He was celebrated in his lifetime and beyond for his numerous accomplishments as President of the United States. He became the hero of the common man, even though he was decidedly from American upper-class aristocracy. His critics cited issues with policies that intended to help the poor, the hungry, and the under-served, but they were effective. His wife was a noted presence, as well, creating a role for the First Lady that involved a political slant beyond mere hostess duties. Not only did he see the country out of the Great Depression, but he also saw the United States through four years of World War II. Although his health became a burden to bear, he continued on, committed to the call of public service, diplomacy, and economic security across all classes. He was the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The New Deal President
Franklin was born on 30 January 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He was the only child of Sara Delano and James Roosevelt. Franklin’s father was a “gentleman farmer,” which is to say that he owned a lot of land that was farmed, but not by him. Sara Delano was the daughter of Warren Delano, Jr., a prominent trade goods importer.
The Roosevelts and Delanos were connected by blood and marriage to 11 Presidents of the United States. Those Presidents were George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, William Howard Taft, and of course, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. It might be assumed that Teddy and Franklin were close relatives since they shared a last name, but they were actually fifth cousins. Teddy was from a branch of the Roosevelt family known as the “Oyster Bay Roosevelts,” while Franklin was from the “Hyde Park Roosevelts.” Franklin was actually much more closely related to Grant as second cousins. He was also related to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy.
Another fact of family relations is that Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt were cousins. Eleanor’s father was Teddy Roosevelt’s brother, Elliot. This made Franklin and Eleanor fifth cousins, once removed. Franklin and Eleanor had met before as children, but in 1902, they happened to be on the same train and struck up a conversation. The conversation became a correspondence, which then evolved into a romantic relationship. Although Franklin was something of a “mama’s boy,” he pursued Eleanor despite his mother’s misgivings. Sara’s negative attitude toward Eleanor seemed to be centered around the Oyster Bay Roosevelts not quite meeting her expectations for “high society” and Eleanor being a rather introverted young woman. Nonetheless, Franklin and Eleanor were married on 17 March 1905, at the residence of her aunt, with President Teddy Roosevelt walking his niece down the aisle.
Franklin and Eleanor had six children. The eldest was Anna Eleanor, born in 1906, followed by James II, born in 1907, and Franklin Jr., born in 1909. Unfortunately, baby Franklin became ill and died at just seven months old. Elliot was born in 1910, Franklin D. Jr. was born in 1914, and John Aspinwall was born in 1916. Eleanor had been orphaned at age 10 and was afterwards raised by her stern maternal grandmother, making her own mothering skills a bit lacking. In an era of nannies and governesses, it was not uncommon for women in the upper class to leave the child rearing to family staff, so it may not have ever been in the cards for Eleanor to take on a hands-on mothering role. This did allow her to be more supportive of Franklin’s career, especially after his health condition changed.
Both Roosevelts contributed to the cause during World War I. Franklin was appointed to the position of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President Wilson. Eleanor volunteered with the Red Cross and visited hospitals. He was the Vice President nominee in 1920, but the campaign failed, and Harding won.
In 1921, at the age of 39, Franklin contracted some sort of virus, commonly believed to be polio, that would significantly damage his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed below the waist. Some modern experts believe he may have actually suffered from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a paralysis response to any number of viral infections. He developed a way to be able to stand with the assistance of metal braces and crutches, or by having one of his sons to lean on. He did often use a wheelchair, but there was an intentional effort to avoid showing him in it when he served as a senior statesman. He worked for years trying anything to improve his legs, all to no avail. His upper body strength still gave him a sense of robustness, however, allowing him to continue in political leadership roles.
Franklin returned to the political scene in 1924 as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention. He was elected as Governor of New York in 1928. However, as the economy was tanking, political winds began to shift toward providing real solutions. After the fall-out of the market crash in 1929 and the ensuing financial vacuum that created the Great Depression, Americans were desperate for relief. Franklin ran with John Nance Garner for the Democratic nomination promising a “New Deal.” They faced Hoover as the incumbent on the Republican ticket. On 8 November 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his first Presidential election in a landslide.
