Sunday 31 July 2016

Eleanor Roosevelt: My Day Column Addresses the Nation

Eleanor Roosevelt stamp courtesy 

Just as her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, calmed the nation with his fireside chats in the midst of the Second World War, Eleanor Roosevelt calmed the nation with her wise advice laid out in her column "My Day".  Six days a week, from 1935 to 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt typed the column on her typewriter, reaching millions of readers across America.  At the height of its popularity, "My Day" appeared in over 90 papers nation wide.

My Day:  The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936 to 1962 courtesy

In June of 1943, the First Lady tackled controversial issues like Civil Rights, commenting:  By the 1940's, Detroit already had a history of racial conflict.  Race riots had occurred in 1863 and as recently as 1941.  By the 1920's the city had become a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan...The industrial plants provided jobs but no housing.  White communities militantly guarded the dividing lines imposed by segregation throughout Detroit's history.  As a result, the city's 200,000 black residents were cramped into 60 square blocks on the East Side and forced to live under deplorable sanitary conditions.  Ironically, the ghetto was called Paradise Valley."

On July 14, 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed her views on Prohibition, stating:  "I was one of those who was very happy when the original prohibition amendment passed...But I came gradually to see that laws are only observed with the consent of the individuals..."

Detroit Police inspect a brewery during Prohibition courtesy

On December 8, 1941, the First Lady, reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, commented:  "The clouds of uncertainty and anxiety have been hanging over us for a long time.  The work for those who are at home seems to me to be obvious.  First, to do our own job, whatever it is, as well as we can possibly do it.  Second, to add to it, everything we can do in the way of civilian defense.  Now, at last. every community must go to work to build up protection from attack."

President Roosevelt's "A Date That Will Live Infamy" Speech courtesy

On October 29, 1947, regarding HUAC (The House on Un-American Activites Committee) investigating Hollywood, Eleanor Roosevelt said:  "One thing is for sure -- none of the arts flourishes under censorship and repression.  And by this time it should be evident that the American public is capable of doing its own censoring.  Certainly, the Thomas Committee is growing more ludicrous daily.  The picture of six officers ejecting a writer from the witness stand because he refused to say whether he is a Communist or not is pretty funny and I think before long we are all going to see how hysterical and foolish we have become."

Protesters march against impending incarceration of the Hollywood Ten circa 1950 courtesy

During the Second World War, the First Lady, a champion of childhood literacy, "urged parents to read aloud to their children as a way of bolstering family morale and maintaining an atmosphere of normality on the home front."  The advent of Little Golden books helped this come to fruition (see How a Poky Puppy Brought the Picture Book to the Masses at

Golden Legacy courtesy 

Saturday 30 July 2016

C. Alfred Anderson: The Father of Black Aviation

His first flight was in a Velie Monocoupe in 1929.  He flew over the Atlantic.  And he flew with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941.  He was The Father of Black Aviation.

Born and raised in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, C. Alfred Anderson was always fascinated with flight.  He saved his money and at 20, had enough to take flying lessons.  However, because of his race, no one would teach him how to fly.  Anderson realized the only way he would learn was if he bought his own airplane.  With his savings and loans from friends, he purchased a Velie Monocoupe, which he taxied up and down the runway of the local airport, eventually going fast enough to take off.  He taught himself how to land successfully.  Even so, no one would give him formal lessons.

Local flying club member and experienced pilot Russell Thaw needed an airplane to visit his Mom on weekends in Atlantic City.  Anderson needed lessons.  Thaw rented and flew Andersons' plane in exchange for lessons; he earned his sought after pilot's licence in 1929.  Not stopping there, Anderson sought to obtain his air transport licence.  With race again an obstacle, it was "The Flying Dutchman" who came to his aid when German pilot Ernst Buehl was asked to open transcontinental airmail routes in the United States.  By 1932, Anderson became the first black to obtain an air transport licence.

In 1940, the Tuskegee Institute debuted a new program to train black pilots and hired Anderson as its Chief Civilian Flight Instructor.  The following year, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt toured the Tuskegee Institute Hospital, and knowing of the new air program, asked to meet its flight instructor.  Eleanor Roosevelt told Anderson that when she was growing up, she had heard that "colored people couldn't fly".  Despite her security detail's reservations, the First Lady requested a flight with Anderson and he obliged, shattering the racial stereotype and confirming what she already suspected.

Anderson went on to instruct the 99th Air Squadron, the first all black fighter squadron.  Joining three other black squadrons, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 1378 combat missions, destroyed 260 enemy planes and earned over 150 Flying Crosses.

C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson Stamp

For more information, read The Tuskegee Airmen:  An Illustrated History 1939-1949 at

Friday 29 July 2016

I Love Lucy: A Series of Firsts

Lucy and Ethel working at the chocolate factory in "Job Switching" courtesy

From 1951 to 1957, Lucy came into America's living rooms in unforgettable scenes:  Lucy and Ethel wrapping chocolates at the factory in "Job Switching"; Lucy getting over-medicated in a commercial for "Vitameatavegamin"; Lucy and Ethel baking bread pioneer style and being driven out of the kitchen by too much yeast in "Pioneer Women".

