The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers


William Fitts Ryan (1922-1972)

Fitts Ryan, Manhattan assistant district attorney and congressman, was born in Albion, New York, where he attended public school. After graduating from Princeton in 1944, he joined the U.S. Army, fought in the Pacific, and worked with the army forces occupying Japan. After his discharge, he entered Columbia Law School and, after graduating in 1949, worked with the firm of Hatch, Wolfe, Nash and Ten Eyck. The following year he began a seven-year stretch as assistant district attorney of Manhattan. In 1956, he campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, met Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Lehman, and, emboldened by their commitment to reform, organized the Riverside Democratic Reform Club in 1957. In 1960 he successfully challenged Representative Ludwig Teller and began a twelve-year career as the congressman representing New York's Twentieth Congressional District. While in Congress, Ryan opposed funding for the House Un-American Activities Committee, supported Communist China's admission into the United Nations, and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. As a legislator, he investigated corruption in the Federal Housing Administration, argued for a permanent Civil Rights Commission, sponsored legislation outlawing racial discrimination in housing and protecting migrant workers, supported Medicare, drafted legislation that banned lead paint from federal buildings, and urged that Richard Nixon be impeached for war crimes. In the foreign policy arena, Ryan was an early critic of the Vietnam war, opposed the creation of the Communications Satellite Program (and fought to defeat Comstat once it was operational), and refused to support Lyndon Johnson's supplemental defense and foreign economic aid appropriations bills. While hospitalized for throat cancer in 1970, he left the hospital to vote against appropriations for the Vietnam war. Hospitalized again in September 1972 to remove an ulcer, Ryan died suddenly following surgery.
Source: William Fitts Ryan, Biography, Finding Aid, William Fitts Ryan Papers, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey.