Now Available | Thomas McGoey Papers

The Thomas A. McGoey papers have been processed and are available to users. Over a long career at Columbia, McGoey served as Director of Residence Halls and Dining Rooms, Business Manager, Vice President for Business, and Special Consultant to the President. He worked for 5 University Presidents and for more than 35 years. But before any of that, McGoey was a student in the Business School who started the Student Laundry Service. This student-run agency provided students with both a much-needed service and much-appreciated employment for 30 years. The McGoey papers offer insights about the Student Laundry, from the founding student perspective and later from the administration’s point-of-view.

Students offer beanie-wearing freshman subscriptions to the Student Laundry Agency and to newspapers, November 1940. Photo by Jack M. Lewis. Scan 5308. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Thomas A. McGoey arrived at Columbia as a student in the Graduate School of Business. In addition to pursuing a degree, McGoey came to Morningside Heights to start a local iteration of the Student Agencies, Inc. These student-run ventures were already successfully operating at other schools. The Student Agencies model provided not only the means of self-support, but also managerial experience. Students would compete each year for the greater responsibility and could be promoted to run the agency themselves. At the Cornell agency (where he attended college), McGoey went from salesperson, to Assistant Manager and eventually to Manager. 

McGoey started and managed the Student Laundry Service at Columbia in 1931. Originally, the Laundry rates were slightly more expensive than those available in the neighborhood but, apparently, it was worth it to subscribers. They could drop off and pick up their laundry from the main office located in one of the dorms while never leaving campus. And 1930s clothes weren’t exactly wash-and-wear. The Laundry originally sent the students’ clothing to professional laundries that would not only wash and iron the clothes, but would also replace missing buttons, turn shirt collars, mend rips, and remove stains at no extra charge. The Student Laundry office also became a central location on campus where students could purchase tickets to dances, concerts, and buses to away football games.

But times change. The Student Laundry closed during the war years (1943-1946). In 1953, washing machines were installed in the basement of John Jay Hall. But the installation of machines did not mean laundry was suddenly self-serviced. It wasn’t. The Student Laundry still provided attendants at certain hours to “prevent daily confusion.” They also shifted to “flat work service,” meaning washing without ironing, with the work done on the premises. At the new wash-o-mat, students could drop off their laundry and (surprisingly) pick it up 40 minutes later. McGoey’s original Student Laundry closed in 1961 after 30 years of service. 

Thomas A. McGoey. Photo by Manny Warman. Scan 4466. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Nowadays, laundry machines are still in the basements of campus dormitories, but the machines are available free of charge and can be monitored remotely via an app. There are no subscriptions, attendants, or the need to hunt down quarters or special cards. The cost of operating the laundry machines is included in the room fee. 

The history of the Student Laundry and other details about campus life in the 1940s-1960s are well documented in the Thomas A. McGoey papers.