Seth Low

Seth Low (January 18, 1850 – September 17, 1916) was an American educator and political figure who served as mayor of Brooklyn, President of Columbia University, diplomatic representative of the United States, and was the 92nd Mayor of New York City. He was a leading municipal reformer fighting for efficiency during the Progressive Era.

Seth Low
Seth Low cph.3a37073
92nd[1] Mayor of New York City
In office
January 1, 1902 – December 31, 1903
Preceded byRobert Anderson Van Wyck
Succeeded byGeorge B. McClellan Jr.
11th President of Columbia University
In office
Preceded byFrederick A. P. Barnard
Succeeded byNicholas Murray Butler
23rd Mayor of Brooklyn
In office
January 1, 1881 – December 31, 1885
Preceded byJames Howell
Succeeded byDaniel D. Whitney
Personal details
BornJanuary 18, 1850
Brooklyn, New York
DiedSeptember 17, 1916 (aged 66)
Bedford Hills, New York
Cause of deathCancer
Resting placeGreen-Wood Cemetery
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Anne Wroe Scollay Curtis
ParentsAbiel Abbot Low and Ellen Almira Dow

Early life

Low was the son of Abiel Abbot Low and Ellen Almira Dow.[2][3] Low's father was a leading China trader, and his father's sister, Harriet Low, was one of the first young American women to live in China.[4] The Low family was old Puritan New England stock, descended from Thomas Low of Essex County, Massachusetts.[2] Low was named after his grandfather Seth Low (1782–1853) who moved with his son Abiel to Brooklyn to start a prosperous importing company.[2] When Brooklyn was incorporated as a city in 1834, Seth the elder was one of the incorporators; he also served on the Board of Aldermen and was first President of the Board of Education.[2] Seth the elder was also involved with charity and support work for the poor; on his deathbed, he admonished his three-year-old grandson and namesake: "Be kind to the poor."[2]

Low's father was a Unitarian, and his mother was an Episcopalian.[2] For years, Low wavered between the two faiths. Finally, at age 22, Low decided he would henceforth be an Episcopalian.[2]

Low attended Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn and Columbia College. After graduating from Columbia in 1870, Low made a short trip abroad, and then entered the tea and silk house of A. A. Low & Brothers, which had been founded by his father in New York. In 1875, he was admitted a member of the firm, from which, upon its liquidation in 1888, he withdrew with a large fortune.[5] On December 9, 1880, he married Anne Wroe Scollay Curtis of Boston, daughter of Justice Benjamin R. Curtis of the United States Supreme Court. They had no biological children, but adopted two nieces and a nephew.[3]

Mayor of Brooklyn

First term

By 1881 Brooklyn had been governed for years by a corrupt Democratic political machine under Hugh McLaughlin.[2] By this time, a wave of goo-goo (or "good government") sentiment had begun to gain favor, and public sentiment was starting to turn against the incumbent Democratic regime.[2]

Brooklyn Republicans sensed an opportunity, but they were split between the "stalwart" candidate Benjamin F. Tracy and reform candidate Ripley Ropes.[2] Low had no particular ambition to become Mayor,[2] but his name was brought forth as a compromise, because his wealth and old family name appealed to the "stalwarts" and his reformist views appealed to the reformers.[2] Low accepted the nomination at the Republican city convention, making it clear that he would not be a partisan mayor.[2] Low defeated the incumbent Democrat James Howell after a two-week campaign, 45,434 votes to 40,937.[2]

Low's time in office was marked by a number of reforms:

  • Low's major achievement as mayor was to secure a degree of "home rule" of the city. Previously, the State Government dictated city policies, hiring, salaries, and other affairs. Low managed to secure an unofficial veto over all Brooklyn bills in the State Assembly.[2]
  • Low instituted a number of educational reforms. He was the first to integrate Brooklyn schools.[2] He introduced free textbooks for all students, not just those who had taken a pauper's oath.[2] He instituted a competitive examination for hiring teachers, instead of giving teaching jobs to pay political debts.[2] Low set aside $430,000 for the construction of new schools to accommodate 10,000 new students.[2]
  • Low introduced Civil Service Code to all city employees, eliminating patronage jobs.[2]
  • German immigrants wanted to enjoy their local beer gardens on the Sabbath, in violation of state "dry" laws and the demands of local puritanical clergy. Low's compromise solution was that saloons could stay open as long as they were orderly.[2] At the first sign of rowdiness, they would be closed.[2]
  • Low served as a member of the board of the New York Bridge Company, the company that built the Brooklyn Bridge, and led an unsuccessful effort to remove Washington Roebling as the chief engineer on that project.[6]
  • Low raised the tax rate from $2.33 of $100 assessed valuation in 1881 to $2.59 in 1883.[2] He also went after property owners who had not paid back taxes.[2] This increase in city revenue enabled him to reduce the city's debt and increase services. However, raising taxes proved extremely unpopular.[2]

