New Dealish: Dining with the Roosevelts

Courtesy, LOC.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was accomplished in many pursuits, but, according to the New Yorker, other than scrambled eggs she couldn’t cook worth beans. To show solidarity with those suffering during the Great Depression, upon moving in to the White House Mrs. Roosevelt eschewed fancy meals for more humble fare. She had hired her trusted friend Henrietta Nesbitt to oversee the kitchen. She proved herself a frugal manager. Meals were wholesome, if not appetizing, and penciled out at seven and a half cents per person, including coffee. Mrs. Roosevelt said that she and the President would be eating this way regularly. Ernest Hemingway, invited to dinner at the White House in 1937, said that the food was the worst he’d ever eaten.“We had a rainwater soup followed by rubber squab, a nice wilted salad and a cake some admirer had sent in.” The Washington Post lampooned a state dinner that featured sweet-potato casserole with marshmallows. A reporter described the food at a press luncheon (shrimp Newburg in patty shells and a prune Bavarian cream) as “abominable.” FDR knew the taste of excellent food and missed it badly. But he and Eleanor had agreed that she would run the White House and he would run the country.
With thanks to Lisa Curran Matte,

Hidden Murals Found in Rhode Island

University of Rhode Island Mural

New Deal murals by WPA artist Gino Conte were unveiled recently at the University of Rhode Island. Ironically, construction workers hired under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, a federal jobs program, rediscovered the murals, which had been hidden behind a wall since the 1960s…Read more at

Remembering Stetson Kennedy

Stetson Kennedy

Stetson Kennedy
Stetson Kennedy – Photo credit: Oral History Association

Author, folklorist, environmentalist, labor activist, and human rights advocate, Stetson Kennedy, died last year at age 94. During the Depression, Kennedy joined the WPA in Florida and worked for the Florida Writers Project. Kennedy published eight books, including “The Klan Unmasked.” It was one of the strongest blows to the Ku Klux Klan…Read More at

New Deal Art Disappearing from the Public Sphere

Carved redwood relief by New Deal Artist Sargent Johnson

Carved redwood relief by artist Sargent Johnson – Photo credit: Huntington Library

New Deal art is endangered as post offices are sold off, public buildings shuttered, and artworks are relegated to museum vaults and private collections. The New York Times reports that the University of California misplaced, then sold a 22-foot-wide carving by renowned African-American artist Sargent Johnson. The work, created under the Federal Arts Project, was valued at more $1 million. UC mistakenly sold it for $150. The Living New Deal and the National New Deal Preservation Association are working together to defend the New Deal’s legacy. We’re calling on UC to inventory its New Deal artwork, ensure its safekeeping, and publicly display another Johnson work that is currently in a locked conference room on the Berkeley campus. We’re also investigating the legal ruling the General Services Administration cited when it gave UC permission for the sale, and exploring how the Johnson carving can be returned to the public trust.


Take Action:
Contact: Robert J. Birgeneau, Office of the Chancellor UC Berkeley
200 California Hall #1500, Berkeley, CA 94720  (510) 642-7464.