La Guardia, Fiorello

La Guardia, Fiorello (Henry)

(1882–1947) mayor, lawyer, U.S. representative; born in New York City. After working from age 17 to 23 in the U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Fiume (Rijeka), he served as an interpreter on Ellis Island while attending New York University law school (LL.B. 1910). After graduating, he began his long career of social activism, doing pro bono work for immigrants. In 1916 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (Rep., N.Y.), which he left early in 1918 to serve in the armed forces in Italy. Resuming his seat later that year, he served in Congress—with time out to serve on New York City's Board of Aldermen (1920–22)—until he was elected to the first of three terms as mayor of New York in 1933. His work for housing and welfare reform, as well as his "common touch," demonstrated by his reading of the Sunday comics on the radio during a newspaper strike, earned him the love of millions of New Yorkers, who knew him as "the Little Flower," an apt nickname since he stood only 5'2". La Guardia was a maverick in many ways—a Republican, despite his liberal philosophies, and an Episcopalian, though born to a Jewish mother and Italian father. After his mayorship, he served as head of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense (1941) and director general of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (1946).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.