Born November 27, 1909
Died May 16, 1955
New York, New York
Poet, novelist, movie critic,
"The talk, in the end, was his great distinguishing feature. He talked his prose, Agee prose.… It rolled just as it reads; but he made it sound natural.…"
Walker Evans, in the introduction to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Although a relatively young man when he died at age forty-five, James Agee filled his years with a variety of literary pursuits. He wrote poetry, movie scripts, movie critiques, short prose, and novels. His best-known works are a documentary on white tenant farmers in the Deep South, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, first published in 1941; a short novel called The Morning Watch, published in 1951; and a longer novel, A Death in the Family, published in 1957, after his death. Agee's literary themes were strongly influenced by his...
(The entire section is 1335 words.)
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Born May 8, 1891
De Pere, Wisconsin
Died October 17, 1972
"Those who worked closely with Mr. Altmeyer knew that besides his superior intellectual and administrative abilities, he was also a man of sensitivity, of compassion, of integrity, and of stubbornness."
Former secretary of health, education, and welfare Wilbur J. Cohen
Arthur Altmeyer was one of the most influential figures during the development of New Deal social programs. The New Deal was a diverse collection of federal legislation and government-funded programs introduced by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry). The new laws and programs were designed to bring economic relief and recovery to the U.S. economy, which was suffering its most serious downturn ever, the Great Depression of the 1930s. Altmeyer was one of the leading advocates for...
(The entire section is 2240 words.)
Bethune, Mary McLeod
Born July 10, 1875
Mayesville, South Carolina
Died May 18, 1955
Daytona Beach, Florida
Educator, advocate for black Americans
and women, administrator
"Colored people all along the eastern seaboard spread a feast whenever Mrs. Bethune passed their way. The chickens went flying off seeking a safe hiding place. They knew some necks would be wrung in her honor to make a heaping platter of southern fried chicken."
Langston Hughes from I Wonder As I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, organizer, and activist. She was an advocate and spokeswoman for black Americans and for women in general. Having strong religious faith and a belief in the power of education, Bethune felt that the economic and political power of black women would inevitably increase. Through her confident and dignified behavior, she provided leadership and inspiration to many during a period of legally enforced racial segregation. Appointed by Aubrey Williams (1890–1965; see...
(The entire section is 1948 words.)
Born November 8, 1904
Died December 21, 1972
College professor, administrator
"Horace Bond's mother named him in honor of Horace Mann's—the great Massachusetts educational reformer and abolitionist—antislavery activities."
Wayne J. Urban in his 1992 book Black Scholar: Horace Mann Bond, 1904–1972
Horace Bond was an extraordinary black American scholar and college administrator, dedicated to improving education for black Americans. He was determined and brilliant, not afraid to challenge long-held ideas. Bond rose to prominence during the Great Depression. During his career he authored several books and nearly one hundred articles on various black education topics in academic journals and popular magazines. He is most noted for two classic books on black education published during the Great Depression: The Education of the Negro in the American Social Order (1934) and Negro Education in Alabama: A Study in Cotton and Steel (1936). Both...
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Trust, The Brain
Born September 27, 1886
Died February 18, 1975
Born July 10, 1891
Sinclairville, New York
Died July 21, 1979
Santa Barbara, California
Adolf Berle Jr.
Born January 29, 1895
Died February 17, 1971
New York, New York
Scholars, presidential advisers
"Tugwell wanted everyone to share in America's abundance.… As a result, he was often frustrated, and in those moments of frustration, his so-called radicalism appeared."
Michael V. Namorato in the 1988 book Rexford Tugwell: A Biography
Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf Berle were selected to advise Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) during his presidential campaign of 1932. These three experts were the core of Roosevelt's advisory group,...
(The entire section is 2869 words.)
Born October 25, 1891
Died October 27, 1979
Catholic priest, radio personality
"Coughlin invented a new kind of preaching, one that depended on modern technology: the microphone and transmitter. He ushered in a revolution in American mass media…televangelism and political talk radio, stem back to him."
Donald Warren in Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, the Father of Hate Radio
Known as the "radio priest" during the 1930s, Father Charles Edward Coughlin broadcast to the nation from an office in his Catholic church. His first broadcasts were Sunday sermons primarily aimed at children. Then came more politically charged programs, in which he spoke on behalf of citizens disillusioned by the troubles of the Great Depression, the most serious economic crisis in U.S. history. By the 1930s the American radio audience was large. Despite economic hardships, most citizens found a way to purchase radios. Speaking out for the common people and against various targets—big...
