Readings for February 13

Film Clips

  • FDR Visits Foresters, Shenandoah National Park (1933) watch
  • “The Tennessee Valley Authority at Work: (1935) watch
  • “A Nation-Wide System of Parks” (1939) watch
  • Clip from Gone with the Wind (1939) watch


1. Oscar Heline Recalls the Great Depression (1970)

In 1971, Stud Terkel interviewed 78-year-old Oscar Heline, who recalled the plight of farmers during the Great Depression.

Read the excerpts of their conversation published in Terkel’s Hard Times (PDF). If prompted for a password, use your NetID and password, not the username and password for this site.

If you have time, I also highly recommend that you listen to the audio recording of the interview, which is available at the top of this page (Heline’s name is misspelled here as Heleen). At least listen enough to get a sense of the emotion in Heline’s voice.

2. George Soule Defends Central Economic Planning (1931)

This article originally ran in the February 11, 1931, issue of The New Republic, under the headline, “Are Depressions Avoidable?”

The Question which everyone is now asking is one which has puzzled the world’s most eminent economists for decades. …

The classical economists, who elaborated the theory of laissez faire, assumed that the normal condition of business was one of wholesome balance. They paid little attention to industrial depressions, since these were thought of as abnormal or unexpected disturbances arising from some deplorable interference with the normal conditions. But contemporary economists, who have made a more realistic analysis of our economic institutions, have discovered that industrial depressions are characteristic of the business order. They are not abnormal or unexpected, but recur with distressing emphasis. They arose with the form of society which developed the technique of money and banking, and in which private enterprise carries on the work of production and exchange. They become progressively more severe with the growth of this order, at least up to a certain point. There is a theory that as the business order matures and settles down, depressions tend to become less violent, but this theory may have to be modified in view, of the world’s experience since 1929.

A great many leading politicians, business men and bankers talk as if they knew nothing about the matter except the point of view of the classicists. They never seem to expect depressions before they arrive. When a depression comes, they talk volubly about a return to normal. They assume that the depression was caused by some interference with the ordinary processes of business, and that continual prosperity can be assured in the future by preventing such interferences. This point of view is unscientific and futile.

Of a piece with the modern scientific conception of depressions is the view that depression does not stand by itself in the course of events, but is one phase of a continuous sequence, which includes revival, boom and recession. Each of these phases contains the seeds of its successor. Boom leads to recession, recession to depression, depression to revival and revival to boom. This round of phases is called the business cycle. If anything is normal to the business order, it is not a condition of balance or equilibrium, but a condition of disequilibrium, in which we are always about to fall off the tightrope in one direction or another. If we want to abolish depressions, we shall at the same time have to abolish booms, recessions and revivals. The inevitable conclusion from this view is that emergency action, undertaken during a depression and forgotten later, however necessary it may be to relieve misery, is merely locking the garage after the car is stolen, as far as any permanent effect is concerned.

Some continuous policy or group of policies is called for. We must not take the idea of the business cycle too literally. It does not mean that every period of depression is just like every other such period and will last exactly the same length of time. It does not mean that we can predict when the next depression will come. The oscillation of business conditions is irregular, not periodic and predictable like the phases of the moon. …

Must we, therefore, fall back on a counsel of despair, and say that nothing can be done until the economists have spent another decade or another century in research and discussion [about the causes of dips in the business cycle]? That would be true if … the cycle has a cause, which must be discovered before a remedy can be prescribed, just as we had to discover the germ which causes diphtheria before we could develop an antitoxin to prevent it. I am going to set forth, however, something which may sound paradoxical, but which I am confident the weight of economic authority will ultimately support. I am going to assert that the business cycle has no cause. And I am going to defend the proposition that our task is not to find a single cause and eliminate it, but to pursue a purpose which is both more simple in conception and more ambitious to execute—that is, to make economic affairs behave in a rational and desirable way.

