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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“The Architect and the Artist:
FDR, Olin Dows, and the New Deal Post Office Program”

by
Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.


A happy coincidence brings to us today a unique opportunity. The cornerstone at Rhinebeck’s new Post Office is about to be laid as a part of this ceremony of dedication. The Post Office has been built by the Secretary of the Treasury, who is with us. It has been turned over to the Postmaster General, who will use it and who is also with us. Their Royal Highnesses, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark and Iceland have come to us, having voyaged from Denmark through the Panama Canal to San Francisco and back across the Continent.[1]

It is unknown if these royal guests were offered hot dogs during their stay with the Roosevelt’s as they were, famously to the King and Queen of Great Britain later that same summer, but the dedication of the Rhinebeck post office on May 1, 1939 nearly overwhelmed the modest Hudson Valley river town. Novelist and Rhinebeck resident William Seabrook would state that the building’s dedication was “without doubt the most thoroughly dedicated small-town post office in the Western Hemisphere.” Seabrook would go on to describe celebrities, news reels, sound trucks, an army of metropolitan reporters and camera men, and the first female photojournalist for Life magazine, “Margaret Bourke-White thrown in for good measure!” The day began with a parade which included marching bands and mounted state-troopers, but also included, because of the royal presence the Danish Girls-Scandinavian-American Society. After a somber invocation, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. was first to speak, an unusual choice if one did not know that the architecture and the mural artwork inside the post office were both the product of bureaus under the auspices of the Treasury Department. Morgenthau symbolically handed the post office over to postmaster general James A. Farley,[2] and then FDR himself gave the dedication address.[3]

FDR was photographed at the event standing behind a podium, the metal braces that supported his frame barely visible. He began his speech with his first memories of Rhinebeck:

Half a century ago—I do not feel that it was that long—a small boy was often driven through the town of Rhinebeck by his father and mother to visit his great-uncle and aunt at their home south of Barrytown.

Then, as I grew older, I came to know something of the history of these river towns of Dutchess County, and to develop a great liking for the stone architecture which was indigenous to the Hudson Valley.[4]


The president then went on to explain that buildings made of local stone in the Hudson Valley were generally called “early Dutch Colonial.” He also pointed to the German settlers or Palatines who were invited to Rhinebeck by Judge Henry Beekman (1652–1716), a resident of Kingston who starting in 1697 held substantial land throughout Dutchess County. Beekman was FDR’s fourth great-uncle, the brother of Dr. Gerardus Beekman (1653– 723) his paternal fourth great-grandfather. But of closer relation was Isaac Roosevelt (1726–1794), who would be featured in the Poughkeepsie post office murals, and was a favorite ancestor of FDR’s because of his involvement in the Revolutionary War and as a member of the group that ratified the United States Constitution for the state of New York in 1788.[5]

Because through one line of my ancestry I am descended from the early Beekmans who settled Rhinebeck, and because on the Roosevelt side my great-great-grandfather lived in Rhinebeck for some time during the period of the Revolution and was not only a member of the State Senate, as his great-great-grandson was, but also a member of the Dutchess County Militia, I have a claim to kinship with this town that is second only to the town of Hyde Park.[6]

FDR then explained why the post office had its unique architectural design. It, along with five others in the Hudson Valley, were built in a distinctive Dutch Colonial revival style during the Great Depression. The president himself had determined the Dutch Colonial architecture, asking that a historic building from each locale be used as a model. For Rhinebeck the Kip House, a structure which burnt to the ground in 1910, and is sometimes referred to as The Kip/Beekman/Livingston House (c.1700-1910), served as the model. The name mirrored the various families who resided on the river estate for over three centuries.[7]

You all know the inspiration for the design of the building which we are dedicating today. Fortunately, I am old enough to remember the old house on the River Road in which were entertained so many famous men before, during, and after the Revolutionary War.[8]

Earlier, when Roosevelt was championing the Kip House as the potential model for the Rhinebeck post office, he played on the importance of historical “firsts.” The president claimed that the Kip House was the first house occupied by a white settler in the county, one of Washington’s headquarters, and the place where Washington took the oath as President of the United States – none of which was true. But FDR’s hyperbole was probably more of an attempt to use historical platitudes and inaccuracies for what was maybe the highest goal of the New Deal post office program, the re-creation of common links to an earlier time and place when Americans had encountered great obstacles and overcome them. The Rhinebeck dedication was a perfect setting for him to express the importance of a shared past by using his own heritage to connect the present to this idealized history.[9]

Soon, too, the old cornerstone will be on display in the lobby, together with the famous pane of glass which has been given by Mrs. Suckley and which was rescued from the fire by Colonel John Jacob Astor.

Furthermore, within a short time, a most interesting painting, a frieze around the inside of the lobby, painted by Mr. Olin Dows, is going to grace this building.[10]

Another aspect of the post office program was the involvement of the community to help the buildings architect and mural painter not only reflect the community historically and culturally, but to establish a community consensus favoring the federal art appearing in their locality as democratically possible. The idea of “taste” is highly individualistic but the economic strains of the 1930’s brought together both reluctant artists, who sometimes thought their work was socially autonomous or that the ideal of “art for art’s sake” inspired them, and a public who sometimes viewed the artist as a social alien unable to understand the sensibilities of the general populous. During the Great Depression very few escaped hardship and as Harry Hopkins stated “artists have got to eat just like other people,” and in turn, the public would have its first fully funded public arts program.[11]

It is, I think, an interesting fact that during the past few years the government, in the designing of Post Office buildings, has been getting away from the sameness of pattern which characterized the past…We are seeking to follow the type of architecture which is good in the sense that it does not of necessity follow the whims of the moment but seeks an artistry that ought to be good, as far as we can tell, for all time to come. And we are trying to adapt the design to the historical background of the locality and to use, insofar as possible, the materials which are indigenous to the locality itself.[12]

Once an official document named Roosevelt as an architect, though this was a jest between the president and architect Henry J. Toombs. When Toombs was designing what would become Top Cottage in 1938 he let FDR sign the design “Franklin D. Roosevelt, Architect,” as a joke between the two but also to point to the level of interest (or maybe interference) Roosevelt showed in buildings he commissioned – all of which were in the Dutch Colonial style. When these signed drawings appeared in Life magazine, they upset Frank Lloyd Wright’s architect son, John Lloyd Wright,[13] who wrote a sharp reply to Life stating: “The moral breakdown and integrity of the architectural profession now seems complete.” An overreaction for sure, but it would not be the first or last time Roosevelt would irk an architect, especially when one did not have the affinity for field stone as he did. The president was also featured in the New York Times Magazine article “F.D.R. As Architect” in 1940, in which the author took a more appreciate viewpoint in terms of preserving cultural heritage than Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, but Roosevelt’s love of indigenous field stone is similar in some aspects to Wright’s famous father’s philosophy of organic architecture.

The president then ended his speech by putting the Rhinebeck post office in a historical context, but also finished with the humor and charm that is legendary in the remembrances of FDR as a man who could be jovial even with the weight of the world upon him. No doubt, his struggles with polio during the 1920’s would have maybe completely laid low a person who could not accept the cure of laughter, especially in a time period when it truly was the best and only medicine –

During all the years to come—during the long life, in spite of what the Postmaster General says, which lies ahead of our new Post Office—generations which will live here will always remember that the cornerstone was laid by our distinguished guest.

