Where it started for Harry


This is how Harry describes the start of the I-House idea in his oral memories recorded by Berkeley University.

“One frosty morning in September 1909, I was going up the steps of Columbia Library (Low Memorial Library), when I met a Chinese student coming down.  I said ‘Good morning’.  As I passed on, noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had stopped.  So I stopped and went back to him.  He said ‘Thank you for speaking to me.  I’ve been in New York three weeks and you are the first persons who has spoken to me’.

‘Well’ I said, by way of apology, ‘you know, New York is a big place and people don’t ordinarily speak unless they know you.’  After we had exchanged names, I ask him what and where he was studying.  He told me, thanked me again, and we separated.

I went on about my errand but had no sooner gotten around back of the library than I realised something extraordinary had happened.  Here was a fellow, this  student, who had come from the other side of the world, China, to study in America. He had been here for three weeks, and no one had spoken to him. What a tragedy.  I retraced my steps to find him to see if I could be of help but he had vanished in the crowd.

That evening when I went home, I told my wife of my experience.  She asked if I couldn’t ‘do something about it’ which was a typical question of a certain Florence Edmonds.

I knew that there were other foreign students in New York City but this was the first one who really attracted my attention.  I began to look around and make inquiries and found that were quite a number, several hundred, in the various professional schools, colleges, studying medicine, law, education and what not.

My wife and I decided to invite a small group of them to our home in the country on University Heights on a Sunday afternoon.  Through the admission files of some of the colleges, I obtained the names of some eight or ten students, and we invited them to our first gathering.  Much to our surprise they all came.

There we found, in front of our little fireplace, assisted by a cup of tea and a piece of cake or a sandwich, a miracle took place.  The fact that those students represented different countries and nationalities lost its significance.  Their national identity sort of dissolved, they were just friendly, jovial, talkative students. ”

p33-35 The Foundation of the International House movement – an oral history transcript – Edith Mezirow & Harry Edmonds