The New Deal Turns 90

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

 

The New Deal Turns 90

“Promote the General Welfare"

“Promote the General Welfare"
Bas relief by Lenore Thomas Straus, Greenbelt, Maryland. Photo by Susan Ives

The nation was spiraling into the worst economic crisis in its history when presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt pledged “a new deal for the American people.” Upon taking office in 1933, FDR launched an all-out mobilization to beat back the Great Depression. “Neither before nor since have Americans so rallied around an essentially peaceable form of patriotism,” writes historian Eric Rauchway. “The New Deal matters because we all live in it…it gives structure to our lives in ways we do not ordinarily bother to count or catalog.” In 2023, the 90th birthday of the New Deal, the Living New Deal is counting, cataloging—and celebrating—the New Deal’s vast legacy.

 

The Eye of the Beholder

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

 

The Eye of the Beholder

Detail from the mural, “Library,” by Bernard Zakheim,1934.

Detail from the mural, “Library,” by Bernard Zakheim,1934.
Coit Tower, San Francisco. Photo by Markus Lüske, Courtesy, Living New Deal.

The Federal Art Project (FAP), (1935-1943), provided jobs to 10,000 struggling artists. They created thousands of artworks, including roughly 2,500 murals that adorn many public buildings—city halls, schools, post offices—to this day. The FAP muralists were encouraged to depict American life and culture so as to inspire and promote a national identity. But the results were not without controversy. Then, as now, America was ideologically and culturally divided. FDR proclaimed public art as a hallmark of democracy. Nearly nine decades later, the meaning of art—and democracy—is in the eye of the beholder.

 

ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH ADVERSITY

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH ADVERSITY

FDR Hope Memorial, Roosevelt Island, New York

FDR Hope Memorial, Roosevelt Island, NY
Photo by Susan Ives.

FDR was 39 years old when he was stricken with polio in 1921. Back then, people with disabilities were considered weak and unemployable. FDR’s opponents sought to exploit his inability to walk as a political vulnerability. He was rarely seen or photographed using a wheelchair. Yet, many believe that FDR’s disability shaped him as a person and as president. He made conquering polio a national cause. By his own indomitable spirit and his advancement of federal policies, FDR helped to dismantle the societal barriers that, more than disability itself, can limit one’s ability to achieve. READ MORE

New Dealish: The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937


Courtesy, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The federal government began taxing marijuana in 1937 after Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, testified to a Congressional committee that smoking marijuana “produces in it users insanity, criminality and death.” H.R. 6385, The Marihuana Tax Act, regulated the importation, cultivation, possession and/or distribution of cannabis and placed a tax on its sale. Moses Baca and Samuel Caldwell, arrested in Denver for possession and dealing, respectively, were the first in the nation to be convicted for failure pay the tax. During WWII, the US Department of Agriculture and the Army urged farmers to grow hemp for fiber and issued tax stamps to sellers to limit access to the drug. States sold their own tax stamps, some of which are highly sought after by stamp collectors. In 1969 in Timothy Leary v. United States, part of the Marihuana Tax Act was ruled unconstitutional as a violation of the Fifth Amendment, since a person seeking the tax stamp would have to self incriminate. In response, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1971, which repealed the 1937 drug tax. Marijuana today is treated as an illegal substance under federal law, but illegal drugs are no longer taxable.
With thanks to Roger Catlin, Smithsonian Magazine.
View the trailer of the 1936 film, Reefer Madness (1:30 minutes)

ART FOR ALL

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

ART FOR ALL

Worker’s Hands

Worker’s Hands
Photo by Sonya Noskowiak, 1937. Collection SFMOMA.The United States General Services Administration, formerly Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration (WPA), allocation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

The idea behind the federal art programs was to provide work for struggling artists and foster the role of the arts in public life. Between 1933 and 1943, New Deal artists produced thousands of paintings, sculptures, prints, posters, photographs and crafts. In the years after the New Deal ended, many of these artworks were lost, sold and even thrown away. The government allocated caches of artworks to “non-federal repositories” around the country—schools, hospitals and museums, where many pieces languished in storage for decades. Today, New Deal artworks are being rediscovered, inventoried, curated and exhibited, showing a new generation what’s possible when a nation considers art a public resource.

Hot Dog Diplomacy

The Picnic

The Picnic
A special bond between FDR and the Royal couple played a significant role in US-UK relations during the war years that followed. Credit: potus-geeks.livejournal.com/1107940.html.

On June 11, 1939, as war loomed over Europe, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, joined FDR and his staff at the president’s Hyde Park, New York, residence. The menu of that day included “Hot Dogs (if weather permits).” The American delicacies, along with beer, were served on a silver tray. The Royal couple reportedly asked Roosevelt how exactly one was supposed to properly eat a hot dog.  “Very simple,” FDR retorted. “Push it into your mouth and keep pushing it until it is all gone.”

With thanks to Claire Barrett, History.net.

Favorite New Deal Site (A New Feature)

Tell Us About Your Favorite New Deal Site

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!

