THE END OF AN ERA
During Herbert Lehman's last term as governor, an era of reform came to an end in New York. Lehman emerged from the 1938 election with the first four-year lease on the state's executive mansion, but his margin of victory was small. 1 Republicans also controlled both the Assemby and the Senate for the first time since 1932. The social worker Homer Folks reflected in the wake of the election: "Not every year can be one of notable forward steps, and I am inclined to feel that 1939 may well be one primarily of holding the ground already gained, refining methods, getting ready for well demonstrated advances in the following year or two." 2 Folks's suspicion about the 1939 session proved correct, but the projected breakthrough in succeeding years never materialized. As the G.O.P. tightened its grip on the legislature, well-organized business and property interests mounted a campaign against rising taxes to finance swelling state budgets. Republican lawmakers joined the attack and forced Lehman to reduce expenditures, which precluded any further expansion of social services.
The reform impulse was also weakened by its very success. Many local groups that had long fought for welfare and labor legislation had accomplished their objectives by 1939. During the late 1930s, leaders of the New York Child Labor Committee turned their attention "to matters of administration of the child labor laws as we feel that the New York statutes are now in a fairly satisfactory condition--particularly after the unusually successful legislative efforts of the Committee in 1935." 3 Toward the end of 1939, George Meany told State Federation of Labor officials that "for the time being the major part of our Legislative Program has been achieved." Citing the reactionary trend around the country, Meany advised organized labor to focus on guarding against any revision of New York's existing social welfare laws. 4 Soon thereafter, Abraham Epstein's New York Permanent Conference on Social Security stopped holding regularly scheduled meetings because its "major program . . . has been achieved beyond its original expectations." 5
Reflecting this growing sense of satisfaction among reformers, Lehman talked