… Let us illustrate by analogy. We say that diphtheria has a cause, since it is a disease of the human body, produced by a specific organism. Normally, the human body exists without diphtheria. The changes which diphtheria makes in it are due to a single variation from normal—the presence of an identifiable germ. Remove the variation, that is, the germ, and you cure the disease. That is what a cause is—a variation occurring independently of other circumstances, the presence of which will bring a definite type of change and the absence of which will prevent the change. But suppose someone were to ask you to assign the cause for the beating of the heart. Is it the arrangement and the energy of its muscles? Is it the control exercised by the nervous system? Is it the way in which the blood circulates? No one of these answers would do. Scientifically speaking, the beating of the heart is not something which has a cause, but the way in which the heart behaves in a living body. The heart is part of a complex, the interrelations of which are necessary for its functioning. No more definite cause can be assigned for its action than the presence of the organism of which it is a part, or of life in this organism.

Now, the business cycle is one of the ways in which the business order naturally behaves; it is not a disease or abnormality caused by the presence of a single hostile germ. You can describe this behavior in hundreds of different aspects; you can elaborate in endless detail the relationship between fluctuations in employment and changes in production, prices, incomes, credit, savings, investment, etc., etc. But you cannot say that any single one of these relationships is the cause of unemployment. The trouble with even the most persuasive theories hitherto set forth concerning the cause of business cycles is that each of them concentrates on one of these aspects or relationships to the exclusion of most of the others. The consequence is that each of the remedies proposed is inadequate to deal with the total situation. Some of the remedies are pure quack medicines, others may do good—though we have little means as yet of knowing how much good.

In one important respect, however, the analogy between the business order and the human body is a most imperfect one. This very imperfection gives a clue to the solution we are seeking. The human body is a high type of organism, with a natural equilibrium in its processes. But the business order is scarcely an organism at all; at best it is a low type of organism, a complex characterized in large degree by disorder and lack of balance. Its action is anarchistically determined by the choices of hundreds of thousands of theoretically independent cells. Each person or business concern decides how much to spend and how much to save. Each decides what to buy and what to do with the saving. Production, investment, credit, prices, wage payments and all the rest are the result of countless choices in countless places. Each choice is, to be sure, largely determined by the conditions produced by all the other choices, but few of them are made on the basis of adequate information and foresight, and almost none of them depends on a plan or policy related to the common interest. If we are to think of the business order as a body, we must think of it as a body without a brain. We have magnificent muscles in our great industrial plants, efficient arteries in our railroads and highways, sensitive nerves in our lines of communication. But we have only a trace of gray matter in our economic cranium. If our economic leg muscles decide to run after a butterfly and our arm muscles are intent on picking wild flowers at the very time when our stomach is crying for bread and butter, we ought not to be surprised by the resulting hunger. We should not be so surprised if we had a brain.

Economists can point out dozens of examples of such crazy behavior in the business order. We speculate by buying securities for the rise, borrowing money to do so at a higher rate of interest than the securities yield or can reasonably be expected ever to yield. We float bond and stock issues to furnish capital for industries which are already overexpanded in relation to any predictable demand for their products; we lend money to foreign governments which are clearly on the high road to bankruptcy. We increase protective tariffs against imports, while striving to enlarge exports and at the same time collect reparations and war debts. We enhance the ability to produce goods per man hour of labor by an average of at least 3 or 4 percent a year, and expect these goods to be consumed by wage earners, the purchasing power of whose wages advances on an average of not more than 1 or 2 percent a year, and by farmers whose purchasing power actually declines. We invest in new capital goods without saving to pay for the investment, or save without investing in new means of production. Great corporations, whose surplus profits are so large that they cannot profitably employ them in increasing their production of goods, lend these funds to enable persons to speculate in the stocks of these same corporations, on the assumption that their markets for goods are unlimited. Why are all these things, and hundreds of others like them, done? Not because the obviously crazy results are sought by the individuals who do them. Only because each individual, acting in his own immediate interest, either does not foresee or has no reason to care greatly about what the total result will be.