The Crown Prince used the trowel on the cornerstone and, upon the completion of this ceremony, the President said:

I now announce this very historic cornerstone has been well and truly laid and also that His Royal Highness is an honorary member of the Union, in good standing.[15]


If anyone could joke to royalty about being a member of a union, with a big smile on his face, and get away with both the crowd and the royals laughing together – it was Roosevelt. But through the dedication of this building in the small town of Rhinebeck and the short but sincere speech of the president, we can find the New Deal writ large.

To understand much of the architecture during the New Deal, and the post office program in particular, is to understand the workings of the Office of the Supervising Architect a bureau within the Treasury Department. And to understand the Office of the Supervising Architect is to understand from where FDR found inspiration and aesthetic value: from his genealogical ancestors and their place in local Hudson Valley history, the houses they inhabited, and the American spirit that both represented to him. This is reflected in the choice of the Kip House to serve as the model both architecturally and artistically through the post office murals. In the same manner, the argument FDR makes (though false) of the “firsts” in regards to the Kip House offers an exploration of the process of creating federal public murals.

The Treasury’s art programs completed 1,205 murals across a divergent country with sectionalized tastes. From rural to urban areas, to regions with distinct cultures and social values, the problems of public mural art were hypothetically many yet actual controversies rare. The Treasury’s mural program was as a whole a success, and a closer look through the perspective of Olin Dows, who was both a mural artist and New Deal art programs administrator, offers an opportunity to see both the artistic stage and the workings behind the curtain. The questions raised by the Rhinebeck post office and the president’s speech then are ones at the heart of the journalistic approach: who, what, and why. The who is FDR and Olin Dows, the what is the Treasury’s architecture and arts programs, and the why is the Great Depression. The results of this synthesis can still be seen at 6383 Mill Street just south of the intersection with New York 308 at the center of Rhinebeck village, though all the actors who brought the stage to life have entered into history themselves.

Who then was Franklin Delano Roosevelt as architecture and local historian? FDR’s interest in architecture grew from an early appreciation of the local history of the Hudson Valley through the influence of his parents as he was home schooled till his early teens. The place where he grew up was Springwood in Hyde Park, an area close to where his ancestors first settled Dutch New York. His family’s genealogy was the subject of his history thesis at Harvard in 1901 titled “The Roosevelt Family in New Amsterdam before the Revolution,” which was for the most part a reconstruction of the information found in his family’s Dutch Bible (on which he would take the oath of office). FDR would be involved in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, serving as one of the 805 committee members of what could be described as a collection of New York state gentry. New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes[16] would say at a speech in Catskill that the heart of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was that –

the leading events in our history should be better known; the struggles of the early days better appreciated; and that we may be equipped to meet the exigencies of the present and to solve the problems of the future.[17]

Hughes language was very much in keeping with the New Deal’s philosophical approach to the post office program over thirty years later. It could be interpreted that FDR’s federal policy during the New Deal could have been an extension of what he was exposed to on a local and state level.[18]

The post office in many areas was the only physical manifestation of the federal government, and Roosevelt through the post office program wanted the American populace to reimagine what the role of government could be in people’s lives. In that way he reflected the progressive ideals he had admired in his relative Theodore Roosevelt. Historians have noted the influence Teddy Roosevelt had on FDR though at the time it was taken for granted and not much commented on. FDR emerged from the shadow of his famous kinsman while juggling the Great Depression and WWII, events unprecedented in American history (as well as FDR’s four terms in office). But the progressive movement’s concern over the rise of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in which Roosevelt came of age, did have both positive and negative attributes. On the one hand progressives tended to believe immigrants needed to assimilate into mainstream culture more quickly, though it should be noted their concern was more pragmatic, wanting to promote citizenship and good government, rather than a symptom of prejudice. It should be noted too, that Dutch was the predominate language of the Hudson Valley well into the nineteenth century, as the eighth president of the United States Martin Van Buren (1782–1862), who was a Hudson Valley native, spoke fluent Dutch and English as a second uncomfortable language. It took generations not years for many to assimilate in America yet history, and local history in particular, was seen as a social cohesive in both the Hudson-Fulton Celebration and the New Deal Treasury programs. Historian Roger Panetta states that the Hudson-Fulton Celebration:

was a great embrace of diversity of class and ethnicity, which he [Governor Hughes] hoped would be deepened. He believed it would reconnect citizens with neglected local history and bind diverse Americans to place and country.[19]

Ultimately, the new mass media such as radio and motion pictures would unite Americans culturally in the 1930’s where civic festivities and governmental programs failed. Roosevelt would have one foot firmly in the realm of radio with his famous Fireside Chats, but his other was located in the Progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as policies concerning the Treasury’s architect and art programs would look to provide a sense of social cohesion that was in many ways an invention or secular myth of an idealized American past.[20]

Franklin Roosevelt would continue his whole life to be interested in local history. A few years after the Hudson-Fulton Celebration he would become a founding member of the Dutchess County Historical Society in 1914, and when he was planning his presidential library he had one room set apart for the county historical society itself. During what could be considered his “Polio Years,” FDR became most active in local history. From 1926 to 1931 he was the town historian of Hyde Park and had published in 1928 the Records of the Town of Hyde Park: 1821 – 1875. Roosevelt was also an avid collector and the many books, maritime themed memorabilia, and pieces of artwork reflected his interest in the Hudson Valley and his colonial Dutch forbearers. His presidential library holds almost nine hundred titles on the Hudson Valley. One of these book in particular, John Lothrop Motley’s[21] History of the United Netherlands from the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year’s Truce 1609 published in 1867, would help start what art historian Annette Stott has termed “Holland Mania.”[22]

Stott writes that in 1903 the Ladies Home Journal proclaimed Holland the new Motherland of the United States, and the source of America’s political and cultural roots. The journal’s editor Edward Bok was a proponent of this theory as shown in this excerpt from his article “The Mother of America” -

the men who founded New York were not Englishmen, but largely Hollanders: that the Puritans who settled Plymouth had lived twelve years in Holland: that the Puritans who settled elsewhere in Massachusetts had all their lives been exposed to a Dutch influence: that New Jersey, as well as New York, was settled by the Dutch West India Company: That Connecticut was given life by Thomas Hooker, who came from a long residence in Holland: that Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, was a Dutch scholar: and that William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, came of a Dutch mother.[23]

One could imagine this was music to the ears of the Roosevelts, and especially to an up and coming FDR. In fact, Holland Mania occurred roughly between 1890 and 1920, a time when he was moving from adolescents to mature adult. The two primary ingredients of Holland Mania were revisionist history and visual images, both pertinent in context with the Treasury’s art and building programs.

