Winter 2018

Thank you for being a part of the Living New Deal community. Your help makes our programs possible—from creating the first-ever and still-growing online index to the New Deal’s vast legacy; to our public events, tours, exhibits, and publications; to working with schools, historical societies, museums, artists, and policy institutes to preserve our country’s New Deal heritage. We appreciate all that you do to fan the flame of the New Deal as a model for compassionate leadership and public service.

In this, our last newsletter in 2017, (a year, as FDR might say, “that will live in infamy”), we offer as inspiration stories about those who led the New Deal and those whose lives were made better by their courage, vision, and tenacity. We wish you all three in the coming year. With thanks for your continued support.

In this Issue:

Where We Gonna Get It, Dad? Johnny Cash at the Dyess Colony

Young Johnny Cash. Cash moved to the colony in 1934 with his parents and five siblings.

Young Johnny Cash
Cash moved to the colony in 1934 with his parents and five siblings.

“Will we get cold and hungry, will times be very bad? When we’re needin’ bread and meat, Where we gonna get it, Dad?”

Upon hearing Johnny Cash sing those lyrics, one wouldn’t typically think of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal, or any of the myriad programs that arose from the FDR administration’s response to the Great Depression. In fact, that’s not what the song is about. But it could easily describe how Cash and his family felt as they faced poverty and hunger when he was a young boy. Fortunately, the Cashes made it through those hard times thanks to a New Deal agricultural program that helped resettle destitute farmers.

Dyess Housing. Five hundred homes were constructed at the colony. They included acreage, a barn, a chicken coop, and a mule.

Dyess Housing
Five hundred homes were constructed at the colony. They included acreage, a barn, a chicken coop, and a mule.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Library of Congress

The name of the experimental program was far from glamourous: Colonization Project #1, later called the Dyess Colony after William Dyess, an Arkansas FERA administrator. But for the Cashes, it had to be dazzling. Indeed, Johnny Cash called it “the promised land” in his autobiography. Arriving in 1935 when the future country music star was just three years old, they were among the five hundred families who were resettled on wild but fertile land that needed tending.

All were given a plot of land complete with a barn, chicken house, shed, a five-room house, and enough money to begin the arduous task of clearing the land and growing crops. A community center, administration building, schools, a theatre, and other buildings rounded out the small community.

Porch at Dyess Colony, 1940

Porch at Dyess Colony, 1940
The Colony was named for William Reynolds Dyess, the first Arkansas administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) after he was killed in a plane crash in 1936.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress

While Johnny Cash’s father and other farmers remained independent and were expected to pay the government back, they also participated in cooperative efforts to buy supplies and sell crops.

After visiting the town in 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about it in her column, My Day. She watched children scurry about, and looked into the faces of these pioneers, saying, “I decided they had character and courage to make good when an opportunity offered and at last that opportunity seemed to be within their reach.” Perhaps little “J.R.” Cash was among those scurrying children.

Canning Workshop. A Dyess Colony cooperative project for Arkansas farmers during the Depression.

Canning Workshop
A Dyess Colony cooperative project for Arkansas farmers during the Depression.
Photo Credit: Ben Shahn, FSA

It was, like many such programs, imperfect, particularly in its treatment of African Americans, who were excluded from joining the whites-only Colony. Dyess, after lying in disrepair for many years, is now an historic site, with the Greek columned administration center, the singer’s boyhood home on “Road 3,” and other buildings restored. This year, both the singer and the New Deal were honored at the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival,  held in October on the grounds of the Dyess Colony. Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson were among the singers performing in the field next to Cash’s restored house.

The New Deal saved Johnny Cash’s family. Perhaps it’s ironic that his fame, in turn, has saved Dyess.

Colony Administration Building, Dyess, Arkansas

Colony Administration Building
Dyess, Arkansas Administration Building  Source

Class of 1950 Dyess High School

Class of 1950
Dyess High School. Photo provided by Michael Boyink.  Source
Photo Credit: Courtesy, U-A Historic Dyess Colony


J.R.Cash boyhood home
Dyess, Arkansas
Photo Credit: Courtesy U-A, Historic Dyess Colony

Cash family home
Recently restored
Photo Credit: Courtesy U-A, Historic Dyess Colony

Susan Rubenstein DeMasi is the author of the 2016 biography, Henry Alsberg: The Driving Force of the New Deal Federal Writers’ Project. She is a visiting scholar in this summer’s National Endowment for the Humanities program, “The New Deal Era’s Federal Writers’ Project,” as well as a contributor to an upcoming book on the literary legacy of the FWP, edited by Sara Rutkowski, for the University of Massachusetts Press. [email protected]

Frances Perkins: The Woman behind the New Deal

Frances Perkins, The first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Frances Perkins
The first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, Frances Perkins Center

In 1963, at the age of 83, Frances Perkins gave a series of lectures at UCLA entitled, “Labor Under the New Deal and the New Frontier.” She told her audience that for years after her tenure as FDR’s Secretary of Labor from 1933-1945, people would frequently ask her, “What was the New Deal anyway?”

