LAGUARDIA, FIORELLO HENRY: United States. 1882-1947. Appointed on 20 May 1941 as the first Director of the Office of Civilian Defense during the Roosevelt Administration, a post he held into 1942. Mayor LaGuardia also served during the same period as the director of the New York City Office of Civilian Defense. His involvement with Civil Defense was by all accounts enthusiastic and sincere, but on the national level he did not mesh well in style or doctrine with his deputy Eleanor Roosevelt, who appears to have played a significant part in engineering his removal in favor of James Landis in 1942. Roosevelt's criticism of LaGuardia centered around his supposed lack of capability to administer a large national program, his failure to involve volunteers, and a lack of enthusiasm for social welfare, women's mobilization, cultural, and physical fitness programs under the Civil Defense name. This criticism should be balanced against the numbers - by the end of January 1942 some 8,478 local defense councils had been established with 334,666 auxiliary police, 670,673 air raid wardens, and 265,580 medical staff for a total of 5,601,892 volunteers involved in Civil Defense. By any standard, managing an agency that created that level of volunteer population mobilization in 8 months was a notable achievement.
Fiorello LaGuardia was born in New York City of immigrant parents and raised in the Southwest. Earning in law degree in 1910 he soon became involved in Republican Party politics in New York, serving in Congress during the period 1916 to 1932. During World War I LaGuardia served as an officer in the United States Army, qualifying as a pilot. In 1933 he won election as a reform Mayor of New York City, eventually serving three terms and shaping the modern character of the City. In 1946 he served as Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, delivering programs to those displaced by the war in Europe. Shortly after the agency was disestablished at the end of 1946, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, succumbing to the disease on 20 September 1947.
Sources: "Fiorello Henry LaGuardia," in Sicilian Culture: The People, The History, The Culture, location http://www.sicilianculture.com/people/laguardia.htm, 2002. New York City Emergency Management, "A Brief History of New York City's Office of Emergency Management," location http://home.nyc.gov/html/oem/html/other/oem_history.html, accessed 31 July 2003. New Hampshire State Library, "America calling-take your place in civil defense," in Unifying a Nation: World War II Posters from the New Hampshire State Library, location http://www.state.nh.us/ww2/ww52.html, accessed 12 August 2003. The Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights Project, "Office of Civilian Defense," in the Eleanor Roosevelt papers, location http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/abouteleanor/q-and-a/glossary/office-civilian-defense.htm, accessed 12 August 2003.
Entry 0388 - posted 15 August 2003