Another work by Motley entitled The Rise of the Dutch Republic was considered the seminal work on Dutch History until the twentieth century and is the text from which the revisionist aspect of Holland Mania is drawn. Motley had a romantic style and his work describes a Dutch Republic declaring its independence from an evil and oppressive Spain – “Was it necessary that many generations should wade through this blood in order to acquire for their descendants the blessings of civil and religious freedom?” Throughout the text Motley writes from an American perspective, outlining the history of Holland from the times of the Romans to the sixteenth century with an undercurrent that “we have seen it ever marked by one prevailing characteristic, one master passion—the love of liberty, the instinct of self-government.” The Dutch interpretation of American history did not completely replace the British version, but it did alter concepts of American identity and methods of portraying it. In essence, Dutch ancestry became more patriotic. Collecting Dutch artifacts and Dutch paintings became fashionable. FDR’s art collection included works of Dutch themes by American artists such as John Sartain, who worked in the Netherlands during the height of Holland Mania. At its heart, behind the painting of windmills and the high stakes investment in Dutch masters, what Americans were drawn to most was the celebration of small-town life, the neighborliness, and a simplicity of a sentimentalized preindustrial Holland. The idyllic setting of tradesman and yeoman farmers of northern European protestant stock, contrasted sharply with the rampant industrialization and the tenement dwelling immigrants of the present. The love of all things Dutch also included genealogical societies, organizations whose pursuits fitted that of the Dutch proud Roosevelt family perfectly.[24]

Theodore Roosevelt would make a pilgrimage after his presidency to the Netherlands in 1909, visiting Delft and paying his respects to the martyr of Dutch independence, William the Silent. TR would state that “I come from a great free Republic to the home of my forefathers, of which it may be said, that they were among the very first, to establish freedom as we now understand the word.” But this idealized heritage would be reflected across America from different perspectives through the Treasury programs under FDR, forgetting the negative and embracing an unreal narrative of American history. As Cynthia Koch, former director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum writes:

Nineteenth-century Americans who admired the Dutch found it easy to overlook that the wealth of the great Dutch merchants derived from the African slave trade and brutal colonization in Asia and South America. Instead, they saw antecedents for their own burgeoning middle class society. Even better, as a source for American cultural identity, the Netherlands’ worldwide empire augured well—this being the era of Manifest Destiny—for an eventual empire for the United States.[25]

Both Teddy Roosevelt and FDR would join the Holland Society, the hereditary genealogical society of male descendants of early Dutch New Yorkers. The Holland Society acted as a vehicle for a few projects FDR would see through to publication in the 1920’s and 30’s. Roosevelt had first started to write a screenplay on John Paul Jones and a history of the United States in 1924, neither of which were completed but fragments of these works give us an insight into a historian who challenged the status quo. Writing about “firsts” such as Henry Hudson and the settling of the east coast in general, Roosevelt would write –

What a ridiculous assumption to teach that Henry Hudson in 1609 was the first to enter the river that bears his name; or that Chesapeake Bay was first seen by the Virginia colonists in 1607; or that the Pilgrims were the first to see Cape Cod in 1620.[26]

Roosevelt would hypothesize that French and Spanish traders were in the areas earlier. This observation shows an individual with a grasp of historiography beyond what is represented in the New Deal policies concerning architecture and art, highlighting that he was a politician first and a historian second. But during this time period when he was unable to participate in politics he proposed a two volume project to The Holland Society, in which he wanted to document the vanishing heritage of the Hudson Valley. The results were two books: Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 (1929) by Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, and Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York (1936) by Rosalie Fellows Bailey.[27]

Franklin Roosevelt would write the introduction to both texts and in Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 his introduction is dated 1928 from Hyde Park, and begins again as in the Rhinebeck speech harking back to his childhood:

The Genesis of my interest in Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 lies in the    destruction of a delightful old house in Dutchess County, New York, when I was a small boy; for, many years later, in searching vainly for some photograph or drawing of that house, I came to realize that such dwellings of the colonial period in New York as had stood until the twentieth century were fast disappearing before the march of modern civilization and that soon most of them would be gone.[28]

The house mentioned by Roosevelt may well be the Kip House, for which a photograph was eventually found but not easily. A history of the Kip House was included in Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 along with the only known photograph of the river estate as seen below:


The southern (right) end of the house here shown was built in 1701 (widely dated as c.1700) by Hendrick Kip at Kipsbergen (now part of Rhinebeck), Dutchess County. The central and northern portions were additions made probably in the eighteenth century, while roofs, doors, windows and shutters were alterations of still later date. In recent years the house was burned (c.1910), and only ruined walls are    now standing. The plate was made from a photograph obtained through the courtesy of Mrs. Theodore de Laporte of Rhinebeck, NY. The property is variously known as the Kip and Beekman house (sometimes as the Heermance house).[29]




Plate XIII Rudolph Stanley-Brown, pencil and ink, Rhinebeck Post Office, gift for FDR (FDRL).[30]


The Rhinebeck post office has been described as the most “picturesque” of the New Deal Hudson Valley buildings. The president wanted only to reproduce the original section of the Kip House, which led to some windows being reproduced sixteen by sixteen pane with wooden sashes. He was willing to change the sloping front porch roof so that it covered the entire porch, adding to the unique roof with clipped gabled ends. The roof is composed of asphalt shingles which gives the impression of the original wooden shingles. The main ingredient of Dutch Colonial architecture is also prevalent in the use of natural Hudson Valley field stone. Concerning the interior, FDR wanted the building to resemble as closely as possible an eighteenth century style. This included paneled walls to look like a colonial parlor, and hand hewn beamed ceilings.[31]

Roosevelt was also interested in the architecture as a way to understand his cultural heritage, writing “that which has interested me in this survey even more than the collection of architectural data has been the information as to the manners and customs of the settlers of the valley.” He noted that people tended to think of “our forebears” as livings a life of ease in large houses, but that the truth of the matter was “that the mode of life of the first settlers of New Netherlands and of their immediate descendants was extremely simple.” This simplicity of design, in combination with the natural field stone of the Hudson Valley would be the common denominator in all of FDR’s building projects.[32]

Roosevelt’s first building project would also be his first experiment with Dutch Colonial architecture. Springwood, the family’s Hyde Park country house had been built around 1826, and completed remodeled into an Italian villa when James Roosevelt purchased the property in 1867. This style did not suit FDR’s taste, as he was already planning to redesign the home as early as 1903. Additions and alterations to Springwood took place in 1915 and continued throughout 1916. In a rare disagreement between mother and son, Sara Roosevelt wanted a brick and stucco exterior, but Roosevelt won the debate and his mother paid the extra costs of having the wings built of native fieldstone. Springwood after the remodeling was a hybrid of both Georgian and Hudson River Dutch. The next project would be Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill. According to Marion Dickerman, one of the women along with Eleanor and Nancy Cook who would stay there, it was FDR’s idea to build a cottage by a stream a mile and a half east of Springwood. An argument over the design of Val-Kill highlights Roosevelt’s attitude toward revivalist structures. On a sheet of elevation studies FDR penciled in “flat top window! Please!” concerning the arching of windows, as Roosevelt was adamant that no “Italian” feature should dilute that of his Dutch Colonial design.[33]

He was then involved in his mother’s project to build the James Roosevelt Memorial Library. She had purchased a lot in Hyde Park in 1926 and the library was completed with field stone from properties FDR owned. Field stone was important to him in his Hudson Valley projects, and trouble developed over this in the construction of the Rhinebeck post office. When architect Rudolph Stanley-Brown and two engineers visited the Kip House site and found insufficient material to construct the building, word leaked back to FDR that they planned to quarry new stone. Thus, on April 25, 1938 Treasury Secretary Morgenthau called the Supervising Architect of the Office of the Supervising Architect Louis A. Simon.[34]

Morgenthau: The President of the United states is very much disturbed because he hears that the Rhinebeck Post Office—they’re not going to use old stone wall, that they’re planning to open up some stone quarries. And his instructions are that they should use old stone wall.

