FDR Foundation Launches The Creative Citizenship Project

Today, with grim predictions for climate change appearing almost daily, the word “resilient” occurs again and again: utility infrastructure must upgraded to be storm “resilient;” sea barriers need to be raised to make them more “resilient” to flooding; new more “resilient” plant cultivars must be created to survive rising temperatures. While all these are laudable endeavors, they are at best reactive in nature, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. The sad truth is that we can only go so far in strengthening the defenses of our physical world. In the end, the forces of nature will inevitably prevail, and humanity will have to adapt to whatever new reality is presented to us — or perish. We are not the masters of nature. We are, however, masters of ourselves, and it is here that true possibilities lie.

Seventy years ago, on the eve of WWII, FDR addressed the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania. It was an equally foreboding time, with war and despotism advancing across the world. Yet despite the coming darkness, FDR saw a way forward. “It is the function of education,” he reminded them, “the function of all of the great institutions of learning in the United States, to provide continuity for our national life —  to transmit to youth the best of our culture that has been tested in the fire of history. It is equally the obligation of education to train the minds and the talents of our youth; to improve, through creative citizenship, our American institutions in accord with the requirements of the future.” He then concluded with perhaps one of the most powerful lines of his long presidency: ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

The FDR Foundation wishes to reawaken this call for “creative citizenship.” We want to renew the importance of transmitting to our youth “the best of our culture.” We hope to re-inspire the necessity of building the next generation for the future. And our help they will need, as the very skill sets required to confront the challenges ahead — creativity, innovation and imagination — are exactly those which we’ve allowed to lapse across wide swathes of our educational system.

In many places across the world, we train our device-deadened youth in much the same way as we did a half century ago, forcing them to learn a rote skill set to fill jobs in employment sectors that are rapidly disappearing under the combined threat of automation and climate change. We must do better, and we can, as we hold in our arsenal exactly tools we require: the arts and humanities. Study after study has proven that knowledge of history, fine arts, literature, music, and storytelling fosters a different way of looking at the world, a mode of vision that sees not only what is, but what could be.

And “what could be” is what we’ll need if we are to survive as a species. We’ll need visionary scientists who can imagine whole new sectors into existence; we’ll need inspiring politicians who can utilize arts and culture to unite diverse peoples; we’ll need creative business leaders who can harness new technologies in unforeseen ways. But most of all, we’ll need an educated, creative citizenry that can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

This is true “resiliency.”

MDA Photo 2014In furtherance of these goals, we are dee-lighted to announce that Marcela Aviles Davison ’80 has come on board as our Director of Humanities Programming to help us launch the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Creative Citizenship Project. A first generation Mexican-American, Marcela Davison Avilés is an author and founder of The Chapultepec Group, an independent consulting and production company serving the arts and entertainment, non-profit, and selected consumer industry sectors. TCG clients include The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Silicon Valley Ballet, FulmerWare LLP, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the Mariachi Heritage Society and Aggrigator, a Silicon Valley start-up. She is also the co-founder of Camino Arts, an international Latino arts initiative. In addition to her work with Disney, her current portfolio includes a cross-border production of a new original opera on the life of Frida Kahlo. Marcela has worked with such well-known artists and organizations as Linda Ronstadt, Juan Gabriel, MarcoAntonio Solis, Aida Cuevas, Eugenia Leon, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, Lila Downs, Joan Baez, Paquita la del Barrio, Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, the San Francisco Symphony, the Smithsonian Institution and many others.

Marcela holds her B.A. in Fine Arts, cum laude, from Harvard College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Sixth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture, Saturday April 5th 2014: Historian & Author Geoffrey Ward

Looking around snow covered, frigid Boston you would never know it was March 5th, but it’s true! The Six Annual FDR Memorial Lecture is upon us!

