Thoughts on Obama’s Address: Echos of the Roosevelts, the Depression and Recessionistas Past

Pictured: Obama’s Speech (photo from the AP Wire)

I just watched the Obama address this evening and I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but I found the address very moving and uplifting. For me, one of the most interesting parts of the speech were the echoes of the language of FDR and Mrs. Roosevelt. I felt their words coming back to us over the years in many of the things our new president said. ” We will rebuild. We will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before,” Obama said. Those words echo FDR’s statement about the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930’s. He put forward the idea of the WPA , saying, “American workers will rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges, Yes, we will “put people to work.” I think of those words a lot as I drive around Los Angeles through various tunnels built by the WPA and over bridges like the ones on the road to Big Sur, all built by WPA workers.

Pictured: An old poster for FDR’s WPA Program

I also heard echoes of Eleanor Roosevelt, possibly the first Recessionista, tonight in his speech. When he talked about responsibility mingled with hope, that reminded me so much of Eleanor. If you look at her newspaper columns from the 1930s, responsibility and hope were some of her over arching themes. There is a great site with all her columns online that you can look at called My Day.

Pictured: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” Daily Newspaper Column, the Blog of the Depression-era

Thinking about her columns today, and the echoes of her words I heard tonight, I had an interesting thought about Eleanor. Her “My Day” columns were really the first blog. In those pre-blog-0-sphere, Depression days, she connected with people on a daily basis through her columns. She also received over 300,000 letters from her readers and from children during the Depression. That’s one hell of a social network. People wrote to her just as they would post comments on a blog today. I didn’t realize until I ” Googled” it this evening, but her column ran until 1936 to 1962. Like bloggers today, she always connected her daily tasks and thoughts with larger issues. And like Mrs. Obama before her, Mrs. Roosevelt practiced Recessionista dressing and style. When I was researching the first ladies Inaugural gowns for a previous post, I was fascinated to learn that Eleanor only had one Inaugural gown, and it was a classic, but not ostentatious, long blue dress. She passed on other Inaugural balls after the first term and had March of Dimes dinners instead. She was a lover of fine fashions, and she did buy some designer frocks, but never anything too attention getting or colorful. Her fashions definitely reflected the times.

Pictured: Mrs. Roosevelt in an elegant, but frugal fashion choice

So just as Mr. Obama tipped his hat to the Roosevelts’ tonight in his address, I want to tip my hat to them in my humble blog post. Would there even be bloggers today, writing in such an informal style, if Eleanor had not kicked it all off with “My Day?” And would anyone be able to talk about the “Audacity of Hope” during this recession if FDR had not shown us the way and connected to the nation via his “Fireside Chats?” To quote FDR, ” One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment… if it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.”

Pictured: FDR , pre-YouTube or TV giving a radio “Fireside Chat”
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  1. Don't Be a SlutFebruary 25, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Absolutely love this post. I had no idea Eleanor Roosevelt was the original blogger!

  2. AnonymousFebruary 25, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I really liked your last blog about Obama/FDR…It was lovely:).

  3. BlaireFebruary 26, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    My favourite Eleanor Roosevelt quote is “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. Not only was she the first blogger (great idea!) but she was also the first life coach as far as I am concerned!

  4. AnonymousMarch 1, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Many thanks for mentioning the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers and its My Day Project on your site. As you noted, ER’s beliefs and values have great relevance for our times (even before this recession)

  5. BBMarch 15, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I find your post here absolutely amazing. I had no idea that for all purposes Eleanor Roosevelt was the first blogger. To see how someone from the past can do what we today are trying to do only provides hope that the current recession can be overcome and President Obama can get this country back on track. To learn that Eleanor Roosevelt was one so spending conscious with her fashion is a lovely surprise too. To know that we have a model Recessionista of the past to look to is uplifting.

    Thank you so much for your post.
    A UWF Student.