Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Charles W. Poletti papers, 1920-1991, bulk 1923-1970

Summary Information


This collection documents the personal and political life of Charles Poletti, lawyer, politician, and the 46th governor of the State of New York. Poletti also served as an allied military governor in Italy during and after World War II.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1013
Bib ID 4078522 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Poletti, Charles, 1903-2002
Title Charles W. Poletti papers, 1920-1991, bulk 1923-1970
Physical Description 32 linear feet (59 document boxes; 3 file card boxes; 16 oversize boxes)
Language(s) English , Italian .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection has been arranged into fourteen series.


Scope and Content

The collection contains personal and professional material spanning most of Poletti's life, documenting his education at Harvard, his political career, and his military appointments in Italy. It also contains personal correspondence, family papers, and a small amount of information on his wife, Jean E. Poletti. Materials include correspondence, notes, academic papers, speeches, diaries, articles, ephemera, press releases, articles, clippings, certificates and plaques, photographs, and audio and film reels.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1865-1982

    This series contains incoming and outgoing correspondence in English and Italian and spans much of Poletti's life. While some of the material relates to his work and discusses specific bills or laws, most of the material is more personal in nature, and consists of letters of congratulation, invitations, and short notes and letters from friends, family, and political figures. Some letters are accompanied by photographs of Poletti at public events. Correspondence is filed alphabetically by name of individual or institution. Documents filed under Poletti's name consist of correspondence with Who's Who and many articles that provide basic biographical information.

  • Series II: Subject Files, 1910-1991

    This extensive series holds information on a wide range of subjects relating to Poletti's military, political, and professional careers. Allied Military Government (AMG) files document his work as an allied military governor in Italy and include official orders, reports, correspondence, and descriptions of the state of the country. "Discrimination" Files contain a variety of material relating to Poletti's stance against discrimination, including press releases and campaign fliers focusing on his support of minority groups; discussions of the appointment of black employees to government positions; and correspondence and reports relating to the State War Council Committee on Discrimination in Employment, which investigated cases of discrimination in the workforce. They also contain a travel diary kept by philosopher Corliss Lamont, detailing his observations of racism on a 1926 trip through the South with Poletti, and his report based on the experience. Files on the New York World's Fair hold correspondence and reports outlining plans for the fair; photographs of Poletti and others at work on the project; and information on each of the country pavilions. They also hold public documents such as promotional fliers, postcards, maps, and articles. The series also contains material on Poletti's political campaigns and his work with the power authority, as well as notes and correspondence on a variety of issues such as low-cost housing and birth control. Files are arranged alphabetically by subject

  • Series III: Harvard, 1920-1928

    This series documents Poletti's experiences as an undergraduate at Harvard and later as a law student. It includes his notes, examinations, and papers from classes in economics, English, government, philosophy, and psychology, among others. It also holds three diaries covering Poletti's time in college and graduate school. Materials are filed by subject and document type.

  • Series IV: Legal Briefs, 1940-1964

    This small series contains legal briefs for cases on which Poletti served as an attorney. Some include Poletti's annotations. They are filed chronologically.

  • Series V: Speeches and Press Releases, 1937-1947

    This series is comprised primarily of campaign speeches given by Poletti at conventions and meetings, or over the radio. They cover topics such as public housing, discrimination, labor legislation, and civil and religious liberty. Several speeches present Poletti's experiences working with Herbert. H. Lehman. Files contain both drafts and completed speeches, arranged chronologically. An index can be found within each folder. The series also holds press releases announcing Poletti's actions as Lieutenant Governor and as acting Governor of New York, filed chronologically.

  • Series VI: General, undated

    The files in this series hold family manuscripts in Italian, notes, and other personal documents

  • Series VII: Jean E. Poletti, 1931-1964

    This series is comprised of letters written by Poletti's wife, Jean Knox Ellis Poletti, written during the early years of their marriage. It also contains seven travel diaries chronicling her visits to many countries during the 1960s.

  • Series VIII: Articles by and About Charles Poletti, circa, 1930-1970

    Articles written by Charles Poletti typically touch on political topics. Those written about him generally regard his post in Italy immediately following World War II. Articles on Poletti's career can also be found in Series XIII: Clipping Books.

  • Series IX: Photographs, 1920-1983

    Some of these photographs are records of Charles Poletti's time in Italy during and following the Second World War, when he served in the Allied Military Government as a civil affairs officer. It also contains portraits of other politicians from the time, and images of Poletti with various members of his family, including his wife Jean. Several folders contain images that pertain to the 1964 World's Fair in New York City in 1964. Photographs can also be found throughout Series I: Correspondence.

  • Series X: Memorabilia, circa, 1915-1965

    This collection of materials including address books, diaries, passports, campaign buttons, and other personal effects belonging to Charles Poletti, as well as certificates and plaques awarded to him.

  • Series XI: Audiotapes and Films, 1939-1964

    The audio tapes and films in this series pertain to the 1939 and 1964 New York World's Fairs. They include a speech Poletti gave about the 1939 Fair and interview with Poletti about his involvement in the 1964 Fair, among others.

