Mayor William J. Gaynor records
Collection REC0031 - RG 001. Office of the Mayor of the City of New York
Collection REC0031 - RG 001/RG 001.WJG. Office of the Mayor, William J. Gaynor
112.5 cubic feet (225 boxes)
1909-1913, bulk 1910-1913
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This collection contains material generated by the daily workings of the Office of the Mayor during William J. Gaynor’s mayoral administration. The majority of the material consists of correspondence issued to and from City agencies and departments, and from the general public. The Departmental Correspondence Received and Sent series documents the everyday tasks of city agencies. They also highlight such administrative priorities as continuing subway expansion and enacting policy to deal with police brutality and corruption. Overall, Mayor Gaynor’s work to separate the Mayoral office from Tammany Hall can be seen reflected within these files. Additionally, it is of particular note that Mayor Gaynor was known for his letter writing style and frequency with which he responded to his citizenry.
In addition to the various correspondence series, a Subject Files series documents official city business topical to the time. This includes discussion on imposing ordinances on motion picture theatres, petitions from labor groups and files on city employees under suspicion of corruption. The subject files which refer to the assassination attempt on Mayor Gaynor and the sinking of the Titanic are particularly voluminous.
William Jay Gaynor served as the 94th Mayor of the City of New York from 1910 to 1913. He was born in Oriskany, New York, on February 2, 1849, to a devout Irish Catholic family of farmers.
Much of Gaynor's early life revolved around church and religion. As a teenager, Gaynor attended school at Assumption Academy in Utica, a school staffed by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was inspired to become a member of their religious congregation and, in December 1863, he was sent to New York City to enter the novitiate of the congregation. After four years at the Institute, interest in different philosophical texts led to his disillusionment with organized Christianity. Since he was still a youth and had not taken religious vows, he was allowed to leave the Institute and return home without canonical impediment.
Upon his return to Utica, his father helped him secure a job with the law firm of former New York State Governor, Horatio Seymour. It was this clerkship that inspired Gaynor to get into law and politics. In 1875, he took his practice to the town of Flatbush and, eventually, to the city of Brooklyn.
Gaynor was elected to the New York State Supreme Court in 1893, where he served from 1894 until 1909, when Tammany Hall nominated Gaynor for Mayor. He was elected and took office on January 1, 1910. Gaynor’s relationship with Tammany was short-lived when he immediately began filling high-level government posts with experts and adequately utilized civil service lists for filling city employment lines, as opposed to hiring the Tammany-preferred way - nepotism and patronage.
Early in his term, a discharged city employee of the Dock department attempted to assassinate Gaynor while on board the Europe-bound SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which was docked at Hoboken, New Jersey. The employee, Joseph J. Gallagher, shot Gaynor at point-blank range in the neck just behind his ear. This moment was captured on camera by New York World photographer William Warnecke in what would became one of the first examples of photojournalism. Gaynor quickly recovered, but the bullet that remained lodged in his throat plagued him for the remaining three years of his life. He is the only New York City mayor to be hit by a bullet during an assassination attempt.
In 1912, after the terrible tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic, Mayor Gaynor was instrumental in the mobilization of New York City government to accept donations from those who wanted to help. He designated the Emergency Committee of the American National Red Cross to receive and disperse the donated funds. Newspapers of the time noted that Gaynor’s work was essential in assisting the bereaved.
Due to Gaynor’s deteriorating relations with Tammany Hall, they would not nominate Gaynor for a second term, but he did receive the nomination from an independent group of voters before setting sail for Europe. Six days later, on September 10, 1913, William Gaynor died suddenly in a deck chair aboard the liner, presumably from a heart attack. He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
- "Attempted Assassination of Mayor Gaynor on Shipboard,"
- Gaynor, William Jay.
- Municipal Reference Library. “Selected List of Materials by and about William J. Gaynor.” New York, 14 May 1933.
- Thornton, Robert M. “William Jay Gaynor: Libertarian Mayor of New York." Foundation for Economic Education, 1 March 1970. https://fee.org/articles/william-jay-gaynor-libertarian-mayor-of-new-york/
- “William Jay Gaynor as an intimate who knew him.” root>
- Guide to the records of Mayor William J. Gaynor, 1910-1913
- Alexandra Hilton
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- 2018: Updated by staff archivist Alexandra Hilton