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.

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.

 

Book Review: New Deal Photography: USA 1935-1943, Farm Security Administration, 605pp

Taschen, an international publishing company begun in Cologne in 1980, has achieved international renown for its standout coffee table books. Taschen’s art books span from western masterpieces to pop culture, including illustrated monographs on artists, musicians, and writers, classical and contemporary.

Under its Bibliotheca Universalis imprint, Taschen recently reprised 100 of what it calls its “favorites” in a compact, 6 x 8 inch format. Thankfully, the series includes New Deal Photography, USA 1935-1943, a compendium of more than 400 photographs commissioned by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the Great Depression.

In producing what it calls its “democratically priced” edition, Taschen has not sacrificed the legendary quality for which it is famous.

Author Peter Walther has curated an extensive catalogue of indelible images—a “best of” by the best-known photographers of the era. Many of them got their start with the FSA, one of many New Deal programs to put people to work. In the wake of the short-lived Resettlement Administration, the FSA’s mandate was to combat rural poverty. One powerful weapon was to document it. Roy Stryker, who headed the project, described as its purpose “to introduce America to Americans.”

Photographers like Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, Russell Lee, Ben Shahn, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein, and others fanned out across the country capturing images of the ruined landscape and those whose lives were upended by the nation’s environmental and economic collapse.

Over the course of eight years the FSA project resulted in the most comprehensive collection of social-documentary photographs of the 20th century.

Walther’s commentary, presented in English, French, and German, succinctly describes the historical context that fostered this uniquely American collection. The book includes rarely seen color photographs as well as many familiar black-and-white images of the displaced and desperate, such as Lange’s “Migrant Mother,” and Rothstein’s “Fleeing a Dust Storm.” Also included are brief bios and portraits of the photographers themselves whose iconic images have come to be recognized worldwide.

Greenhills Named a National Historic Landmark

New Deal Housing

New Deal Housing
A New Deal neighborhood
Photo Credit: John Vashon

Near Cincinnati, Ohio, the Village of Greenhills is one of only three New Deal “greenbelt” towns in the country. On January 11, it was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.

Greenhills was a demonstration project of the Resettlement Administration (RA) a short-lived New Deal agency that relocated displaced and struggling urban and rural families to planned communities built by the federal government.

The concept for greenbelt towns began in the late 19th century. A “Garden-City Movement,” often dismissed as utopian, promoted self-contained, satellite communities surrounded by “belts” of farms and forests as the answer to the overcrowded cities of post-industrial England.

School children at Greenhills, OH

School Children
Greenhills, OH
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

The idea resonated with Rexford Guy Tugwell, an agricultural economist who was part of FDR’s “Brain Trust.” He persuaded the president that greenbelt towns could house thousands of people displaced during the Great Depression. Roosevelt made Tugwell the director of his Resettlement Administration (RA).

Tugwell immediately purchased some 6,000 acres in southern Ohio, including dozens of struggling dairy farms he hoped could be sustained by the soon-to-be-built greenbelt town of Greenhills.

WPA workers broke ground for the new town in 1935. Over the next two years some 5,000 men and women transformed more than a square mile of what had been cornfields into a village for 676 low-income families.

The WPA relied on mules instead of machines in order to maximize the number of workers and hours spent to develop the town. It directed them to add extra layers of plaster and paint to the buildings to keep people employed.

WPA workers building Greenhills

WPA workers
Building Greenhills
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

Greenhills’ planners provided what were seen as extravagances for low-income housing. Curved streets and cul de sacs separated homes from busy thoroughfares; walkways, pocket parks, and playgrounds were incorporated into pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods; a co-op shopping district (the first strip mall in Ohio), community center with a K-12 school, town library, and public swimming pool were constructed.

A variety of multi-family housing—duplexes, townhouses, and apartments—employed Colonial, Modern, and International-style architecture. Homes were built facing backward to provide views of  common areas and open spaces rather than the street. Utilities were installed underground.

To the consternation of some in Congress, the cost of the project came in at $11.5 million.

