“At any rate, this was a terrible accident; 147 young people, they were all young men and women, were killed, lost their lives and a number of others were badly injured…This made a terrible impression on the people of the State of New York. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbed the people were everywhere. It was as though we had all done something wrong. It shouldn’t have been. We were sorry. Mea culpa! Mea culpa! We didn’t want it that way. We hadn’t intended to have 147 girls and boys killed in a factory. It was a terrible thing for the people of the City of New York and the State of New York to face.” — Frances Perkins
I meant to post on this a few weeks ago, but busy-ness conspired against it: 100 years ago last month, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground. And ultimately, from its ashes, a New Deal — something the Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the world might should consider.
“Tully took the president’s dictation for his famous Pearl Harbor speech. ‘Miss Tully had been with Roosevelt since his days as governor of New York,” said David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States. ‘And many of his most sensitive letters, instructions, notes and even scribblings passed through her hands.‘”
The National Archives obtains 5,000 pages of new FDR documents, courtesy of the archives of personal secretary Grace Tully. (This video describes the acquisition.) “Archivists hope to have the collection publicly available by November and online by January.“
As the manifestly fradulent behavior by Goldman Sachs of late comes to full light — one among many, it seems — Numerian of The Agonist goes back to basics to make a case for strong banking reform. “The very first lesson we should learn from this crisis, which we thought this nation learned in the 1930s, is never again…The second lesson we should learn from this crisis is that we should not as a nation have to learn these lessons over and over again every 80 years. Something has to be done to make the legislative changes this time stick.”
On the release of his long-awaited The Publisher, an extensive biography of TIME/LIFE founder Henry Luce, Columbia historian (and my dissertation advisor) Alan Brinkley discusses how Luce may have coped with the Digital Age. “Luce — for all his flaws — was an innovator, a visionary and a man of vast and daunting self-confidence. Were he to live in our time, trying once again to revolutionize the spread of knowledge, he might find his talents much in demand.“
And, in very related news, Boing Boing posts Chris Ware’s recently rejected throwback cover for Fortune‘s annual 500 issue. “It hearkens back to the golden age of Fortune as an exemplar of beautifully designed and illustrated magazines…’and he filled the image with tons of satirical imagery, like the U.S. Treasury being raided by Wall Street, China dumping money into the ocean, homes being flooded, homes being foreclosed, and CEOs dancing a jig while society devolves into chaos. The cover, needless to say, was rejected.’”
“Despite sustained efforts to tear down the New Deal — from the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 to President George W. Bush’s ill-fated 2005 efforts to dismantle Social Security — the 1930s-vintage infrastructure has proved remarkably durable…Although the Tennessee Valley Authority has yet to pitch in, four 70-year-old agencies are helping to cushion the blow of the housing bust. Let’s count them.” Slate‘s Daniel Gross examines how the New Deal is working to mitigate today’s credit crisis. (He also has a funny line about Sen. Clinton’s bizarre call yesterday to have Greenspan wave a magic wand to fix things: This “is a little like Chicago appointing a cow to a panel on preventing disastrous fires.“)
By way of Ted at The Late Adopter, a bunch of 1940′s D-listers reminisce about the Depression Decade, VH-1 style, in I Love the ’30′s. Hey, isn’t that one of the Sonic guys? (The married one, not these two.)
Some quality historicizing in today’s Washington Post Book World: Michael Kazin reviews Richard White’s new Huey Long biography, H.W. Brand’s looks at Godfrey Hodgson’s new bio of Edward House (right-hand-man to Woodrow Wilson), and novelist David Liss briefly surveys recent works on the Founders.
“Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties — Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush — have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures — an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities.” As seen all over the place, historian Sean Wilentz wonders aloud in Rolling Stone if Dubya is the worst president in American history.
To my mind, the only other president that even comes close is James Buchanan. Sure, Warren Harding was lousy, but he knew it (“I am a man of limited talents from a small town. I don’t seem to grasp that I am President.“), and thus didn’t go out of his way to be actively terrible like Bush has been. (Plus, for all the corruption of the Ohio gang, Harding’s cabinet also included Charles Evans Hughes, Andrew Mellon, and Herbert Hoover, all impressive in their own right.) Speaking of Hoover, both he and Ulysses Grant have been given a bad shake. Even if the Depression basically ate his administration alive, Hoover — once renowned as the “Great Engineer” — was a more innovative president (and empathetic person) than he’s often remembered. And Grant’s administrations, although plagued by corruption, at the very least tried to maintain Reconstruction in the South. (In fact, I’d argue that Grant’s sorry standing in presidential history is in a part a reflection of the low esteem in which Reconstruction was once held by the now-woefully obsolete Dunning School.) Regarding the other Reconstruction president, Andrew Johnson is assuredly down near the bottom too, but to be fair, he faced an almost impossible situation entering office in the time and manner he did, and — as with Clinton — his impeachment was a bit of a frame-job. And Richard Nixon, for all his many failings, had China (as well as the EPA despite himself, and, although it didn’t pan out, the Family Assistance Plan.) Nope, I think it’s safe to say that we may be experiencing perhaps the most blatantly inept, wrong-headed, and mismanaged presidency in the history of the republic. Oh, lucky us.
“It was during the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman that such great progressive policies as Social Security, protective labor laws and the GI Bill were adopted. But with them came something else that was quite destructive for the nation: what I have called ‘affirmative action for whites.’ During Jim Crow’s last hurrah in the 1930s and 1940s, when southern members of Congress controlled the gateways to legislation, policy decisions dealing with welfare, work and war either excluded the vast majority of African Americans or treated them differently from others.” With Katrina as a newspeg, Columbia’s own Ira Katznelson previews his new book on New Deal racial exclusion in the Washington Post.
Some thanksgiving orals reading, for you and yours…read with lavish amounts of stuffing and cranberry sauce.
|Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era.
C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow.
Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s.
Slow and steady wins the race, I hope:
|George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940
T.J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920.
Another wave of updates over at the Orals site:
|Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.
Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.
Alan Dawley, Struggles for Justice: Social Responsibility and the Liberal State.
John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War.
Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America.
Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age.
Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920.
AICN points the way to the trailer for Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, soon to be re-released at a theater (possibly) near you. Hmm…I wonder if free-market conservatives will try to protect Frederick Winslow Taylor the way they recently did Ronnie Reagan?
I can already see the sparks fly. Garth of Dark Horizons reports on the movie pairing you’ve all been waiting for: Vin Diesel and Dame Judi Dench. I know the Pitch Black sequels are set in space, but hopefully they can squeeze in a scene of the two of them simultaneously screaming from out the front windsheld of a car. In other Dark Horizons news, along the lines of K-19, director Kathryn Bigelow is now working on a historical film about the Scottsboro case, which could be quite interesting.