One of the most iconic images of the twentieth century is the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, seventy-five years ago this week. Like Robert E. Lee’s surrender to U.S. Grant in April 1865 the Missouri ceremony became known as the end of the conflict, which basically it was. Still, as with Appomattox eighty years previously, there were still armies in the field that had yet to surrender there in the Pacific. Less well known in the popular consciousness is the Japanese surrender the following day in the Philippines at Camp John Hay in Baguio. General Tomoyuki Yamashita and Admiral Denshichi Okochi surrendered just after noon and were then taken to a prison in Manila. That ceremony fell on Monday 3 September 1945, which also happened to be Labor Day.
Everyone understood the historical moment that was the Japanese surrender, but the war’s end was as much a beginning as an ending. The real work, on so many levels, lay ahead; great uncertainty, and even violence, starvation and chaos, remained. In her “My Day” column that appeared the same day as the Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Eleanor Roosevelt averred that “I do not think Labor Day has ever been as important as it is this year. Ordinarily we think of this day as merely a pleasant holiday which gives us a long weekend in which to enjoy our last bit of country air before going back to work in the city. It is a pleasant holiday, but its significance is far greater than that.”
Wherever you are, enjoy your day.
(image/U.S. Naval Historical Center)
Here are two very different images from the 1937 commemoration. Atop we see Eleanor Roosevelt with some of the 50,000+ who gathered on the White House lawn for the Easter Egg Roll. Below is an assemblage attending the annual Easter Sunrise Service, at which (unseen in the image) First Lady Roosevelt spoke. This year’s service is being live-streamed.
Despite the enormous challenges and anxieties of our present moment, take time to pause and reflect in this time of spring and renewal.
(images/Library of Congress)
I hope everyone’s weekend was good. Here was the scene yesterday at Federal Hall when Charles Starks spoke about the life and legacy of George F. McAneny. Few today know who McAneny was, but the public official and urban planner was one of the most influential figures New York City in the first half of the twentieth century. Among other things he helped turn Federal Hall into a national memorial. Starks did a good job capturing McAneny’s significance. Here we see the speaker showing an image of Robert Moses and his never-built Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. The reason that project never came to fruition was in part due to McAneny, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.
It was so good to be in front of the public again. There is nothing like that interaction with a live audience, especially a curious audience. There was a big turnout for Open House New York, with some coming from Westchester for the day to take in Federal Hall and other venues sponsoring Open House NY events in the downtown area. There were many good questions, many of which I was able to answer and some that I was not. That is always humbling. At the same time it is also unavoidable. When it comes down to it, we know very little.
I hope everyone’s summer is going well. I know I have gotten away from the blog a bit but I have been doing some summer things. I have also been trying to finish a book chapter about Eleanor Roosevelt. It is almost done and I’ll turn it in to the editor sometime later in the week. It proved a little difficult to manage because when I stated at Federal Hall n early June I pivoted heavily to the Early American Period. I have no regrets and have learned a great deal. It has given me a more holistic understanding of American History, especially as I try to make sense of our own historical moment. Still, it has been a bit difficult moving from one era back to the other.
I did want to make certain to pause and remember one of the most important figures of the Roosevelt Era: Marguerite Alice “Missy” LeHand, who died on this day seventy-five years ago in 1944. Ms. LeHand was born in Potsdam, New York and grew up in the working-class Boston suburb of Somerville. She entered the Roosevelts’ world in her mid-20s around the time Franklin ran unsuccessfully for the Vice Presidency in 1920. Marguerite stayed on and proved invaluable after Franklin contracted polio in August 1921; while Roosevelt was seeking in vain for a cure that would never come, Ms. LeHand worked on his behalf. She was part of the inner circle, hanging out on the houseboat in Florida and settling in to her own room at Warm Springs. Ms. LeHand was a charter member of Roosevelt’s Cuff Links Gang, the small circle of early advisors during that Vice Presidential run to whom he each gave a set of gold cufflinks with his initials engraved on one and the recipient’s engraved on the other. Technically she was his secretary but she was so much more than that; when Roosevelt assumed the presidency she was for all intents and purposes the White House chief-of-staff. Had she been a man more people would have appreciated the role she played in his administration.Throughout the long administration others came and went; Marguerite LeHand stayed.
She suffered a debilitatingly stroke in 1941 just as the United States was on the verge of entering the war. FDR had little time to attend to Ms. LeHand as much as he would have liked, but he and Eleanor did make sure her needs were taken care of. She convalesced n the White House but after starting a fire with a cigarette and burning herself significantly she was sent back to Massachusetts. Eleanor Roosevelt, Felix Frankfurter, James A. Farley, and Joe Kennedy were just a few who attended her funeral.