Tugwell had envisioned 20 greenbelt towns but managed to build only three—Greenhills, Ohio; Greendale, Wisconsin; and Greenbelt, Maryland– before the Supreme Court ruled the RA unconstitutional. The RA was dissolved in 1937. The Farm Securities Administration (FSA) assumed some of its functions.

Apartment Houses at Greenhills, 1939

Apartment Houses
Greenhills, 1939
Photo Credit: John Vaschon

Greenhills is a living example of a time when government fully dedicated itself to improving the lives of working-class Americans. Yet, Greenhills has struggled to preserve its New Deal legacy.

Parts of Greenhills are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and preservation groups have long called for a plan to protect historic properties. Over residents’ objections, the Village Council voted to raze many WPA-era buildings. Fifty-two of the original townhouses and apartments have been demolished, replaced with new, stand-alone single-family houses. In 2011, Greenhill was listed among Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites.

Greenhills’ newly awarded status as a National Historic Landmark, administered by the National Park Service, may help. Property owners will now be eligible for federal grants to rehabilitate Greenhills remaining New Deal-era structures.

Book Review: See America, A Celebration of Our National Parks and Treasured Sites, pp 172

Lincoln Memorial

Artist: Luis Prado
Lincoln Memorial

To celebrate the 100th birthday of the national parks, the Creative Action Network (CAN) produced “See America,” a collection of contemporary national park posters inspired by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The hardcover book is the brainchild of CAN co-founders Aaron-Perry-Zucker and Max Slavkin, who combined their appreciation of the iconic travel posters created by WPA artists during the Great Depression with their own passion for fostering creative communities.

 

“See America” features 75 colorful posters of national parks and monuments from all 50 states along with thumbnail maps and little-known gems about each park’s history and unique character.

Artist: Roberlan Borges
Haleakalā National Park

For example, public demand to memorialize President Lincoln began immediately after his assassination, yet it took 50 years of fundraising and Congressional debate for construction on the Lincoln Memorial National Monument to begin. It opened in 1911. Haleakala National Park, established in 1916, is home to more endangered species than any other park in the National Park Service. Joshua Tree National Park, founded as national monument in 1936, exists today thanks to a tenacious conservationist, Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, who appealed to FDR to establish a desert national monument. Now a national park, Joshua Tree harbors 800 species.

CAN is an online community of more than  ten thousand graphic artists dedicated to using their creativity to raise awareness of social causes. Some 750 artists submitted more than a thousand poster designs for the “See America” project. Artists are paid for the sale their posters, which are displayed on CAN’s website. Proceeds also benefit the National Parks Conservation Association. Learn more at Seeamericaproject.com

Artist: Jon Cain
Great Smoky Mountains

As our thanks for your support: Donate $100 or more to the Living New Deal and receive a copy of “See America” as our gift to you. Donations to the Living New Deal are tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.

Full Interview: My Grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt
A Conversation with John Roosevelt Boettiger and Susan Ives

This conversation took place on March 21, 2015 at John’s home in Mill Valley, California.

John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John Roosevelt Boettiger
John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John, who was the person that most influenced you?

There isn’t any doubt that it was my grandmother, my mother’s mother Eleanor Roosevelt. We grandchildren called her Grandmère—she learned French before she learned English. She was such a gifted person. She let me absorb who she was and what she treasured. I think I learned my basic values from her.  For example, her attachment to her family; her devotion to human rights; her absorption with the United Nations; her affection for Israel.

What are your early memories of her?

I was very young, but I still remember Grandmère getting off an airplane in Seattle and coming to stay with us on Mercer Island. Later, while I was still a young child, my mother and I moved to the White House during WWII, but I hardly remember her from that time because she was gone so much—overseas, visiting bases in the Pacific, London and  elsewhere.

My memories of her are more vivid from the years I was a student at Amherst College. My parents had gone to Iran for two or three years so she said, as was her way, “Johnny, if you don’t have a home to go home to, you have mine. Come to New York City or Hyde Park, or wherever I am.” And I did.