Simon: Well, Mr. Secretary, here’s what the situation is. We sent Stanley-Brown up there and he found that we could get quite a little stone from the old building that…

Morgenthau: Well, listen, you better write me a memo on it. And the President wants old stone wall.

Simon: Yes, I see how the thing came about. Mr. Shipley (Arthur Suckley)[35] who is the owner of the place, said that he’d rather not use the old French wall off his place, but there are plenty of more old stone walls all over Dutchess County.

Morgenthau: Well, are you going to use old stone wall?

Simon: Sure we are.

Morgenthau: Well, for God’s sake do, please.

Simon: Yes, we certainly are.

Morgenthau: And no new stone.

Simon: No.

Morgenthau: Well, the country is saved. O.K.

Simon: All right.[36]


Roosevelt would end his introduction to Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 by praising where houses were placed geographically in early Dutch New York, “in cosy places, back from the highway, down below a hill, far from a neighbor,” and most importantly “happy in their isolation.”[37]

For a person struggling to recover from polio, before the Great Crash of 1929, isolation on a social and governmental scale probably did reflect some aspects of FDR at the time of composition in 1928. Isolationism and individualism were two strongly embedded currents in American thought, against which he would have to fight in order to bring about the social cohesion needed to confront both the economic collapse of the 1930’s, and a world at war in the first half of the 1940’s. But in 1928, the prospect that he would never recover the ability to walk was maybe setting in and Republican control of the White House seemed seamless through the 1920’s. Herbert Hoover would be elected as one of the most popular presidents in recent history. Everything changed in October of 1929 with the beginning of the Great Depression, and as the days of the week were given the adjective “black” Hoover steadily fell from grace. When his administration needed public works construction to ease unemployment they looked to the one department with an infrastructure already in place to start projects immediately - the Office of the Supervising Architect.[38]

The Office of the Supervising Architect (1852 –1939) was responsible for erecting thousands of federal structures, which, along with the post offices, included customs houses, federal courthouses, marine hospitals, mints, and many large federal offices. The United States Constitution included two provisions that established a legal basis for a federal building program. Article 1, Section 8 states that Congress had the authority “to establish Post Offices and post Roads,” as well as “to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings.” The responsibility for federal design and composition fell to the Treasury Department because of collection and administrative tasks related to the new nation’s customs houses and marine hospitals, which required federal revenues. The Office of the Supervising Architect itself would eventually emerge under the auspices of the Treasury Department to carrying out post office and non-military federal construction during the rapid growth of the nation’s urban and governmental institutions in the 1850’s.[39]

The Hoover administration first faced the tremendous economic and social problems created by the Great Depression with trepidation, as it truly was a “first” in its magnitude and its length. America had in the past considerable economic panics and downturns, but nothing on the scale which now faced a country where every citizen was somehow affected. President Hoover early in his administration imagined some sort of voluntary action on the part of the private sector, where corporations and the wealthy would help the suffering and starving public. He named this unsuccessful synthesis “volunteerism.” Eventually, Hoover did initiate both public works efforts and federal programs to curtail the 20% unemployment found in the last year of his presidency. Under Hoover, the Supervising Architect would change from its function in the 1920’s as a bureau providing accommodations for a federal government indifferent to public relief into a vehicle for providing jobs to unemployed workers in an attempt to lift the dire economic conditions prior to the 1932 election. In January of 1930, Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon wrote that every effort was being made to comply with Hoover’s wishes to expedite the construction work under the Supervising Architect. As an example Mellon wrote “for smaller buildings standard sets of drawings are being utilized with such modifications as are required by topography of sites and service facilities,” with the intention that standardized designs would speed up construction contracts. The results were not as grand as Mellon’s vocabulary. Everything would change when Roosevelt took office. He immediately instructed all expenditures stopped for public building projects until his administration had formulated a national program for public works and unemployment relief.[40]

After his inauguration in 1933 FDR looked to ease unemployment, and to alleviate unemployment among American architects in particular with the post office building program. Treasury Secretary Morgenthau and Postmaster General Farley vigorously worked with the president to build over eleven-hundred post offices. Since the inception of federal buildings in the early Republic there had always been a conversation concerning architectural symbolism, a discussion revolving around what was suitable architecture for a federal building. Architectural styles would change with different periods, but when FDR took office an outline was drafted to guide the Office of Supervising Architecture in its design process, which was a complete break from Hoover’s assembly line approach. It stated that all federal buildings should be:

(1) of simple governmental character in consonance with the region in which they are located and the surroundings of the specific sites; (2) materials shall be such as to require no excessive maintenance; and (3) the building shall be of sufficient capacity to reasonably meet the needs of the Federal Government as may be anticipated for a ten- year period.[41]

This initial general policy would be elaborated on later given the decision to reject formulaic design types; rather the architects would design buildings that reflected the personality of the locality –

Architectural traditions, as well as the utilization of natural or manufactured products of   the vicinity, are given every practicable consideration. Thus, in New England will be found examples of Colonial architecture with exterior facing of brick or stone; in the Southwest, many of the buildings designed for that locality will reflect the Spanish   influence in elevation and materials; and in sections of more recent traditions, buildings of contemporary character have been designed[42]

It can be assumed that FDR’s personal architectural credo did shine through in the philosophy of the post office building program. Roosevelt is unmistakably present in the wording; his passion for local history and his preference for localized architectural design were the foundation of the New Deal post office building program.[43]

In his Rhinebeck speech Roosevelt mentioned that he wanted to construct buildings “that ought to be good, as far as we can tell, for all time to come.” In a sense this line of thought could apply to many of the New Deal programs such as Social Security, The Fair Labor Standards Act 1938 (creating for the first time a federal minimum wage and prohibited the exploitation of minors), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), all of which are in existence today, though they came from the effort to provide relief and reform during the Great Depression. FDR looked to the past and the conditions of the present, in which to create a federal government that has been good, as far as American citizens can tell, and should be for as long as they followed the blue print of the political architect who revolutionized a government while preserving its democratic essence.