“It was an attitude,” she would answer, “an attitude toward government, toward the people, toward labor . . . an attitude that found voice in expressions like, ‘the people are what matter to government,’ and ‘a government should aim to give all of the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.’”

The first woman to serve in a U.S. presidential cabinet, Perkins spent 33 years of her long work life in government service–twelve of those years as U.S. Secretary of Labor.

Born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston in 1880, she spent her childhood between her family’s home in Worcester and the Perkins farm in Newcastle, Maine. Her grandmother, Cynthia Otis Perkins, a source of Yankee wisdom as well as family stories of life before and after the Revolution, encouraged her not to shy away from opportunity. “If a door opens, walk through it,” she said.

Frances Perkins, Factory inspector, 1911

Frances Perkins
Factory inspector, 1911

Thus, Fannie came of age with a deep respect for the American dream and the belief that everyone, with opportunity, could be whatever he or she wanted to be.

That idealism was reinforced at Mount Holyoke College where, during a course in the history of industrialism, she visited factories in neighboring Holyoke, Massachusetts, and observed first-hand the drudgery and dangers endured by working men, women, and children. She knew she had to do something about what she saw as “unnecessary hazards of life, unnecessary poverty.” Upon graduation she taught at an elite school for girls in Lake Forest, Illinois, and spent her free time volunteering at Chicago Commons and Hull House, two pre-eminent settlement houses. She changed her name to Frances and her religious affiliation to the Episcopal Church, where she was a devout congregant for the rest of her life.

Upon receiving her Master’s from Columbia University in 1910, she accepted a position with the New York City Consumer League where she gained a reputation as an effective lobbyist on behalf of working people and workplace safety.

U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, Time Magazine Cover, August 14, 1933

U.S. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins
Time Magazine Cover, August 14, 1933

On March 25, 1911, Perkins witnessed the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where 146 garment workers—mostly young women—lost their lives. It was, she later said, the day the New Deal was born.

In the wake of the fire, she was appointed to head New York’s Committee on Safety and principal investigator of a legislative commission that resulted in the most comprehensive state laws on workplace health and safety to date. Governor Al Smith appointed her to the state’s Industrial Commission in 1919 and later named her its chair.

Perkins joined FDR’s cabinet when he served as governor of New York from 1929 to 1933. Before appointing her, the two spent a day at the Roosevelt estate at Hyde Park. As FDR drove them around the property, she told him that if she accepted the position she would promote a progressive policy agenda that would limit the hours women worked, restrict child labor, develop a better workman’s compensation system, and broaden the state’s labor laws to more industries. He agreed and promised to help her. She soon became the most prominent state labor official in the nation, responding to the deepening economic depression and, at the same time, advancing her boss’s visibility.

Perkins arrives at the White House for a Cabinet meeting in September 1938

Perkins arrives at the White House
Cabinet meeting in September 1938

With his election as president in 1932, FDR was under pressure to appoint a woman to the cabinet. It was no surprise that he chose his trusted advisor as Labor Secretary. In a conversation reminiscent of that day in Hyde Park, Perkins wanted to be sure the new president would share her goals. She pledged to work for a forty-hour work week, a minimum wage, workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, a prohibition on child labor, expanded public works projects, Social Security, and health insurance for all—a list she called “practical possibilities.”

By the end of her long tenure as Secretary, she had accomplished every item on that list except the last.

Collier’s Magazine in 1945, described her accomplishments as “not so much the Roosevelt New Deal as… the Perkins New Deal.”

