September Spotlight on the Archives presents a blog about hidden stories in the Archives. To support the Archives, please donate below!
by Caroline Donadio
For the first time, with a functioning archive, International House NY can act as vocal advocates for its distinguished legacy and provide access to the full richness and breadth of its history. Unprocessed and inaccessible, the International House NY Archives has essentially been “hidden” for almost 100 years. As a result, I-House has been overlooked in numerous historical narratives and biographies. With a discoverable Archive, I-House has the potential to reveal knowledge on significant individuals and notable events. The question now is, how will the Archives contribute? What stories can our records uncover and support?
The Archives at I-House offers a rare view into the lives of international students in America studying abroad. With a myriad of cultural backgrounds and perspectives, I-House Residents’ experiences are both notable and unique. What was it like to be Black at I-House during the Civil Rights Movement? Or, a Soviet resident at I-House in the middle of the Cold War? In 1994 New York City, what was the LGTBQ Resident’s experience when deaths related to AIDS reached an all-time high? As I-House has nurtured a number of different individuals across a variety of fields, the Archives also holds the stories of our distinguished alumni and staff. How did the experience of living at I-House affect their career paths and world views?
International House New York, Member Yearbook, 1931. / I-House Archives
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (’31) lived at I-House while he studied at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. A famous theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, Bonhoeffer was adamantly opposed to fascism and the Third Reich. After leaving the United States, Bonhoeffer traded places with a condemned man in a Nazi concentration camp. He was later arrested and hanged in 1945 for his part in the “officers’ plot” to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer achieved posthumous fame when the letters from his death cell and other philosophical writings were published, and his status and influence continue to this day. While Bonhoeffer’s time in New York has been written on extensively, his experience at I-House is missing. How did living at I-House shape Bonhoeffer’s political positions? What encounters did he experience as a Resident? What more can we learn about him?
Leontyne Price working at the front desk, 1954/ I-House Archives
Leontyne Price and Daisy Soros, circa 1990s / I-House Archives
Part of the International House legacy lies in having served as an early home to many successful artists. The first African American soprano to debut at the Metropolitan Opera, Leontyne Price (’52), not only lived at I-House, but she also worked at the front desk. As the receptionist, Price created a welcoming atmosphere and was the first face that greeted Residents and guests visiting I-House. As a Resident, she spent her Sunday afternoons practicing arias in the Main Lounge and frequently sang at Sunday Suppers and other events. After graduating from Juilliard, Price served on the I-House Board of Trustees and designed and performed a series of programs to benefit the House and its Residents. I-House Alum Alain Peracca (’85) remembers Price’s farewell performance at I-House in 1985 and was struck by Price’s kindness, recalling that the opera singer referred to I-House and its residents “like family.” Other notable artists and performers who lived at I-House include visual artist Leon Polk Smith (’38), folk singer Burl Ives (’39), actor Roscoe Lee Browne (’49), operatic mezzo-soprano Shirley Verret (’58), American actress and singer, Patti LuPone (’69) and the creators of “Come From Away,” David Hein (’01) and Irene Sankhoff (’01). Many biographies have and will continue to be published about Leontyne Price and these other celebrated artists. What was it like to be in the presence and live alongside so many other artists? How will International House be represented in these stories?
Burl Ives outside I-House with Dr. Lawrence Cardoza of Bombay, circa 1950s/ I-House Archives
Throughout its 96 years, in addition to famous residents, I-House has also retained distinguished leadership. Paul A. Volcker, renowned American economist and Chair of the Federal Reserve served as the I-House Chairman of the Board from 1998-2012. Volcker believed very strongly in the mission and values of I-House and its role in guiding future generations of global leaders. After his tenure as I-House Board Chair, Volcker continued to serve as an Honorary Trustee and sponsored a popular speaker series. When he passed in 2019, our Archives were not yet accessible, and I-House only received a passing note alongside the NY Times obituary. But as historians and economists continue to refer to ‘The Volcker Rule,” to repudiate proprietary trading, Volcker will be relevant for years to come. Knowing how important I-House was to him, how will future researchers account for Volcker’s commitment to I-House? How will his legacy at I-House be remembered?
Paul Volcker with the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and I-House President Don Cuneo, 2004/ I-House Archives
While our Archives may not provide definitive answers to all of these questions, I hope that once fully processed, the Archives will offer glimpses into the everyday lives of our extraordinary residents. Making the Archives more visible through complete descriptions, keyword searches, and a discoverable presence will ensure that I-House is no longer overlooked in important historical narratives and biographies. With proper support and funding, what the Archives can accomplish is limitless.
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