“Republic of Detours” Wins New Deal Book Award

Scott Borchert is the winner of the Living New Deal’s first annual New Deal Book Award for his 2021 book about the Federal Writers’ Project, Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The Award Committee called it: “…a beautifully written and timely book, whose ramble through the lives of New Dealers reminds us of what can be accomplished when the federal government supports American artists to create an enduring legacy.”
 
Eric Rauchway, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, and chair of the Award Committee, presented Borchert with a plaque and $1,000 prize at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY at the 18th Annual Roosevelt Reading Festival.
 
Borchert was one of three nominees for the New Deal Book Award who participated in the Reading Festival, along with Mary Jane Appel, biographer of Russell Lee: A Photographer’s Life and Legacy (Liveright Books in association with the Library of Congress), and Greg Zipes, author of Justice and Faith: The Frank Murphy Story (University of Michigan Press). Their books were selected from a dozen submissions, including biographies of New Deal artists, a study of race and resistance, and an assessment of the New Deal’s place in American history.

Submissions are invited for the 2022 New Deal Book Award, due by November 14, 2022.

Video: In Landscape Harmony: New Deal Bridges for the Oregon Coast

Oregon national associate Judith Kenny and videographers Logan Duello and Alex Hilton recently produced a short video on the five Public Works Administration (PWA) bridges that completed the Oregon Coast Highway (Hwy 101). The five bridges serve the southwest coast and are valued by many as spectacular in their beauty as the coast itself.

While the video emphasizes the remarkable design of the bridges, it also places their completion in a story of the long, drawn-out process of the construction of highway access along Oregon’s coast. Despite the campaign to “Lift Oregon out of the Mud” that was launched in 1917, the state’s project budget was spent by 1932 and there were still five broad estuaries or bays left without bridge structures between Newport and Coos Bay. Oregon entered the New Deal era with the most expensive and challenging bridge structures left unbuilt and state-operated ferries the only option for crossing the watery gaps left in the highway.

Among the State’s first requests for PWA funding, federal approval of the $5,600,000 budget for the bridges came in late 1933. Conde McCullough, Oregon’s highway bridge engineer, went to work with his design team to develop beautiful structures that also suited the demanding, local environmental conditions. With final PWA approval of the plans, construction began less than a year after the project’s initial approval. Construction workers completed all five bridges by September 1936.

The impact of the bridges was noted almost immediately. A Newport newspaper reported that the daily traffic on their new Yaquina Bay Bridge equaled the number of cars carried by the state-operated Yaquina Bay ferry in a month. In addition to improvements in local traffic, the Oregon State Highway Department predicted that the sound of tourist traffic across the bridge would resemble the sound of the surf.

Even today, tourists value the access the bridges provide on that nearly one-hundred- mile scenic stretch of coastal highway from Newport to Coos Bay. Their contribution to debates surrounding highway projects and the scenic quality of the coast is noted in the video as well.  Reflecting on the Depression-era bridges, the majority of Oregonians have concluded that the standard has been set, and spectacular scenery merits spectacular design.

Watch In Landscape Harmony: New Deal Bridges for the Oregon Coast

History of the District of Columbia’s Recorder of Deeds Building with Peter Sefton

img-20220616-124356666               The Association of the Old Inhabitants hosted a video luncheon talk with Peter Sefton. Sefton discussed the history of the District of Columbia’s Recorder of Deeds Building and its architect Nathan Wyeth.  “Mr. Sefton focuses not only on the historic building and the threats to its preservation but also of the extensive collection of WPA art and murals that adorn the building’s interior. Watch the video here.

Arthur Rothstein’s New Deal-Era Photography Continues to Grace the Walls of Roosevelt House

There’s still time to visit the New Deal photo exhibition, The Great Depression: A Photographic Document.

Vernon Evans, migrant from South Dakota,
near Missoula, Montana. 1936. photo by Arthur Rothstein

In 1976, social documentary photographer Arthur Rothstein created a book proposal titled The Great Depression: A Photographic Document. The outline featured an introduction—President Roosevelt’s entire first inaugural address of March 4, 1933—followed by 15 topical sections headed by excerpts from popular poems and songs and ending with a 1964 interview that Rothstein had recorded with the Archives of American Art.

In this exhibit, we follow Rothstein’s recently rediscovered original book proposal, with minor modifications that bring to light some of his lesser known photo assignments and also illustrate important aspects of the New Deal. All photos are by Rothstein, unless otherwise identified.

This exhibition will remain on the walls at Roosevelt House, 47-49 East 65th Street in Manhattan, through December 17, 2021. *Contact the photographer’s daughter, Dr. Annie Segan [email protected] if you’d like an in-person guided tour (5 visitors per tour, max).

*Before visiting Roosevelt House, everyone MUST complete the Cleared4 Access Process, where they will be required to upload a photo of their vaccination card or a negative test result. The Cleared4 Access Process can be accessed here: https://www.c4wrk.com/7rzQF3LbEJveyqSn8

Beyond Infrastructure

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Beyond Infrastructure

Soil Conservation Service

Soil Conservation Service
A New Deal environmental restoration effort in response to the Dust Bowl.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, National Archives

In overcoming the Great Depression, the New Deal approached national recovery not only through vast public works for which it is best known, but also through the arts, education, conservation and a social safety net. The New Deal’s ambitions extended to providing housing, schools, museums, concert halls, community centers, parks and playgrounds; restoring depleted forests and soils; supporting musicians, writers and artists; and improving literacy, nutrition, public health and safety. More than eighty years after it began, the New Deal has reemerged in a national conversation about America’s future. A Green New Deal, a Civilian Climate Corps; a New Deal for Writers; for Teachers, for Youth, for Labor, for Higher Education, for Women, for Seniors; for Civil Rights—are among the propositions being put forward. Beyond infrastructure, what might a new New Deal include?  