The major task of our civilization is to create a brain and a coordinating nervous system for our economy. It is to organize our great economic organs. … If we are ever able to relate our economic activities to a policy carried out through careful planning and expertly devised control, a policy whose purpose is to produce the greatest possible amount of wealth, satisfaction and leisure for everyone, at the least possible sacrifice, we shall no longer have the business order as we know it. We shall have achieved a higher type of economic organism, one with a brain and nervous system, one which does have a natural equilibrium. The business cycle will have disappeared with the old business order, or will have become only barely traceable. …

Source: New Republic

3. Alvin Hansen Advocates “Full Employment” (1943)

This article was originally published in the Harvard Crimson on April 30, 1943.

Postwar economic problems can be divided usefully into two categories: The immediate postwar problems of reconversion to a peacetime economy and the long-run problem of full employment. It is my view that effective government policy designed to cope vigorously with these problems would promote the workability and expansion of our system of private enterprise and ensure the continued development of our free political institutions.

The economy is, under the war program, undergoing a drastic distortion. It will be necessary to reconvert it back to normal civilian output. This task of reconversion back to normal should be undertaken as rapidly as possible.

In this reconversion period we shall be in great danger of experiencing a postwar inflation if we do not continue the wartime controls in this limited interval.

On the one side there will be a great accumulated demand for durable consumer’s goods of all kinds. On the other side it will take some considerable time before industry is retooled and equipped to produce a large supply of civilian goods, in this interval, therefore, demand will greatly exceed supply and the wartime peace controls, including rationing, will almost certainly be necessary in order to prevent a chaotic inflationary development.

As soon as the gigantic reconversion process is over and industry is again equipped to satisfy in large volume the requirements of civilian demand, all these direct controls, including priorities, allocation, rationing and price control can and should be removed.

Bases for Prosperity

Taking a long-run view of the postwar period, it is probable that great technical developments will emerge from the war experience. Improved plant layouts, new and cheaper methods of production, the discovery and development of substitutes, new raw materials, new processes and new products will offer a great stimulus to the postwar economy. On the basis of this technological development plus the accumulated shortages in housing, accumulated deficiencies in the ordinary type of public works especially in urban communities, shortages in durable consumers’ goods; and in plant and equipment for civilian industry, there is the basis for postwar prosperity. A balancing and stabilizing fiscal and monetary policy is necessary to forestall turbulent and speculative tendencies.

Sooner or later according to all past experiences this postwar period of prosperity will end in a depression unless we adopt a positive program to maintain full employment. This is the great new field of economic statesmanship. Our modern highly urbanized, highly industrialized sections can no longer stand the social strain and economic shock of great depressions.

The program to maintain full employment, and an ever advancing national income as productivity increases, requires a more positive role by government than we have had in the past. We have neglected the conservation and development of our material and human resources. By means of sound public investment projects we can raise the productivity of the country, increase the real income, and open up investment outlets for private enterprise.

These developmental projects include urban redevelopment; express highways through and around our metropolitan centers; reorganization and rebuilding of our terminal facilities; the development of our largely undeveloped river valleys, including hydroelectric power, reforestation, soil conservation, flood control, irrigation projects, sewage disposal projects, and cleaning up of polluted rivers.

Social Security

Several pertinent comments may, be made with respect to the Beveridge and the American social security programs.

Critics sometimes caricature the program of security “from the cradle to the grave” as a beautiful scheme of living in luxury without working. This it is not. An adequate system of social security would become completely unworkable spread unemployment will not endure, unless we could look forward to an expanding economy with high levels of income and employment.

No system of unemployment insurance, for example, can possibly stand up in the long run in a society where any large proportion of the working population is continuously unemployed.

It needs to be stressed, however, that a social security program does not make it more difficult to insure an expanding economy at high levels of income and employment. It is not true that social welfare expenditures constitute a drain on national income and tend to depress the economy.

Prevents Depression

Precisely the opposite is the effect. An adequate program of social security tends to put a floor under depression by helping to maintain the total flow of national income. The benefit payments made help to sustain the volume of mass consumption expenditures.

Moreover, the feeling of security will induce workers still employed to spend more of their current income. Thus the total flow of national income is increased, not merely by the benefit payments themselves, but indirectly through the induced larger consumption expenditures of employed workers.

