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Records of the Office of the President (Harry Woodburn Chase)

Call Number



1933-1951, inclusive


New York University. Office of the Chancellor


23 Linear Feet in 85 boxes

Language of Materials

Materials are written in English


Harry Woodburn Chase was Chancellor at New York University from 1933-1951. Prior he had been with the University of North Carolina and the University of Illinois. Chase was a firm believer in the value of general education, the important role of education in safeguarding democracy, freedom of expression, academic freedom, racial and religious tolerance, awareness of international affairs, and Negro education. He was involved in numerous organizations, namely: the Lotos Club, Trinity Church, the American Committee for Christian German Refugees, the Metropolitan Opera Association, the Federal Committee on the Older Worker, the New York State Committee for the Retail Trade Minimum Wage Board, and Memorial Hospital. These papers contain speeches, correspondence, and ephemera from the period of his Chancellorship. Much of the material deals with University life during World War II.

Biographical Note

Harry Woodburn Chase's life is most notable for the more than thirty years he spent at the helm of academic institutions; the University of North Carolina (UNC) 1919 – 1930, the University of Illinois (UI) 1930 – 1933, and New York University (NYU) 1933 – 1951. UNC and UI, both publicly funded, state institutions readying for growth and reorganization after the pressures of World War I, provided the terrain where President Chase honed his diplomatic and administrative skills on legislators and taxpayers in addition to faculty and students.

Called in 1933 to privately organized and funded NYU as Chancellor (the university's then-title for head of the institution) Chase arrived in New York at a time of turmoil in the world. His era at NYU was to be defined successively by world-wide depression and the political and social instability it generated, next by epic world war and post-war readjustment as Europe emerged from its takeover by Nazi Germany and the colonial structure in much of Asia and Africa began to collapse, closing with a period of renewed international tensions and the outbreak of the Korean War.

At NYU, Chase succeeded Elmer Ellsworth Brown (1911 – 1933). In his inaugural address to the faculty in October 1933 he declared that "the campus is no longer a cloister, nor is the university any more a retreat from the world. It is in the world and of the world…(It) must draw upon the past for its illumination, but (it) must do this as a means to the understanding of life today." In furtherance of this thought, Chase in 1934 established the Division of Continuing Education and the Center for Research and Graduate Education and in 1938 the School of Public Service, making concrete his beliefs in and about education in addressing the University's need to maintain enrollment in those depression years. Within this same time period he presented his thinking in a wider context when, in a speech delivered in 1934 at Madison Square Garden under the auspices of the American Jewish Congress titled Civilization against Hitlerism, he opened his remarks as follows: "The offenses of the Hitler regime against education during these last twelve months involves not only racial persecution, they involved a wholesale attack upon that freedom of the human intellect which is an essential condition of the progress of civilization…"

During World War I, Chancellor Brown had, in an effort to keep NYU financially solvent, introduced military training. Upon the country's entry into World War II in 1941 NYU again opened its doors to governmental defense activities. Enrollment of first and second year students at the University Heights campus was limited to make space for military trainees needing to enroll in engineering courses. Two programs in particular were established, a Navy College Training Program ((V-12) and an Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). A similar program was established at the Colleges of Medicine and of Dentistry. Faculty members with knowledge of appropriate subject matter were transferred to the College of Engineering's federally supported Engineering, Science and Management War Training Division. The impact of these programs was that the Heights campus was largely militarized while liberal arts education and language training for Army officers were offered at Washington Square, where enrollment was almost 50% women. Collaboration between the military and the university was not always easy but the programs were effective.

Chase's ongoing extramural activities on behalf of higher education matters brought great visibility to NYU. His participation on the national scene as a player in higher education/national defense affairs in the pre-war (1940 – 1941) and ensuing war years, "representing colleges and universities at large" was integral to the national effort to raise and train an army of millions of young men. In NYU Vice Chancellor Harold O. Voorhees' words "…he had much to do with the mobilization of educational resources of the nation toward the successful prosecution of the war…spend(ing) no little time in Washington on the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Education and the Committee on the Relationship of Higher Education to the Federal Government." Associated with him in these efforts was Dr. Francis J. Brown, Professor, New York University School of Education, on leave 1940 – 1945, employed in Washington as consultant to the American Council on Education (ACE) and acting as liaison between ACE and various federal agencies in connection with the National Defense Program.

Along with the foregoing, Chase shared his problem-solving and negotiating skills with a cross-section of New York City's civic and cultural foundations and institutions. With some, he served over significant time periods, in particular as board member of the Metropolitan Opera Association (1940 – 1950) and Memorial Hospital (1945 – 1949), and as President of the Lotos Club (1936 – 1946). In these instances, which covered periods of major organizational change, he provided informed advice and counsel to committees charged with accomplishing desired changes. At least in part, these assignments involved real estate matters – a new opera house, a new hospital, a new club home - seemingly a specialty of his.