(The entire section is 2276 words.)
Born November 8, 1897
Brooklyn, New York
Died November 29, 1980
New York, New York
Journalist, advocate for the poor
"For those who think that there is no hope for the future, no recognition of their plight—this little paper is addressed."
From the first edition of the Catholic Worker
The Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in the United States, had a stranglehold on Americans in May 1933. Newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) had launched his New Deal legislation to attempt to begin to pull America from the depths. On May 1, Dorothy Day, a tall, slender, thirty-five year old, walked among people at Union Square in New York City distributing for a penny a copy the first edition of her newspaper, the Catholic Worker. The edition boldly proclaimed: "To Our Readers: For those who are sitting on park benches in the warm spring sunlight. For those who are huddling in...
(The entire section is 2813 words.)
Born February 18, 1874
Died October 21, 1962
Social reformer, Democratic Party leader, promoter of women in government
"Molly Dewson arrived in Washington to take over as head of the country's Democratic women and to inaugurate a new deal of her own—a new deal for women in politics."
From Ladies of Courage
During the 1930s, Molly Dewson became America's first woman to take the lead role in a political organization. She was the driving force behind securing prominent positions for women in the Roosevelt administration. From 1932 until 1937 Dewson was director of the Women's Division of the Democratic National Committee. Director of the Women's Division was a full-time job on the staff of the national committee, and whoever held the position was the most powerful woman in the national party organization. During the 1936 presidential election campaign, Dewson directed the efforts of some eighty thousand women who served as a nationwide network recruiting the female vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) reelection. Through her efforts, women voters became an important segment of the newly created Democratic...
(The entire section is 1634 words.)
Family, The Du Pont
"Lammot du Pont, although a multi-millionaire, was the family's fanatic on thrift, often carrying his own luggage in order to avoid having to tip."
Gerard Colby Zilg in Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain
Du Pont is one of the most noted family names in U.S. industrial history. In 1802 Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834), an immigrant from France, built a gunpowder mill on the Brandywine River in Delaware. Boosted by gunpowder sales to the government in the War of 1812 (1812–14), the company began to amass large profits during the American Civil War (1861–65) and World War I (1914–18). With its war profits, Du Pont greatly diversified; it was no longer just an explosives company but a world-leading chemical corporation. The du Pont family became one of the wealthiest families in the nation. In 1926 Lammot du Pont became the eighth consecutive family member to be named president of the family business. He continued to expand the Du Pont fortune during the 1930s Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. When President...
(The entire section is 2696 words.)
Born September 9, 1890
Died December 18, 1977
Salt Lake City, Utah
Businessman, banker, chairman of the Federal Reserve
"He was more feared than loved; his economic titles made him a man whom people in the inter-mountain West addressed in tones of deference [respect]."
Sidney Hyman in Marriner S. Eccles: Private Entrepreneur and Public Servant
Marriner Eccles played a major role in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) administration. Eccles guided economic policy, particularly the efforts to reform the U.S. banking system and strengthen the role of the Federal Reserve System. Historians recognize Eccles as a keenly perceptive observer of economic issues and a fierce battler in representing his views. Eccles was one of the most influential players in restructuring the ailing American economy during the 1930s.
A shrewd young businessman...
(The entire section is 1677 words.)
Fechner, Robert and Williams, Aubrey
Died December 31, 1939
Administrator, union leader
Born August 23, 1890
Died March 5, 1965
Social worker, reformer
"Today, we hear again and again from CCC veterans about how the 3C's turned their lives around. Desperate young men in desperate times were given the chance to be gainfully employed.…"
Craig Holstine, in the foreword to the 1990 book In the Shadow of the Mountain: The Spirit of the CCC by Edwin G. Hill
By 1935 five million youths were unemployed. Deeply concerned, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) created both the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Youth Administration (NYA) to help youths in need during the Great Depression. Roosevelt appointed Robert Fechner as the CCC director. The CCC...
(The entire section is 2092 words.)
Born August 27, 1890
Redfield, South Dakota
Died July 23, 1969
Old Tappan, New Jersey
Theater educator, administrator
"Fred [Hallie's father] began organizing home talent shows in the family living room on weekends.… Once Hallie had discovered the pleasure of thrilling an audience…there was no stopping her."
