The historical sensibility that shaped this book is not mine alone. My interest in American social history was sparked by Jesse Lemisch and Leon Litwack, inspiring teachers whose pioneering scholarship on the history of workers and African Americans taught me and generations of historians the enduring value of “history from the bottom up.” I also owe an intellectual debt to Robert S. McElvaine, a historian whom I met on only one occasion, but whose classic book on the letters of Depression Americans, Down and Out in the Great Depression, opened a new window onto the lives of the poor and influenced my own work. Closer to home were my father's Depression stories about his childhood days in a Brooklyn ghetto, instilling in me a deep interest in the history of youth, poverty, and the New Deal era.
This book also grew out of my work with history and social studies teachers in Georgia and New York. These teachers helped awaken me to the value of youth sources in teaching history to students young and old. My thanks to all the teachers in my history and social studies classes in the schools of education at the University of Georgia and New York University for their insights and encouragement in this letters project. I am grateful to the McPhaul Center preschool at the University of Georgia, the Children's Workshop, my colleagues Maris Krasnow and Suzanne Carothers at New York University, Mary Mason in the Gwinnett County public schools, and my graduate students at nyu for helping me see how these letters could be used in classrooms with high school, middle school, elementary, and even preschool students. My thanks to Bryant Simon of the University of Georgia history department—with whom I taught a seminar on the 1930s—for giving me my first opportunity to share these sources with undergraduates. I am especially grateful to the public school students who read the youth letters to Eleanor Roosevelt so carefully and compassionately and who welcomed me into their classrooms.
The initial work on these youth letters came while researching my article on Eleanor Roosevelt and youth for a special New Deal issue of Social Education. My thanks to John Sears of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute—who edited that special issue—and to the editor of Social Education,