The symbolism of a building though is limited in its ability to tell a detailed historical narrative, but an old adage tells us a picture or painting is worth a thousand words. Frances V. O’Connor writes in the introduction to her essay collection The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs –

Art in America did not always flourish as it appears to do today. Indigenous artistic expression was incredibly narrow and conservative at the time the market crashed in 1929. Whether one listens to Mrs. McMahon describe the purile contents of provincial museums, or Jacob Kainen the repressive hegemony of the etching societies, or Mrs. Gavert the essential irrelevance of art at the early 20th Century Fairs, one cannot escape the reality that something very vital—indeed, something revolutionary—happened to American culture during the 1930’s.[44]

To be sure, America did not have a sustained tradition of public investment in fine art. Social art, such as murals, were generally commissioned as a form of mass media. The success of a few industries in the 1920’s led to a mural revival, which lost its steam as funds for unique advertising evaporated in the early years of the Great Depression. The corporate artist was completely bound to the whims and demands in the style and subject matter of their murals by the private patron. This paradigm was not overly attractive to many artists, who felt commissioned mural art was at odds with the modern philosophy of fine arts in general, especially since the rise of the avant-garde as church and state arts had declined in patronage since the nineteenth century. It is an interesting question then, how the Treasury Arts programs and the WPA's Federal Art Project managed to produce over 200,000 pieces of art collectively by 1943? The formulation and administration of these programs can be traced back to three individuals who helped FDR create the New Deal arts programs: George Biddle,[45] Edward Bruce,[46] and Eleanor Roosevelt.[47]

Not everyone was completely pessimistic about the condition of the art world early in the Great Depression; George Biddle was one artist who viewed a silver lining in the economic collapse’s impact on fine arts – an erosion of artistic elitism. Art historian Karal Ann Marling relates masterfully the details of two separate events on May 9, 1933 that directly affected the Treasury’s art programs, and in effect, shaped what would be featured in the Rhinebeck post office murals. Marling writes, “the promise of cultural rebirth from the ashes of despair—the promise of a democratic, public, people’s art of mural painting—glimmered before the eyes of George Biddle.” Biddle, who was more of an acquaintance than confidant of Roosevelt, since they attended the Groton School and Harvard College together, would write a letter on a May day in 1933 hoping to create a new revolutionary partnership between artists and government. His letter marks a real “first” in the process of New Deal art patronage. Biddle began his letter to FDR:

There is a matter which I have long considered and which some day might interest your     administration. The Mexican artists have produced the greatest national school of mural painting since the Italian Renaissance. Diego Rivera tells me that it was only possible because Obregon allowed Mexican artists to work at plumber’s wages in order to express on the walls of the government buildings the social ideals of the Mexican revolution. The younger artists of America are conscious as they never have been of the social revolution that our country and civilization are going through; and they would be very eager to express these ideals in a permanent art form if they were given the governments cooperation. They would be contributing to and expressing in living monuments the social ideals that you are struggling to achieve. And I am convinced that our mural art with a little impetus can soon result, for the first time in our history, in a vital national expression.[48]

Roosevelt was interested in his old friend’s suggestion, but understandably hesitant. Starting in 1920 Alvaro Obregon, the president of Mexico from 1920 to 1924, funded public murals that were predominantly Marxist interpretations of contemporary events. The question of subject matter was of the highest concern to FDR when considering launching a public art program in America. He did not want revolutionary themes painted across the country, when the county itself was perilously ripe for radical politics. Roosevelt only had to look to the other event on the day dated on Biddle’s letter to reaffirm his trepidation.[49]

May 9, 1933 was the day John D. Rockefeller Jr. ordered the destruction of Diego Rivera’s mural for the newly constructed Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller was concerned by a portrait of Lenin in the work prominently “guiding the exploited masses toward a new social order based on the suppression of classes…in contrast to the war, unemployment, starvation, and denigration of capitalist disorder.” Nelson Rockefeller’s words of regret concerning Rivera’s mural mirrored the concerns of the Roosevelt administration, that the “piece is beautifully painted…if it were in a private house, it would be one thing, but this mural is in a public building and the situation, therefore, is quite different.” In the 1930’s governments under fascist and communist control, and even Marxist leaning countries like Mexico, would portray through mural art the contemporary conditions and ideologies of the present to persuade the populace to follow them into the future. There was also the mural school of Thomas Hart Benson, called Regionalism or social realism, which looked to portray contemporary subjects, but there was concern in the mural program to not focus on the conditions of flux and confusion which were the overriding realities of the time. In contrast, the federal arts program in general, notes Olin Dows, would look to local history for a way to imagine a better future in spite of present conditions. The Treasury art programs then, reflected what we have already seen with the Supervising Architects building program: a president firmly at the helm of his country, leading a dedicated crew through the rough waters of the Great Depression, confidently raising moral as they all entered into the uncharted waters of the New Deal government, guided by the light of his Hudson Valley heritage and personal philosophy as a local historian.[50]

Roosevelt, who loved the sea and was an avid collector of all things naval, would have heard the ancient sailor’s proverb “a captain is only as good as his crew.” Olin Dows, a New Deal administrator, the mural artist who completed the paintings in the Rhinebeck post office, was most importantly, in an attempt to gain insight into FDR and the New Deal, a native son of the Hudson Valley. Dows grew up in the idyllic lifestyle of the privileged Hudson Valley “River Family.” Dows’ father, Tracy Dows, was the son of a wealthy New York grain merchant and his mother, Alice Olin, was a descendant of Judge Robert R. Livingston (1718 – 1775), who lived with her family at “Glenburn” a river-family estate in Rhinebeck. Glenburn had been handed down though marriage since the Beekman Patent of 1697. Dows' father bought 500 acres around the Glenburn estate’s 60 acres and constructed Fox Hollow, “his grander version of Washington’s Mount Vernon” built in an “imposing” colonial style.[51]

Dows was exposed to painting at a young age as his family inherited, commissioned, and collected artwork. In addition, Dows was tutored in drawing by C.K. Chatterton of Vassar College, who is known as a figure in the twentieth century realist movement. Dows attended St. Mark’s School outside Boston at twelve and was committed to painting as a vocation already at this time; he then enrolled at Harvard in 1922 where he stayed for only two years before transferring to Yale Art School for another two years of training. At Yale Dows studied under Eugene Savage, a “then renowned mural painter,” that could be seen as leading to Dows’ enthusiasm to paint murals himself a decade later. Graduating in 1927 Dows then completed his formal study with a year at the Student League in New York. Teaching at the Student League in New York at this time was Thomas Hart Benton, who would be at the forefront of the social realism mural movement, and would look to the usable present in his work. Jackson Pollack would be Benton’s most famous student, and like Dows, worked as an artist for the federal arts program during the late 1930’s. In 1930, Dows “like many artists of his generation was attracted to the culture and art of modern Mexico, and his paintings, prints, and screens on Mexican themes were favorably reviewed.” Dows was an artist concerned “with visual properties of line, form, and color, but he was also an educator.” Politically, he was not an extremist, and did not join the school of left-wing leaning social realism. The famous author Thomas Wolfe, who portrayed a young Dows as the character Joel Pierce in Of Time and the River, would describe his political thought in 1927 as “a Bertrand Russell Socialist.” Dows thought of Roosevelt as being like “the great Americans of the eighteenth century,” with a strong sense of social consciousness and sense of community. When Dows heard of the New Deal arts program, he did not hesitate to go to work for a family friend he had known since childhood – Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But like many Hudson River estate families they were more than just friendly neighbors, they were in many instances related. In fact, FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Olin Dows, and Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (a personal friend to the president and resident of Rhinebeck who played a role in the post office’s design) were all related to each other from ancestors depicted in Dows’ Rhinebeck murals.[52]