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Geoffrey Ward

This year we are dee-lighted to welcome historian and television writer Geoffrey Ward to Adams. Geoffrey C. Ward, former editor of American Heritage magazine, is the author of seventeen books, including three focused on FDR: Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905; A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of FDR (which won the Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Parkman Prize of the Society of American Historians, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize); and Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley. He has also won seven Emmys and written twenty-seven historical documentaries for PBS, either on his own or in collaboration with others, including Ken Burns’ “The Civil War,” “Baseball,” “Jazz,” “Unforgivable Blackness,” “Prohibition” and “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” a seven-part, fourteen-hour series on Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt” that will run on PBS this September.

His topic will be “The Roosevelts at Harvard”

We are equally delighted to welcome back Dr. Cynthia Koch, Former Director of the FDR Presidential Library and now Professor of Public History at Bard College (and our 4th Memorial Lecture speaker) who will introduce Geoffrey.

This year is a reception year, as opposed to a banquet year, and comes with all the trimmings: The famous Roosevelt raw bar will return, to accompany cocktails and a book-signing after the reception. (The question before us is which of Geoff’s 17 books we’ll offer!)

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the man behind three of the most important FDR bios ever written, not the mention, thanks to his work on PBS, one of the most influential and far-reaching American historians of the last century.

Tickets may be purchased easily on line by clicking the button below. Seats are limited to 50, so they will go fast! If you are unable to attend, please consider donating a place to an Adams student or tutor using the ticket options window below.

 Sixth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture
Saturday April 5th at 4 PM
Adams House Lower Common Room
26 Plympton Street, Cambridge Massachusetts


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Franklin D. Roosevelt, Republican

Republican Club CardIt seems almost impossible, but here it is, clear as day:  F.D. Roosevelt, a member of the Harvard Republican Club!  What could have happened? Have we moved into the realm of alternate history?

The answer, as it turns out, far more mundane and consists of a mere two letters: TR.

Although FDR’s father had traditionally voted Democratic (one of the few wealthy families in his district to do so), blood bonds proved stronger than political ones, and Father James, along with his son, loyally threw their support to the man FDR had idolized since a boy when he ran with McKinley in 1900.

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Cousin Ted, from a period button now in the Suite Collection

FDR to Sara, October 31 1900

Last night there was a grand torch-light Republican Parade of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We wore red caps and gowns and marched by classes into Boston and through all the principal streets, about 8 miles in all. The crowds to see it were huge all along the route and we were dead tired at the end!

This fascinating little bit of ephemera – most likely dating from FDR’s freshman year –  came to me via author Geoffrey Ward, who’s preparing the companion volume to the new Ken Burns film on the Roosevelts, and who’ll be our speaker next April. Geoff had written to inquire whether or not I knew anything about the mysterious “shingle” referred to on the card. I could certainly guess the context: the term “hang out one’s shingle” still has some meaning today, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it referred to in this context. Then by chance, we acquired a new book, Harvard College by an Oxonian, published in 1894. It contains the most interesting passage:

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Another of our recently purchased TR buttons. This one FDR might have acquired at Groton when TR passed through, campaigning for McKinley in the fall of 1900. McKinley was assassinated  on September 6, 1901, and “Cousin Ted” became president.

“The rooms we visited in Hastings were on the top floor. They were pleasant and comfortable — very like the rooms in one of our Colleges, only the bedchamber was far better. There was the wide window-seat with its red cushions and out-look over the tops of the graceful American elms. Above the two doors of the sitting-room were hanging one or two printed notices, which had been appropriated or misappropriated by some means or other. It is the pride of a Freshman to have his walls adorned with signs and ” shingles ” which he has ” ragged.”  [stolen] An oblong piece of wood called a shingle takes the place in America of the brass plate on the outside door. It is not fastened to the door, but is hung near it on the wall. These shingles, and in fact all kinds of announcements and notices, the adventurous Freshman delights to carry off, surveying his room with just pride, when he sees on the walls such inscriptions as : ” Jones & Co., Civil, Sanitary, and Landscape Engineers”; “Thomas Smith, M.D., Office Hours 2-4; 7-9 ” ; ” Hair-dressing and Complexion Parlors ” ; ” Under- takers. Locker’s Casket Warehouse ” ; ” The College Dining Rooms and Ice Cream Parlors.” These trophies correspond to the door-knockers which have been known to adorn the rooms of a Christ Church undergraduate. One kind of shingles is won by easier, but, perhaps, no less glorious means, ” Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.”  Harvard abounds in clubs, and each club has its own shingle.

