction of new expressways, bridges, airports, incinerators, and sewage disposal plants. After decades of maintaining five-cent subway fares at the expense of good service and system expansion, fares were raised to ten cents. It was also during this administration that Robert Moses became the first and only City Construction Co-Ordinator. His administration replaced trolleys with buses and brought Staten Island closer to the city through additional ferry boats, and the construction of connecting roadways and bridges. Moses also worked to have the permanent home of the United Nations located in Manhattan.

The O’Dwyer administration directed energy toward social reform within New York City. Hospitals, daycare centers, and public and private welfare agencies were investigated. New youth, senior citizen and employment programs were initiated. The mayor’s office also involved itself and the city in overseas relief programs. O’Dwyer was unhappy with the state of city government, and his administration expended considerable effort in the reform of the civil service system and city agencies. Several committees and panels were formed to streamline and improve the effectiveness of New York City government.

However, there were issues that plagued the administration. Opening with a tugboat strike in January of 1946, a number of other municipal strikes followed, which generated significant controversy. Continually threatened by a transit strike, the mayor’s office was able to avert the menace by raising the fare to ten cents. However, not all walkouts were avoided; some strikes caused a state of emergency to be declared before ending.

O’Dwyer was reelected in 1950, defeating opponents Newbold Morris and Vito Marcantonio. That September he resigned from office, citing ill health as the reason. However, a police corruption scandal had been uncovered by the Kings County District Attorney, Miles McDonald. McDonald alleged that police officers and judges were protecting an extensive network of bookmakers for annual payoffs exceeding $1 million. O’Dwyer vehemently denied any involvement and President Truman appointed him Ambassador to Mexico, although he continued to travel back to New York to answer questions concerning his relationship with organized crime figures.

On December 6, 1952, O’Dwyer resigned from his ambassadorship. Not long after, he divorced his second wife, the fashion model Sloan Simpson, who he had married in December 1949 after his first wife’s death in 1946. O’Dwyer remained in Mexico City as a consultant to the law firm of O’Dwyer, Bernstein and Correa. In 1960, he returned to New York City, where he lived until his death from heart failure on November 24, 1964.

Sources

  1. Baker, Kevin. "Glamour Girls, Murder, and the Mayor." WNYC/NYPR Archives and Preservation. New York, 24 November 2014. https://www.wnyc.org/story/not-so-charmed-life-mayor-odwyer.
  2. "Former Mayor O'Dwyer Dead; Prosecuted Murder, Inc., Gang: Onetime Policeman Quit City Hall in '50 During Scandal Over Bookie Payoffs." The New York Times 25 November 1964: 1.
  3. Lankevich, George J. New York City: A Short History. New York: NYU Press, 2002.
  4. O'Dwyer, William. Beyond the Golden Door. Ed. Paul O'Dwyer. Jamaica: St. John's University, 1987. Print book.
  5. "Remarkable Story of the O'Dwyer family." The Connaught Telegraph 27 September 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20110927010848/http://www.con-telegraph.ie/history/mayo-history/324-remarkable-story-of-the-odwyer-family.
Title
Guide to the records of Mayor William O’Dwyer, 1946-1950
Status
Completed
Author
Alexandra Hilton
Date
2017-2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
eng