Joseph Lash

Lash headshot
Joseph P. Lash (1909-1987) was a radical student leader, an Air Force weatherman, a journalist, and a biographer. He was the oldest of five children born to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine who ran a modest neighborhood grocery store and a kosher household on New York's Upper East Side. Small and scrawny, he managed to survive on the tough streets as a member of a gang which adopted him as their “Professor.” His father died in the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, and then 9-year-old Lash refused to drop out of school to run the store. He graduated from City College of New York in 1931, and from Columbia University with a Master's degree in philosophy and literature in 1932.

As America sank into Depression, Lash became a leader in the increasingly radical student protest movement, first as an officer of the Socialist youth organization Student League for International Democracy, and from 1936 to 1939 as executive secretary of the American Student Union, a coalition of radical youth groups. Subpoenaed to testify before the predecessor of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Lash and other leaders gathered were joined at New York’s Penn Station by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who rode to Washington with them and invited them to lunch at the White House. By the end of the visit she and Lash had formed a lifelong friendship.

From 1940 until 1942, Lash was general secretary of the International Student Service, a progressive student-aid group. He was later a founder, with Mrs. Roosevelt and others, of Americans for Democratic Action and served as an officer for two years. He was also active in liberal Democratic politics. Mr. Lash was drafted during World War II, serving as a sergeant and later second lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force in the Pacific as a weatherman.

In 1950, after two years working as an assistant to the Roosevelts’ son Elliott, Lash joined
The New York Post, then known for its liberal editorial positions. He worked for a time as a general assignment reporter and became its United Nations correspondent, a position he held for 10 years. From 1960 until 1966, he was assistant editor of the editorial page.

After Eleanor Roosevelt died in 1962, Lash published Eleanor Roosevelt: A Friend’s Memoir and Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. invited him to write a biography with access to all of Mrs. Roosevelt’s papers. The result was Eleanor and Franklin, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1972, and Eleanor, The Years Alone. Lash published six more books over the next sixteen years, including Roosevelt and Churchill, Helen and Teacher, and Dealers and Dreamers.


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