In addition, it should be noted that an adequate social security program, financed in part through the budget by progressive income taxation, is a means of securing a wider distribution of income and with it a larger mass consumption of goods. Thus, effective demand is strengthened through an adequate program of social security.

There are those who say that the costs will be unbearable. These critics overlook the fact that the benefit payments and to the flow of national income. These critics consider the outlays made as though they were deductions from the national income and therefore only a burden on the economy.

In the years following the war, public policy must first and foremost be directed to ways and means of maintaining high levels of income. If this is done, we shall be able to raise the funds from a full employment income required to finance an adequate social security program. …

Modern fiscal policy stresses the role of a federal budget as a means to maintain effective demand and full employment. But the budget must be controlled so as to prevent both inflation and deflation. We must nor permit the budget to grow so large that demand outruns supply.

On the other side, there is danger that the budget may be cut so low that we shall be left with inadequate effective demand, idle resources, and loss of national income.

This concept introduces a wholly new notion of what true governmental economy means. True economy in government expenditures means the elimination of waste and inefficiency. It does not mean the reduction of expenditures to the lowest possible level–a policy which would result in wholly inadequate social services of all kinds. …

True economy means wise use of resources. A sound and rational fiscal policy means the adjustment of expenditures and taxes so as to maintain high employment with national income rising as rapidly as improved techniques make possible.

An adequate social security program is a part of this larger picture of an expanding full employment society. It cannot be underlined too much that those who look at costs and taxation exclusively are likely to support restrictionist and contractionist programs.

This policy might make the irreducible minimum of costs and taxation unbearable, owing to the low level of income thereby induced. On the contrary, an expansionist program, through the resulting increase in productivity and full employment income, makes the problem of costs and taxation a thoroughly manageable one.

An expanding economy with high levels of income and employment can remain a free society. A society that falls to conquer service depression and widespread employment will not endure.

The Author

Alvin Harvey Hansen, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy, has been noted for outstanding research and writings in many economic fields since receiving his A.B. from Yankton (S.D.) College in 1910.

Recently active in Washington, he serves as Economic Adviser to the National Resources Planning Board and as special economic adviser to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

Source: The Crimson

4. Murals Produced by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s

Take a look at this Flickr slideshow of murals from the 1930s. Be sure to click on each image in the slideshow to see the titles and descriptions.

5. Account of the Trial of Ossian Sweet (1927)

The account below is excerpted from Marcet Haldeman-Julius’s pamphlet on the Sweet (and Scopes) trials, Clarence Darrow’s Two Greatest Trials (Haldeman-Julius Co. 1927).

Jury Selection

The trial of Henry Sweet opened on April 19, and one hundred and sixty-five men were summoned and dismissed (only twenty of them peremptorily) before Darrow was satisfied that he had selected twelve who were at least comparatively free from active prejudice against Negros. The process took one solid week. With infinite patience and insight he studied and sifted them.

“Well,” he would say, “you’ve heard of this case, I suppose?” (He practically always questioned jurors and most witnesses sitting and in a very colloquial not to say intimate tone.) “Read about it?” Talked about it? Formed an opinion? Got it yet? And it would take evidence to change it? Well, I s’pose you’re right. Challenge for cause."

By his mere assumption that a man would give him only honesty, Darrow often called forth that very quality. He would say: “Ever had any association with any colored people? No? Understand, Dr. Sweet’s a colored man—bought a house in a neighborhood where there were no colored people. Well, that’s the background. My client is a colored man. He was in the house at the time of the shooting. One of eleven. Now you wouldn’t want not to be fair. You just tell me yourself whether any views you have or surroundings you have would handicap my client or the state.” And very often the man would do that very thing—just for Mr. Darrow. … At last, on Saturday the twelve were chosen, sworn in and locked up. They had pleasant quarters in that very building. …

They ranged … from twenty-four [years old] to eight-two. Four were white-haired and beyond sixty, three between thirty-five and their late fifties. Five were decidedly young men. Tall and short, thickset and thin, mustached and clean-shaven, their physical disparities were no greater than their mental ones. But if there was not one intellectual face among the twelve neither was there a stupid one. If none of them seemed especially sensitive or fine-grained neither were any of them mean or callous. The fact that they were in no way emotional but apparently just straightforward, average men, and that being precisely this, they voted for Henry’s acquittal, should make you realize more than anything else how brilliantly and convincingly Clarence Darrow plead the cause of the Negro he was defending.