Shaking hands with steelworkers

Shaking hands with steelworkers
Homestead, PA, 1933

Perkins stands behind FDR as he signs the Social Security Act

Perkins stands behind FDR as he signs the Social Security Act
August 14, 1935

Leah W. Sprague is a founding board member of the Frances Perkins Center, which convenes leaders and future leaders in public policy, labor, and related fields to generate creative solutions to social and economic problems, and preserves the Perkin’s legacy. A campaign is underway to raise $5 million to preserve the Perkins homestead in Newcastle, Maine, as a center for research, education, and public engagement. To learn more and to contribute to the campaign, please visit

Herbert Maier and the Parkitecture of the 1930s

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969

Herbert C. Maier. 1893-1969
Maier played a significant role in the National Park Service Rustic style of architecture in western national parks.

Arts & Crafts architecture—with its emphasis on native materials, skilled workmanship, sensitivity to nature, and indigenous motifs—fell out of fashion after World War I. Revival styles and the rising tide of modernism supplanted it, but so did economics: the craftsmanship it required was just too expensive in the post-war world.

So why was it revived twenty years later in the buildings and landscape design of our national and state parks in what became knows as “parkitecture?”

In two words: Herbert Maier.

Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone NP

“Herb” Maier (above right)
Norris Museum in progress, Yellowstone National Park
Photo Credit: Courtesy National Park Service

Born into a German family and raised in Oakland, Maier was studying architecture at the University of California at the beginning of the First World War when Berkeley was a hotbed of Arts & Crafts design and thinking. The University and its alumni were also central in the founding of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916. Among those alums was Maier’s friend Ansel F. Hall who quickly rose to the position of Chief Naturalist of the new NPS. An advocate of nature education and interpretation, Hall procured funding from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial for Maier to design an interpretive museum for Yosemite Valley.

Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park's geology, wildlife, and history.

Yosemite Museum
Maier’s museum at Yosemite National Park opened in 1926. It features exhibits about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history.
Photo Credit: Gray Brechin

With its battered walls of massive local boulders supporting an upper story of rough logs and unpainted wooden shakes as well as its sensitive siting, the Yosemite Museum would have been right at home in the Berkeley hills, but it also apparently pleased the Rockefeller foundation enough to pay for Maier to design similar museums in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon during the 1920s.

Private funding for such costly buildings dried up with the 1929 Crash. President Roosevelt’s creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC) less than a month after his inauguration on March 4, 1933 gave them a new lease on life, however, when NPS Superintendent (and UC alum) Horace Albright put Maier in charge of the Rocky Mountain District based in Denver. At the same time he made Maier CCC regional officer for the Southwest. Although Maier’s administrative duties left little time to design, his roles straddling the rapidly expanding state and national park networks as well as the CCC put him in a unique position to implement design work on a scale unimaginable in the 1920s.

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929

Yavapai Point Trailside Museum on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1929
The building, designed by Herbert Maier, is now called the Yavapai Observation Station and is still in use.
Photo Credit: George A. Grant, Courtesy National Park Service

In 1935, Maier hired Ohio architect Albert H. Good to collaborate on the publication of a pattern book called Park Structures and Facilities. It featured plans and photos of hundreds of rustic structures, which CCC recruits erected on public lands throughout the U.S. 

With the end of the CCC in 1942 and Roosevelt’s death three years later, Maier lost the federal funding and work force needed to build the structures he believed best suited the nation’s parks. Tastes were changing as well with a shift to modern design in park visitor centers and museums. Maier remained with the NPS until 1962, but his retirement was unfortunately brief. He died in Oakland just seven years later. The handsome rustic structures enjoyed by millions throughout the nation are his enduring legacy.   

NPS logo, Maier's imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

NPS logo
Maier imprint on the Park Service includes the design of the arrowhead logo.

The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.

Herbert Maier designed four museums for Yellowstone NP. Three survive.
The Norris Museum was conceived as a gateway to the overlooks and trails of the geyser basin.
Photo Credit: National Park Service

Gray Brechin is a geographer and Project Scholar of the Living New Deal. He is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin.

The Women Who Painted Coit Tower

Coit Tower
San Francisco
Photo Credit: Courtesy Wiki Commons

Just as FDR’s Administration gave Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins the opportunity to profoundly shape public policy, the New Deal also opened up real and meaningful work for women in the arts. 

One place this played out was atop San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, inside a quirky building where four women artists had a crucial role in making the first large-scale New Deal art project a lasting, creative success.

At a time when men got nearly all such work, Maxine Albro, Suzanne Scheuer, Edith Hamlin, and Jane Berlandina were among twenty-five artists selected to paint the interior of the newly built Coit Tower, where twenty-seven murals covering 3,691 square feet of wall space took form from 1933-1934, a turbulent time in this city.