This Land Was Made for You and Me

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

This Land Was Made for You and Me

Like thousands of other Dust Bowl refugees, Woody Guthrie migrated to California. He scraped by, busking for spare change, washing dishes, sweeping floors. In 1937, he got a job at a small radio station in LA. As his popularity grew, Woody mimeographed copies of his songs to mail to fans.

In his songbook, “Ten Songs for Two Bits,” Woody wrote: “In these ten songs you will hear a lot of music of a lot of races. Songs of every color. Every people loves and copies the songs and the music, the ideas, the customs, of all the other races. Songs like these soak into every wall, hall, factory, every hull of every ship, every hammer coming down on every anvil, every seed falling down into every row, every hand moving with a dust rag, a wheel, a lever, a dial, a handle, a button pushed…I have never heard a nation of people sing an editorial out of a newspaper. A man sings about the little things that help him or hurt his people and he sings of what has got to be done to fix this world like it ought to be.

Woody would go on to write a thousand such songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” a protest song in response to Irving Berlin’s patriotic hymn, “God Bless America,” which Woody felt glossed over the lop-sided distribution of wealth in America . “This Land is Your Land” was performed at the presidential inauguration last month—an appeal for unity. But Woody’s song reminds us that we have much work to do “to fix this world like it ought to be.”

Watch: A montage of “This Land Is Your Land,” from the film “Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin” (3 minutes)

Watch: Sharon Jones and the Dapp Kings: This Land Is Your Land

Sweet Land of Liberty

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Sweet Land of Liberty

Marian Anderson, Photo Credit: Public Domain

As a child, singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) showed remarkable talent, but she was turned away from the Philadelphia Music Academy because she was Black. Her church raised money for her to take private lessons.  In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson, by then a world renowned opera star, to perform at Constitution Hall in segregated Washington, D.C., leading First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign from the group in protest.  Mrs. Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial instead. More than 75,000 people gathered to hear Anderson sing. Millions listened on the radio. In 2009, as millions watched around the world, Aretha Franklin performed at the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. She sang “My Country Tis of Thee.”  It was the song Anderson had memorably performed on the National Mall 70 years before.

Watch: “Marian Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial” Newsreel (2 minutes)

A Happier New Year

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

A Happier New Year

On Christmas Eve for ten years running, the President and Mrs. Roosevelt hosted an annual party at the White House for staff and their families. Police, cooks, maids, butlers and office employees all were invited. The First Couple would hand out small tokens of appreciation for their hard work. In 1934, they gave out autographed copies of the president’s book, On Our Way. Between 1935 and 1939, the gifts were pewter letter openers, mail organizers, and paperweights. In 1940, staff were given silver key chains featuring a Scottish terrier, in honor of Fala, the new “First Dog” (who reportedly had his own Christmas stocking). After the party, the Roosevelts and their guests would head outside for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. In 1943, during some of the darkest days of World War II, FDR delivered a heartening Christmas Eve Fireside Chat. “We may look forward into the future with real, substantial confidence that, however great the cost, ‘peace on earth, good will toward men’ can be and will be realized and insured.” Read more at the White House Historical Association’s website.

Happy Franksgiving!

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Happy Franksgiving!

President Abraham Lincoln had proclaimed in 1863 the last Thursday in November as a national holiday for giving thanks. But in 1939, retailers feared that a late Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could hurt Christmas sales. Traditionally, the Christmas shopping season began the day after Thanksgiving, but President Roosevelt decided to move the date up a week, to the second-to-last Thursday of November. Much upheaval, protest and comedy ensued, leading some to deride the holiday as “Franksgiving.” Democrats favored the switch 52% to 48%, according to a Gallup Poll, while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%. Americans overall were opposed. That year, twenty-three states and the District of Columbia recognized the holiday on November 23; twenty-two states preserved the traditional date, which some called the “Republican” Thanksgiving; and three states celebrated the holiday in both weeks. Popular comedians of the day, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and the Three Stooges joked about the confusion over when to observe Thanksgiving Day. A 1941 Commerce Department survey found no significant expansion of retail sales due to the change, and Congress voted to designate the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day. Roosevelt went along and signed the bill.

A New Deal for America’s Workers

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

A New Deal for America’s Workers

Sit-down strike. Nearly 500,000 workers engaged in about 400 sit-downs across the nation between September 1936 and June 1937.

Labor Day became an official US holiday in 1894, but took on particular meaning during its 50th anniversary. In 1934, a quarter of American workers were unemployed. The country was rife with unrest, with thousands demanding jobs and better wages and working conditions. FDR’s first priority was to restore confidence and get people working again. The New Deal not only provided jobs, it led to federal legislation that fundamentally changed the relationship between workers and management, and by extension, American society. The National Labor Relations Act, enacted in 1935, guaranteed employees’ right to collective bargaining. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 set a minimum wage (25 cents); provided for a 40-hour work week and overtime pay; and outlawed child labor—a cause championed by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. On Labor Day, as we celebrate workers’ contributions to the strength and well-being of our nation, let’s also reflect on the New Deal’s contributions to America’s workers.