Opening Statements

The prologue over, Toms and Darrow made their opening statements.

The state’s theory was briefly: that either Henry Sweet [Dr. Ossian Sweet’s brother] fired the shot which killed Leon Breiner or that he aided and abetted the man who did. That if he did aid and abet some one or more of the persons in the house who caused the death of Breiner, his act would be their act and their act would be his.

They stressed the facts that at the moment Breiner was shot he stood about six feet from the Dove’s steps talking, pipe in mouth, to a man on the porch and that the bullet which killed him was not the only one fired. One went through the eaves of the Dove’s house, another wounded Houghberg on the steps of the porch, two others passed through the steps, one embedded itself in a small tree on the lawn and another cut through the glass door leading up to the second floor flat inside the house. … Much was made of the fact that there were neither, either on Charlevoix or Garland, many people on the Sweet’s side of those streets; that the yard was untrampled, the hedge unhurt and (as Mr. Toms, waxing a bit sentimental, exclaimed) “even the rose bush was left blooming.” Of course the point was stressed that Houghberg was a roomer at the Dove’s and therefore, so to speak, on his own porch. He himself testified later that he was shaving when he first heard the shots an ran down stairs to see what was going on. …

Other points were that, when Dr. Sweet moved, he took with him a substantial supply of groceries (which he did), ten guns (two rifles, a shot gun, seven revolvers and pistols) and three hundred and ninety-one rounds of ammunition; that the amount of furniture taken in was very eager (after their return from Europe, where Dr. Sweet had worked under Madame Curi in Paris and attended the Eiselberg Clinic in Vienna, they had been living with Mrs. Sweet’s parents); that precautionary measures had been taken by the police department and an extra force placed around the Sweet house.

In concluding, Mr. Toms painted a quiet, neighborly, rather thickly settled modest street on which the people were for the most part sitting contentedly on their porches discussing the warmth of the peaceful evening. On the sidewalks “a few” people (among them Mr. Breiner), on their way to and from the grocery store, had paused to greet a friend, and here and there a “little group,” meeting quite by accident, had stopped for a casual chat. Some twenty or so lulled on the schoolhouse yard. (Disinterested witnesses testified there were not less than five hundred!) Now and then a “a few” boys, in purely mischievous spirit, threw a stone or two at the Sweets’ house. It was into these placid, unoffending people, the prosecution contended, that the Sweets, suddenly and without provocation shot. (After you know more of the facts you will be better able to appreciate the grim humor of this picture.)

Clarence Darrow rose, and going straight to the jury, in quiet, colloquial, almost intimate fashion, set before them the personalities and background of Dr. Sweet and his brother Henry. He sketched for them the necessity that faces colored folk in Detroit of moving into new territory, explained how gradually the colored district was extended: “Sometimes leapin over a few doors, sometimes a few blocks—wherever it is extended, meeting with resistance, as people don’t want the colored man too near them.”

“Well,” he continued, in his apparently rambling fashion, “Dr. Sweet looked around for a house and finally determined to go here. I think that the nearest residence occupied by colored people to this house was bout three blocks away. In that I am not quite certain, are you?” And he turned to Mr. Toms who nodded and replied, “Yes, three.” (It is a way Darrow has of turning informally to the prosecution-for correction or corroboration on matters of fact not debatable. A little thing, but it helps to create an atmosphere of good feeling and sincerity.)