What do you remember of those times?

Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.

On Grandmere’s lap
Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.  Source

There are so many memories…like when John Kennedy won the presidency from Richard Nixon and we watched it on television at her apartment on East 83rd Street; and when JFK visited her at her home in Hyde Park. There were two houses on her parcel of land on the estate at Hyde Park. The family home, Springwood, we called The Big House. Her home,  Val-Kill, was named for the stream that meanders through the land. Her home at Val-kill was actually constructed as a small furniture factory that produced amazing reproductions of traditional American furniture. It was my grandmother’s way of employing a few local craftsmen who would not otherwise have had work.

I can tell you she was sometimes a perilous driver!  Her son, Franklin, Jr. owned Fiat dealerships in the Southeast—one of his many enterprises—and gave her a little Fiat sports car. She would talk animatedly while driving. At the end of her driveway onto Route 9G, for example, she would stop, look both ways, and continue talking, sometimes for a minute or more. Then she would take off without looking again. But to my knowledge, she never ran into anyone.

Talk a bit about your grandmother’s involvement in the United Nations.

President Truman appointed her as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations. She was naturally drawn to the realm of human rights. More than any other single person, I think, she was responsible for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only standing ovation that the General Assembly has ever offered anyone was for her when she presented the Declaration, and it was unanimously approved.

Creation of the Declaration was very difficult process, given especially the U.S.’s relationship with the Soviet Union. But she managed to pilot it through to a unanimous conclusion. It was an astonishing act of creativity and political acumen.

My recollection is that in the late 1950s she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. If only for that single accomplishment, she deserved it.

Did you travel with her during the time she was working for the UN?

Eleanor_Roosevelt,_Anna_Roosevelt,_and_John_Boettiger,_Jr_-_NARA_-_195584I was too young to have been there when she was working on the Declaration, which was adopted in 1948. But I was in the Truman years and when Eisenhower and Kennedy were presidents. By then she was no longer an official member of the UN delegation, but a strong advocate. I traveled with her throughout the U.S. and in Europe.

She had amazing energy. I recall a trip in which my cousin, Haven Roosevelt, and I, as teenagers, were traveling with her. At around 5 o’clock we would stagger into our hotel room ready to hit the hay and she would say, “Now, children, remember we have a dinner with the mayor.” There was still a whole evening in front of us! I couldn’t believe the energy she brought to the whole of her life, almost to the very end. It was wonderful.

One of the secrets to her energy was her mastery of the power nap. When she and I both served as members of the Board of the American Association of United Nations, I as student representative, would sometimes sit across the table from her at meetings. She would nod her head slightly and close her eyes for a minute or two as if she were thinking carefully about what was going on. To the members at the table, she never missed a beat. I don’t think anyone but me knew she was napping.

You must have met some intriguing people.

One of the encounters I remember best was when I was in Berlin at a conference of the International Students Association of the U.N. My grandmother was elsewhere in Europe. I got a telephone call from her saying I must come to Brussels the next day, when she would be having lunch with Harry Belafonte. I had no idea even how to get to the airport, which was in East Berlin. But she said, “You must come!” It was a command performance.

I had a few German marks in my pocket and nearly was arrested by the East German police for inadvertently taking currency out the country, which was illegal. Luckily, a man behind me in line spoke German and defended my innocence. He saved me from jail.

We boarded an American DC-3, left over from the war and salvaged by the Poles. It was decorated it in a kind of Victorian style, with very plush seats and a tasseled interior. It was very foggy as we approached the airport in Brussels. The plane would descend, as if landing, and then suddenly and sharply rise again. This happened again and again. We were so low that I could I see telephone poles flashing by. The pilot had no radar and was looking for the runway! But I got there in time for lunch with Harry Belafonte, and I’m glad I did because I liked him a lot. My grandmother and I were together for the remainder of that trip.

Could she have imagined the role the UN would play today?

