The New School at the Half Century
On December 11, 1968, The New School kicked off celebrations of its 50th anniversary year with the Half-Century Convocation in the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza Hotel. Guests enjoyed dining and dancing and heard from university president John Everett about plans for the next 50 years. At the event, honorary degrees were presented to entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, chairman of the Federal Reserve William McChesney Martin, and labor leader and humanitarian A. Philip Randolph. Both Belafonte and Martin had attended The New School – Belafonte studied in the Dramatic Workshop, and Martin took classes in economics during the 1930s.
The 50th anniversary of The New School — called the New School for Social Research at the time — offered the institution an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of its first five decades and the tremendous growth it had experienced. In 1931, the school moved from its first location, a converted brownstone in Chelsea to its new home at 66 West 12th Street. The University in Exile, founded in 1933 as a haven for scholars fleeing Nazi persecution, developed into the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science, which offered doctoral and master’s degree programs. The October 1943 New School Bulletin announced a new course of study that will lead to the first undergraduate degrees offered by the school. In 1964 — just five years before The New School’s 50th anniversary — the Center for New York City Affairs was established, the first research and teaching institution to focus on a single metropolis. The New School’s first course catalog, from 1919, listed just seven courses; by 1969, the number had grown to more than 600.
In 1969, The New School was cementing its legacy as a center of innovation, social justice work, and free inquiry. Assessing the school’s spirit at its half century, the New School Bulletin concluded in its story “The New School Is Fifty — and Still New,” “It is the place where leading thinkers and artists join inquisitive laymen for discourse, debate, and dialogue; where theory, opinion, and controversy are aired; where ideas clash and tempers sometimes flare, but where free inquiry always prevails.”