He went into some detail about the neighborhood of “average people.” “Not any more than average,” he commented with a chuckle and a hunch of his big shoulders. “You’ll see,” he promised, “when they testify.” (They were, indeed, taken in the mass, as they appeared in court, uneducated and narrow-minded.) He explained how they began to prepare for the reception of Dr. Sweet and his family by organizing the Waterworks improvement Association. He related the harrowing experiences of Bristol, Turner, and Flecther, colored men who, with their families, had been ejected from their homes by mobs. (I wrote about them in some detail last month.) He told of the Sweets’ moving in on the morning of the eight, of the large crowd that gathered and hung around the doctor’s house all night until the early hours of the ninth. He explained how Dr. Sweet had helped Henry in his effort to get an education. (He was just ready for his senior year at Wilberforce College when the riot occurred) He made very real the young man’s feeling of loyalty and obligation toward his brother and his family.

Then quite suddenly, after this half hour or so of quiet, interesting narrative, Darrow sharply, raised that flexible voice of his and not noisily but emphatically declared: “So when Dr. Sweet moved, Henry went along with him, and he knew why he went. We don’t propose to dodge any issue in this case. He went to help defend his brother’s home, if need be, with his life. I don’t know just how much of an agreement was made-but they proposed to die defending their home if necessary. The guns (the revolvers, I believe, were in a valise and the ammunition in satchels) were with them and were not shown to the police.” One felt rather than heard the little gasp from everyone as Darrow tranquilly made this admission. It was the touch of a master of his craft, sure of the justness of his case.

Graphically but simply he described the events of the ninth of September, made vivid “the large crowd around the Sweets that had been gathering from the four corners of the city.” Still with his hands upon the jury rail, talking in that direct man-to-man fashion, he reminded them that half an hour before the shooting the policemen upon the corner were sending out cries for aid, and diverting traffic so that one could not get to the Sweets except by parking on one of the side streets and walking up to the corner of Garland and Charlevoix, on which the doctor’s property was located. “You gentlemen,” he commented dryly at this point, “may be able to guess why all this was going on—if the evidence isn’t plain.”

Lastly he reminded them that five minutes before the shooting two policemen were hastily sent up to the roof of the apartment house across the street (in order that they might look down and see who were the ring-leaders of the disturbance). He pictured the Sweets and their friends “huddled together,” agitated, going from time to time to a window to look out. “And then,” he went on sternly, “the crowd began throwing stones against the house. The doctor and his friends were ready. They were scared, but they were ready. Other stones came down on the house. Probably nobody would be able to tell you how many. You will have to guess at it. The crowd increased, stones came through the window and they shot.” A dramatic pause. When he went on it was to conclude very quietly: “I don’t know any more than Mr. Toms does, how many shots were fired. I don’t know who killed Bereiner. Perhaps it was Henry Sweet. I can’t tell, and he can’t.” …

“If Henry Sweet went there,” he elucidated to the jurors, “or agreed after he got there to kill somebody upon a slight provocation, then he would be guilty of murder regardless of who fired the shot. But if he went there, as we claim, for the purpose of defending his brother’s home and family as it was not only his right, but his duty to do, or if he went there for that purpose and made a mistake and shot when in fact it wasn’t necessary to kill, but he thought it was–he is innocent.” …

It was during the questioning of the police that Darrow brought out that for several days the department had been expecting the disturbance; had even brought in men from another precinct; had kept the flier manned by eight or nine officers in readiness; and Walter Doran, a plain-clothes detective, with his partner, stationed for three days at Garland and Charlevoix to watch for any stones that might be thrown from automobiles. Doran, by the way, was another who coolly testified that there was not a great number of automobiles on the night of the ninth. A gay and lively evening of it that young man must have spent! According to his own testimony, at eight o’clock (the shooting started at eight twenty-five) he was hastily dispatched to the station to get two other officers. As soon as he got back, engine still chugging, he was told to “hurry up and get six more”-which, with the four men who had been there all day, and the four extra ones by which, on the late afternoon, they had been augmented, not to mention Deputy Superintendent Sprott, Lieutenant Shellenberger, Inspector Schucknecht, and Doran himself made exactly twenty officers who were fussing around that corner. And yet it was at this moment, when they apparently most needed men, that two officers were sent up to the apartment house roof. (These brave fellows admitted that when the shooting began they dropped hastily to their stomachs and did nothing.) Gill (raised in Tennessee) seems to have been the only officer moved to action. When the riot occurred, by his own testimony, he rushed into the yard and-deliberately fired at the very people whom he had been detailed to guard.

