The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia

By Maurine H. Beasley; Holly C. Shulman et al. | Go to book overview
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YOUTH. No resident of the White House has ever approached the level of concern, activism, and empathy that Eleanor Roosevelt displayed for American youth. ER’s willingness to work even with radical youth in the 1930s distinguishes her from any of her predecessors or successors. During eras of turbulence the White House tends to distance itself from its youngest critics. At the height of the Vietnam War era, for example, the administrations of President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Richard M. Nixon denounced leftist-led student protesters and supported government attempts to undermine the student movement of the 1960s. But when confronted with a similar movement in the 1930s, ER built bridges rather than barricades—befriending protest leaders, listening to their concerns, and helping to bring their key organizations, most notably, the American Student Union* and the American Youth Congress,* into the New Deal* coalition. She stood up for the right of youths to dissent during the Great Depression* and shielded them from the Red-baiting of the House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities.* ER found areas of common ground with the student protesters, working with them on expanding federal aid to low-income students and unemployed youth as well as on such antifascist mobilizations as the World Youth Congress.

ER’s friendliness toward the student movement was the most controversial—but by no means was it the only—facet of her involvement with youth and their problems during the depression decade. The First Lady’s name is intimately connected with the history of the National Youth Administration* (NYA) and the whole effort to provide a New Deal—jobs, training, and student aid—for youth impoverished by the Great Depression. Historians disagree about the precise role that ER played in the NYA’s creation. There is no question, however, that as the NYA


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