(photograph by Harris & Ewing via Library of Congress)
Summer has come full on. I was off today and had the windows open and fan on as I worked on an article I’m doing about Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve got about 400 in the books and hope to write another 400 or so this evening before declaring victory. I would be remiss if I did not pause and note that today, June 28, 2019, is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors. I don’t intend to write too much about it right now because there is already so much good reading out there today. For now I though I would emphasize the quickness and degree to which resistance to the treaty, especially its covenant for a League of Nations, had manifested itself even before the ink had dried.
One hundred years ago tonight the League for the Preservation of American Independence held a rally in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. One of the American Independence League’s leaders was Henry A. Wise Wood, an engineer and inventor who had been active in the Preparedness Movement with Theodore Roosevelt and others in the Great War’s early years before American entry into the conflict. Born in 1866, Wood was the son of three-time New York City mayor Fernando Wood. The League for the Preservation of American Independence enjoyed tremendous popularity and easily filled Carnegie Hall that night in protest against Wilson, the Versailles Treaty, and prospective League of Nations. A spinout crowd gathered outside on the sidewalk. Wood asked that the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt fill the hall.
TR had died almost six months previously but almost certainly would have opposed the League of Nations. One Roosevelt who did support it was Franklin, who when he ran for the vice-presidency in 1920 advocated for the League. FDR’s position may or may not have been opportunism based on loyalty to Wilson and the knowledge that, because he and running mate Jacob M. Cox would likely lose the election, he could take a position confident in never having to carry it out. Franklin D. Roosevelt did learn the lesson of the failures of Versailles however, and when he became commander-in-chief began pushing for what became the United Nations a quarter of a century later.
(image/Library of Congress)
Happy Easter, everyone. We’re out the door in a few minutes here to go to Mount Vernon.
It has turned into a beautiful weekend here in the Washington D.C. area after the hard rain and tornado that touched down in our vicinity Friday night. Yesterday I ventured to the National Portrait Gallery, one of my favorite cultural institutions. They had a stunning painting of “negro contralto,” as she was called in her time, Marian Anderson. Seeing the portrait reminded me that Ms. Anderson’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial was Easter Sunday 1939. Someone at the Portrait Gallery knew what they were doing; adjacent to her likeness was one of Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped arrange Ms. Anderson’s appearance on the National Mall after a local high school and the Daughters of the American Revolution both turned the singer’s representatives down.
Constitution Hall itself dated back a decade. First Lady Grace Coolidge used the same trowel that George Washington used to lay the cornerstone for the U.S. Capitol in 1793. Her successor, First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, opened DAR Constitution Hall when it opened a year later on April 19, 1929, ninety years ago this week. Now, ten years later, the organization was embroiled in controversy for turning Anderson away. That’s when Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes stepped in. Terrible as the episode was it was just as well in one respect: Constitution Hall has a capacity of 3,702, and the high school that turned her away only 1,000; a crowd of 75,000 turned out to see Ms. Anderson when she took the stage at 5:00 pm. Millions more listened on their radios.
An Easter performance at the Lincoln Memorial was appropriate, even poetic, for another reason: Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated on Good Friday 1865, something that more Americans would have realized in 1939 than probably do today. The Sunday after his mortal wounding was Easter Sunday, and religious leaders throughout the Union states worked his death and apotheosis as our nation’s secular saint into their Easter sermons.
(image/Library of Congress)
I hope everyone spring is going well. I made the mistake of wearing a flannel shirt when I went into the city yesterday; it was by far the warmest day of the year so far and I was sweating profusely by the time I returned home. I suppose it’s time to put the heavier stuff away. Here is an image taken seventy-four Aprils ago when the weather was turning warm. Margaret “Daisy” Suckley took this photograph of President Roosevelt at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia days before his death. Roosevelt and his entourage–sans Eleanor, who remained in Washington–had arrived in Georgia in the last days of March just before Easter, which fell on April 1. Roosevelt essentially had gone to Warm Springs to die and surrounded himself with many of the people who meant the most to him, including Lucy Mercer Rutherford, the woman with whom he had had an affair during the First World War.
It is interesting how Roosevelt surrounded himself with a coterie of women who remained loyal to him for much of his life. Certainly he and Eleanor loved and remained loyal to each other in a complicated way that only they themselves could understand, if even they themselves did understand. Who among us can say they comprehend their own marriage, let alone what happens behind others’ closed doors? A reason she probably stayed in Washington was a sense that either the president or first lady should remain in the capitol with the war and so much else going on.