From Hallie Flanagan: A Life in the American Theatre
Hallie Flanagan, multitalented in the theater arts, exhibited her abilities in acting, playwriting, and directing while teaching at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, and then at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. In 1935 Flanagan was appointed director of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a program established under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) administration. The FTP was one of the many New Deal programs designed to put people back to work and bring the nation out of the 1930s Great Depression. The FTP put unemployed theater personnel to work and allowed Flanagan to...
(The entire section is 1539 words.)
Born July 14, 1912
Died October 3, 1967
Queens, New York
Songwriter, folksinger, social activist
"He'd stand with his guitar slung on his back, spinning out stories like Will Rogers [popular 1930s entertainer], with a faint, wry grin."
Pete Seeger, in the foreword of Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie's musical career lasted just seventeen years. At the age of thirty-nine Guthrie was struck with Huntington's chorea, an inherited disease that had killed his mother. He nevertheless wrote over a thousand songs before his career came to a premature end. Guthrie's songs reflected his experiences of the 1930s Great Depression, severe drought on the Great Plains, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) New Deal programs, and World War II (1939–45). The New Deal was a collection of federal legislation and programs...
(The entire section is 2350 words.)
Born March 7, 1893
East Troy, Wisconsin
Died May 1, 1968
Rhinebeck, New York
News journalist, investigator
"What I want you to do is to go out around the country and look this thing [New Deal programs] over. I don't want statistics from you. I just want your own reaction, as an ordinary citizen."
Harry Hopkins speaking to Lorena Hickok from One Third of a Nation
Although her adult life was closely associated with Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962; see entry), wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry), Lorena Alice Hickok independently overcame in-grained sexual discrimination in the male-dominated field of newspaper journalism. She became an outstanding reporter and investigative writer.
Hickok's talent was first recognized and rewarded in the early 1920s at the Minneapolis Tribune, where she rose to the position of...
(The entire section is 3013 words.)
Born August 10, 1874
West Branch, Iowa
Died October 20, 1964
New York, New York
Thirty-first president of the United States
"Hoover pursued his private and public careers…based on this cooperative work ethic, whereby all members of the community did their best in their particular 'callings' in life for the good of everyone."
Joan Hoff Wilson in Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive
Herbert Hoover was the thirty-first president of the United States. Elected in November 1928 and inaugurated in March 1929, Hoover had the misfortune of being president as the U.S. economy began a dramatic downward spiral into the Great Depression. Attempts by his administration to address the severe economic crisis were not enough to slow the decline. As a result, Hoover faced much of the blame for the financial troubles of many Americans.
Engineer turns humanitarian
Hoover was born to a farming family...
(The entire section is 2592 words.)
Hoover, J. Edgar
Born January 1, 1895 Washington, D.C.
Died May 2, 1972 Washington, D.C.
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
"Hoover directed the Bureau [Federal Bureau of Investigation] so long that he seemed fixed in the political landscape of Washington. The grim scowl was that of a man who had seen all evil, heard all evil, and could be counted on to warn of any evil that would put the nation in danger."
Richard Gid Powers in Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover
J. Edgar Hoover first joined the U.S. Department of Justice as a law clerk in 1917, rising to director of the Department's Bureau of Investigation (later the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI) by 1924. He would remain in that position for the next forty-eight years until his death in 1972, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Hoover transformed the bureau from an agency ridden with scandal to an elite corps of highly regimented Special Agents. The American public wanted protection from the outlaws of the early 1930s,...
(The entire section is 2499 words.)
Born August 17, 1890 Sioux City, Iowa
Died January 29, 1946 New York, New York
Social worker, relief administrator, diplomat
"Roosevelt trusted Hopkins implicitly [totally]—trusted his instincts and trusted his loyalty. No president had ever placed such confidence in another man; no president had given another man such power and influence."
June Hopkins, granddaughter of Harry Hopkins, in Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer
From humble beginnings Harry Hopkins rose high in the U.S. government during the 1930s and 1940s. Hopkins's loyal service to his country helped President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) guide the United States through the Great Depression (1929–41) and World War II (1939–45), two of the worst crises of the twentieth century. Hopkins was uniquely qualified to administer the New Deal relief programs of the Roosevelt administration. Tutored by Roosevelt throughout the 1930s in the art of politics and diplomacy, Hopkins became the president's...
(The entire section is 2748 words.)
Born March 15, 1874 Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania
Died February 3, 1952 Olney, Maryland
Public administrator, reformer, spokesman
"It is clear from Ickes' account of his childhood that to earn his mother's love and respect required a great deal of hard work, conformity, and good behavior. It is also plain that from a very early age these demands found a ready acquiescence [acceptance] in Harold."
