Articles and interview of Theodore Fred Kuper about the origins of the Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, N.Y.), conducted by the Oral History Research Office of Columbia University in 1969. "These reminiscences of Theodore Fred Kuper refer to the creation and development of the Fashion Institute of Technology, a Community College of the City of New York under the program of the University of the State of New York, together with the creation of the Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industry. The tape recording of these recollections was started on September 29, 1967 by Lionel White, Fashion Institute, serving as recorder for Columbia University Oral History Office and continued from time to time in California by Mr. Kuper until completion on August 15, 1969." Kuper describes the Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, N.Y.)'s roots in the immigrant-run garment industry. He details early leaders in its development, and how, under the leadership of personalities such as Shirley Goodman, they sought support and funding to expand the institution's reputation and place in New York City.
Columbia University Center for Oral History Research
This is an interview with Executive Vice President Emeritus and Executive Director of the Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries Shirley Goodman. She discusses her family history and first job in Washington D.C. This led her to a string of other opportunities including cooperating with Robert Moses to plan the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and participating in New York’s “Golden Anniversary,” in 1948. That year she was introduced to FIT; the start of a very long relationship. Goodman discusses having to learn quickly about the fashion industry, and describes the planning of FIT’s first building which was completed in 1959; with the subsequent building of their first dormitory in 1962 and second building in 1972. Goodman then delves into her activities during the Golden Anniversary, explaining vigorous twice-a-day fashion shows by Tom Lee and Eleanor Lambert at the Grand Central Palace. Goodman describes her involvement with the Moscow Expositions in both 1959 and 1967 and then goes into her personal life and family. Goodman describes how FIT started and how it has evolved over the years, including the acquisition of funding. Finally Goodman lists some of the major influences in her life.
Alan Fishman, the son of Shirley Goodman, discusses Goodman’s role in the early days of FIT. Goodman had worked on the World’s Fair with Grover Whalen, and was eventually introduced to the group of successful businessmen who were founding the institute out of the High School of the Needle Trades. Fishman describes his mother’s intense and lasting advocacy for the institute, though she came in without fashion industry experience. Fishman began working in the FIT mail room during his high school years. He recalls putting fliers together to announce that FIT was building a new building with the firm Deyoung & Moskowitz. Fishman then launches into a colorful description of the exchange trade fair with the U.S.S.R. in Moscow. He witnessed the infamous “Kitchen Debate” between Nixon and Krushchev and performed with a host of American models to showcase the American take on fashion. Following that summer, Fishman attended Cornell and graduated in 1966 with two years spent in Italy. He was briefly drafted, but exempted from service in Vietnam due to his family situation. He returned to FIT in 1966 as a part-time faculty member in the Fine Arts Department. Fishman discusses FIT’s international involvements and his placement at the Polimoda school in Florence, Italy for 7 years at the behest of Marvin Feldman. He describes FIT’s demographics in the 1960s and how those have changed in the years since. He then discusses other roles he has held at the school including time spent working with Deyoung & Moskowitz on the development of the FIT campus. He explains the Fine Arts Department’s role at FIT and the founding of the Artisan Space Gallery. Finally, Fishman notes his mother’s involvement with the “Inner Circle,” an elite group of leading women in the fashion industry.
In this interview with Dr. Alfred Sloan, Jr. he discusses his 1958 arrival at FIT following two years of teaching at Orange County Community College, another SUNY school. He was a veteran of World War II and had spent over ten years working in the fashion industry. Sloan discusses FIT’s first home at the Central High School of Needle Trades and their eventual move to the C building. Sloan lists various founders of the school and their roots on 7th avenue in the garment industry. He describes how the fashion buying and merchandising department has grown over the years thanks to strong industry support. Sloan then mentions Rosalind Snyder and the birth of the liberal arts department at FIT. He applauds the success of FIT’s curriculum and mentions that it has served as a model for other fashion schools across the world. Sloan notes that from the 1940s to the mid-1960s, FIT had a community service requirement for students. He mentions several department Chairs and FIT’s model of requiring professional studies in the first two years in contrast to traditional liberal arts colleges. He lists the courses he teaches and mentions student placement rates. Sloan then discusses the historical success of women at FIT; a characteristic of the school he finds particularly important. Sloan describes the results of an ongoing demographic survey his department asks students to complete and FIT’s international reputation. He finishes the interview with memories of the referendum on FIT’s name in the 1970s and a brief moment of fame on the now defunct FIT baseball team.
