Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression

By Robert Cohen | Go to book overview

chapter 1
Ill-Clothes Ill-Hiused Ill-Ted

When it came to discussing the scope and depth of poverty in Depression America, President Roosevelt did not mince words. In his second inaugural address, on January 20, 1937, FDR had spoken of “millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.… I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” The president pledged to eliminate this spreading scourge of poverty, and insisted that “the test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” Three years later, speaking before the White House Conference on Children in a Democracy, FDR proved equally candid in assessing the Depression's impoverishment of young Americans:

I have been called to task, as you all know, because I have reiterated
many times something about one-third of America—the ill-clothed, ill-
housed, ill-fed—on the ground that I was saying something derogatory.
I have been telling the truth, and you good people have sustained me
by your statement that more than half of the children of America are
in families that do not have enough money to provide fully adequate
shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and educational opportunity. Why
should we not admit it? By admitting it we are saying we are going to
improve things.1

This chapter takes its title from FDR's speech. The youth letters published here deal primarily with the lack of basic necessities, including those the president so aptly described in referring to youths who were “ill-clothed, ill-housed, ill-fed.”

-35-

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Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - Ill-Clothes Ill-Hiused Ill-Ted 35
  • Chapter 2 - Education 91
  • Chapter 3 - Social Life 145
  • Chapter 4 - Minorities 195
  • Epilogue - Responses to the Letter 237
  • Notes and Sources 245
  • Index 261
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