Graham J. White in Harold Ickes of the New Deal: His Private Life and Public Career
Harold Ickes had a reputation of being crusty and combative, but he was also noted for honesty and thoroughness. He fought for the rights of America's minorities and for the orderly development of the nation's rich natural resources. Ickes served as secretary of the interior for thirteen years, from 1933 to 1946, longer than anyone else in U.S. history. Never hesitant to speak his mind, he also served as the Roosevelt administration's spokesman for publicly opposing or supporting a variety of controversial issues. With an incredible record...
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Born May 25, 1895
Hoboken, New Jersey
Died October 11, 1965
"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions."
Dorothea Lange in "The Assignment I'll Never Forget: Migrant Mother"
Dorothea Lange, considered one of America's most important twentieth-century photographers, began her career as a traditional portrait photographer. However, by 1933, observing the desperate conditions of people who had lost their jobs and homes in the Depression, Lange felt compelled to leave her studio and go onto the streets in San Francisco and then into the farm country to photograph the situation. Never seeing her photographs as art, she instead wanted to use the photos to get action on aid for the poor. Eventually she would be one of the most famous Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers....
(The entire section is 2947 words.)
Born May 11, 1891 New York, New York
Died February 6, 1967 Poughkeepsie, New York
Secretary of the treasury
"[A]lthough obviously bright, the boy [Morgenthau] suffered from what today would be called a learning disability.… Despite hard work, the boy developed an aversion to conventional schooling."
Henry Morgenthau III, in the 1991 book Mostly Morgenthaus: A Family History
Though a poor student throughout his school career and very awkward during public appearances later in life, Henry Morgenthau Jr. served as secretary of the treasury for eleven years during some of the most challenging economic times in U.S. history. From 1934 to 1940 he tried to maintain a stable monetary system in the face of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis the United States had ever experienced. In the early 1940s Morgenthau was in charge of financing the massive U.S. war effort during World War II (1939–45). Throughout this time he remained sensitive to the hardships of poor Americans and was dedicated to easing the...
(The entire section is 2015 words.)
Born April 10, 1880 Boston, Massachusetts
Died May 14, 1965 New York, New York
Secretary of labor
"When subordinates asked [Perkins] how she should be addressed, she replied, 'Call me Madam Secretary.'… From the beginning she was treated as an equal."
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in his book The Coming of the New Deal
Trained as a teacher, Frances Perkins became an advocate for the working classes, children, women, and the poor. As a social worker and reformer, she combined a practical approach, which she attributed to her New England common sense, with an energy and focus that allowed her to get things done in politically difficult situations. In a male-dominated workplace, Perkins overcame prejudices and restrictions to establish herself as an outstanding federal government official who significantly improved the lives of Americans. She shaped much of the basic labor legislation of the United States. She also authored...
(The entire section is 3543 words.)
Randolph, A. Philip
Born April 15, 1889 Crescent City, Florida
Died May 16, 1979 New York, New York
Labor and civil rights leader
"As a youngster, Randolph listened to his father's parishioners [church members] complain about the problems of racial prejudice. This exposure, combined with the experience of growing up in segregated Jacksonville [Florida]…raised his consciousness."
Paula F. Pfeffer in A. Philip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement
A.Philip Randolph was one of the most important black labor leaders of the twentieth century and was highly influential in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Unlike many other black leaders, Randolph sought social justice for black Americans primarily through increased economic opportunities. He formed a number of organizations to raise public awareness of the lack of opportunities in business and education for black Americans. He also organized groups to pressure presidential administrations to improve the situation of blacks. Most notable was the Brotherhood of...
(The entire section is 2366 words.)
Born November 4, 1879 Oologah, Oklahoma Indian Territory
Died August 15, 1935 Point Barrow, Alaska
Entertainer, social commentator
"Will Rogers had the general demeanor of a common man, self-elected representative of the world's underdogs. He was an 'Aw shucks' guy."
Ray Robinson in American Original: A Life of Will Rogers
Will Rogers was a national voice of the common person between 1929 and 1935 during the harshest period of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. Rogers conquered most of the media available at the time. He seemed equally at home on stage and on the movie screen, in print, and on the radio. He starred in Wild West shows, vaudeville, silent and talking movies, and radio programs, and he wrote a regular newspaper column. Vaudeville was a popular form of stage entertainment in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the mid-1920s with each show featuring a collection of various acts including dancing, singing, comedy, and acting. More than anyone else in...
(The entire section is 2516 words.)