Second term

Low's tax increases and non-partisan governing policy lost him a measure of public support. By 1883, fellow Republicans were criticizing Low openly, and the press was critical of his tax policy.[2] Although the Democrats ran the weak, nearly unknown candidate Joseph C. Hendrix in 1883, Low beat him by a slimmer margin than his first election. Where Low won his first term by 5,000 votes, he squeaked by re-election with only a 1,548-vote margin.[2]

In 1884, Low's mugwump support of Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884 furthered the rift with his fellow Republicans. He declined to run for a third term in 1885, and refused to support Republican nominee General Isaac S. Catlin.[2] Instead, he supported a reform candidate, General John R. Woodward.[2] By this time, the public was losing their attraction to reform, and Democrat Daniel D. Whitney won election. With Whitney came the return of Democratic machine politics for another seven years.[2] By 1892, some writers were looking back on Low's tenure as a "Golden Age" of clean government.[2]

President of Columbia University

Seth Low by Eastman Johnson
Eastman Johnson's portrait of Seth Low, c. 1890

Following his tenure as mayor of Brooklyn, Low assumed the presidency of Columbia College, serving between 1890 and 1901. Not an educator in the specific meaning of the word, he succeeded by his administrative skill in transforming the institution.[5] He led the move of the institution from Midtown Manhattan to Morningside Heights, and secured trustee approval to change its name to "Columbia University". The new campus matched Low's vision of a civic university fully integrated into the city; the original design subsequently reconceived, left it open to the street and surrounding neighborhoods.

To forge a university, Low vitally united the various schools into one organization whose direction was moved from the separate faculties to a university council. Further reforms effected by him include the reorganization of the Law School, the addition of a faculty of pure science, the association with the University of the Teachers College, and the extension of the department of political and social study.[5] In 1895, he gave one million dollars of his inheritance from his father for Low Memorial Library to be built at the new Columbia University campus. It was dedicated to his father and opened in 1897.

International Peace Conference

Houghton MS Am 1308 (363) - Peace Conference 1899
Seth Low (seated at right) with other members of the American delegation to the International Peace Conference, 1899

On July 4, 1899, he was one of the American delegates to attend the International Peace Conference at The Hague. Others in the delegation were Andrew D. White, then the United States Ambassador to the German Empire; Stanford Newel of Minnesota, then the United States Minister to the Netherlands; Captain Alfred Mahan, of the United States Navy; Captain William Crozier, of the United States Army; and Frederick Holls of New York.

At the conference, Low made the concluding speech, printed two months later in The New York Times, saying:

On this day, so full for Americans of thoughts connected with their National Independence, we may not forget that Americans have yet other grounds for gratitude to the people of the Netherlands. We cannot forget that our flag received its first foreign salute from a Dutch officer, nor that the Province of Friesland gave to our independence its first formal recognition. By way of Leyden and Delft-Haven and Plymouth Rock, and again by way of New Amsterdam, the free public school reached American shores.

The United States of America have taken their name from the United States of the Netherlands. We have learned from you only that 'in union there is strength'; that is an old lesson, but also, in large measure, how to make 'One out of many'. From you we have learned what we, at least, value, to separate Church and State; and from you, we gather inspiration at all times in our devotion to learning, to religious liberty, and to individual and National freedom. These are some of the things for which we believe the American people owe no little gratitude to the Dutch; and these are the things for which today, speaking in the name of the American people, we venture to express their heartfelt thanks.

Mayor of New York City

Low's first campaign for mayor of consolidated New York in 1897 was unsuccessful, partially because of a division among anti-Tammany Hall candidates and parties. However, four years later, he managed to attain office.[7]

During his 1901 campaign, he had the support of humorist Mark Twain. He and Twain made a joint appearance that drew a crowd of more than 2,000.

