Eleanor Roosevelt: The First First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, completely modernized the role of the First Lady. Due to FDR’s paralysis resulting from his battle with polio, Eleanor Roosevelt embraced a politically active lifestyle and represented her husband at a variety of appearances across the country.  Eleanor Roosevelt used her public image in order to advocatCarlsone for the under-privileged populations of America and became a modern voice for women’s issues. Never before had a First Lady been so available to the citizens of the United States, and thus causes that she cared deeply about became available to the American people. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to hold press conferences. She seldom allowed male reporters to attend in order to draw attention to the lack of female representation in the press.Like her husband, Eleanor Roosevelt hosted her own radio program. Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps most recognized for her beliefs that women should participate equally in society, politics, and economics. Mrs. Roosevelt paved the way for social activists, but she also redefined the role of the First Lady. Current First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative, Let’s Move!, is a movement to inspire healthier lifestyles in the parents and youth of America. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady Michelle Obama uses her public figure to establish a connection with the public via the media. The current First Lady holds her own press conferences, makes her own speeches, and has her own agenda due in part to the innovative efforts by Eleanor Roosevelt. Posted by Mackenzie Carlson



Joblessness Changes People

jobless-america-future-200This depressing article by Don Peck, from the Atlantic Monthly, describes the research sociologists and historians have done on the psychological effects of economic recessions and depressions on particular age cohorts. In other words, how does the experience of living through a recession change your life if you’re 20, 30, 40, or 50 when the recession starts? Those interviewed talk about what research has shown about the effects of past recessions,a nd speculate on what will occur as a result of the current downturn. The experts’ conclusions are, unsurprisingly, fairly grim:

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades.

Whether or not you agree with these assessments, the article reminded me of the important effects that changes in the national economic and political picture have on the lives of individuals. This is the type of historical question which we’ll be considering this week when we read Studs Terkel’s interviews with people who lived through World War Two.

Immigration–interactive map

This is one of the New York Times interactive maps you might find interesting in light of discussions concerning American immigration and settlement.   If any of your family arrived at Ellis Island, you can search records for them here.  Of course, immigrants have arrived–and continue to– through many other ports, across the Canadian and Mexican borders, through Galveston, and other places.  However, only Ellis Island has created this searchable site.

A Look Back at Feminism

 A women’s-liberation parade on Fifth Avenue, in New York, in August, 1971.  A women’s-liberation parade on Fifth Avenue, in New York, in August, 1971.

A women’s-liberation parade on Fifth Avenue, in New York, in August, 1971.

Two weeks ago, the New Yorker‘s Ariel Levy wrote this really funny, sad review of Gail Collins’ new book about American women in the past fifty years (When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present). The review was initially located behind a subscriber-only pay wall, but is now freely available.

Levy uses Collins’ book to argue that the popular narrative about the feminist movement (feminists are angry, “feminazi”, man-haters) has eclipsed and overcome the actual accomplishments, or failures, of the movement itself. The most interesting historical revelation I found:

“In 1971, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Walter Mondale, came up with legislation that would have established both early-education programs and after-school care across the country. Tuition would be on a sliding scale based on a family’s income bracket, and the program would be available to everyone but participation was required of no one. Both houses of Congress passed the bill.

Nobody remembers this, because, later that year, President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it ‘would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing’ and undermine ‘the family-centered approach.’ He meant ‘the traditional-family-centered approach,’ which requires women to forsake every ambition apart from motherhood.”

I didn’t know that!

PS This article also has the most exceedingly clever title: “Lift and Separate.” Get it?

Dying for a Drink: A Hidden Prohibition Story

Cops in Detroit inspecting a secret brewery during Prohibition.

Cops in Detroit inspecting a secret brewery during Prohibition.

This fascinating piece on Slate.com tells the story of how the US Gov’t, knowing that many crime syndicates were re-distilling stolen industrial alcohol during Prohibition, turned to putting harsh poisons in the industrial stock. As a result, as many as 10,000 people actually died, including one man who passed away after this dramatic episode:

“It was Christmas Eve 1926, the streets aglitter with snow and lights, when the man afraid of Santa Claus stumbled into the emergency room at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. He was flushed, gasping with fear: Santa Claus, he kept telling the nurses, was just behind him, wielding a baseball bat. Before hospital staff realized how sick he was—the alcohol-induced hallucination was just a symptom—the man died.”

The chief medical examiner of NYC at the time, Charles Norris, often tried to bring publicity to what he called “our national experiment in extermination.” Norris pointed out the government’s poison project disproportionately affected the poor, “who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low grade stuff,” as opposed to wealthy drinkers, who bought safer bootleg whiskies.

What’s Wrong With Woodrow?

Who’s got an opinion on the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th leader of the United States? Lately, it seems like everybody’s been talking about Wilson and his legacy, especially and most notably Fox News’ Glenn Beck. (See more about Beck, his animosity toward Wilson, and the Cold War writers whose work he draws from in this recent New Yorker piece by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz.) The New York Times’ website is hosting a discussion on Wilson’s newfound notoriety, with several historians, including Harvard’s Jill Lepore and UT’s own Mark Lawrence, weighing in. Anybody can comment; some comments so far are more civil than others.

Historians as Detectives: US Infected Guatemalan Prisoners

Dr. Susan Reverby, whose research uncovered the record of the experiments

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Tuskegee Experiments—a shameful chapter in US history in which doctors funded by the U.S. Public Health Service recruited a group of African-American sharecroppers who had syphilis, then watched as their disease progressed, withholding treatment and lying to them about the source of their sickness, all in order to see how the disease worked. In 2011, a professor of history and women’s studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Susan Reverby, was all over the news for having discovered documents that proved that similar studies had been carried out in Guatemala in the 1940s. A doctor who had been part of the Tuskegee experiments, John Cutler, used National Institutes of Health money (that’s taxpayer funding, as the New York Times pointed out) to infect Guatemalan prisoners with venereal diseases in order to test the efficacy of penicillin. Sometimes Cutler even hired prostitutes (which were apparently allowed in Guatemalan jails) to carry out the transmission of disease; sometimes the method was to scrape part of the prisoner’s body and infect that way. The Times quotes a medical ethicist from the University of Chicago, Mark Siegler, who gives some historical perspective: “It’s ironic — no, it’s worse than that, it’s appalling — that, at the same time as the United States was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the U.S. government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk.”

UPDATE: Here’s an interview with Dr. Reverby about her research methods and the initial reception of her work.