A question is often raised as to why these individuals, such as FDR and Olin Dows who were never in want for anything money could buy, were so committed to ending the suffering of the poor in America. To put it simply – they were the children of privilege, they went to elite colleges, they were at the top of the social order, yet they dedicated their lives to helping others through the unprofitable career choice of the public servant. Historian Robert S. McElvaine titles one of his chapters “The Lord of the Manor: FDR.” It is appropriate in the context of Roosevelt’s Dutch New York ancestry, but also in trying to define how the president and public viewed the paradox of his wealth and politics. McElvaine states that one of the main differences between America and Europe was that America lacked an ancient influential landed aristocracy. He points to this European nobility as acting as a check between the industrialists’ exploitation of the common people. Citing a “sense of noblesse oblige led to a degree of paternalistic care,” and that the social welfare laws of Europe pre-dated those in America by thirty to fifty years because of the efforts of this aristocracy to check the power of the new rich, and to provide through government the care for the common people they were unable to supply themselves. McElvaine make the point that it is important in the study of FDR to understand that:

Although the United States lacked a powerful class of aristocrats, it did possess certain individual patricians of great influence. The Roosevelt family is, perhaps, the best example of this limited American aristocratic paternalism. Theodore Roosevelt was a leading figure in the new paternalistic, nationalistic liberalism of the Progressive era. His relative, Franklin, brought those ideas to fruition.[53]

This paternalistic and compassionate worldview in addition to his able stewardship of the Republic through the Great Depression and WWII, may explain why FDR has been both one of the most fondly remembered and respected of past presidents,. Since he did not consider himself one of America’s new rich, like the Vanderbilts for example, he was able to criticize this class without hesitation, as in this letter dated from 1939 –

These millionaires, are a funny crowd. They are perfectly willing to go along with lip service to broad objectives, but when you ask them to help put them into effect by any form of practical means, they howl in opposition and decline to suggest any other course.[54]

Another factor that may have played into FDR’s governing style was the challenges of the paralysis from polio which changed him in many ways. Up through the 1920’s Roosevelt had succeeded in his pursuits almost effortlessly, after his illness his aristocratic stoicism in the face of hardship was put to the test. Ultimately, Roosevelt’s suffering may have broadened his sense of stewardship into a place of “a more genuine sense of compassion.” Frances Perkins would write of the metamorphosis which occurred in the future president during his attempts at recovery, “the man emerged, completely warmhearted, with humility of spirit, and a deeper philosophy. Having been to the depth of trouble, he understood the problems of people in trouble.” Roosevelt would recruit those who shared his belief that to be American was not only to profit from the system, but to give back more in citizenship than to take. His choice of Olin Dows and Edward Bruce are examples of why the Treasury’s art program was so successful, in that many of those working for the New Deal were in many ways selfless and passionate about the New Deal themselves.[55]

Dows states in his memoir, “I find it difficult here, as elsewhere in this article, to convey the sense of hope, excitement, and enthusiasm that the early New Deal days inspired,” but a look at the Treasury’s various arts programs reveals that the results of this initiative produced tangible public relief. There were four major art programs implemented during the Roosevelt Administration, and “human economic relief was the motive behind all the New Deal’s art programs.” Dows would work for three programs which could be termed Treasury programs because they were administered by the Treasury Department: the Public Works of Art Program or PWAP (1933 – 1934), the Treasury Relief Art Project or TRAP (1935 – 1939), and the Section of Painting and Sculpture which was later renamed the Section of Fine Arts or just the Section (1934 – 1943). The fourth New Deal arts program was the Work Progress Administrations Federal Art Project, the largest arts programs but one not under the auspices of the Treasury.[56]

Employed first with the short lived PWAP and then the Section; Dows would work closely in the early to mid-1930’s with the director of both programs, Edward Bruce. Bruce in Dows’ opinion personified the spirit of the New Deal. A former Columbia football star and an honor graduate from that University’s Law School, Bruce though did not settle on law and instead pursued a variety of interests including owning the Manila Times in the Philippines. He would finally settle in as an artist and was making a comfortable living from his art work when he came to Washington to become involved in the art programs. Dows became friendly with Bruce when they met visiting the former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon’s apartment to view the art collection. Dows also writes of the first meeting of the Treasury art program in 1933, which included many museum directors and important people in the field of art, as well as Eleanor Roosevelt sitting at the table from which Bruce was directing the meeting, “knitting steadily,” and every once in a while adding to a remark or question. In 1935 Dows was appointed Chief of the Treasury Relief Art Program or TRAP, and would stay in this position till 1938.[57]

TRAP was by far the smallest New Deal artist relief program, employing about 446 people of whom 75% were on relief. But a smaller department had some benefits to the artists it employed as Dows states that “ours was considered a privileged program… being small, it could afford to be considerate and flexible.” Many of the jobs done by TRAP were similar to those of the Section, primarily post office murals. Dows as director would search out buildings either new or old that possessed optimal spaces for murals and sculptures, but lacked the funding for building decoration.[58]

In only one instance did Dows meet with the “old friend of my family” in a professional manner as a New Deal administrator. When the funding for TRAP was in jeopardy in 1936 Dows met with FDR:

I called Mrs. Roosevelt and explained to her what was disturbing me. She asked me to lunch the next day and said she would try and let me see the President. When I went into his oval office, I showed him a dozen photographs of work that was under way. Marvin McIntyre, his secretary hovered nervously in the background, fearing, I expect, that I would waste the President’s time. FDR obviously had other things on his mind, but he looked through the photographs and listened to what I had to say. He asked a few questions, nodded his head and said, ‘I see.’ Scrawled an undecipherable hieroglyphic on a chit of paper about the size of a hat check, he told me to give it to the Director of the Budget. The matter was settled, the job completed as planned; our program kept unspent funds, and we even got supplementary appropriations later without much difficulty.[59]

Eleanor Roosevelt, as can be seen was the best ally a person could have on issues that concerned FDR and his administration. After five busy years Dows would step down from his government position and take an extended vacation visiting his sister in Egypt in 1938; on returning he would trade the trappings of the bureaucrat and pick up again his calling as an artist in the form of the post offices murals he had so recently been in charge of commissioning.

The federal arts program Dows writes, “favored subjects that would be intelligible and inspiring to the people who daily used the buildings,” and would also focus on local history and scenery but above all should avoid “controversy.” Dows felt that “our knowledge of history comes largely through art,” and that art “helps form and shape our beliefs” to “help us to understand our past, to integrate our belief in the present, and to strengthen our faith in the future.” He stated in 1938 that “one of the social problems confronting the U.S. is an undigested mixture of races.” In an attempt to highlight the process of “Americanization,” Dows would highlight the various origins of Rhinebeck’s population through periods of colonial and American history. Each perceived ethnic group was assimilated seamlessly from the original Native American residents through various periods of immigration, representing people of Dutch, English, Huguenot, Palatine, African, Scottish, Italian, Irish, and Walloon origin. But it should be noted that during the colonial period of America “all the participants came from regions where boundaries were in negotiation and definitions were in progress” and that “(the colonist’s) own identifications was with their locality or with some larger, more amorphous entity.” In essence, Dows strove to show his version of humanity, the colonial and more modern, the poorest and the richest, but not in division or strife. They are depicted in their work, worship, and leisure, in what Dows described as “those simple activities which bind our lives to the past and to each other.” Slavery is also represented when many murals did not include the institution, especially in the northeast where its existence in colonial America was often overlooked. Dows wanted to include details about the slavery depicted in his mural, but he was ultimately overruled on this uncomfortable subject which did not fit into the mold of Dutch New York nostalgia. It is a small but telling testament, to both Dows and Roosevelt as local historians, that slavery was included in these murals when it just of easily could have been excluded.[60]

One does not have to search far to realize that Olin Dows’ viewpoints on society, in conjunction with the New Deal post office project, mirror almost identically FDR’s belief that public architecture and artwork should reflect the re-creation of common links to an earlier time and place when Americans had encountered great obstacles and overcome them. Or the Progressive ideals that influenced Roosevelt, as in Governor Hughes speech in Catskill during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration that public events and local history in general would “bind diverse Americans to place and country.”