On 15 February 1933, just 17 days prior to his inauguration, President Elect Roosevelt was returning from a trip in the Bahamas and made a stop in Miami, Florida. Folks heard about his plan to make an appearance and gathered at Bayfront Park. Roosevelt was in the middle of this “meet and greet,” giving a short address from the back of a convertible automobile, when shots rang out. A disgruntled, unemployed bricklayer named Giuseppe Zangara stood on a bench, pulled out a handgun, and began to shoot. He had crowded on to the bench next to a petite woman, Mrs. Lillian Cross, who immediately saw his intent and, since his arm was over her shoulder, wrenched his arm upward with all of her strength while he kept firing. He was taken down by by-standers, injuring five people in the crowd, but leaving Roosevelt unharmed. One of the bullets had wounded Anton Cermak, Mayor of Chicago, who had been in the crowd. Cermak had been standing on the running board of the car, shaking Roosevelt’s hand. Roosevelt declared himself uninjured, but helped collect Cermak in the car, and had the driver rush him to the hospital. Cermak ultimately died of his injury, and Zangara was sentenced to death. Mrs. Lillian Cross was largely given credit for saving Roosevelt’s life that day. She was honored as a heroine at the Inauguration and invited to tea at the White House.
In that very first Inauguration speech, President Roosevelt uttered his now famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” On that same day, with the full intention of actually enacting a New Deal, the cabinet members were appointed and accepted by Congress so that work could begin as soon as possible after the festivities. The “First 100 Days” of his presidency became a focus of intention to actually enact legislation that could begin shoring up the problems that existed across the nation, and demonstrably backing away from economic panic. The Emergency Banking Act and “fireside chats” were the first steps to calming the financial atmosphere. Fourteen additional major pieces of legislation would be passed by a special session of Congress within those 100 days.
Unemployment was partially addressed by establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), enacting the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), and creating the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The CCC was primarily intended to employ young men in conservation work. This meant they planted a lot of trees and helped control wildfires, among other priorities. They lived in camps near the work sites and were required to send money home from their earnings. Separate camps were created for women, which had a slightly different agenda by offering job skills training, encouraging the arts, and attending to horticulture and gardening projects.
The FERA program would become the Works Progress Administration (WPA), but both were made to give unskilled workers jobs at building infrastructure projects like bridges, roads, school buildings, storm drains, and airfields. Again, the arts were also promoted, and artists and writers were hired to commemorate American history and culture. The TVA was made a prioritized focus of development because of the lacking infrastructure that existed in the region, exacerbating the effects of the Great Depression on the people who lived there. The FERA/WPA agenda was to provide a sense of normalcy and pride to people who wanted to work for their money, rather than just accepting financial aid.
Although he faced criticism for expanding government involvement in the average person’s life (in the form of assistance programs), his popularity soared among voters. With the promise of continued economic improvement, FDR was easily elected for a second term in 1936. By 1939, World War II was underway. It seemed to make sense to keep an experienced leader in charge, and so he was elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940. On 7 December 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt had to finally, officially join the Allies to defeat the Axis powers. In 1944, although his health was failing, the war was far from finished, and he was elected a fourth time by a narrow margin. Harry S. Truman was his final Vice President for the 1944 election.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, only three months into his fourth term, the nation was shocked. He suffered a stroke that occurred around 1:00 pm and he was declared dead at 4:35 pm. He had been at his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, and had been sitting for a portrait. He complained of a terrible headache and lost consciousness, never to awaken. All four of the Roosevelt sons were serving in the military, and had to be notified by telegram. Of them, only Elliot could make it home in time for the funeral. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was laid to rest at the family plot in Hyde Park, New York.
While Roosevelt’s run of winning was remarkable, it was not a precedent that the American government wanted to set. A two-term limit had been proposed repeatedly since 1789, but the parties had never come to an agreement. By 1947, the term limits would become more solidified in the form of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was ratified in 1951, sealing his legacy as the only president who held office four times.