Maxine Albro, Assembling mosaic for UC Extension, San Francisco, CA

Maxine Albro
Assembling mosaic for UC Extension, San Francisco, CA
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Painter, muralist, and lithographer Maxine Albro was born in Iowa and came to San Francisco in 1920 to study at the California School of Fine Arts. She later traveled to Mexico, met Diego Rivera, and studied fresco. In her Coit Tower mural, “California,” she included the New Deal’s National Recovery Administration (NRA) logo on boxes of oranges being packed by workers in the fields—a nod to the newly created federal agency that set minimum wages and maximum working hours. The model for one of the mural’s field hands was another Coit Tower artist, Parker Hall.  Soon after the Coit project was completed, Albro and Hall married, moved to Carmel, and joined the Carmel art colony.

Jane Berlandina, New Deal artist at work

Jane Berlandina
New Deal artist at work
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Jane Berlandina, born in France, was brought up in luxury. She was entranced by art and earned a degree from the exclusive Beaux Arts National School in Nice where her teacher was post-Impressionist Raoul Dufy whose style is quite different from that of Diego Rivera, the mentor of other Coit Tower artists. Berlandina’s mural, “Home Life,” is set apart in a small room on the tower’s second floor. Her use of egg tempera—pigments mixed with egg yolks as a binder—gives her transparent, seemingly unfinished figures a light touch that contrasts with scenes of Depression-era street life and labor strife depicted in the tower’s other murals. 

Edith Hamlin, Posing with her mural at San Francisco’s Mission High School

Edith Hamlin
Posing with her mural at San Francisco’s Mission High School
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Edith Hamlin, born in Oakland, California, was assigned to paint outdoor recreation on the tower’s second floor where elevator doors would be smack dab in the middle of her mural. She made the most of it with her fresco “Hunting in California,” which depicts a hunting dog at the ready, a duck hunter with his prize, wild geese flying free, and a deer grazing. Hamlin went on to work for the Federal Art Project, painting two enormous murals at San Francisco’s Mission High School. She later married painter Maynard Dixon at whose San Francisco studio a group of artists had earlier gathered to insist that the government provide work for starving artists—a demand that led to the Coit Tower murals.

Suzanne Scheuer showing new frescos to Enid Henley on Enid’s nursery school walls, 1933.

Exhibit Photograph: Suzanne Scheuer
Showing new frescos to Enid Henley on Enid’s nursery school walls, 1933.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of SF Public Library History Center

Suzanne Scheuer moved to San Francisco from San Jose in 1918 and studied at the California School of Fine Arts and the California College of Arts and Crafts. When Scheuer was assigned to paint a Coit Tower mural depicting newspaper production, she was initially reluctant to take on the job. She went to the Chronicle Building, did sketches of the offices and printing plant, and turned them into one of the liveliest of the Coit Tower murals—“Newspaper Gathering.”  After the Coit Tower project, Scheuer went on to paint post office murals in Berkeley, California, and Caldwell and Eastland, Texas. She later moved to Santa Cruz, where she designed and built six houses, doing much of the labor herself. 

The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first New Deal program to employ artists, was short lived, lasting only six months. When it ended in June 1934, it had employed 3,749 artists. The popularity and success of the Coit Tower project inspired the many New Deal art programs that followed.

Detail, “California” 1934, Coit Tower Mural by Maxine Albro

Detail, “California” 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Maxine Albro
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

Detail, “Hunting in California,” 1934, Coit Tower mural by Edith Hamiin

Detail, “Hunting in California,” 1934
Coit Tower mural by Edith Hamiin
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

"Newspaper Gathering," 1934

"Newspaper Gathering," 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Suzanne Scheuer
Photo Credit: Barbara Bernstein

“Home Life,” 1934, Coit Tower Mural by Jane Berlandina

“Home Life,” 1934
Coit Tower Mural by Jane Berlandina
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Volcano Press

Jon Golinger is the founder of Protect Coit Tower, a non-profit educational organization working to get Coit Tower recognized as a National Historic Landmark. To learn more visit:

New Deal Utopias, by Jason Reblando

Over three years Jason Reblando, a Chicago artist and photographer, trained his camera on three Greenbelt towns — Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; and Greendale, Wisconsin— constructed during the Depression to house poor Americans, many of them displaced from the Dust… read more