The role the UN is playing today is diverse, and less vigorous than she would have wished. My grandfather’s vision for the U.N.—and my grandmother’s nourishment of it—was that it would become principally an instrument for maintaining peace. But I think she had a sense that the U.N. was not going to be as central an organization as she and my grandfather had hoped. She would be disappointed, but I believe she would still be proud of it, and certainly working on its behalf if she were alive today.

Mrs. Roosevelt with SuitcaseThere’s a famous photograph of Mrs. Roosevelt walking toward a plane that’s parked on the tarmac, carrying her own suitcase.

I never actually saw her walking with her suitcase, but she liked to travel quietly and without a big fuss. She didn’t like entourages. Of course, she would have them periodically, but she was very independent . It was her style.

How old were you when your grandmother died? Do you remember that time?

She died in the fall of 1962. I was 23. I remember visiting her at her New York apartment and in the hospital. She was so ill and immobilized that I think she didn’t want to continue. Life was no longer meaningful to her. I remember most vividly her funeral. It was a powerful and moving occasion. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy were there, as was Vice President Lyndon Johnson, and other heads of state. She is buried in the Rose Garden at Springwood with my grandfather. We thought of Springwood as a family home, but by then it had become a National Historic Site. It was strange to see velvet ropes placed in front of all the rooms we used to inhabit. With special permission, I able to go up the third floor where we, as kids during the war years, would be banished to the care of our nannies and nurses.

What do you remember of your grandfather?

Anna Boettiger, John Roosevelt Boettiger, and Eleanor Roosevelt, 1940

FDR and grandchildren
Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.
Photo Credit: From the Archives: First Families Celebrate the Holidays at the White House

We were living in Seattle when my father went off to war. My grandfather, whom I called PaPa, telephoned my mother and said, “Sis (his name for her), I wish you and Johnny would come here to live. I want you to be my right hand person.” None of his closest advisors—Louie Howe, Harry Hopkins—were there any longer. I remember the train trip across the country. I remember playing on the south lawn of the White House, the Easter egg hunts, even having a visit from the Lone Ranger and his horse Silver.

Silver was there too? You never told me that!

Silver was there! They brought him in a trailer. He got out and the Lone Ranger got on Silver and—I may be imagining this—I actually got to ride Silver!

It was in some ways a wonderful time, and also a very lonely one. I didn’t really have much of my mother. She was with her father, the president, almost the whole time. But he was very welcoming to me. I was the only child living in the White House during the war years, and I would be invited into his bedroom in the morning when he was reading his newspapers. The papers would be scattered over his bed. Despite the fact that he was paralyzed from his hips down, his upper body was extraordinarily strong. He would pluck me up from the floor and we’d sit together on the bed reading the funny papers.

I remember swimming with him in the White House pool, and playing in the Oval Office–not during important conferences, but when he was working at his desk. His desk was full of wind-up toys that I could reach up and take down to play with on the floor. And I remember my sense of kinship with the White House guards. But it wasn’t all fun. I felt also a sense of puzzlement and loneliness with my dad gone and my mother inaccessible much of the time.

Do you remember when your grandfather died?

The day my grandfather died—on April 12, 1945–I was in the hospital with a staph infection, which in those years could kill. My mother would come to visit, and my grandmother, too. I was getting well and looking forward to going home to The White House. I heard the announcement on the radio that the president had died. I knew my grandfather was president, but I couldn’t put him together with that announcement. A nurse came racing into the room and turned off the radio, thinking that I hadn’t yet heard the news. My mother soon made things clear. I was six years old. At that point my concern was what would happen to the toys I had left in my closet at The White House.

When you think about your famous family, and that they seem to belong to everyone, what comes up for you?

I hardly know what to think about it. I have such warm memories of them. It has seldom felt overwhelming to me to think of it as an extraordinary childhood. I did sometimes have the sense that there must have been expectations of me as a member of the Roosevelt family—expectations that I wouldn’t be up to. Only in that way was it a shadow inheritance. Now, in my 70s, in the community where I live, many people regard my grandfather as the president they knew better than any other. It’s been a satisfying experience to feel a sense of kinship with them.