Red Rocks Rocks On!

Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colorado

Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colorado
Photo by Susan Ives

Named for 300-foot slabs of bright red sandstone, Red Rocks Park has served as a venue for live music for much of Denver’s history. The first documented concert, in 1906, featured a 25-piece brass band. The first rock concert took place in 1964, featuring The Beatles! Virtually every big-name band has performed on its “acoustically perfect” stage since. The city of Denver purchased Rock Rocks—elevation 6,500 feet—in 1927. The Civilian Conservation Corps arrived in 1936 to carve out the 9,450-seat amphitheater. A bronze statue of a CCC worker stands in tribute to their achievement. Some 80 years on, Red Rocks Amphitheater remains a mecca for music lovers. It also hosts classic films under the stars. A wildly popular event, “Yoga on the Rocks,” would have been unimaginable to Red Rocks’ founders and builders whose stories are told at the Visitor Center. On the day I visited, hundreds of students in caps and gowns poured in to the historic amphitheater for their high school graduation.

— Susan Ives

The Lungs of Our Land

The Fireside—News and Views from The Living New Deal

The Lungs of Our Land

In 1937, in a letter to the nation’s governors, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote: “Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.”
Forests played a major part in the New Deal. FDR’s “Tree Army,” the Civilian Conservation Corps, enlisted millions of young men to fight wildfires, replant forests and restore spent land. The lesser known Resettlement Administration (RA), enacted in 1935, (later renamed the Farm Securities Administration) aspired to house the thousands displaced by the Dust Bowl and made jobless by the Great Depression. The RA’s town planners envisioned affordable, well-built homes surrounded by “green belts” of fields and forests. Congress considered the plan socialist and cut off funding. Only three “greenbelt towns” were built. With the climate and housing prices wildly overheated, the New Deal vision might offer the “fresh strength” we need today.

Women in the Woods

Performance

Performance
Federal Emergency Relief Camp for women in Minnesota, 1934. Courtesy, National Archives.

The Civilian Conservation Corps  (1933–42), is one of the earliest of the New Deal’s relief programs and arguably its best known. Lesser known is the CCC’s female counterpart—dubbed the She-She-She, (1933-1937), a program for women at a time when New Deal jobs programs were largely for men.

The number of unemployed women had grown to two million by 1933. Women’s rights activist and writer Helena Weed, observed, “Men thronged the breadlines; women hid their plight.” 

Soup kitchen, Chicago, 1931

Men waiting outside a Chicago soup kitchen, 1931. 
Men waiting outside a Chicago soup kitchen, 1931.Public Domain.

Though rarely seen in Depression-era photographs of soup kitchens and unemployment lines, an estimated 200,000 women were living on the streets, sleeping on subways and “tramping” the countryside. Little was done about it until First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used her contacts and influence to advocate for them. “As a group, women have been neglected in comparison with others, and throughout this depression have had the hardest time of all,” she said.

Mrs. Roosevelt prevailed upon the president to fund a residential jobs program like the CCC for unemployed women and girls. FDR issued a presidential order in 1933 funding the program. Harry Hopkins, head of New Deal relief, tapped labor educator Hilda Worthington Smith to run the woman’s program.

Camp TERA, 1934

Camp TERA, 1934
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits the first She She She camp, Bear Valley, New York.art.com.

The first of what would become a network of 90 residential schools and camps for women, Camp TERA, (Temporary Emergency Relief Administration) opened in June, 1933 at Bear Mountain State Park, about an hour’s drive north of New York City. Mrs. Roosevelt and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins presided at the camp’s opening.

The program was slow getting off the ground. Applications for admission to the camps poured in from women nationwide, but eligibility was unduly strict.  Various states and organizations offered the use of their camp facilities but ran in to red tape.

The CCC, run by the U.S. Army, enlisted 300,000 men within its first three months. They were quickly deployed to camps and put to work on highly visible public service projects where they developed practical skills. They were paid $30 a month, of which $25 was sent home to their families, adding to the CCC’s general popularity. Some 2.5 million men went to work for the CCC during its nine-year run.

Such work, training and earning opportunities for the unemployed women were curtailed from the start. Joyce L. Kornbluth explains In her book, Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914–1984, “CCC administrators vetoed the national advisory committee’s recommendation that young women in the resident programs be used, as men were, in reforestation and community service projects since, they claimed, ‘work outside the camps [for women] was not practicable and the supervision and transportation costs would be greatly increased.’”

Without a work component, the women’s program appeared to be little more than a government-sponsored vacation. The program was presumed a boondoggle. Skeptics derided it as the “She-She-She.”

Once accepted to the program, women were bused to camps to live for two to three to months. They received five dollars a month for personal expenses and worked up to 70 hours a month to cover the cost of their food and lodging. No monies were sent home.

Typing 

Typing 
Learning secretarial skills at a women’s camp in Pennsylvania, 1934. Courtesy, National Archives.