In 1902, Low resigned as president of the university to become the second mayor of the newly consolidated City of New York. He stands out as the first mayor of Greater New York to be elected on a fusion ticket, with the support of both the Citizens Union and Republican parties. Some of his notable achievements include the introduction of a civil service system — based upon merit — for hiring municipal employees, reducing widespread graft within the police department, improving the system of education within the city, and lowering taxes. Despite these seemingly impressive achievements he only served for two years and was defeated in 1903 by Democrat George B. McClellan Jr..

Later life

He was chairman of the Tuskegee University, formally Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college directed under Booker T. Washington, from 1907 until 1916. From 1907, he was also president of the business-labor alliance the National Civic Federation. Even though he believed in collective bargaining rights, which had customarily been denied to labor unions by those in authority, he did not favor strikes, but rather embraced arbitration as a suitable labor-management negotiation tactic. He was a founder and the first president of the Bureau of Charities of Brooklyn, and was elected vice-president of the New York Academy of Sciences and president of the Archaeological Institute of America.[5]

Low became interested in the food supply problem, that is its contribution to the constantly increasing cost of living. He became convinced that this difficulty could best be solved by democratic cooperation among farmers and consumers. He was president of the Bedford Farmers' Cooperative Association. He was also one of the founders of the Cooperative Wholesale Corporation of New York City, an organization which seeks to bring about a business federation of all the consumers' cooperative store societies in the eastern United States, but not being in sympathy with the radical tendency of this phase of the cooperative movement, he finally resigned and devoted himself entirely to the agricultural phase of cooperation. Low was also a trustee of the Carnegie Institute of Washington, D.C.[3]

In the Spring of 1916, Low became ill with cancer.[2] He died in his home in Bedford Hills, New York, on September 17, 1916. Even his funeral demonstrated the ability of Low to reach political consensus, with honorary pallbearers that included both financier and philanthropist J. P. Morgan Jr. and labor activist and AFL founder Samuel Gompers. [8] He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

The Brooklyn Fire Department operated a fireboat named Seth Low from 1885 to 1917.[9]

In the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn there is also a playground named after Low.[10]

In Ridgefield, Connecticut, there is a street named after Low called Seth Low Mountain Road.

In the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, there is a NYCHA public housing development named Seth Low Houses. It consists of four 17 and 18 story buildings.

See also


  1. ^ ""The Green Book: Mayors of the City of New York" on the official NYC website". Archived from the original on May 14, 2012. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af Kurland, Gerald (1971). Seth Low: the Reformer in an Urban and Industrial Age. Ardent Media.
  3. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg Homans, James E., ed. (1918). "Low, Seth" . The Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: The Press Association Compilers, Inc.
  4. ^ Puga, Rogério Miguel (June 2008). "Interpreting Macau through the Journals of Harriett Low and Rebecca Chase Kinsman" (PDF). Sino-Western Cultural Research (中西文化研究). Macau Polytechnic Institute. 1: 157–159. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-06.
  5. ^ a b c d Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Low, Seth" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  6. ^ McCullough, David (1972). The Great Bridge. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-21213-3.
  7. ^ "Seth Low's Mayoralty". New York Times. 1992-03-09. Retrieved 2008-08-08.
  8. ^ NYC 100 – NYC Mayors - The First 100 Years,
  9. ^ Clarence E. Meek (July 1954). "Fireboats Through The Years". Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  10. ^ "Seth Low Playground/ Bealin Square Highlights : NYC Parks". Retrieved November 20, 2017.
Further reading
  • Cerillo, Augustus. "Low, Seth" American National Biography Online Feb. 2000; Access Date: Sept. 15 2013
  • Fredman, L. E. "Seth Low: Theorist of Municipal Reform," Journal of American Studies 1972 6(1): 19-39
  • Kurland, Gerald. Seth Low: The Reformer in an Urban and Industrial Age (1971) 415 pp.
  • Low, Benjamin R. C. Seth Low (1925).
  • Swett, Steven C. "The Test of a Reformer: A Study of Seth Low, New York City Mayor, 1902-1903," New-York Historical Society Quarterly (1960) 44#1 pp 5–41
  • Topper, Joby, "College Presidents, Public Image, and the Popular Press: A Comparative Study of Francis L. Patton of Princeton and Seth Low of Columbia, 1888–1902," Perspectives on the History of Higher Education 28 (2011), 63–114.

