New Dealish: Brother, Can You Spare—a Quarter?

Many Americans viewed the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s active public life “with mingled admiration and alarm,” according to one reporter at the time. An Atlanta couple sent a telegram to FDR:


Between 1933 and 1937 Mrs. Roosevelt traveled on average 40,000 miles a year; hosted weekly radio shows; held regular press conferences, wrote a monthly magazine column and a daily newspaper column, “My Day,” that reached millions of readers. After FDR’s death, Mrs. Roosevelt had an instrumental role advancing her husband’s long-held vision for a United Nations, then crafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which UN delegates unanimously approved in 1948. She continued to serve the cause of human rights up until she died in 1962 at age 78.

Sixty years on, Mrs. Roosevelt’s image still shines. On June 6, 2023 the U.S. Mint issued a new coin—in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Favorite New Deal Site: Beach Chalet

Tell Us About Your Favorite New Deal Site

A View of the Past: The San Francisco Beach Chalet

Mural Detail, by Lucien Labaudt
Courtesy, FoundSF

City officials relocated the popular two-story Beach Chalet from Ocean Beach to the foot of Golden Gate Park in 1925 when storm waves nearly overtook the building. The Spanish Revival-style former bathhouse and snack bar today hosts a 180-degree view of the Pacific, craft beer and an amazement of New Deal artworks. From 1936-1937, WPA artists ornamented the capacious interior. Painter Lucien Labaudt added a colorful 1,500-square-foot fresco mural series depicting life the city along with some the more renowned residents of the day—sculptor Bene Bufano on horseback, labor organizer Harry Bridges pushing a hand cart, Golden Gate Park Superintendent John McLaren resting on a park bench and Labaudt, himself, reading a newspaper at the beach. Woodworker Michael von Meyer carved a braid of octopus legs and mermaids along the banister to the second floor. Primo Caredio’s mosaics adorn the stairwells and grottos. The Beach Chalet fell on hard times and was shuttered for decades but, thanks to persistent preservationists, the building and artworks have been restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, the Beach Chalet became City Landmark #179. Today it is favorite destination for locals and tourists alike.
Send us a first-person story of 100 (or so) words describing the site and why you chose it. Submissions will appear in future issues of The Fireside! Be sure to include a photo (with photo credit). Send to [email protected]. Thanks!

New Dealish: Happy Days Are Here Again

In 1933 Congress passed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, also known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the sale and government taxation of alcoholic beverages with no more than 3.2 percent alcohol content, considered too low to be intoxicating. The sale of even low-content alcohol had been prohibited since 1920 under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and the Volstead Act.

Signing the Beer and Wine Revenue Act Beer was part of FDR’s New Deal and was one of his first actions as president. Later that year Congress and the states adopted the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th Amendment and ending Prohibition. Upon signing the legislation, FDR famously remarked, “I think this would be a good time for a beer!” 


New Dealish: The Presidential Yacht Potomac

Courtesy, Wikipedia.

Launched in 1934, the Coast Guard cutter Electra was built for speed. FDR acquired the 165-foot submarine chaser in 1936, renamed her the Potomac and placed her under the command of the U.S. Navy. The “floating White House” provided a getaway for the president, who enjoyed fishing off the fantail and often invited advisors, politicians, statesmen and royalty aboard. Their signatures appear in the guest log, including those of New Dealers Harry Hopkins, who headed New Deal relief efforts, and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins. The Prince of Wales signed his name in the log as simply “Edward.”

After FDR died in 1945, the Potomac changed hands many times. In 1964 Elvis purchased the yacht and to great fanfare, donated it to entertainer Danny Thomas’s St. Jude Research Hospital. After another sale, in 1980 the Potomac sank after it was seized in a drug raid. The Port of Oakland salvaged it, and in a cooperative effort with organized labor, maritime corporations and volunteers began a 12-year, multi-million-dollar renovation. Restored to its 1930s glory, the Potomac, one of only two presidential yachts still in existence, is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Berthed at Jack London Square on the Oakland Estuary, the 88-year-old Potomac, is available for weddings, parties and tours on San Francisco Bay through the USS Potomac Association. A science education program for school children, a visitor center and a museum about the New Deal are in the offing.

New Dealish: FDR’s Birthday Ball

FDR Birthday Ball Window Placard Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1936.

FDR Birthday Ball Window Placard Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1936

As president, FDR used his birthday, January 30, to advance his most important cause—raising awareness and money to eliminate polio, a disease FDR knew first hand. The first Birthday Ball was held in 1934; 4,376 communities joined together in 600 separate celebrations to raise more one million dollars for the Warm Springs Foundation, a charity FDR founded. The Birthday Ball became an annual event, but the revenue was not enough to support the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which FDR created in 1938 to help victims of polio all across the country, not just in Warm Springs. Radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.” “Nearly everyone can send in a dime, or several dimes,” Cantor stressed in his January, 1938 fundraising appeal. By the end of that month, the White House had received a total of 2,680,000 dimes, or $268,000. The money raised by the Birthday Balls and March of Dimes went directly to the research that enabled Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin to develop polio vaccines in the 1950s that, by the 1960s, eradicated the disease throughout most of the world.

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