Department History

Department of New York


Organization of the Department of New York.


     The organization of the Department of New York was began soon after the Paris Caucus by the returning men of the A. E. F. Records are not available for the months of late March and early April 1919. It is assumed that Districts, Counties and Posts were being organized and membership drives were in progress. No formal or official declaration had been made and records on all levels were haphazard at best. There was a gathering of men from around New York State and a meeting was held in April, 1919 at the temporary offices of The American Legion, on Nassau Street, New York City. During this meeting, a temporary State Committee was appointed. General John F. O’ Ryan was the temporary chairmen with Major Cornelius W. Wickersham  as acting secretary. A State Constitution was needed and instructions were given to prepare one. The constitution was most likely written by Wade A. Hayes, a lawyer from New York City. Hayes would latter be called the Thomas Jefferson of the Legion Constitution, for his part in writing the National Constitution. The Constitution needed to be written, as to be ratified at the first State Convention. Also these men with a committee of twenty-one, divided the State into five districts committees and appointed temporary district chairmen for organizing the districts into posts. Dist. 1. Wade H. Hayes, New York, Dist. 2. Charles W. Berry, Brooklyn, Dist. 3. Parton Swift, West New York, Dist. 4. J. Leslie Kincaid, Central New York, Dist. 5, Raphael A. Egan, Hudson River. These men appointed chairmen in each county in their district for organization. Word went out for members to be chosen from around the state for the St. Louis Caucus of May 8-10, 1919. New York had ninety-two signed in delegates present at this caucus.

     At this caucus, men were elected or chosen to start the necessary steps for the organization of the Department.

          Some of the events affecting New York at the St. Louis Caucus of May 8-10, 1919, are worth taking note of. The first was with Hamilton Fish, Sr., his appointment to the Constitution sub-committee for Preamble. Along with George N. Davis of Delaware and Jack Greenway of Arizona, these three men worked long and hard through the night to finish a final draft for presentation the next day. After many changes they reported to the whole Committee on Constitution which made one further change, and then the final draft was read by the chairman of the Constitution Committee, G. Edward Buxton. The Preamble of The American Legion has been cited as one of five of the most important documents written in this Nation’s history.

Second, Cornelius W. Wickersham’s motion for the adoption of the name “The American Legion” which was carried. Third was the appointment of A. L. Boyce, from New York City as Acting Sergeant-at-Arms of the Caucus. Fourth was the nomination of James F. Goerke from Brooklyn. His name was placed in nomination for the position of Vice-President. After much changing of votes among the delegates, Goerke finally withdrew his name in favor of Fred Humphrey of New Mexico, the winner. Finally was the organization of the New York State as a department.

     “The Department was first organized at the St. Louis Caucus, by delegates in attendance from this state. It was here that the State Constitution was adopted which provided that the legislative power shall be vested in an annual State Convention and the executive power in a State Committee of twenty-five members. Also provided for was the election of a state chairman, three vice-chairmen, a secretary and treasurer, along with five members of the State Committee, each representing one of the five districts into which the state had been divided for purposes of organization, which will compose the State Executive Committee. “

     The preliminary organization of The American Legion in New York State was held at a meeting on May 28, 1919, in the headquarters office, 140 Nassau Street, New York City. The following members were present; Cornelius W. Wickersham, New York; Hamilton Fish, Sr., New York; George Brokaw Compton, New York; Wade H. Hayes, New York; J. Leslie Kincaid, Syracuse; Francis W. Perry, Brooklyn; Harrison Deyo, Yonkers. James F. Goerke, Brooklyn. There most certainly was more than these eight men in attendance.

     Under discussion was the arrangements for the first Annual Department of New York Convention, which would be held in Rochester, September 20th. This date was later changed to October 10th and 11th. It was also decided that sectarian names for Posts be prohibited and a War Risk Officer (insurance) be appointed. The first efforts of the organization of the sixty-two counties of the state was started. It was felt that more ultimate progress would be made if we started with a foundation of a county organization. District Committees were to appoint a county organizer for the organization of the county and the Posts in that county. There was already a large membership in The Legion, which was rapidly increasing every day. Reports are most favorable from all districts in the state. Steps were taken to incorporate The American Legion, New York Branch, in this state so as to be protected in the use of the name. Sub-committees were appointed to include; Publicity, Membership, Finance, Program for State Convention and Arrangements for a State Convention.

     These committees would act in an advisory capacity to the State Executive Committee. At the May 28th, meeting those members in attendance chose the following members to start the organization of the Department of New York.  

         Chairman, Cornelius W. Wickersham, New York City.

         1st Vice-chairman, Robert A. Greenfield, Mount Vernon.

         2nd Vice-chairman, Philip S. Perkins, Syracuse.

         3rd Vice-chairman, Kenneth C. Townson, Rochester.

         Secretary, Wade H. Hayes, New York City.

         Treasurer, James H. Perkins, New York City.

The five Executive Committeemen are;

         Henry H. Curran, New York City.   James F. Goerke, Brooklyn.