There in Warm Springs that long-ago April Roosevelt was surrounded in his final days by a woman he loved (Mercer) and a woman who loved him (Suckley). It was a complicated set of circumstances, not least because Roosevelt was aided in the whole thing by his daughter Anna.
(image/FDR Presidential Library)
One of the biggest myths about Robert Moses is that he was so powerful that he managed to build whatever he wanted wherever he desired. In reality nothing could have been further from the truth; Moses worked within political and economic realities and more often than not had to change his plans to satisfy elected officials, citizens, insurance companies, and other stakeholders. One project dear to his heart was the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge. If you have never heard of it, that’s because it never got built. The bridge would have gone fro the Manhattan Battery to Brooklyn Heights.
It almost happened. Moses pushed the initiative through the myriad city agencies and managed to get Governor Herbert H. Lehman signed off on the measure. It took none other than President Franklin Roosevelt to quash the deal. It was a personal thing with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; they were New Yorkers who owned a house on East 65th Street, Franklin was briefly a Wall Street lawyer, and their Roosevelt ancestors had roots in the city dating back to the mid-seventeenth century.
Eighty years ago today, writing from far off Seattle in her April 5, 1939 “My Day” column, Eleanor wrote obliquely of Moses and his proposed bridge:
“I have a plea from a man who is deeply interested in Manhattan Island, particularly in the beauty of the approach from the ocean at Battery Park. He tells me that a New York official who is, without doubt, always efficient, is proposing a bridge 100 feet high at the river, which will go across to the Whitehall Building over Battery Park. This, he says, will mean a screen of elevated roadways, pillars, etc., at that particular point. I haven’t a question that this will be done in the name of progress, and something undoubtedly needs to be done. But isn’t there room for some considereation of the preservation of the few beautiful spots that still remain to us on an overcrowded island? After all, lower Manhattan at Battery Park is one of the gateways through which many of us leave and enter our country. These moments are important moments in our lives and the irritation of an eyesore perpetrated in the name of progress will be bad for the souls of many Americans.”
If you look at the rendering above, you see that the proposed bridge would have cut through the harbor directly north of Governors Island, still a major headquarters of the U.S. Army. Further north, in the East River, was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Besides ruining the beautiful views Mrs. Roosevelt speaks of, there were national security implications. And that was how the president and his Secretary of War, Harry H. Woodring, killed the thing, declaring the harbor too important for national security interests to have such a bridge cross through it. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was built instead.
(image/New York Preservation Archive Project)
Here is an extraordinary moment in twentieth century. The image depicts Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt with Madame Chiang Kai-shek at George Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon on February 22, 1943, seventy-six years ago today. As early as 1943–more than fifteen months before the invasion of Normandy, five months before the Allied offensive on Sicily, with North Africa hanging in the balance and the Japanese still largely in control of the Pacific–President Roosevelt was already thinking of what a post-Second World War world might look like. Roosevelt believed that China would become one of the world’s Great Powers in the years immediately after the war. This was not an unreasonably assumption; then and now China was the world’s most populous nation. That alone made that nation a potent force. Roosevelt had nonetheless convinced himself that he was something of a China expert, basing his belief on the Delano family’s ties to the country dating back nearly a century. His grandfather had been active in what was euphemistically called the China Trade, which in addition to legitimate business activity essentially meant the sale of opium.
Roosevelt’s naïveté led to some unfortunate policy choices but one might forgive the president for his views on China, whose internal and external politics were exceedingly complicated. For one thing the Japanese had committed human rights violations there on an unprecedented scale. The Rape of Nanking, human experiments, and the imposition of slave labor were just some of their depredations. It is no wonder that President Roosevelt extended Lend-Lease aid to China to the extent that he did. Complicating it all however was the internal struggle between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists. That was the real struggle playing out there. And that is the reason Madame Chiang Kai-shek visited the United States in early 1943. On February 18 she addressed a joint session of Congress, becoming the first Chinese person and first-ever woman ever to do so. Four days later this photo was taken on George Washington’s birthday at his Mount Vernon tomb, where she placed a wreath at Washington’s tomb.
Six years after this photo was taken Mao’s forces won the Civil War against Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. Roosevelt by that time had been gone for almost five years. Chiang Kai-shek lived until 1975 and his widow lived to be 106. She died in New York City in 2003.