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Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer takes new job at Hunter College; encouraged by Hillary Clinton

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Harold Holzer, who is best known for his writing, co-authoring or editing some 50 books on President Abraham Lincoln, will begin a new day job on Sept. 1 as director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College in New York. Holzer, who began his career as a newspaper reporter, recently retired from his post as senior vice president of public affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At Hunter, his work will include overseeing the institute’s public programming, student curricula and academic research. In an interview, he said he was weighing the offer in early August when he happened to attend an event for Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton in New York. His mind was so much occupied with considering the job offer that he debated if he should ask Clinton’s advice when he and his wife Edith, who were in the receiving line, reached the spot where she was standing.

She opened the door for him when she greeted him by saying, “I have a letter in the mail to you about your retirement from the Met,” Holzer recalled. “So I quickly replied, ‘The retirement may not last. I’ve been asked to head Roosevelt House at Hunter. What do you think?’” “’Roosevelt House!’” she exclaimed. “That’s perfect—there’s a continuum from Lincoln to FDR. You should do it.’”

Holzer said that was the tipping point. “I might add, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever told anyone this, but when I was 20 years old, FDR’s granddaughter—who was my dear cousin’s best friend—helped me get my first job, as a cub reporter for a Manhattan weekly newspaper. More recently, the same Kate Whitney long served as a member of the Roosevelt House Advisory Board, and she has encouraged me to take this job—which touched me deeply, and represented yet another continuum. I’ve come full circle, with Lincoln in between, of course.”

The Hunter job will also allow him the opportunity to teach history as a professor in the history department. For all of Holzer’s scholarship on Lincoln, and his years as a writer and speaker, he had never taught college-level classes.

“I’ve always wanted to teach—and to be a part of a university program that not only offers important curricula to students, but programs for the community. It is a dream come true,” he said in an interview. “I won’t teach in the fall—I have so much work to do getting to know our current programs and faculty. If I have time to teach even in the spring, I’d be surprised, but if I do, I’d love to do a course on the presidency and the press.”

Holzer already has his research done for that course, having written in 2014, “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion,” which won the prestigious 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize. His students might also be impressed with honors he has received including the National Humanities Medal from former President George W. Bush in 2008 and being named co-chair for the national Lincoln Bicentennial Commission in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton, a position he held for eight years. He has since chaired its successor organization, the Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. In 1995, he was the founding co-chair of the Lincoln Forum, an annual symposium held in Gettsyburg.

Will this new job interfere with his research and writing? Not likely.

“I will never stop writing books as long as publishers want to bring my work into print,” he said.