Darrow also brought out, by cross-examination, that during the whole two days these extra policemen were around the Sweet house, not one of them went up to the doctor—as they would have done to any white man under similar circumstance to say humanly and sincerely: “We’re here. You can count on us.” No. Nothing like that. They just, as they themselves put it, “stood around and observed conditions.” (Almost all of them lived in that district.) Not one of them heard any disturbance, saw any crowd, heard any stones thrown and only one or two of the lot admitted that they saw even the taxi drive up and stop.

“Gentlemen,” Darrow declared in his summing up to the jury, “you could have loaded that house on trucks and moved it away-the police never would have known it!”

Having established and that through the state’s own witnesses, first that there was a crowd and next that since the police were expecting that the Sweets would be attacked, the doctor and his family were justified in making the same assumption, Darrow proceeded to prove that the crowd came intending to use violent measures in ejecting the Sweets.

Source: Famous Trials site by Douglas O. Linder

6. Newspaper Columns by Eleanor Roosevelt

Between 1935 and 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a syndicated newspaper column read by millions of Americans. Here are a few conveying her ideas about women and the New Deal programs of her husband, FDR.

May 6, 1936

WASHINGTON— The WPA women administrators who are meeting here put on an exhibition of work done in the different states and I was interested to see really lovely cooper bowls and pitchers made from copper mined at Ajo, Arizona, which is near Congresswoman Greenway’s home.

There were woven things and innumerable garments for young and old made in the sewing rooms, and one thing which interested me greatly was a collection of dolls dressed to represent different periods in our history. They will be valuable historically in almost any museum. The Braille project with the first historical map ever made for the blind; the health project showing the different things that have been done in different states to increase the health of the community. Think of a state that had not a single county nurse in the rural areas! The best part of it is that much of this work which has been started to relieve unemployment is being taken over on a permanent basis by state and local governments.

I get a thrill of pride in what the women have done in this whole situation and when I hear the story told of an unassuming, quiet local director in one of the flood areas, who commandeered a truck and moved her supplies to the place where they were needed most, establishing a base and working for five days with no real place to sleep, I decided that after all the pioneer spirit isn’t dead. If we can meet emergencies so well, surely we can solve our long time problem also!

I worked all last evening and saw our son, John, off on the midnight to New York where he breakfasted with his sister before going back to college.

My husband’s mother is on her way home from Texas and I can hardly wait to hear her account of the trip. She insists that it was an easy trip and wonders why any one suggested that she should not undertake it.

My press conference this morning was short for I am making so many speeches there is nothing to talk about.

I lunched with Mr. Clarence Phelps Dodge and his committee to talk about the work which they hope to start in organizing a national movement for coordinating all the agencies in an effort to prevent juvenile crime.

At two o’clock I went to the Women’s Trade Union League meeting and at four received the District of Columbia Federation of Music Clubs and the members of the Washington Music Teachers Association.

At five we had tea for Madame Vargas; Mademoiselle Vargas; the Brazilian Ambassador and his daughter, Mademoiselle Zazi and Mademoiselle Lais Aranha, his sister; Mrs. Rickard Sandler, wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden and the Swedish Minister and Mrs. Bostrom.

Some friends for dinner and a party at the National Women’s Democrat Club for the ladies of the press.


August 12, 1937

HYDE PARK, Wednesday—If I took any long drive these days without encountering at least two storms, I should feel that the weather had forgotten to continue in its usual way. Yesterday we ran into two storms on the way in to New York and two storms on the way home!

