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

By Robert Cohen | Go to book overview
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Notes and Sources

All of the youth letters to Eleanor Roosevelt (ER) published in this book and cited in the endnotes are from the Eleanor Roosevelt papers in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library (FDRL), Hyde Park, New York. In 1934 Mrs. Roosevelt's staff officially began filing in her Material Assistance Requested files (listed as the 150.1 files in the ER papers) the letters that needy youths (and adults) had sent to her asking for help; the 1934 files also contain letters from 1933. For the Depression era there are eighteen containers of letters from 1934, sixteen containers from 1935, ten for 1936, eight for 1937, ten for 1938, nine for 1939, and twelve for 1940. See ER papers inventory, FDRL.

The FDR Library is in the process of reorganizing Mrs. Roosevelt's papers, and since this will involve changing the container numbers in the collection I am not listing the old numbers for the containers from which the letters in this book were drawn. But readers interested in examining the originals of the letters to Mrs. Roosevelt published here will find most of them in her Material Assistance Requested files (150.1), with the remainder drawn from her Donations Requested files (150.2). Note that though this second file (150.2) was supposed to house letters requesting donations to organizations, the First Lady's staff misfiled in it some individual material assistance requests. Both files are arranged chronologically and alphabetically, so that even with new container numbers readers will be easily able to locate the letters from their year and initials.

Rather than merely sample the teens' and children's letters in Eleanor Roosevelt's Material Assistance Requested (and Donations Requested) files, I read them all. The letters which appear in this book were selected from the much larger group of youth letters in those files. They were selected on the basis of how well they conveyed the situation of the letter writer: those with extensive autobiographical data were the most revealing about Depression conditions and thus the best candidates for publication. But in terms of the kinds of requests made and the political orientation of the letter writers, there was no difference between the letters chosen and the many more which could not fit into this book.


INTRODUCTION

1. Ernestine Guerrero to Franklin D. Roosevelt, San Antonio, Oct. 17, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt papers, FDRL. In carving the clock case Ms. Guerrero worked from a pattern that was part of a kit for fret work “coping saw” sculpture. She was too poor to place a clock mechanism in the clock case that she made for FDR. For these and other details concerning the sculpture, I am grateful to Tex Parks, the FDR Library's Exhibition Specialist, who shared with me his knowledge of the sculpture along with the notes of an interview (on July 5, 1978) with Ms. Guerrero's brother Nicholas by Margerite Hubbard, the former curator of the FDR Library and Museum. For the president's response to Guerrero's letter and gift—which he termed

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