This is an interview with Doctors Joe Costelli and Barry Ginsberg of FIT. Costelli was the chair of the math and science department at the time of the interview and Ginsberg a retired professor emeritus. Ginsberg begins by describing his start at the institute in 1956 under former Department Chair Bill Leider. At the time there were approximately 20 faculty members and 200 students. He describes the tight-knit quality of FIT and weekend trips to the Hotel Grossinger. In tandem with his work as a math teacher, Ginsberg worked as the director of admissions alongside Marion Brandriss. He explains various internal leadership posts such as his time as the department chair and his time with the faculty committee. He goes on to detail the creation of rudimentary, and ultimately mandatory, arithmetic classes for pupils based on the prompting of Jeannette Jarnow. He then explains the selection process by committee of President Jarvie and his return to teaching, his “first love.” Costelli takes over the interview and describes his educational background in biology and subsequent start at FIT in 1975. Costelli explains the heavy involvement of the math and science department in the running of the school. He goes on to describe the middle states review and the writing of his textbook, Introductory Biology and Molecular Approach. He details the lineages of FIT’s liberal arts deans as well as the chairs of his department, and how the institute used industry input to evolve its coursework. Costelli remembers FIT being run as a tight ship with a hard-line dress code and also recalls the institute’s struggle to procure air conditioning from New York state. Finally, Costelli describes how the demographics of the school have changed and how they move ever deeper into computer-centered learning.
Edith Sancroft, professor of health and physical education at the time of this interview, and former Dean of Liberal Arts, joined FIT in 1964. She immediately began a large expansion of the school's dance program and talks about the introduction of an intermediate level of dance for her more advanced students. Sancroft sees choreography and dance as a natural partner to fashion design; her students benefit from the knowledge that body movement has to offer. She pays homage to the 1960s as a period of great growth for FIT. With the formation of the union and the presence of the Civil Rights Movement, the curriculum offerings at FIT grew in variety and scale. During this period, she was also able to offer master classes in dance with guests such as Syvilla Fort, Charles Wiedman, and Mary Anthony. Sancroft talks about how her department has changed and its eventual separation from the Math and Science Department. She also discusses the growth in diversity within the student body. Sancroft laments the loss of intimacy at FIT and remembers its former familial nature. That being said, she gives a lot of credit to faculty members such as Mildred [last name unknown] who wrote a series of grants to support the creation of the educational skills program, an invaluable part of FIT’s curriculum.
Dean Emeritus at the Department of Business and Technology at the time of this interview, Jack Rittenberg discusses his many roles while at FIT between the years of 1963 and 1992. He talks of the development of degrees within the baccalaureate program such as those in advertising and menswear, the latter being a degree that Rittenberg co-developed with Ted Roberts. He talks extensively about the school’s early existence in the C Building and the growth of the physical campus as FIT became more than a commuter school. Rittenberg remembers the building of the library and how space for the clothing collection allowed them to split from a storage arrangement with the Brooklyn Museum. Formerly a buyer for Bond Stores, Rittenberg has enjoyed showing FIT’s collections off to friends and visitors. Though Rittenberg was retired at the time of the interview, he was still teaching a spring merchandising course as well as industry seminars. He talks about strong relationships with alumni of the school and how retirement has allowed him to keep in touch with many of them through travel. Rittenberg talks about the faculty tendency to continue to work in the Industry so as to remain current. He also discusses the uniquely driven nature of the FIT student body. Rittenberg then goes into detail about the liberal arts program and gives a deep history of the founding and development of FIT from its roots as the Central High School of Needle Trades. He briefly discusses international students and changing demographics of the school and then launches into a discussion of the evolution of attitudes within the industry in regards to race and sex. The interview ends with a brief discussion of the decline of the fur industry.
