A New Book Recognizes the Women of the New Deal

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ellen Woodward, 1938

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Ellen Woodward, 1938
During the New Deal Woodward served as the director of the Women’s Division of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA); director of the Women’s and Professional Projects of the WPA; and as a member of the Social Security Board, She was considered “the second highest ranking woman appointee in the Roosevelt Administration, after Frances Perkins.
Photo Credit: Courtesy, National Archives

When millions of Americans lost their jobs, homes, and life savings in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt promised them a new deal. A new book, “Women and the Spirit of the New Deal,” reveals the extensive role women played in shaping government’s all-out response to the Great Depression.

Inspired by a conference in 2018 at UC Berkeley, the book is a collaboration of the Living New Deal, the National New Deal Preservation Association, and the Frances Perkins Center to recognize the oft-overlooked female forces behind the New Deal. In brief biographies, it describes one hundred women who shaped the policies and programs that led to America’s economic recovery and protected its most vulnerable.

At a time when society held that “a woman’s place was in the home,” these women expanded the aspirations of the New Deal. They included politicians, administrators, lawyers, social workers, authors, journalists, painters, sculptors, musicians, and scientists. Some are well known like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, and educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Some have been largely overlooked, like political activist Molly Dewson and Clara Beyer, an administrator in the Bureau of Labor Statistics who played an important role shaping legislation to provide worker safety, a minimum wage, and Social Security.

Frances Perkins and Clara Beyer

Frances Perkins and Clara Beyer
Secretary of Labor Perkins was the first woman ever appointed to a presidential cabinet. Beyer was an attorney and associate director in the Division of Labor Standards. She was part of a so-called “Ladies’ Brain Trust,” that advised Perkins during the 1930s and 40s.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Mt Holyoke College

The book is just a beginning. If you know of women who had a part in the New Deal, please share their stories with us so that we may pass on the spirit they brought to the New Deal to inspire a new generation.

 

New Deal Activist Kathy Flynn Honored As “Living Treasure”

New Deal activist Kathy Flynn

Kathy Flynn
New Deal activist Kathy Flynn
Photo Credit: Clyde Mueller Courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican

Kathy Flynn, founder of the National New Deal Preservation Association (NNDPA), was recently named a “Living Treasure” for her work documenting and preserving New Deal history, sites, and artworks.

Kathy, a long-time New Mexico resident, grew up in Texas amidst the Dust Bowl. Her public service career included working as a reporter, a hospital administrator, and civil servant. Her job as Deputy Secretary of State sparked her interest in the New Deal. She later founded the NNDPA in order to document and preserve the New Deal’s legacy.

New Mexico is exceptionally rich in New Deal history. Courthouses, post offices, libraries, hospitals, theaters, schools, and more, were built in cities and small towns throughout the state. During the Great Depression, more than 50,000 New Mexicans got work with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Kathy tracked down and interviewed all the New Mexico CCC members she could find. She also set out to recover New Deal murals and other artworks that had gone missing or been painted over. She authored three books about the state’s New Deal history, art, and architecture.

Kathy has raised awareness of the New Deal through advocacy, education programs, commemorative events, and tours. She recently hosted a public forum that brought several descendents of the original New Dealers to Santa Fe to share memories of their famous families and their achievements—Nina Roosevelt Gibson, the granddaughter of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; David Giffen, the great grandson of Harry Hopkins who was head of the Works Progress Administration; Tomlin Coggeshall, the grandson of FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet; T.J. Walker, the grandson of Frank Walker, an FDR confidante who coordinated the New Deal agencies; and David Douglas, the grandson of Vice President Henry Wallace, who also served as FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture.

Last fall, the NNDPA’s archive of articles, books, and ephemera of the New Deal that Kathy had assembled over decades became part of the permanent collection at the John Gaw Meem Library at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Last spring, Kathy was named “One of Ten Who Made A Difference,” an annual award presented by the Santa Fe New Mexican, and was honored by Santa Fe Living Treasures, a nonprofit organization that recognizes elders who have generously served their communities. Kathy’s oral history will be soon be available to the public at the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library in Santa Fe.