Following the war years NYU attracted the largest contingent of returning veterans in the nation, pushing enrollment back up to pre-War levels and beyond. In his Chancellor's Report for 1945 – 1946 Chase commented that "an empty seat in a classroom has become a rarity, an empty classroom a mirage." The schools of Arts and Science, Engineering, and Law grew dramatically, the many libraries were brought under a single head, and both the budgeting and admissions processes were reorganized.

Harry Woodburn Chase died in the fourth year of his retirement, April 20, 1955. In a subsequently published (by the UNC Press), appreciation of Chase's professional accomplishments, former UNC colleague Louis R. Wilson noted that during his tenure at UNC and at NYU each university was admitted to membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), the organization representing North America's premier research universities, in 1922 and 1949 respectively. His legacy as education statesman endures.


The files are grouped into 4 series: I. World War II; II. Administrative Correspondence; III. Memberships; IV. Adresses and and Published Writings.

All series are arranged alphabetically, with the exception of the final series entitled, "Addresses and Published Writings," which is arranged chronologically.

Series I: World War II

Series II: Administrative Correspondence

Series III: Memberships

Series IV: Addresses and Publications

Scope and Content Note

The Harry Woodburn Chase Papers contain 23 linear feet and 7 inches of materials from the period of his Chancellorship at New York University (1933-1951). With a very few exceptions, materials from his early years and his administrations at the University of North Carolina and the University of Illinois are not included.

The Papers are divided into four sections: Memberships, Public Addresses and Articles, Statements, and General Correspondence. They consist of correspondence, memoranda, handwritten and printed drafts of speeches and statements, reports, studies, surveys, minutes, promotional literature for non-New York University organizations, invitations, budgets, clippings, photographs,. architectural sketches, and a partial bibliography. The Membership files, arranged alphabetically, document the public role of the university Chancellor and contain requests for sponsorship of or membership in a vast array of social, political, literary, civic, cultural, reform, peace, and war-related organizations, some municipal and others of national scope. Chase lent his name to most non-political sponsorships but was an active participant in only a few, usually as a Trustee or Member of the Board specializing in financial and fund-raising matters. The largest files are those of the Lotos Club, Trinity Church, the American Committee for Christian German Refugees, the Metropolitan Opera Association, and Memorial Hospital. His service as committee Chairman of a federal Committee on the Older Worker in 1938 and a state Committee for the Retail Trade Minimum Wage Board in 1945 was primarily supervisory.

Public Addresses and Articles, filed chronologically, include many handwritten drafts. Delivered before various academic audiences and sometimes radio broadcast, they shed light on his belief in the value of general education, the important role of education in safeguarding democracy, freedom of expression, academic freedom, racial and religious tolerance, adult education, awareness of international affairs, and Negro education.

Statements, arranged chronologically, give further insight into Chase's views. Mainly his replies to inquiries about his policies or N.Y.U. events or incidents, they also include Letters to the Editor (one unpublished) and an interview with the Herald Tribune in 1934.

The General Correspondence, comprising two-thirds of the Papers, is arranged alphabetically by subject and name. It reveals the range of the Chancellor's policies and activities and the development of N Y U in the 1930's and 1940's. The bulk deals with the N.Y.U. Council (finances, policy, and planning); surveys of the university; deans and matters relating to the various schools, divisions, and Institutes; the affiliation with Hofstra (1934-39); the selection of 3 new deans; athletics; the Law and Medical Centers; and other university financial, real estate, and public relations affairs. There is substantial material on the ROTC (1934-43). Several files relate to radio programs and the use of radio for promotion of education. Chase's correspondence and memoranda to Provost Rufus Smith and Assistant Chancellor Harold O. Voorhis and a number of faculty members, while few in number, are the best examples of his unpublished views about N.Y.U. A small number of files document N.Y U 's participation in Depression relief agencies.


Access Restrictions

Institutional records of New York University are closed for a period of 20 years from the date of their creation (the date on which each document was written). Board of Trustees records are similarly closed for 35 years from the date of creation. The opening date for files spanning several years will be 20 years from the most recent date. Access will be given to material already 20 years old contained within a collection that is not yet open when such material can be isolated from the rest of the collection. Materials related to personnel, faculty grievances, job searches and all files with information that falls under the University's Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) policy are permanently restricted. Please contact the University Archivists with specific questions regarding restrictions.

Use Restrictions

For University Archives collections, this note should read: Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from the: New York University Archives Elmer Holmes Bobst Library 70 Washington Square South New York, NY 10012 Phone: (212) 998-2646 Fax: (212) 995-4225 E-mail:

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form: Identification of item, date (if known); Records of the Office of the President (Harry Woodburn Chase); RG 3.0.5; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University Libraries.

Collection processed by

Phyllis A. Klein, 1978. Finding aid amended by Nancy Greenberg, 2007.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 17:52:28 -0400.
Language: Finding aid written in English

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from Dr. Harry Woodburn Chase Papers and chase_admin01AJ.xml


New York University Archives
New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012