Fifteen scrapbooks covering the career and political interests of George Rivet Van Namee have been donated to Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, California. Containing news clippings, memorabilia, and printed ephemera, the scrapbooks provide an important window into Democratic politics (particularly the career of Governor Alfred E. Smith), Catholic organizations, and social life in the New York City of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
George R. Van Namee was born in Watertown, New York on December 23, 1877. He graduated from the Cornell University College of Law and practiced law in Watertown for nine years before being appointed Clerk of the New York State Assembly from1911-1913 . Van Namee then served as Commissioner of the Bill Drafting Commission, which assists legislators, from 1914 to 1918, after which he worked as Secretary to Governor Alfred E. Smith beginning in 1920. Van Namee’s relationship with Smith continued for the rest of their careers, with Van Namee serving as Smith’s private secretary and then being appointed by the governor as a commissioner of the Public Service Commission in 1924, a post Van Namee held until 1943.
The scrapbooks cover a wide range of topics related to New York politics and life, but the majority are devoted to printed memorabilia and news clippings relating to Governor Smith. These include party invitations, correspondence, and tickets to the 1928 and 1932 Democratic Conventions. Five scrapbooks are concerned almost entirely with Smith’s successful bid for the 1928 Democratic nomination for President and his subsequent bid for the presidency. These include campaign posters, buttons, and a wide range of anti-Catholic material printed by Smith’s opponents, including the Ku Klux Klan. The remaining scrapbooks contain personal material of Van Namee’s, as well as various news clippings and printed matter related to Van Namee’s Catholic faith, such as invitations from Irish Catholic aid organizations in the city and extensive news coverage of the death of Pope Pius XI.
The Van Namee scrapbooks offer valuable insight into a tumultuous period in New York politics and into one of the most important yet overlooked presidential campaigns of the 20th century. Together they also compliment the Libraries’ strong holdings on early 20th century New York politics, such as the Herbert H. Lehman and Frances Perkins papers, as well as the Libraries’ growing collection of personal and political scrapbooks, such as the extensive Alexander Gumby scrapbook collection.