But as mass media would create social hegemony more effectively than any New Deal program, so too would World War II solidify the place of federal government in the lives of Americans. Everything changed with the coming of WWII: Eleanor lost the favor she used to have with the president as he focused all his remaining energies on the war effort, the Treasury’s art programs would die with their creator and caretaker in 1943 when Edward Bruce passed away, the Office of the Supervising Architect would be moved out of the Treasury Department in 1939 and slowly cease to exist as it was reconfigured and folded into other programs, Olin Dows would serve during WWII as a sergeant in the European war theater as an artist for the Army Engineers and would return to live out a long life in the town he loved, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt would become as has been said often – the greatest casualty of the war.

The Rhinebeck post office is a curious building in the town of Rhinebeck, which for one day was the center of the New Deal movement. It stands today as a testament to the herculean effort Roosevelt and his administration put forth to relieve the nation of the heavy burden of the Great Depression through art and architecture. Finally, the post office also represents the masses of American citizens who helped the president shoulder the burden of an unprecedented economic collapse, while at the same time guiding an isolationist leaning country into the inevitability of a world war of unimaginable proportion. In the end, FDR, with the citizens he cared for so deeply, and them him – would not allow Atlas to shrug. Though their troubled times were of a colossal weight.




Works Cited

Bok, Edward. "The Mother of America." Ladies Home Journal, October 1903: 3.
Dows, Olin. Murals in the Rhinebeck Post Office, with maps, a description of the murals and notes on the town. Rhinebeck: The Civic Club of Rhinebeck, 1940.
Dows, Olin. "The New Deal’s Treasury Art Program: A Memoir." In The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs, edited by Frances V. O’Connor, 11-49. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.
Kennedy, David M. Freedom From Fear: Tha American People in Depression and War 1929-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Koch, Cynthia. "Franklin Roosevelt’s "Dutchness"." In Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture, edited by Roger Panetta, 339 - 376. New York: Hudson River Museum, 2009.
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl. "International at the Creation: Early Modern American History." In Rethinking American History in a Global Age, edited by Thomas Bender, 103-122. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Lee, Antoinette J. Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect's Office. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Marling, Karal Ann. Wall-to-wall America : A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.
McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009.
Morgenthau, Henry. "Diary." Vol. Morgenthau Papers. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 1938.
O’Connor, Frances V., ed. The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972.
Panetta, Roger. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909." In Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture, edited by Roger Panetta, 301-338. New York: Hudson River Museum, 2009.
Reynolds, Helen Wilkenson. Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776. New York: Dover Publications, 1965.
Rhoads, William B. "Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture." New York History, 1978: 430-464.
Rhoads, William B. "Olin Dows: Art, History, and a Usable Past." In The Livingston Legacy, edited by Richard T. Wiles, 427-440. Annandale-on-Hudson: Bard College, 1987.
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. "History of the U.S." Vols. Family, Business, and Personal Affairs. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 1924.
—. "Presidential Address at the Dedication of the New Deal Post Office in Rhinebeck." Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, 1 1939, May.
—. "The Roosevelt Family in New Amsterdam before the Revolution." Vols. Family, Business, and Personal Affairs. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, n.d.
Schaefer, Paul. "Tracy Dows, Community Organizer." About Town , Winter 2009.
Stott, Annette. Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture. Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1998.
Thomas, Bernice L. The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley. New York: Purple Mountain Press, 2002.
White, Philip L. The Beekmans of New York in politics and commerce, 1647-1877. New York: New-York Historical Society under a grant from the Beekman Family Association, 1956.






Footnotes


 [1] Presidential Address at the Dedication of the New Deal Post Office in Rhinebeck, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[2] Farley would resign in 1940 in protest of FDR’s unprecedented third term as president and would head Coca-Cola International for over thirty years.
[3] Bernice L. Thomas, The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley (Fleischmanns: Purple Mountain Press, 2002), 7 & 64; Olin Dows, William Seabrook, and Chanler A. Chapman, Murals in the Rhinebeck Post Office (Rhinebeck: The Civic Club of Rhinebeck, 1940), unpaged.
[4] Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[5] Philip L. White, The Beekmans of New York In Politics and Commerce: 1647 – 1877 (New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1956) 73 & 122.
[6] Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[7] Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 (New York: Dover Publications, 1965), 419.
[8] Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[9] Cynthia Koch, “Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Dutchness,” in Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture, ed. Roger Panetta (New York: Hudson River Museum, 2009), 359; William B. Rhoads, “Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture,” in New York History (October, 1978), 446.
[10] Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[11] Karal Ann Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 7.
[12] Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[13] John Lloyd Wright (1892 – 1972) – besides being born to a famous father Wright invented Lincoln Logs in 1916.
[14] Thomas, The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 8.
[15]  Presidential Address, Poughkeepsie Star-Enterprise, May 1, 1939.
[16] Charles Evans Hughes (1862 – 1948) is an interesting character in New York and national politics, and as well his connection to the young Roosevelt during the celebration he would also be a prominent force during his presidency. Hughes was governor of New York, secretary of state, and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. As the Republican candidate for governor of New York in 1906, he narrowly beat the Democratic candidate, William Randolph Hearst. An unconventional politician, Hughes never actively sought office for himself. His nominations for governor of New York in both 1906 and 1908 were pushed upon him reluctantly at Republican conventions by President Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1916 Hughes was an obvious choice for the Republican presidential nomination, and he was nominated once again without any effort on his part. Hughes resigned from the Supreme Court only after the nomination had been secured. He lost a close election to Woodrow Wilson, being defeated by 13 electoral votes. In 1930 President Herbert Hoover nominated Hughes to serve as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During Roosevelt’s presidency, starting in May 1935 Hughes led a unanimous court in striking down three New Deal measures: the National Industrial Recovery Act (Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States), the Frazier-Lemke Act providing for relief of farm debtors (Louisville Joint Stock Land Bank v. Radford), and the Federal Home Owner's Loan Act of 1933 (Hopkins Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. Cleary).

Hughes also played a role in the defeat of Franklin Roosevelt's Court Reorganization Plan of 1937. He wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee indicating that the Court was not behind in its work. It was a devastating blow to the Roosevelt proposal. Robert H. Jackson, one of the president's aides in the Court fight, later noted that Hughes's letter "did more than any one thing to turn the tide in the Court struggle." But something did come of FDR’s efforts to shake up the Court, because in the next three years Hughes voted with the majority to uphold the constitutionality of other New Deal measures such as the Social Security Act of 1935, the Public Utilities Act of 1935, the Bituminous Coal Act of 1937, the revised Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Hughes resigned from the Supreme Court in July 1941. He died in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Note from: Betty Glad, "Hughes, Charles Evans,” American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000).
[17] Roger Panetta, “The Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909,” in Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture, ed. Roger Panetta (New York: Hudson River Museum, 2009), 334.
[18] Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The Roosevelt Family in New Amsterdam before the Revolution,” (December 1901, FDRL), Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.
[19] Panetta, “The Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909,” 335.
[20] David M. Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929 – 1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), for Theodore Roosevelts influence on FDR 3-4, 115, and 248, for Radio and Culture 228-230.
[21]  John Lothrop Motley (1814 – 1877) was a historian and diplomat, he was also a member of the Brahmin caste of New England. Motley entered Harvard in 1827. He was bright and had a facility for languages, especially German, but he was negligent in his studies and had to be suspended. Upon returning to Harvard he applied himself and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa before graduating with an A.B. in 1831.