Jean Ellen Giblin, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at the time of this interview, explains how she came to FIT as an economics professor in 1970. She was later Chair of the Social Science Department as well as the curriculum committee. After a time, she was asked to work on the development of the new upper division program which had a marketing option in international trade. She talks fondly of that creative work and how it led her to become the acting Dean of the Business and Technology Department, and ultimately led to her role at the time of the interview. Giblin reflects on the intimate nature of FIT when she joined and how that has evolved due to the growth of the school and its development of a 4-year program. Industry pushed for the creation of a 4-year program, though FIT maintained an upside-down approach to education wherein specialties were taught before general liberal arts. Giblin discusses FIT’s approval by the Board of Education and SUNY, and then talks about the support provided by the Educational Foundation. She talks about how industry advisory boards keep each program relevant, and then launches into a discussion about FIT’s international and domestic student body and how it has evolved through the years. FIT has also evolved its own programs to serve a wider array of industries in the city. Giblin praises the wide-ranging work of unions at FIT. She then discusses statutory campuses and FIT’s graduate program launched by Bob Gutman. Finally, she talks about the inherent creativity of the faculty and discusses the future of the school.
Judith Parkas, the Executive Vice President of FIT’s union, discusses her many roles at FIT. In addition to her union work, Parkas was a professor of Biology and Physical Anthropology as well as the project director of the Tech Prep Grant. Over the years, she helped develop and evolve FIT’s curriculum. She discusses the inception of the union and their early contentions with the Board of Trustees. There were also initial difficulties in unifying adjunct and full-time faculty, but Parkas emphasizes how the inclusivity of the union has been hugely beneficial in affecting change at the institution. She discusses how contracts have evolved to be more effective over time, especially thanks to Lou Stoller. She mentions affiliate unions such as the New York State United Teachers union and how FIT’s supportive working conditions have led to low turnover. Parkas talks about the school’s founding around the time of the G.I. Bill, and Shirley Goodman’s lasting legacy at FIT. While FIT’s deep connection with the city and the fashion industry has remained, the student body has become increasingly diverse and international over time. Parkas briefly discusses the differences between the Board of Trustees and the Educational Foundation. Parkas then discusses the development of a 4-year program at FIT, and goes on to describe the Tech Prep Grant that FIT procured from Cauley-Perkins. This program has allowed FIT to implement preparatory curriculum for mid-range high schoolers as well as secure summer employment. Parkas mentions distinguished alumni, and a couple fond memories of her own at FIT. She finishes the interview with a run down of her political involvement around the city.
Richard Streiter wore many hats at FIT, but at the time of this interview he was the executive director of the Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries. Streiter joined FIT from Pratt Institute as Dean of Students in 1973. He discusses his recruitment by Marvin Feldman and his immediate push for the creation of a comprehensive primary care health service at the school. Streiter fondly remembers the raucous four-year stint of Mardi Gras costume balls held in concert with other art schools as well as FIT’s own talent show. He performed a surprising jazz trumpet set his first year and ended up in the 1976 yearbook for “streaking” at that year’s show. Streiter explains the legislative struggles involved in getting the upper divisions established and commends Feldman for championing FIT’s two-year program. He then talks about how the globalization of the fashion industry is reflected in FIT’s vibrant student body. Streiter discusses the development of Polimoda in Italy and his own move to New Delhi to help establish the National Institute of Fashion Technology. It was a struggle, but Streiter had support from an advisory group in New York and fought for the school’s survival. Upon his return, Streiter held a series of leadership roles at FIT and ultimately became acting director of both the Educational Foundation and the Shirley Goodman Resource Center. He mentions early FIT exhibitions such as the retrospective on Charles James. He then discusses the structure and evolution of the Educational Foundation. Streiter ends the interview with a depiction of an FIT tour through China which he led.