Newspapers.com™ Stories and Events Indexes on Ancestry.com are continually being added for numerous U.S. states and allow for searching for various event types, enabling you to fine tune your search parameters.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal program initially established as the Civil Works Administration for four brief months between November 1933 and March 1934, and reestablished under its more famed name in May 1935 to provide relief and work opportunities for Americans who were most financially impacted by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. It is because of projects which were part of the WPA that typewritten transcripts of county, state and federal genealogical records were produced to preserve our genealogical knowledge and can still be found in libraries across the country today. Employment in the WPA also produced a set of records which are genealogically pertinent to those whose families were impacted.
The Works Progress Administration provided employment to over 8.5 million people between 1935 and 1943. Both men and women were employed through the project, although men made up over 85% of the workforce. Ninety-five percent of all workers were considered “certified,” which meant their financial need had been vetted by government relief agencies. Only one member of a given household could be employed by the WPA at a time and, in order to reach as many people as possible, certified workers were terminated after 18 months and could again reapply for work after about three weeks. Workers were provided full time jobs on projects which averaged about $41.57 a month in salary.
Projects were widely varied and included building infrastructure, public buildings and leisure spaces, extending electricity to rural areas, providing educational classes, sewing projects and growing or serving food among other things. Federal Project Number One included the Historical Records Survey, Federal Writers' Project, Federal Theatre Project, Federal Art Project, and Federal Music Project. Among Project One’s most important works were compiling slave narratives, the aforementioned local histories and historical record surveys, preserving and creating art for each region, and eventually designing posters and camouflage patterns for the war efforts. Another subset of the WPA was the National Youth Administration (NYA) which employed students between the ages of 16 and 24 from 1935 to 1939.
Employment records for the Works Progress Administration can be requested through the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri and primarily include notices for assigned projects, information regarding wages, certification status and termination notices. These records can provide a snapshot of your family for a brief period of time when lives were rapidly and continually changed. Two of the best ways to determine if a member of your family participated in the Works Progress Administration are to check the employment section of the World War II Draft Registration Cards and the 1940 Census. The census for that year posed Questions 21 and 22 regarding employment for the week of 24-30 March and asked if the person was employed in non-emergency government work or, if not, was he assigned to public emergency work during that week. If yes, Question 30 would often note “GW” for government work. In the census excerpt below, the first two men who indicated “yes” to Question 22 were employed as laborers on a highway project in government work - this may have been through the Works Progress Administration or Civilian Conservation Corps (another New Deal program).
The Works Progress Administration was eventually canceled due to America’s participation in World War II when manpower, employment and finances were diverted to the war efforts. However, the program produced lasting efforts which can still be seen, utilized and visited today.
Ashley Mattingly, National Archives and Records Administration (http://archives.gov : accessed 21 September 2022), “Question 22: 1940 Census Provides a Glimpse of the Demographics of the New Deal.”
PBS (http://pbg.org : accessed 21 September 2022), American Experience, “The Works Progress Administration.”
Library of Congress (http://loc.gov : accessed 21 September 2022), “The WPA and the Slave Narrative Collection.”
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, digital images, Library of Congress (https://loc.gov : accessed 21 September 2022), digital image from original safety film negatives, “WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. Cambria, Illinois,” 1939, Digital ID: fsa 8b17427 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8b17427.
1940 U.S. census, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, population schedule, Oja Caliente, ED 20-12, p. 61A (penned), Beneto Archuleta household, database with images, Ancestry.com (https://ancestry.com : accessed 21 September 2022), citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 2449.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum (http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu : accessed 29 September 2022), digital image still photograph, 1934, “48223706(53).”
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum (https://www.fdrlibrary.org : accessed 28 September 2022), “FAQ: Marriage and Family.”
World History Project (https://worldhistoryproject.org : accessed 28 September 2022), digital image, “Franklin D. Roosevelt marries Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Public Broadcasting Service (https://www.pbs.org : accessed 27 September 2022), “Explore a Timeline of the Roosevelts.”
Edward G. Lengel, The White House Historical Association (https://www.whitehousehistory.org : accessed 28 September 2022), “Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Historic First Inauguration.”
“Roosevelt Dies at Georgia Home; Truman Sworn in as President,” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 13 April 1945, digital images, Newspapers.com (https://newspapers.com : accessed 28 September 2022), citing print edition, p. 1, col. 3 - 8.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.