In 1850 he chose for his historical subject the early Dutch Republic. Similarities between the struggles of the Dutch provinces against Catholic Spain and those of the American colonies against Britain influenced his theme. A memorable visit to another Brahmin historian, William Hickling Prescott, who was writing a history of the reign of Philip II of Spain, encouraged Motley to undertake his project and to make use of Prescott's library.

The three-volume The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856) received immediate popular and critical acclaim (by 1857 15,000 copies had been sold in London). Praised by scholars on the Continent and soon translated into Dutch, German, and Russian, the history was commended by important historical writers in America, including Washington Irving, Bancroft, and Prescott.

Motley enjoyed the social life of Boston and his membership in the Saturday Club with Oliver Wendell Holmes (later his biographer), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louis Agassiz, James Russell Lowell, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Prescott. His newly won fame, according to Holmes, made Motley a citizen of the world. Although he would return to America for brief visits, Motley spent his mature years abroad. He died near Dorchester, England in 1877.
Note from: Donald Darnell, "Motley, John Lothrop,” American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000).
[22] Koch, “Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Dutchness,” 348-349; Annette Stott, Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture (Woodstock: Overlook Press, 1998), 11.
[23] Edward Bok, “The Mother of America,” Ladies Home Journal (October, 1903) 3.
[24] Koch, “Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Dutchness,” 344-345, 349; Annette Stott, Holland Mania: The Unknown Dutch Period in American Art & Culture, 78-80, 100.
[25] Koch, “Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Dutchness,” 344.
[26] FDR, “History of the U.S.,” (1924, FDRL), Family, Business, and Personal Affairs.
[27] Koch, “Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘Dutchness,” 345-346, 350.
[28] Helen Wilkenson Reynolds, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776 (New York: The Holland Society of New York, 1929), unpaged.
[29] Reynolds, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776, 419.
[30] Thomas, The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 56.
[31] Ibid., 57-59.
[32] Reynolds, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776, unpaged.
[33] Rhoads, “Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dutch Colonial Architecture,” 431-432
[34] Ibid., 436-439.
[35] Daisy Suckley proposed to her brother that he donate the stone, but he wished to be paid fifty cents per cubic yard. In her possession she had the stone lintel and the pane of glass saved from the fire, and she lent them to the post office asking only that they be kept inside rather than displayed outside the building.
Note from: Thomas, The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 61.
[36] Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Diary (1938, FDRL) Morgenthau Papers.
[37] Reynolds, Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley before 1776, unpaged.
[38] Antoinette J. Lee, Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect’s Office (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 238.
[39] Ibid., 5-6, 12, & 39.
[40] Kennedy,  Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929 – 1945, 82 & 87; Lee, Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect’s Office, 238, 248, 252-253.
[41] Lee,  Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect’s Office 262.
[42] Ibid., 263.
[43] Thomas, The Stamp of FDR: New Deal Post Offices in the Mid-Hudson Valley, 7 & 11; Lee, Architects to the Nation: The Rise and Decline of the Supervising Architect’s Office, 12. 
[44]  Frances V. O’Connor, The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972), 4.
[45] George Biddle (1885 – 1973), a member of the famous Biddle family of Philadelphia, was an artist who attended the Groton School in Massachusetts and Harvard College with FDR. Biddle's artistic development was interrupted by World War I, in which he fought in many battles, including that of the Marne, and was mustered out with the rank of captain in 1919.
           
From 1923 to 1926 he mingled with members of the art world's avant-garde and attended Gertrude Stein's famed salons. His close contact with French modernism and such movements as cubism, dada, and surrealism reinforced his inherent "Americanism" and his belief in the primacy of realism in art.

In 1928 Biddle traveled with Mexican artist Diego Rivera on a sketching tour of Mexico. After his Mexican trip, Biddle's work began to reflect a deeper interest in the social and political aspects of American life. In 1930 he constructed a house and studio at Croton-on-Hudson, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Note from: Martin R. Kalfatovic, “Biddle, George," American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000).
[46] Edward Bruce (1879 – 1943), though he enjoyed painting at a young age, he pursued a career in law and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1904. In 1923 Bruce gave up his career in law and business and began to paint, particularly landscapes.

In 1933 Bruce was appointed Chief of the newly established Public Works of Art Project, a federal government New Deal program within the U.S. Treasury Department, which employed artists to decorate numerous public buildings and parks. Though this federal program lasted less than a year, Bruce worked with Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., to establish the Treasury Department's Section of Painting and Sculpture in 1934 - later renamed the Section of Fine Arts in 1938. Bruce was appointed Director of the department and played a primary role in securing federal government support for American artists. In 1940 he was appointed to the Commission of Fine Arts by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Note from: Biographical Note, “Edward Bruce” Smithsonian Archive of American Art (research collections), Edward Bruce papers, 1902-1960.           
[47] Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, 5-9; Olin Dows, “The New Deal’s Treasury Art Program: A Memoir,” in The New Deal Art Projects: An Anthology of Memoirs, ed. Frances V. O’Connor (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1972), 12.
[48] Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, 31.
[49] Ibid., 30-31.
[50] Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: A Cultural History of Post-Office Murals in the Great Depression, 31, 91-92; Dows, “The New Deal’s Treasury Art Program: A Memoir,” 36.
[51] William B. Rhoads, “Olin Dows: Art, History, and a Usable Past,” in The Livingston Legacy, ed. Richard T. Wiles (Annandale-on-Hudson: Bard College, 1987), 427-428; Paul Schaefer, “Tracy Dows, Community Organizer,” About Town (Red Hook, NY) Winter 2009; Tracy Dows (1871 – 1937) passed away in London before the Rhinebeck post office project. After losing much of his fortune in the Great Depression he spent his last years remodeling and running the Beekman Arms, which is adjacent to the post office property.
[52] Rhoads, “Olin Dows: Art, History, and a Usable Past,” 428, 432-433.
[53] Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression: 1929-1941, (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2009), 95-96, 106.
[54] Ibid., 96.
[55] Ibid., 104-106.
[56] Dows, “The New Deal’s Treasury Art Program: A Memoir,” 11-12, 16.
[57] Ibid., 26.
[58] Ibid., 10, 12, 14-15, & 26.
[59] Ibid., 27-28.
[60] Karen Ordahl Kupperman, “International at the Creation: Early Modern American History,” in Rethinking American History in a Global Age, ed. Thomas Bender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 106; Rhoads, “Olin Dows: Art, History, and a Usable Past,” 431.

Jim Blackburn is a non-traditional student majoring in history at Bard College. He is an editor for Cyberwit and is the founder of South Jersey Underground magazine. He currently lives in the Village of Saugerties.




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