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

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

by Robert Cohen

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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 needy youths, 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807861264
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 10/16/2003
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Robert Cohen is director of the Social Studies Program in the School of Education, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, and an affiliated member of the History Department at New York University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1. Ill-Clothed, Ill-Housed, Ill-Fed Chapter 2. Education Chapter 3. Social Life Chapter 4. Minorities Epilogue: Responses to the Letters Notes and Sources Index

Sketch of Eleanor Roosevelt by a sixteen-year-old Missouri boy, 1935
Ernestine Guerrero with sculpture sent to President Roosevelt, 1937
Float in the 1937 inaugural parade paying tribute to the National Youth Administration Cartoon from the New Yorker showing Mrs. Roosevelt with miners, 1933
Children in a depressed neighborhood in Pittsburgh, 1933
An elegantly attired Eleanor Roosevelt in the Monroe Room of the White House Enclosures from an Ohio teen's letter, 1936
Enclosures from an Oklahoma teen's letter, 1937
Students in West Virginia traveling to school by truck Enclosure from a St. Louis girl's letter, 1934
Graduation announcement accompanying a Maryland girl's letter, 1935
Boys outside a movie theater, Scott's Run, W.Va., 1935
Eleanor Roosevelt with Salvation Army Santa, Washington, D.C., 1939
Sketches from a Puerto Rican girl, 1934
Picture of a Shirley Temple doll sent by a Chicago child, 1935
African American teens employed by the National Youth Administration, 1936
Eleanor Roosevelt with a student at the Haskell Institute Indian School, Lawrence, Kan., 1938
Letter from fourteen-year-old Massachusetts girl Eleanor Roosevelt visiting disabled students at the Langdon School, Washington, D.C., 1938
Letter from a high school senior asking the Roosevelts for graduation clothes

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

By focusing on letters written by children, Cohen accents the effect of the Depression on some of society's most vulnerable members, and the letters are sure to tug at the heartstrings of even the most stoic readers. . . . The letters offer more than an ongoing tale of pain and suffering; they also present an opportunity to teach students how historians use primary sources to construct a textured portrait of the past.—The History Teacher

This well-edited volume adds a new dimension to Eleanor Roosevelt scholarship, picturing her as a vulnerable human being unable to respond to numerous personal appeals from children for aid during the Great Depression. Filled with the touching voices of poverty-stricken juveniles, this book nevertheless testifies to the faith of Americans of an earlier era in their government and its leaders.—Maurine H. Beasley, University of Maryland

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt offers a rich documentary history of Depression America's young people—their troubles and fears, their hopes and dreams. It also reminds us that government can inspire the confidence of the nation's most vulnerable citizens—children of poverty—when it shows the kind of compassion that Eleanor Roosevelt embodied. This is a must-read for anyone concerned about poverty and its impact on the young.—David N. Dinkins, former mayor of New York City and professor in the practice of public affairs, Columbia University

Cohen has assembled an excellent book that not only adds to our knowledge of how the Depression affected the lives of Americans, but also places the letters children wrote to the First Lady in an analytic framework that helps readers more fully understand the Depression and appreciate the magnitude of its grip upon the country.—Presidential Studies Quarterly

After sifting through thousands of letters written by children to Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s Robert Cohen has masterfully organized several hundred into a rare and insightful look at Depression America. . . . This book offers a unique look into the American family from an insider's perspective at a time of great turmoil, and of all the academic studies on the Depression, none can offer what the children can. . . . We stand to learn a great deal from their words, and Dear Mrs. Roosevelt is a powerful vehicle for anyone willing to listen.—Journal of Children and Poverty

The clear, real voice of people experiencing directly the conditions of the Great Depression will serve as a strong motivation for students of the Depression to learn more. . . . Although the letters stem from Depression conditions, they express needs that are universal: food, shelter, clothing, and better social conditions. The universality of the feelings and needs expressed in these letters make a strong bridge to an earlier time.—History of Education Quarterly

[Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression] is a revealing look into how the youngest in America were shaped by the Depression, and how they sought assistance from the First Lady.—Teaching History

Teachers who treat the period will be delighted to find this fresh material on the library shelf.—Kliatt

The simple eloquence of these letters, the stories they tell, and the pains and aspirations they convey make them extraordinarily powerful documents. The reader sees and feels the Great Depression through the voices of America's children and teenagers at a time when their imaginative powers and perceptions of reality were bound to be heightened.—Leon F. Litwack, University of California, Berkeley

Like the young people who bared themselves to her, Eleanor Roosevelt was compassionate and complex, tender and disciplined, and disappointed in but committed to democracy. Cohen's Dear Mrs. Roosevelt is an honest, splendid depiction of the hopes, fears, vulnerability, and aloofness that both Eleanor Roosevelt and the children who wrote her needed to survive the Depression. He allows the children to speak for themselves, stands with them as they find the words they want to say, and helps us appreciate their lives. This is a fine book.—Allida Black, editor of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers




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