External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Frederick A. P. Barnard
President of Columbia University
Succeeded by
Nicholas Murray Butler
Political offices
Preceded by
James Howell
Mayor of Brooklyn
Succeeded by
Daniel D. Whitney
Preceded by
Robert A. Van Wyck
Mayor of New York City
January 1, 1902 – December 31, 1903
Succeeded by
George B. McClellan Jr.
1934–35 St. Francis Terriers men's basketball team

The 1934–35 St. Francis Terriers men's basketball team represented St. Francis College during the 1934–35 NCAA men's basketball season. The team was coached by Rody Cooney, who was in his third year at the helm of the St. Francis Terriers. The team was not part of a conference and played as division I independents.

The 1934–35 team finished with a .500 record at 12–12.

Abbot Augustus Low

Abbot Augustus Low (Gus Low) (1844–1912) was an entrepreneur and inventor from Brooklyn, who lived in St. Lawrence County, New York and was the owner of the Horseshoe Forestry Company. He was the son of Abiel Abbot Low and owned 32,000 acres (130 km2) in an area of upstate New York known as Horseshoe, located on the Western shore of Horseshoe Lake, in Piercefield, New York and extending onto bordering land in Colton, New York.Low was an inventor and held various patents, such as a means of preserving maple sugar a motor, an exhaust system, an igniter and a bottle. Low filed a patent application in 1909 for a "waste-paper receptacle" that is believed to have been the first paper shredder. It received the U.S. patent number 929,960 on August 31, 1909, but was never manufactured. When Low died, the only inventor with more patents registered than him was Thomas Edison.Low's property around Lows Lake, also known as the Bog River Flow, included a narrow gauge railroad, a blacksmith shop, an energy generating plant, a stable, an engine house, storehouses, maple sugaring buildings, employee housing and boathouses. Low developed the property with two dams to produce electricity and aid annual log drivings. It is now part of the Bog River Management Unit in Adirondack Park. Low's business enterprises included spring water production, maple syrup, wild berry preserve and wood products.Abbot Low and his brother Seth Low, president of Columbia University, and later mayor of New York City, built a hospital in Wu-Chang, China in memory of their father, Abiel Abbot Low, a "successful" merchant in Canton.

Abiel Abbot Low

Abiel Abbot Low (February 7, 1811 – January 7, 1893) was an American entrepreneur, businessman, trader and philanthropist who gained most of his fortune from the China trade, importing teas, porcelains, and silk, and building and operating a fleet of reputable clipper ships.

Bay Parkway (Brooklyn)

Bay Parkway is a 2.7-mile (7.82 km) boulevard/parkway in the west portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn.

Characteristics of New York City mayoral elections

The elections of the Mayor of New York City involve a combination of factors that are not seen together elsewhere.

New York City is the largest city in the United States, with a population (8,244,910 according to the 2011 estimate by the US Census Bureau) greater than that of many states. Its mayoral elections, accordingly, attract great attention.

Special circumstances in New York go beyond the sheer size of the electorate. As in other cities, class, ethnicity, and race have played a role in mayoral relations.

In New York, fusion is allowed: a candidate may be endorsed by more than one party, and run on several lines. As a consequence, New York has had and continues to have a larger number of influential third and fourth and fifth parties than elsewhere in the United States.

New York also has a history of significant votes for the Socialist Party candidate, and other socialist and left-wing candidates. While not unique in the United States, this does help explain the unique fabric in New York.

New York has a long history of tension between reform and clubhouse candidates. This is partially understood in terms of the size of the city and the correspondingly large number of patronage jobs available.

Citizens Union

Citizens Union is one of the first good government groups in the United States. Founded in 1897 as a political party, the group was reconstituted in 1908 as a nonpartisan member organization with the broad mission of serving "as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good."Citizens Union was founded by New York City citizens concerned about the growing influence of the Democratic Party political machine Tammany Hall. One of the founders was Laurence A. Tanzer, who stayed involved with the organization until his death in 1963, aged 88. One of its vice presidents was Dana Converse Backus. The organization helped to elect New York's first reform mayor, Seth Low, in 1901.

Today, Citizens Union continues to act as a government watchdog organization, with campaigns that focus on voting rights and poll workers, campaign finance reform and government accountability. Its current Executive Director is Betsy Gotbaum.

