Herbert H. Lehman was committed to the common good. He believed that the role and responsibility of government was to look after those who desperately needed help and could not help themselves; children, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, and victims of oppression. He was a humble, uncharismatic leader who approached problems in all their complexity, resisting simplistic explanations and solutions.
As Governor of New York in the midst of the Great Depression, he turned a budget deficit into a surplus while pushing through social reforms we now take for granted: minimum wage, unemployment insurance, old-age benefits, public housing, civil rights, medical care for the disabled, and laws to protect workers.
From 1943 until 1946, as director of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, he directed the largest international relief effort in history: 24 million tons of food, clothing, and medical supplies to 500 million victims of world war. He also gave his own money, often anonymously, to help children, refugees, the hungry, and the homeless.
Lehman would not sacrifice his beliefs for perceived political advantage. As a United States Senator from New York in 1950, he voted against popular anti-immigrant legislation. When he fought McCarthyism, his Senate colleagues told him he was committing political suicide. But Senator Lehman said, "I will not compromise with my conscience. I will cast my vote to protect the liberties of our people." There were many voters who disagreed with him at the time, but they respected his integrity and reelected him to the Senate.
In 1968, many names were suggested for this campus. Herbert H. Lehman was chosen because of what he represented: integrity in public service, humanitarism, love of country, commitment to equal opportunity for all Americans, and a willingness to work hard. Citizens of the world - including the students, faculty, and alumni of Lehman College - are inspired by this legacy.