NYU History Lesson: The Not-So-Admirable Elmer Holmes Bobst
/ December 13, 2010

Like most NYU students these days, you probably spent a good part of your weekend inside Bobst, which according to Pier, is really just a “giant stupid library.” The derision may well in part be inspired by the library’s benefactor: former pharmaceutical executive Elmer Holmes Bobst. While the inscription engraved in white marble in the library lobby lauds Bobst as an admirable leader, a quick look at his bio paints a different picture (spoiler: it is not a pretty picture, and looks like the LL-1 woman’s bathroom at 9 p.m on a Sunday night).

Elmer Holmes Bobst was born in Maryland and worked his way through the Hoffman-LaRoche (later Roche-Nutley) pharmaceutical company, becoming one of the best paid executives in the country when he retired in 1944. He was a longtime NYU trustee and gifted six million dollars to the University to build a new library. Documents in the Bobst special collections (ironic much?) prove that while his money may not have been dirty, his past certainly was.

According to the records, our dear Elmer was best friends with both Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. As the Times made clear this weekend, Nixon was a pretty notorious anti-semite, a sentiment apparently shared by his buddy Elmer. In a 1972 letter, Bobst writes, “Jews have troubled the world from the very beginning. If this beloved country of ours ever falls apart, the blame rightly should be attributed to the malicious action of Jews in complete control of our communications.” Ouch dude. I wonder how he would feel about NYU Local’s Eight Crazy Nights series.

Bobst was also an alleged pedophile. Two of his relatives came forward after his death in 1978 (five years after the library opened) alleging that he had sexually abused them. A suit brought by his granddaughter, Anne Bobst Highly, against Bobst’s estate in 1991 was tossed out because of a 1978 settlement that she accepted from Elmer’s widow, Mamdouha. A previous suit, filed by Bobst’s great grand daughter Sharon Haymes, was also rejected. The library now houses a collection of Bobst’s papers, the summary of which describes Elmer as “a man of strong principles.” Psyche?

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