Luckily while we were actually at the Girl Scouts Camp in the afternoon, no rain fell. It was a very lovely sight to see these young girls come down the path into what they call “The Green Cathedral” and seat themselves in a circle, with the flags of their various countries floating on the hillside behind them. Some of the girls wore their native costumes, the others were all in Girl Scout uniforms. The ceremonies were well carried out and I was impressed by the number of girls from foreign countries who spoke very good English, and by the impression one had of good looks. Health and youth in themselves are beautiful, but many of these girls had good features and lovely hair and eyes.

I think such meetings as these must help our international understanding and even in our own country bringing together Girl Scouts from different parts of the country, will do a great deal for national understanding.

This morning, Miss Rose Schneiderman, who is National President of the Women’s Trade Union League, came up from New York to see me. She is much disturbed over the action taken at the Convention of the Federation of Business and Professional Women in Atlantic City in opposition to the women’s charter and in favor of the equal rights amendment. I am a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Federation, and I can quite see why they would favor absolute equality between men and women. They are trained professional workers, they can compete on an equal basis, they need no protection. But for the industrial worker, the situation is entirely different, and I believe in the attitude which has always been taken by the Women’s Trade Union League which favors protection for women in industry. I think that if the public really understood the situation, they would treat this question from the point of view of the realities rather than accept a theory, which is a fine theory, but has no relation whatsoever to the realities of the situation for the industrial woman worker.

I wonder why the highly trained business and professional women do not develop their imagination sufficiently so that they can visualize this whole question from the point of view of another group of women. Before many years go by, I think we will have a course in our schools designed to develop in people an ability to imagine conditions which they have never experienced!

Some other friends came to lunch and we are about to go for a swim, having decided that whether you get wet in the pool or whether the water descends on you from above makes very little difference.


May 21, 1938

WASHINGTON, Friday—I had two interesting visits yesterday afternoon. One from a young Turkish woman, Miss Ismet Sanli, who is doing newspaper work in this country and who desires to deliver a series of lectures. So far, she has been urged by a few women’s clubs to appear in Turkish costume, but refuses, because, as she says, she wants to interpret the new Turkey of today to American women. She has no interest in the Turkey of harem days or the ladies of the early 19th Century in the United States.

Miss Sanli was dressed in the latest modern style and gave the impression of a very efficient young business woman. I feel as though the changes in Turkey had come very rapidly, but she insists this change has been coming for a long time. There have always been highly educated women in Turkey, but never before have they been able to use their education and training outside the home. Now, instead of refusing to give women jobs, the men are anxious to put trained women in responsible positions.

A little later, a very interesting 72 year old woman from Norway, Madame B. Kjelsberg, called with the Norwegian Minister’s wife. Madame Kjelsberg told me that up to 2 years ago she had been the chief factory inspector of Norway and had travelled on an average of 150 days a year. She was married to a lawyer and they had 6 children.

She explained with pride the industrial laws for the protection of women in her country. A woman is permitted to leave her job for 6 weeks before her child is born, to remain at home 6 weeks after the birth of the baby, to receive medical care and hospitalization at a very low rate, and to return to her job which has to be held for her during the period of absence.

Now Madame Kjelsberg’s husband is dead, she is retired on a pension and so she has been travelling around our country for the past 7 months speaking in 14 states. Her’s is a fine and vigorous personality.

I could not help but think that both these women will be successful in giving the women of our country a picture of the condittions in their own countries and the quality of their people.

The Women’s National Democratic Club moved their garden party into their town clubhouse and seemed to be having a great crowd when I stopped in there late in the afternoon for a few minutes. I was glad to have a chance to see some very charming dancers and hear the Mexican Ambassador’s daughter sing a Mexican song.

For a time this morning, the sky cleared and Johnny, Anne Clark and I had a good ride along the Potomac. They arrived yesterday afternoon. Eliott flew up from Fort Worth, Texas, so we had quite a family reunion.

Mrs. Ruth Bryan Rohde, and Mr. and Mrs. Ragnar Svanstrom of Sweden, who are over here studying the American book market with an idea of a greater exchange between the two countries, lunched with us today. I was again impressed by the number of increasing interests which the Scandanavian countries have in common with us.


Source: My Day Archive at George Washington University