WE DO OUR PART

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

WE DO OUR PART

On June 16, 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA), one of the central initiatives of FDR’s first hundred days as president. Intended to jumpstart the nation’s economic recovery, the act had two parts. The first created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to halt deflation, assure fair competition, and guarantee the rights of workers. The second established the Public Works Administration (PWA) to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and get Americans back to work. 

The NRA enjoined business to adopt a “code” that included a minimum wage, maximum workweek, and the abolition of child labor. Businesses that went along were permitted to display the NRA’s symbol, the Blue Eagle, declaring “We do our part.” 

In 1935, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NRA was unconstitutional, but the agency’s efforts proved ineffective, in any case.  In contrast, the PWA was untouched by the ruling and continued through 1943. During its 10-year existence, the PWA invested $4 billion to construct more than 70 percent of the nation’s schools; 65 percent of its new courthouses, city halls, and sewage-disposal plants; 35 percent of its new public health facilities; and 10 percent of all new roads, bridges and subways.  The vast infrastructure created by PWA workers still serves eighty years on.

 

The First and Final Task

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

The First and Final Task

Harry Hopkins

Harry Hopkins
Courtesy, Britannica.com.

A social worker from Sioux City, Iowa, Harry Hopkins served as FDR’s personal advisor for the duration of his presidency. As head of New Deal relief, Hopkins worked tirelessly to provide jobs and assistance to millions of Americans struggling through the Great Depression. During World War II, Hopkins served as FDR’s envoy to the European Allies in the fight against fascism. At Hopkins’ memorial service in 1946, John Steinbeck reflected on Hopkins’ legacy of social justice: “Human welfare is the first and final task of government. There is no other.”

As our nation struggles to regain its footing at home and abroad, infrastructure and diplomacy are again at the top the president’s agenda. Harry Hopkins remains a paragon of public service.

A Place of Pilgrimage

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

A Place of Pilgrimage

Little White House, Photo Credit: Courtesy Commons.Wikimedia.org

On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke while at the Little White House at Warm Springs, Georgia. He was 63. During his twelve years as president, FDR sought rest and renewal at a modest 6-room cottage near the therapeutic waters that relieved the symptoms of his polio. He credited this time at Warm Springs as the inspiration for his New Deal programs to alleviate rural poverty. 

The Little White House is today a National Historic Landmark and a place of pilgrimage, receiving more than 100,000 visitors a year. John Kennedy visited during his 1960 campaign for president. Jimmy Carter opened his presidential campaign here in 1976. Joe Biden chose Warm Springs as a final stop during his 2020 presidential run. “This place, Warm Springs, is a reminder that though broken, each of us can be healed,” Biden said. “That as a people and a country, we can overcome this devastating virus, that we can heal a suffering world, and yes, we can restore our soul and save our country.”

Watch: Newsreel, the Funeral of FDR, April 12, 1945 (2:40 minutes)

Beauty and Bread

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

Beauty and Bread

Mural "Local Industries," Springdale, Arkansas Post Office

Mural "Local Industries," Springdale, Arkansas Post Office
By Natalie Smith Henry, 1940.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Soup kitchens and food banks made a comeback in the past year as Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy.  During the Great Depression, when hunger stalked the country, the New Deal enacted programs to feed those in need—programs that continue to offer a lifeline today. The New Deal recognized that— like food—beauty also provides nourishment. The WPA not only hired millions of workers to build the nation’s roads and bridges, it also employed struggling artists, writers, musicians, actors and architects to erect a cultural infrastructure—public art, art centers, museums, libraries, parks and gardens. The goal was not only to provide jobs but to bring beauty to Americans wherever they lived. The naturalist John Muir described beauty as a “hunger” shared by every person. “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread,” he wrote. America is hungry for both.