         Hamilton Fish, Sr., Garrison.                 J. Leslie Kinciad, Syracuse.

         William J. Donovan, Buffalo.

     The National Organization still in the process of formation, was invested with the power by the St. Louis Caucus, issued the Department of New York its Charter on May 24, 1919. The Charter of a Post of the American Legion in New York State was issued June 9, 1919, the membership being confined to the delegates to the Paris and St. Louis Caucus. It was known as the President Theodore Roosevelt Post, No. 1. By October 15, 1919, National Headquarters reported 674 Posts chartered in New York State.

     Due to unexplained events, the above committee was changed before the first State Convention. Cornelius W. Wickersham, New York City. (Appointed State Chairman on May 28, 1919. Resigned on June 20, 1919. Later given title of Past Department Commander.) It is believed that Wickersham resigned to work for the formation of the National Organization and later personnel work related problems. Ogden L. Mills, New York City. (Succeeded Wickersham as Department Chairman. He opened the first State Convention. Later given title of Past Department Commander). Other changes were the 3rd Vice Commander and Treasurer.

         1st Vice Commanders, Robert A. Greenfield, Mt. Vernon

         2nd Vice Commander. James F. Goerke, Brooklyn

         3rd Vice Commander, Harold A. Bodamer, Buffalo

         Adjutant, Wade A. Hayes, New York City

         Treasurer, Joseph L. Seligman, New York City

         Arthur T. Smith, Rochester, (The Seventh District was the only one to have elected/appointed a District Commander at this time.) This was the State Committee going into the first state convention.

     “The first State Convention was held at the Convention Hall (Old State Armory) Clinton Street, Rochester, New York, October 10th and 11th, 1919, and convened at 10:30 am. The following business was conducted; To ratify or amend the State Constitution. Elect delegates and alternates to the National Convention. Elect two members of the National Executive Committee, to represent New York State. Elect officers of the New York State Branch for the ensuing year.  Elect the State Committee composed of five members from each of the five districts, such representation to be chosen by the delegates from each of the said districts. To transact such other business as may come before this convention.”

     The New York Times reported on October 12, 1919 the following. “At the closing sessions of the state convention of the American Legion held in this city today the passing of a large number of resolutions was characterized by spirited debate. The discussion of the bonus question consumed more than two hours, all sorts of recommendations being made. The Resolutions Committee had received twenty-five proposals from different county delegations, and finally made a report in favor of a State referendum to be made public at the national convention. The bonus recommended is one year’s pay at the rate of $30 a month for men of the A. E. F. or women in military or naval service who served more than one year and $30 for each month of service for all those who served less than one year and more than two months.

     Many of the New York delegates came out strongly in opposition to the Legion asking for any bonus at all, while there were other delegates who favored even higher rates of compensation.

     Late in the evening a resolution offered by Hamilton Fish, Sr., was substituted for the original recommendation. This declared it the sense of the convention that equitable compensation should be granted by Congress to those veterans of the war who received honorable discharges, based on a sum not less than $30 for each month served. Even this resolution met considerable opposition, but was finally adopted  when a roll call of delegates was taken. Several of the county delegations split on the question, and County Chairmen were accused of voting absent delegates.

     Another controversy came up when the Resolutions Committee reported against taking action regarding the League of Nations. A minority report was submitted, signed by six of the fifteen members of the committee, which in veiled terms opposed the League. An attempt was made to stampede Colonel William Donovan, who was chairman of the Resolutions Committee on this occasion, but he gave a sharp censure to the Westchester County delegates, who were most active in supporting the minority report. The convention finally voted to omit all reference to the League of Nations.

     Civil service preference for veterans of the war was another much debated question and the recommendations of the committee were rejected in favor of others, giving absolute preference in employment and promotion to soldiers and sailors. Among the support of this motion was a policeman from New York, who spoke with bitterness of the treatment by the New York City Civil Service Commission of members of the police force who had gone into service.

     Other resolutions urging Congress to make speedy and proper provisions for wounded and permanently disabled men were passed.

     The convention went on record as in favor of the immediate deportation of alien slackers, men of Bolshevist tendencies and Germans who had been interned during the war. It also urged stricter censorship of soapbox orators.

     An attempt by the New York delegation to pass a resolution preventing any holder of a political position from holding an office in the Legion was lost, although several ingenious efforts were made to have it introduced.

     Senator James W. Wadsworth delivered an address in favor of universal military training and the convention unanimously adopted a resolution favoring such service.”

     During the second days morning session, the election of officers was conducted and they were installed in the afternoon without incident.

The first elected state officers of the Department of New York. 1919-1920.

Commander,          Russell E. Sard, Albany.

Vice Commanders, William F. Deegan, New York City.

                              Scott Button, Schenectady.

                              A. Bartholde Petersen, Essex County

Adjutant,                Wade A. Hayes, New York City.