Sewing, cooking, music, drama and handicrafts were staples of camp life. Some camps offered secretarial classes but the focus was on homemaking skills. One participant recalled, “Most of us got the impression that they wanted to teach us something useful if we got married immediately and that that was the only proper thing to do.”

“Workers’ education,” a curriculum developed by Hilda Smith that included English, domestic science, hygiene, public health and economics, was renamed “social civics” when the American Legion and some nearby communities complained that leftist discussions and programs were taking place at the women’s camps.

Only about half of She-She-She participants managed to find jobs when they returned home. Most employers resisted hiring women while there were men unemployed. Yet, many women who joined the She-She-She reported that the experience had improved their health and given them a new outlook on life.

FERA camp

FERA camp
African American women at segregated camp in Atlanta, Georgia, 1934.Courtesy, National Archives.

“The camp was ideal for building up run-down bodies and renewing jaded spirits,” wrote civil rights activist, Pauli Murray, of Camp TERA. Another woman recalled, “It seemed like someone did have an interest in whether we lived or starved. And was trying to help.”

The She-She-She camps closed on October 1, 1937.  Over its four-year existence, the program served 8,500 women.

For more on the She-She-She, read Joyce L. Kornbluth’s essay, The She-She-She Camps: An Experiment in Living and Learning, from her book, “Sisterhood and Solidarity: Workers’ Education for Women, 1914-1984.”

A New Deal for Birds

Paul Kroegel, the first federal refuge employee.

Paul Kroegel, The First federal Refuge Employee
FDR’s cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, established the first federal bird reservation in 1903 at Pelican Island, Florida. In all, TR named 55 bird reservations and national game preserves—forerunners of the National Wildlife Refuge System established during the New Deal.

When FDR took office in 1933, of the 120 million acres of marsh and wetlands originally found in the US, only 30 million acres remained. The population of waterfowl had reached its lowest point in recorded history—approximately 27 million birds. 

Drought had displaced not only many farmers from their land, but also millions of migratory birds. Wetlands, ponds and prairie potholes—critical to the birds’ breeding, feeding and resting—had dried up. Illegal hunting also took a toll.

FDR, an avid birder since childhood, recognized the crisis and responded by appointing three respected conservationists to a blue-ribbon Committee on Wildlife Restoration. He chose Tom Beck, the influential publisher of Colliers Weekly as chair; along with Aldo Leopold, a professor at University of Wisconsin; and Jay “Ding” Darling, a Hoover Republican and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register famous for lampooning politicians (including FDR), and for his passion for conservation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling
Darling was said to know more about ducks and geese than most game wardens.
Photo Credit: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation

As Douglas Brinkley writes in his book, “Rightful Heritage,” about FDR’s environmentalism, the three men argued fiercely about how the government should go about saving birds. Beck wanted “duck factories” where birds would be hatched in incubators. Leopold argued for restoring a range of habitats. Darling sided with Leopold. Alluding to Governor Huey Long’s pledge to put a chicken in every pot, Darling called for “a duck for every puddle.”

They released the “Beck Report” at a press conference in 1934. It was science based; conserved wetlands; regulated hunting; forbade meatpackers from selling wild game; focused on acquiring and restoring waterfowl habitat; and called upon Congress to appropriate $50 million to buy abandoned farms for a system of National Wildlife Refuges.

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold
The ecologist and nature writer is best known for his book, “A Sand County Almanac.”
Photo Credit: Library of America

FDR persuaded Darling to head the U.S. Biological Survey (later the Fish & Wildlife Service), but believed that the committee’s recommendations were too ambitious and expensive to win Congressional support.

Darling resurrected the idea of raising funds through a hunting tax. Rather than simply issue a piece of paper as receipt to those paying for a hunting license, FDR, a lifelong stamp collector, hatched the idea of a stamp that would invoke the beauty of the wildlife the tax would be used to protect.

With a funding source assured, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act in 1934. Darling illustrated the first federal Duck Stamp. It was sold at post offices nationwide and cost one dollar. People considered them miniature pieces of art. Nearly 650,000 duck stamps sold within weeks—providing start-up funding for a National Wildlife Refuge System.

The catch was that Congress required that all monies from the Duck Stamp be spent within that year or revert to the WPA. 

J. Clark Salyer, II

J. Clark Salyer, II
Salyer is known as the “father” of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Photo Credit: Courtesy FWS.gov

That year, wildlife biologist John Clark Salyer, whom Darling hired as head of the fledgling Division of Wildlife Refuges, drove 20,000 miles, sleeping in his car, looking for possible refuge sites to buy and restore. With Duck Stamp monies, he managed to secure 323 waterfowl and upland game sites by 1935. Each refuge was created to protect an ecosystem from human destruction and, in some cases, to save individual bird species from extinction.

When Salyer took the job, the nation held 1.5 million acres in refuges. When he retired 27 years later, there were more than 28 million refuge acres. The Beck Report, the Duck Stamp, land acquisition and public awareness campaigns, increased migratory bird numbers from 30 million in 1933 to 100 million by the onset of WWII.