The Board of Directors includes Chair Randy Mastro, Luis Garden Acosta, Vice Chair, Lorna B. Goodman, Vice Chair, Nancy Bowe, Treasurer, Christina R. Davis, Secretary, Tony Perez Cassino, Penelope L. Christophorou, Curtis Cole, Allan H. Dobrin, Ester R. Fuchs, Ph.D., John R. Horan, Robert M. Kaufman, Ian L. Kelley, Eric S. Lee, Gena Lovett, Malcolm MacKay, Anthony S. Mattia, Antonio Magliocco, Jr., Gary P. Naftalis, Tom Osterman, Luis Reyes, Ph.D., Torrance Robinson, Alan Rothstein, Kenneth Seplow, Peter J.W. Sherwin, Gregory Silbert, Jason Stewart, Edward C. Swenson, Cindy VandenBosch.The Citizens Union Foundation, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Citizens Union, publishes the Gotham Gazette.

Columbia College (New York)

Columbia College is the oldest undergraduate college of Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It was founded by the Church of England in 1754 as King's College, receiving a royal charter from King George II of Great Britain. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States. Columbia was ranked as the 3rd best college in the United States by U.S. News and World Report after only Princeton and Harvard.The college is distinctive for its comprehensive Core Curriculum, and is among the most selective colleges in its admissions. For the class of 2021, the college accepted 5.8% of its applicants, the second lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League behind only Harvard.

Columbia University School of General Studies

The School of General Studies, Columbia University (GS) is a liberal arts college and one of the undergraduate colleges of Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights, New York City. GS is known primarily for its traditional B.A. degree program for mature students (those who have had an academic break of one year or more, or are pursuing dual-degrees). GS students make up almost 30% of the Columbia undergraduate population.

GS is an Ivy League college that offers dual-degree programs with multiple leading universities around the world. It offers dual degree programs with Sciences Po in France, the City University of Hong Kong, Trinity College Dublin (University of Dublin) in Ireland, and List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary. It also offers dual degree programs with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of International and Public Affairs, and Columbia Business School. GS is the historical home to dual-degree programs at Columbia University, and the Post-baccalaureate Premedical Program, the oldest program of its kind.

Notable alumni include Nobel Prize winners Simon Kuznets and Baruj Benacerraf, as well as Isaac Asimov, J.D. Salinger, Amelia Earhart, and Princess Firyal of Jordan.

Seth Low (fireboat)

The Seth Low was a fireboat built for the Brooklyn Fire Department which operated from 1885 to 1917.

Prior to her commissioning the Brooklyn Fire Department had relied on fireboats from neighboring municipality New York City.

Unlike her opposite number of the FDNY, which had hulls of iron, or steel, the Seth Low was a wooden hulled vessel.

Her namesake Seth Low was the 23rd mayor of Brooklyn, from 1882-1885, and the 92nd mayor of New York, from 1902-1903.The Seth Low had a small lounge for her officers in the bows, and a small bunkroom, with four bunks, for off-duty sailors in the stern.

Seth Low Pierrepont State Park Reserve

Seth Low Pierrepont State Park Reserve (also called Pierrepont State Park) is a public recreation area covering 305 acres (123 ha) in the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. The state park offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and boating.

Seth Low Playground

Seth Low Playground is a five-acre park located in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. The park is named after Seth Low, a former Mayor of New York City and president of Columbia University. The City acquired this playground in 1924 as a park. Prior to this, it was the site of Indian Pond, a historical watering hole and ice skating location near the border of the former towns of New Utrecht and Gravesend. The park is bounded by Stillwell Avenue, Bay Parkway, West 12th Street and Avenue P. In 1896, the pond was filled with ash from a trash incinerator, covering it entirely.The smaller part of this park carries the name Bealin Square. The namesake, Sgt. James J. Bealin was the first Bensonhurst resident killed in the First World War. The local American Legion Post also carried his name and lobbied for the Bealin Square designation. The square was named on July 5, 1927. Within this square, the Legion dedicated four trees to local veterans killed in combat: Flight Officer Abraham Elhal (KIA 1944), Sgt. James J. Bealin, Flight Officer Arthur J. Vogel and Lt. Walter V. Sigberman.

In 1946, the Parks Department listed the park as a venue for ice skating on a "flooded area", one of ten such improvised skating rinks in Brooklyn.The park was called Seth Low Playground by people in the neighborhood, but was only officially designated as such by the city of New York in 1987. The adjacent square was given the same name at that time also.The park is located one block north of the western terminus of Kings Highway, a historical road that traverses Brooklyn.

A major renovation, the first since 1995, was announced in 2013, and the completion of the third of three phases is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.


Wildenstein is a commune in the Haut-Rhin department in Grand Est in north-eastern France.

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