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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Impoverished young Americans had no greater champion during the Depression than Eleanor Roosevelt. As First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt used her newspaper columns and radio broadcasts to crusade for expanded federal aid to poor children and teens. She was the most visible spokesperson for the National Youth Administration, the New Deal's central agency for aiding the needy young, and she was adamant in insisting that federal aid to young people be administered without discrimination so that it reached blacks as well as whites, girls as well as boys.

This activism made Mrs. Roosevelt a beloved figure among poor teens and children, who between 1933 and 1941 wrote her thousands of letters describing their problems and requesting her help. Dear Mrs. Roosevelt presents nearly 200 of these extraordinary documents to open a window into the lives of the Depression's youngest victims. In their own words, the letter writers confide what it was like to be needy and young during the worst economic crisis in American history.

Revealing both the strengths and the limitations of New Deal liberalism, this book depicts an administration concerned and caring enough to elicit such moving appeals for help yet unable to respond in the very personal ways the letter writers hoped.

Excerpt

Ernestine Guerrero, the daughter of an unemployed carpenter, came of age in San Antonio, Texas, during the Great Depression. She was not one of the movers and shakers of American history, but merely one of millions of youths who grew up poor during the nation's worst economic crisis. It is not surprising, then, that Guerrero's name fails to appear in history books on the Great Depression, the New Deal, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Although historians have taken no notice of Guerrero, a piece of her historical experience has been preserved by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. On display is Guerrero's large wooden sculpture of a clock case, “The Chimes of Normandy,” and the letter she sent along with it to President Roosevelt in 1937. The sculpture, which Guerrero began working upon during her late teens, consists of 156 pieces and reflects long and skillful wood-carving work. Guerrero's letter to the president explained that it took her a year of working with a coping saw to develop her carving skills sufficiently to begin shaping the clock case and another year to complete this fretwork sculpture. But it is less the craftsmanship of the sculpture than Guerrero's circumstances, materials, and motivations that make so memorable her decision to work on it and send it to the president. She offered this gift to FDR in gratitude for the assistance that New Deal dollars had provided to her impoverished family. Guerrero had gathered the materials for her sculpture from the wooden boxes in which her family's food relief had come during the hardest times of the Depression. She wrote to FDR that her sculpture was the outcome of her desire to show her appreciation by creating “something pretty” to give him “out of those boxes” of federal food aid, which had meant so much to her and her family. “This is the best I have ever done in my life,” Guerrero wrote. “I know that you have many pretty things, but please accept and keep this piece of work from a poor girl that doesn't have anything, also to show you how much we admire you … as a man of great ideals and a big heart toward humanity.”

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