Do you recall your grandmother advising you that you had a special role to play, or advice on how to live your life?

I don’t think she ever spoke in that way. She felt that if I was going to learn, better to learn by example. She surrounded me with her own magic.

John Roosevelt Boettiger is a retired professor of psychology and a member of the Living New Deal Advisory Board.

My Grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt
A Conversation with John Roosevelt Boettiger and Susan Ives

This conversation took place on March 21, 2015 at John’s home in Mill Valley, California.

John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John Roosevelt Boettiger
John is the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

John, who was the person that most influenced you?

There isn’t any doubt that it was my grandmother, my mother’s mother Eleanor Roosevelt. We grandchildren called her Grandmère. I think I learned my basic values from her—her attachment to her family, her devotion to human rights; her absorption with the United Nations; her affection for Israel.

 

What are your early memories of her?

I was very young, but I still remember Grandmère getting off an airplane in Seattle and coming to stay with us on Mercer Island. Later, while I was still a young child, my mother and I moved to the White House during WWII, but I hardly remember her from that time because she was gone so much—overseas, visiting bases in the Pacific, London or elsewhere.

My memories of her are more vivid from the years I was a student at Amherst College. My parents had gone to Iran for two or three years, so she said, as was her way, “Johnny, if you don’t have a home to go home to, you have mine. Come to New York City or to Hyde Park, wherever I am.” And I did.

What do you remember of those times?

Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.

On Grandmere’s lap
Anna Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Boettiger, Jr., and Curtis Roosevelt.  Source

There are so many memories…like when John Kennedy won the presidency from Richard Nixon and we watched it on television at her apartment on East 83rd Street, and when JFK visited her at her home in Hyde Park.

I can tell you she was sometimes a perilous driver. Her son, Franklin, Jr. owned Fiat dealerships in the Southeast—one of his many enterprises—and gave her a little Fiat sports car. She would talk animatedly while driving. At the end of her driveway onto Route 9G, for example, she would stop, look both ways, and continue talking, sometimes for a minute or more. Then she would take off without looking again. But to my knowledge, she never ran into anyone.

What do you remember of your grandfather?

Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.

FDR and grandchildren
Franklin D. Roosevelt III, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John Roosevelt Boettiger, Christmas 1939 at The White House.
Photo Credit: From the Archives: First Families Celebrate the Holidays at the White House

I was the only child living in the White House during the war years, and I would be invited into his bedroom in the morning when he was reading his newspapers. The papers would be scattered over his bed. Despite the fact that he was paralyzed from his hips down, his upper body was extraordinarily strong. He would pluck me up from the floor and we’d sit together on the bed reading the funny papers.

I remember swimming with him in the White House pool, and playing in the Oval Office—not during important conferences, but when he was working at his desk. His desk was full of wind-up toys that I play with on the floor. And I remember my sense of kinship with the White House guards. But it wasn’t all fun. I felt also a sense of puzzlement and loneliness with my dad gone and my mother inaccessible much of the time.

Talk a bit about your grandmother’s involvement in the United Nations.

President Truman appointed her as a member of the American delegation to the United Nations. She was naturally drawn to the realm of human rights. More than any other single person, I think, she was responsible for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only standing ovation that the General Assembly has ever offered anyone was for her when she presented the Declaration, and it was unanimously approved.

Could she have imagined the role the U.N. would play today?

My grandfather’s vision for the U.N.—and my grandmother’s nourishment of it—was that it would become principally an instrument for maintaining peace. The role the U.N., is playing today is diverse, and less vigorous than she would have wished, but I believe she would still be proud of it, and certainly working on its behalf if she were alive today.

Mrs. Roosevelt with SuitcaseThere’s a famous photograph of Mrs. Roosevelt walking toward a plane that’s parked on the tarmac, carrying her own suitcase.

I never actually saw her walking with her suitcase. But she didn’t like entourages. Of course, she would have them periodically, but she was very independent and liked to travel quietly and without a big fuss. It was her style.