                                         In 1952, when Lucille Ball was pregnant IRL, they had to use the phrase "expecting" on the show instead of "pregnant."

Ricky serenading Lucy in "Lucy is Enceinte" courtesy

How about Ricky serenading Lucy with "You're Having My Baby" in "Lucy is Enceinte";  Ricky, Ethel and Fred rehearsing for when Lucy goes into labour and all chaos breaking lose when she actually does in "Lucy Goes to the Hospital"; and the iconic grape stamping session in "Lucy's Italian Movie".

Lucy's grape stomping scene in "Lucy's Italian Movie" courtesy

"I Love Lucy" boasted a number of firsts.  It was the first television show to be shot on 35 mm film before a studio audience, won five Emmy Awards.  It was the most watched show in four of its six seasons.  It was the first show to feature a real husband and wife team.  It was also one of the first to write a real life pregnancy into the script, an episode which drew an audience of 44 million, as opposed to the 29 million who watched President Eisenhower's inauguration the day before.    "I Love Lucy" was the first series to end its run at the top of the Neilsen ratings.  Lucille Ball was the first person to grace the cover of TV Guide, the first of 39 such covers.

Thursday 28 July 2016

The Executive Mansion

9/*The White House boasts 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, six levels, eight staircases, three elevators and 28 fireplaces.  The 55,000 square foot house takes 570 gallons of white paint to cover its exterior.  The residence, which sits on 18 acres of land, was formerly known as the "President's Palace", the "President's House" and the "Executive Mansion".  

1.  George Washington never lived in the White House since it wasn't built until 1800.


2.  The British burned it down in 1814 (War of 1812) and it was repainted white to hide the charred walls.  

The White House after it was burned by the British in 1814 courtesy

3.  Abraham Lincoln met Frederick Douglass within its walls and promised him that slavery would be abolished, a decision which would cost him his life in 1863. 

"Frederick Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln and His Cabinet to Enlist Negroes," by William Edouard Scott, 1943

4.  William H. Taft, who called the residence "the most depressing House", got his 325-pound frame stuck in the bathtub in 1909.  Read President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

William Howard Taft

5.  Harry S Truman, a native of Missouri, added a balcony in 1947.

George Bush Jr. and his wife entertain guests on the Truman Balcony in 2001 courtesy

6.  Dwight D. Eisenhower, who added a putting green, used to hit golf balls off of the balcony in a game of "Hit the Secret Service Man" in the 1950's.  (In fact, the Oval Office floor was pockmarked from his golf cleats.)  

President Eisenhower putting on the green in 1957 courtesy

7.  Jacqueline Kennedy had the Executive Mansion restored and redecorated (see my blog post "George Washington Didn't Sleep Here" dated February 15, 2013).  She received an honourary Emmy for the her televised tour of the White House in 1962.

Jacqueline Kennedy's televised White House tour courtesy 

8.  Lyndon B. Johnson had two pet beagles at the White House.

President Johnson and his family play with their pet beagles in the White House Garden courtesy

9.  Winston Churchill refused to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom after Lincoln's ghost appeared as he emerged nude from the bathtub during the Second World War.

Sir Winston Churchill at White House circa 1943 courtesy

10.  Franklin D. Roosevelt added a heated indoor pool to help with his physiotherapy in 1933.

White House swimming pool courtesy 

11.  John Quincy Adams grew the first flower garden in 1825.

First Lady Edith Roosevelt added the Rose Garden in 1902 courtesy

12.  Benjamin Harrison brought the first Christmas tree inside in 1889.

13.  Richard Nixon added a bowling alley in 1969.

14.  Grover Cleveland's wife, Frances, was the only First Lady to give birth in the White House in 1893.

15.  Andrew Johnson was the first to host the Easter Egg Roll in 1878.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Moonlights as Stamp Designer

"I owe my life to my hobbies -- especially stamp collecting." (President Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Franklin D. Roosevelt with stamp collection

President Franklin D. Roosevelt examines a stamp in his collection courtesy

During the Great Depression, with thousands of Americans out of work, the United States Post Office tried to do its part to keep moral high.  Post Master James Farley brainstormed with President Roosevelt to create a series of uplifting stamps to divert the public's attention from the nation's plight.  Roosevelt even presented numerous sketches for Farley's consideration.  "Never again did a president and post master general share such a close relationship..." (

One of the Roosevelt's designs, approved by the U.S. Post Office in 1933, was the Byrd Antarctic Expedition II, an effort to promote Admiral Byrd's second expedition to the Antarctic courtesy

Another Roosevelt sketch accepted was his Mothers of America design of 1934 courtesy

Suffragette Susan B. Anthony was commemorated in a sketch by Roosevelt in 1936 courtesy

Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America, is featured on a 1937 stamp marking the 350th anniversary of Roanoke, Virginia courtesy


The 1938 Eagle Airmail Stamp was used to help distinguish airmail from regular mail courtesy

This 1939 stamp marks the 50th anniversary of statehood for Washington, Montana, North Dakota & South Dakota courtesy

Tuesday 26 July 2016

How Andrew Carnegie Built the Architecture of American Literacy

"A library is the best possible gift to a community for it gives people a chance to improve themselves." (Andrew Carnegie)

The United States had 1689 of these buildings while Canada had 125.  They were known for their turrets, columns and arches, "the architecture of American literacy".  


Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant from Scotland to the United States, had been denied access to a Pittsburgh library was he was a boy (  After accumulating his wealth in the steel industry, he vowed to use it to educate those less fortunate.  Between 1893 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie donated $1.3 billion to finance the building of libraries dotting the American landscape.  Carnegie's legacy reached every state in the contiguous United States except Delaware and Rhode Island.  The majority, however, sat in what is now the Rust Belt (Indiana had the most at 165) and California.   

The castle like Carnegie Library in Braddock, Pennsylvania courtesy

"It was an expectation in communities across the country -- if you didn't have a library somehow you weren't supporting culture...What Carnegie did was simulated the desire for libraries in communities across the country," explains Wayne Wiegand, professor emeritus of library studies at Florida State University (

St. Pete Mirror Lake Library02.jpg

The St. Petersburg, Florida Carnegie Library reflects the local architecture courtesy

Many Carnegie libraries are known for their architecture.  While architects and librarians argued over the design of the buildings, Carnegie sided with the latter.  "Architecture was to be avoided.  Architecture was what was going to make the library expensive."  Like a true Scotsman, Carnegie wanted to preserve costs.

The plain design of the Ritzville, Washington Carnegie Library courtesy

Carnegie's secretary, James Bertram, sent a pamphlet to communities planning the construction of a Carnegie library titled "Notes on the Construction of Library Buildings".  The pamphlet contained a crude design for six different templates; built into every design was a community centre or auditorium.  Ironically, the growth of each library's book collection crowded out its community centre.

Greenville, Ohio Carnegie Library featured both an auditorium and a range of classrooms for the city's students courtesy

Today, libraries are once again oriented around services to the community.  Close to 800 Carnegie libraries are still in use while 350 have been re-purposed as offices and cultural centres.  Sadly, 275 have been razed or destroyed.  Some, as in the case of the Cambridge Library in Southern Ontario, sit vacant, their massive columns standing testament to the Architecture of American Literacy.

Monday 25 July 2016

Gone with the Wind Sat Under a Sofa in Atlanta

The apartment house where Margaret Mitchell stored her manuscript under the sofa courtesy

It sat under her sofa to replace a broken leg for years.  No one knew about it until the owner's friend scoffed at her that she had written a book.  "You, write a book?"  It was all the impetus the writer needed.  A man came through town looking for manuscripts to publish and she presented him with hers.  The man took it with him to read on the train to New Orleans.  At his next stop, he sent the 1000-page manuscript to New York City to be considered for publication.  Margaret Mitchell was promptly offered a contract for Gone with the Wind (

Even after it was published, Mitchell's book had its fair share of detractors.  New York Times critic Ralph Thompson complained that it had an "absurd plot", that it was written from "no particular point of view" and that it should be cut down to 500 pages.  Other critics pointed to the book's portrayal of blacks "as creatures of small intelligence".  Think of the wide-eyed maid Mammy who seems to scream an awful lot in the movie (

Another obstacle facing Mitchell was the Great Depression.  The author was worried that the book's $3.00 price tag would discourage the average American from buying it.

Despite the apparent obstacles it faced, Gone with the Wind was an immediate success.  Within the first six months, the book had sold 1 million copies.  In 1937, the manuscript that collected dust under Mitchell's couch for years, earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

Gone with the Wind, still in print after 80 years, has been translated into 30 languages courtesy

Sunday 24 July 2016

Babe Ruth: An American Icon

German soldiers of 150 Panzer Brigade with captured American armored car courtesy

For decades, baseball was as American as apple pie.  The story goes that in the closing months of the Second World War, German soldiers, flying American flags and wearing American uniforms, were impersonating American soldiers in order to infiltrate enemies.  Therefore, American soldiers started asking questions that only other Americans know the answers to.  When Brigadier General Bruce Clarke incorrectly stated that the Chicago Cubs were in the American League, he was held at gunpoint for five hours (

If anyone represented baseball, it was Babe Ruth.  "The Great Bambino" played professional baseball for 22 years, from 1914 to 1935.  While he started his career with the Boston Red Sox, he spent most of his career playing for the New York Yankees.  Ruth was not afraid to take a risk.  While he was the home run king, he was also the strike out king.  Ruth was not afraid to take a risk; he refused to let anything deter him.  In 1924, after running into a wall during a match against the Washington Senators and being knocked unconscious, he insisted on staying in the game.  On his next time up to bat, suffering a bruised pelvic bone, he hit a double.  Babe Ruth won the World Series three times with the Red Sox and four times with the Yankees.

In 1936, Ruth was one of the first five baseball players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth has only grown in popularity since his death in 1948.  According to one collector, his earliest baseball card now rivals the famous Honus T. Wagner card in value (

9795 - Framed Postage stamp art - Babe Ruth - Baseball - United States - Notable - Sport: