Biography and History

“The vital test of freedom…is the degree to which the individual may differ from society and still be protected by it in the right to make his own decisions.” [Levenstein, Freedom's Advocate: A Twenty-Five Year Chronicle, p.x.]

This statement characterizes the philosophy of freedom as practiced by the organization Freedom House, which was founded in October, 1941 just before the entry of the United States into World War II. Among its founding members figured George Field, Dorothy Thompson, Wendell L. Willkie, Herbert Agar, Herbert Bayard Swope, Ralph Bunche, Father George B. Ford, Roscoe Drummond, and Rex Stout. It was an organization that took as its goal the defense of freedom, and its founders saw Freedom House as “both a physical structure in New York and a social force in America.” [Levenstein, p.x] An outgrowth of the groups, Fight For Freedom, Inc., and the New York City Chapter of the Committee to Defend America By Aiding the Allies (under the direction of George Field), Freedom House carried on the momentum that had been built by these two pre-war organizations through their efforts to create an awareness of the concept of freedom as practiced by many individuals in a democracy. In order to house the organization and to serve as a memorial to Wendell L. Willkie, the Willkie Memorial Building was bought in 1945. In addition, the Willkie Memorial Building housed many other non-profit agencies that reflected similar philosophies as Freedom House and Wendell Willkie's vision. These agencies were invited by Freedom House to work in the building.

During its existence under the direction of George Field, Freedom House sponsored Annual Freedom Awards. These awards were presented to individuals or groups of individuals who had significantly aided the cause of freedom and had done so in a way that was sympathetic with the views of Freedom House. Freedom House also hosted conferences, sponsored research projects, lectures series and other educational programs, and published policy statements, pamphlets, and other written materials relating to issues of freedom of individuals and geographical regions.

In 1967 George Field retired as director of Freedom House, and in 1970 he left his position on the board as Secretary, permanently severing all ties with Freedom House. Disagreements in matters of ideology and administration had cause great resentment between George Field and his successor, Leonard Sussman. Perhaps the greatest disagreements centered around the handling of financial matters of Freedom House. George Field and Leonard Sussman had very different ways of approaching the budgetary concerns of Freedom House, especially in relation to the philosophy of Freedom House and the Willkie Memorial Building. In 1985 George Field entered into the life of Freedom House once more for a short time when the Willkie Building was sold to the Republic National Bank and all organizations were ordered to vacate the building, and the non-profit agencies sued Freedom House and the Willkie Memorial for protection from this order. The eleven agencies were awarded $700,000 to help in their relocation. Freedom House retained the balance of the amount for which the Willkie Building was sold, approximately $2,000,000. The legal files for the case are in the collection, as well as many letters and other materials relating to the case. In George Field's mind, the settlement of this case was extremely unsatisfactory. The entire case revolved around issues of “restricted” funds and other financial concerns, which he felt jeopardized the ideological bases of Freedom House, and represented a great degree of secrecy and misrepresentation--all for quick profit. George Field writes that “President Reagan's rationalizations and the rationalizations of Freedom House spring from the same polluted wells. In place of the future I had once envisioned, I now see complacency and poverty of spirit….If we are to recapture our democratic values, the pendulum must swing again, and an inspiring leader devoted to the goals of a free society must come forth before it is too late” (George Field, 1988).

Source: From the finding aid for MC048

  • George Field Collection of Freedom House Files. 1933-1990 (inclusive), 1941-1969 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC048

    This collection contains George Field's files of the organization Freedom House (1933-1990; Bulk Dates 1941-1969). Freedom House was formed in October 1941 as an organization dedicated to the defense of freedom throughout the world--a cause perceived to be in great danger. Founding members included George Field, Dorothy Thompson, Wendell L. Willkie, Herbert Agar, Herbert Bayard Swope, and Rex Stout. These and other members had been involved in both Fight For Freedom and in the New York Chapter of the Committee to Defend America By Aiding the Allies. Freedom House carried on the spirit of these two organizations by acting as a clearing house of information. Its first agenda was to work, during World War II, to prepare the country for peace, and then after the war to continue to defend peace and freedom throughout the world. Throughout the period from 1941 to 1967 George Field was the Executive Director of Freedom House and was in charge of the day-to-day activities as well as the long-range planning for the organization. These records reflect Field's position in Freedom House during this time. The collection contains only the records that George Field retained from Freedom House, not the official records of the organization. Included in these records are Field's copies of Freedom House meeting minutes, correspondence, newspaper clippings, publications and writings, financial files, legal files, and photographs.

  • Freedom House Records. 1933-2016 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC187

    The Freedom House Records document the organization's activities in advocating freedom and democracy throughout the world. The records provide an invaluable insight into an organization that evolved from an answer to Hitler's Braunhaus to a diligent monitor of freedom worldwide.