  • Series XII: Records, 1937-1964

    This series holds speeches and interviews with Poletti recorded on record albums, including talks on low-cost housing, anti-corruption, and a report on the 1964 World's Fair. It also contains a number of popular music records owned by Poletti.

  • Series XIII: Clipping Books, 1933-1948

    Series XIII is comprised of clipping books containing newspaper articles about Poletti. Most were collected systematically by press clipping agencies, and the 1940-1942 books contain a near complete record of Poletti's appearances in New York newspapers. Books are arranged chronologically.

  • Series XIV: Oral History, 1978

    This series contains transcripts and tapes of Poletti's oral history, which was recorded in 1978.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Charles W. Poletti papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Archival Materials

Herbert H. Lehman Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Correspondence, subject files, speeches, clippings, photographs, memorabilia: Source of acquisition--Poletti, Charles. Method of acquisition--gift; Date of acquisition--1972.

Papers: Source of acquisition--Poletti, Charles. Method of acquisition--gift; Date of acquisition--1982.

Gift of Charles Poletti, November 1972.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Correspondence, subject files, speeches, clippings, photographs, memorabilia Surveyed Julie Miller 05/--/87.

Papers Surveyed 05/--/87.

Papers processed Stefanie Patterson, Columbia College, 2012 2009.

Finding aid written Carolyn Smith June 2009.

Revision Description

2009-12-02 File created.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Allied Military Government Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Electric power production Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Herbert H. Lehman Collections (Columbia University) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Italy -- History -- Allied occupation, 1943-1947 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State) -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State) -- Politics and government -- 1951- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State). Governor Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State). Office of the Lieutenant Governor Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York (State). Supreme Court Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York State Defense Council Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York State War Council Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
New York World's Fair (1964-1965 : New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
World War, 1939-1945 -- Italy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical sketch

Charles Waldo Poletti was born on July 2, 1903 in Barre, Vermont. His parents, Dino and Carolina Gervasini Poletti, were both Italian immigrants, and his father worked as a stonecutter in a granite quarry. As a student at Barre High School, Poletti distinguished himself academically and socially. Well respected within the community, he was offered the opportunity to manage a store after graduation, but his principal encouraged him to apply to college. He won a scholarship to Harvard and supported himself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by tending furnaces, waiting tables, and tutoring. In 1924, he graduated suma cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He then attended the University of Rome on the Eleonora Duse Fellowship and took classes in Spain. Poletti returned to study at Harvard Law School, graduating with an L.L.B. in 1928.

Poletti joined the New York law firm Davis, Polk, Wardwell, Gardiner& Reed, which was headed by 1924 Presidential Candidate John W. Davis. He worked as an attorney until 1930, when he took a position as legal assistant to the St. Lawrence Power Development Commission. He took an interest in political affairs and worked in the 1928 presidential campaign of Al Smith, and then served as a counsel to the Democratic National Committee in 1932.

Governor Herbert H. Lehman named Poletti as his counsel in 1933, where he soon became the governor's trusted aid. Poletti headed the 1935 Conference on Crime and advised on issues of crime and welfare. In 1937, Lehman appointed Poletti justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and he was elected in the fall for a full fourteen-year term. At 33, he was one of the youngest to hold the position. A year later, however, Poletti resigned, taking a $12,000 loss in salary to run alongside Lehman as lieutenant governor. Poletti held the position from 1939 to 1942.

After Lehman's retirement in 1942, Poletti served as the 46th governor of the State of New York for 29 days until the newly elected Thomas E. Dewey took office. Although his term was very brief--the shortest of any New York governor--he was praised for his work; on his final day of office, he presented a program calling for a "Beveridge Commission" to handle social security planning after World War II.

Several days after Dewey took office, Poletti became an assistant to War Secretary Henry L. Stimpson, and received a commission as a lieutenant colonel. He worked for the Allied Military Government (AMG) for the rest of the war, serving as allied military governor of, successively, Sicily, Naples, Rome, Milan, and Lombardy, from 1943 to 1945. He was selected both for his understanding of politics and law and his Italian ancestry, which the Army hoped would help him relate to the Italian population.

After returning to the U.S., Poletti became a trustee of the Power Authority of the State of New York (1955-1960). The New York Power Authority's plant in Astoria, Queens, was named after him.

In 1960, Poletti became Vice President for International Relations at the 1964 New York World's Fair. He was responsible for overseeing the fair's international exhibits.

Over the course of his career, Poletti was awarded many honors, including the Legion of Merit (U.S.A.); Officer of Order of British Empire; Knight Grand Cross of Order of Crown of Italy; Commander of Papal Order of St. Gregory the Great; First Order of the Star of Jordan; Grand Officer of Order of St. Agatha (San Marino); and the Gold Medal of the City of Rome. He was also made an Honorary Citizen of Naples, Rome, and Milan.

Poletti died in 2002 at the age of 99.