Do you recall your grandmother advising you that you had a special role to play, or advice on how to live your life?

I don’t think she ever spoke in that way. She felt that if I was going to learn, better to learn by example. She surrounded me with her own magic.

The complete transcript can be found here.

John Roosevelt Boettiger is a retired professor of psychology and a member of the Living New Deal Advisory Board.

The World in Muir Woods

U.N. delegates honored the late president at Muir Woods.

FDR Memorial Service
U.N. delegates honored the late president at Muir Woods.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Save the Redwoods League

A brass plaque set amidst a towering grove of ancient redwoods at Muir Woods commemorates a gathering there on May 19, 1945.

On that day, seventy years ago, hundreds gathered to honor the memory of President Franklin Roosevelt, who had died a few weeks before, on April 12. They included delegates from around the world who were in San Francisco to craft the Charter for the newly established United Nations. FDR had been the U.N.’s chief advocate.

FDR’s cousin, Theodore, as president, had enshrined Muir Woods as a national monument some forty years earlier. FDR himself had a passion for conservation and a deep knowledge of forestry. One of his first acts as president was to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, whose enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees and constructed more than 800 parks nationwide.

The closing speaker at the memorial service was Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., U.S. Secretary of State: “These great redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument are the most enduring of all trees,” he said. “They are as timeless and as strong as the ideals and faith of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

The U.N. Charter was signed in San Francisco on June 26, 1945.

For Sale: America’s Historic Post Offices

Citizens protest at the Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office

Citizens protest at the Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office
Berkeley, California

 

Despite growing public protest, the U.S. Postal Service is moving apace to sell the public’s historic post offices. Last month, the Postal Service added four more post offices on the National Register of Historic Places to its “For Sale” list: California’s La Jolla Wall Street Post Office, built in 1935; New York City’s Old Chelsea Station on West 18th Street, and the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse, both built in 1937; and the Berkeley Downtown Post Office, which, in spite of a year long campaign to keep the century-old building in the public domain, was recently slated for sale.

Like many other endangered post offices, these buildings contain unique New Deal artworks.

During the 1930s the federal government put thousands to work building the nation’s postal system.  In big cities and small towns alike, New Deal post offices are among the most artful, architecturally distinguished, and beloved buildings.

The thirteen murals in the Bronx Post Office created by New Deal artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson are considered masterpieces.

The Bronx Post Office
The thirteen murals in the Bronx Post Office created by New Deal artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson are considered masterpieces.

“Apparently the country is done with that kind of idealism,” notes Gray Brechin, geographer and Living New Deal Project scholar, “Rather than building beautiful public places, the federal government is selling them off.”

Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are afforded some protection—their exterior must be preserved. But once sold the buildings are often gutted. In at least one case, a 1937 post office in Virginia Beach, Virginia was demolished to make way for a Walgreen’s pharmacy.

The National Historic Preservation Act ensures public access to public artwork, but when post offices are sold the murals and sculptures often are removed to storage. Even when the art remains in place, it’s up to the new owners whether the public may view it.

The Postal Service financial crisis started in 2006 when Congress required the Postal Service to pre-pay 75 years of workers’ benefits within ten years. Although many blame email for the Postal Service’s demise, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 is responsible for $4 out of every $5 in Postal Service debt—more than $15 billion in 2012. In response, the Postal Service is cutting services and selling many of its most valuable properties.

CB Richard Ellis, a giant commercial real estate firm, holds the exclusive contract to sell postal properties worth billions. CB Richard Ellis’ chairman is Richard Blum, a University of California Regent and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein. So far, the press has shown no interest in investigating how that contract was awarded, nor its terms.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced legislation to repeal the law responsible for the Postal Service’s death spiral. The bill recently passed the Senate but the other has yet to be voted on in the House.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Historic Post Office to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places of 2012.

Read Francis O’Connor’s open letter about post office art »

For a list of endangered post offices go to:  http://www.savethepostoffice.com