Born October 11, 1884 New York, New York
Died November 7, 1962 Hyde Park, New York
First Lady of the United States, social activist
"I think I must have a good deal of my uncle Theodore Roosevelt in me because I enjoy a good fight and I could not at any age really be contented to take my place in a warm corner by the fireside and simply look on."
Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt served as First Lady from March 1933 to April 1945, longer than any other president's wife. She was also one of the first First Ladies to work for social reforms both in the United States and worldwide. Checking on conditions throughout the nation, she was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) "eyes and ears." In the United States she promoted better working conditions for men and women, the elimination of child labor, and racial desegregation. Internationally, she...
(The entire section is 3874 words.)
Roosevelt, Franklin D.
Born January 30, 1882 Hyde Park, New York
Died April 12, 1945 Warm Springs, Georgia
Thirty-second president of the United States
"[Election] campaigns always stimulated Roosevelt enormously. He liked going around the country. He enjoyed the freedom and getting out among the people. His personal relationship with crowds was on a warm, simple level of a friendly, neighborly exchange of affection.…"
Frances Perkins, in The Roosevelt I Knew
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States and commonly referred to as FDR, is the only person in U.S. history to be elected president four times. After serving as New York's governor from 1929 to 1933, Roosevelt entered the White House in March 1933, during the worst economic crisis the nation had ever experienced, the Great Depression. With charm, an optimistic grin, and a willingness to surround himself with able advisers, Roosevelt brought hope to most Americans. He also brought a...
(The entire section is 4236 words.)
Born May 11, 1893
Great Bend, Kansas
Died September 26, 1975
Grand Junction, Colorado
Pictorial historian, documentarian
"We introduced Americans to America. The reason we could do this, I think…was that all of us [FSA photographers] in the unit, were so personally involved in the times, and the times were so peculiarly what they were."
Roy Stryker was not a photographer, but he understood that pictures spoke louder than words. His talent was recognizing great photographs that told a story, then compiling and organizing those photographs. In doing so Stryker played a key role in introducing documentary photography to the people of the United States. Documentary photographs tell so much about a subject that they can serve as historical documents. They record and mirror the social and political scene of a particular time, providing images of work, play, family, church, clubs, political organizations, and war.
Stryker moved to Washington,...
(The entire section is 2374 words.)
Wagner, Robert F.
Born June 8, 1877
Died May 4, 1953
New York, New York
"He is one of the most approachable men in the Senate. He is 'Bob' to his friends, and those who know and admire him refer to him in this manner."
From Senator Robert F. Wagner and the Rise of Urban Liberalism
A German immigrant, U.S. senator Robert F. Wagner was a political champion for the worker and common citizen in the United States. He embraced progressive politics, strongly believing that the government had a responsibility to help solve pressing social problems. (Progressive ideas gained support from a variety of groups in the United States in the early twentieth century.) In the Senate Wagner was one of the leading advocates of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) New Deal in the 1930s and President Harry Truman's Fair Deal programs later on. (The New Deal was a...
(The entire section is 2267 words.)
Born October 7, 1888
Died November 18, 1965
Secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce, vice president of the United States
"To his friends and neighbors in Iowa, Wallace was both known and unknown. Known best was his name. Three generations of Wallaces had succeeded in linking the family name to the cause of agriculture...."
From American Dreamer: The Life and Times of Henry A. Wallace
Henry Wallace played several major roles in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) administrations. Wallace was secretary of agriculture from 1933 to 1940 during the Great Depression, then vice president from 1941 to 1945 during World War II (1939–45), and finally secretary of commerce in the early postwar years of 1945 and 1946. He is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable people ever to serve as secretary of agriculture. In the 1920s young Wallace earned an international reputation for scientific advances in plant...
(The entire section is 2633 words.)
Born July 11, 1887
Died September 23, 1971
"Woodward's grassroots approach to the administration of programs to promote economic security and social betterment brought significant change to the lives of many women."
From Ellen S. Woodward: New Deal Advocate for Women
Ellen Woodward's energetic work on behalf of women and children spanned several decades, from 1925 to 1953. Many consider Woodward one of the most important women in the New Deal, second only to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (1882–1965; see entry). The New Deal was a collection of legislation passed during President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (1882–1945; served 1933–45; see entry) administration. The legislation established programs that were designed to bring economic relief to those most affected by the Great Depression, the worst economic slump in U.S. history. One of Woodward's key goals during the Depression was to provide jobs for women who were heads...
(The entire section is 1944 words.)