Treasurer,               H. Allister Morris, Utica

Chaplain,                Rev. Gregory Mabry, Kingston

District Commanders,

         1st Robert M. C. Marsh, New York City

         2nd James F. Goeke, Brooklyn

         3rd Lucius C. Tuckerman, Milton

         4th Scott Botton, Schenectady

         5th John B. Tuck, Syracuse

         6th Charles C. Blakeslee, Binghamton

         7th Arthur T. Smith, Rochester

         8th William R. Pooley, Buffalo

         9th Hamilton Fish, Sr. Garrison

     The following were elected as Delegates at Large to the national convention; Ogden L. Mills of New York City, C. W. Wickersham of Tuxedo Park, the Rev. Francis A. Kelly of Troy,  and Peter M. Hart of Rockland.


     Russell E. Sard, of Albany, resigned February 14, 1920. Upon his resignation, Wade A. Hayes, of New York City, resigned as adjutant and was chosen Department Commander by the Department Executive Committee.  Hugh W. Robertson was appointed acting Adjutant until the next Executive Committee Meeting. At that meeting a few days later, Samuel E. Aronowitz of Albany, became Adjutant. 

     The Rev. Francis A. Kelly of Troy would be elected the first Chaplain of the National Organization.

     William Donovan would be the departments first National Executive Committeeman and go on to a career of service in the national government.

     Hamilton Fish, Sr., would be elected to the 66th U. S. Congress in 1920, serving with distinction for 25 years. He would be made Honorary National Commander in 1973 and Honorary Department of New York Commander in 1979.

     A wide angle photograph of all delegates in attendance was taken during the convention  and a copy hangs on the wall in the department headquarters office in Albany, with an original hanging on the wall of Kirk-Casey Post, No. 366, Seneca Falls.

     All the men named in this article would serve the National and Department Organizations for many years.

     The Department of New York would continue to grow in the coming years and would attain a membership of over two hundred thousand and have over 1,950 local Posts. First and foremost and continued to this day, the prime objective of the department is the rehabilitation of veterans. An early example of this care was the committee working under the instructions of the 3rd Annual State Convention at Jamestown (1921), where work was started on the establishment of the Veterans Mountain Camp for tubercular and convalescent ex-servicemen. This camp located at Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks, was purchased for $85.000 from the estate of Col. William Barbour, totaling 1,260 acres. This camp being chartered on May 22, 1922 and opening that year would serve thousands of veterans and finally closing in 1988. On the national scene through the efforts of Congressman Hamilton Fish, Sr., of New York. One of his first Official Acts upon being elected to congress was to introduce the Bill to return the First Unknown Soldier from France for burial in Arlington Cemetery. President Woodrow Wilson signed that Bill as his last official act of office on March 4, 1921. Congressman Fish worked and succeed in the establishment of a Veterans Hospital in 1924 at Castle Point, NY, which continues to serve the veterans to this day. In 1987 a newly constructed wing of the hospital was named in his honor.

     Americanism. Boy Scouts, Children & Youth, Child Welfare, Baseball, Education & Scholarship, Employment, Law & Order, Legislative, Membership, National Security, Oratorical, Rehabilitation and Veterans Preference. These are a few of the committees that the department administers. Chartered in 1938, Boys State, which is open to state high school juniors has become a very successful program. Which teaches the principles of our form of government. Attending for a week in the summer, boys learn first hand how a real government structure operates. Selected for good citizenship, academic achievement and involvement in community service. It is hoped that this program will lead these young men to strive for civic leadership, pride in citizenship, interest in government, maintaining a democratic government and safe guarding the American principles of justice and freedom.

     The American Legion Posts in this department are the front line for programs in this department. It is through them that resolutions originate and are brought forward at the Annual Convention for adoption or rejection. The resolution process is the policy of how business is conducted on the national or state levels. Those resolutions presented and adopted at the National Conventions become official policy of The American Legion.

     There has been seven National Commanders from this Department, four being elected and three bestowed the title of Honorary National Commander. Five National Vice Commanders and one National Historian. Three National Sergeant-at-Arms and one National Judge Advocate. Seven National Chaplains with Rev. Francis A. Kelly of Troy, being elected the first National Chaplain.

     The Department Headquarters which had been located New York City since the founding of the Department, moved from its location at Room 305 Hall of Records, 31 Chambers Street, New York City to the new headquarters in Albany, in 1978. At the 60th Annual Department Convention in Syracuse that year, many attempts were made to have the headquarters located in Syracuse, Buffalo and to keep it in New York City. The members voted for the move to Albany, to be near the State Offices, in particular the State legislature.

 Complied by Raphael J. Blevins, Historian, Department of New York.


The American Legion in New York State by, Clarence R. Smith, Historian, Department of New York.

The American Legion in Alabama by, Monte C. Sandlin, Historian, Department of Alabama.

The American Legion Story by, Raymond Moley, Jr.

The American Legion Department of New York Records.

The American Legion Department of New York Adjutant, Richard M. Pedro.

The New York Times, published April 10, 1919.

The New York Times, published; October 12, 1919.

The Department of New York, Legion Annual, 1922 and 1923.

The Story of The American Legion by, George S. Wheat.

History of The American Legion in New York State by Final G. Crawford, Historian, Department of New York. Fulton County Gen-Web page.