teddy 2Ah ha! Mystery solved! Or, at least, the bit about the shingle. But what of the larger question: how did FDR go from Democrat to Republican and back to Democrat again? According to Ward in his monumental A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the move had little to do with political convictions: “… as early as his sophomore year at Harvard, Franklin had evidently decided to become a Democrat. His reasoning was crisp and pragmatic. The Republican Party was filled with young members of the family whose claims to the President’s mantle were more plausible than his. Only as Democrat could a Roosevelt from outside Sagamore Hill hope to rise very high – and Franklin Roosevelt would never willingly settle for less.”

Simply put: there were already too many Roosevelts on the other side (TR alone had four sons), and FDR wanted to be the biggest fish in the smaller pond.

No burning passion (except perhaps that of self-advancement), no huge sense of mission. Just cold pragmatic calculation: where best can I shine?

Some of FDR’s more altruistic friends were appalled…

Interesting to ponder the alternate history if FDR hadn‘t decided to switch back….  Just another Republican Roosevelt among the pack. Some more progressive, some less, but no standouts. A term of two in Congress perhaps. Certainly no hardened politician to propose the New Deal. No wise, steady hand at the helm during WWII. Almost as fascinating to contemplate as another little-known historical what-if: Hoover, who in 1920 had yet to declare a party affiliation after his lauded service in WWI, seriously considered running as the Democratic candidate with FDR as his running mate. Hugely popular after his successes in Europe clothing and housing refugees, Hoover might very well have won. Imagine: without the laissez-faire economics of Coolidge and Harding, there’s no run-up to the stock market crash; no crash at all in fact, just a regular recession, which FDR, now president after Hoover’s two terms, inherits. His unpopularity soars, and the Big-stick Republicans return to power in 1932, their bellicose worldview matched by the rise of fascism. We enter WWII  in 1939, before we were truly prepared to fight, with disastrous results. Germany dominates Europe, England and Russia are reduced to smoldering ashes – it’s Churchill not Hitler who dies in his bunker – and Imperial Japan dominates a newly formed Empire in the East. The US, hounded on all sides, beaten and bankrupt, surrenders, loses Alaska and Hawaii as well as all its overseas territories, and is reduced to a third-rate power…

Hmmm… all that from a tiny switch in party affiliation… Remarkable how seemingly mundane actions create a nexus in time that alters everything that comes after!

Ah well, no more time to ponder alternate histories: I must track down one of these shingles for the Suite!

 

 

 

 

The Ghost of Lathrop Brown?

As the Cambridge air has turned cool, we’ve begun to notice that strange things are afoot in the Suite. Haunting melodies of ragtime are floating in the air, and occasionally our 1899 upright starts playing by itself, spirit fingers at the keyboard!!!  Could it be the ghost of Lathrop Brown? You be the judge:

 

Whoever it is, it’s certainly not FDR, as he never had a ragtime hand like that! (Or four, actually.)

Kidding aside: it’s clear that our former “unspirited” and underused piano now plays magically by itself, thanks to a technological mini-miracle that allows old uprights like ours to be sent out and returned as part of the 21st century. I’m not sure what portion of this transformation amazes me more: the fact that the piano is controlled from a smart phone; that  no physical alterations to the historic case or mechanism were required; that it plays 5000 songs; or, even better, it records actual performances! We’ve already engaged a phenomenal pianist at Quincy House, Chase Morrin, to come and preserve for us songs from our extensive period sheet music collection. Think of it! Soon the Suite will echo once again to the 1904 tunes of “Cindy, Your My Dream” or “Hello Central? Get Me Heaven” – songs that haven’t been heard within these walls for over a century. (What many people forget is that this music was originally recorded live, embedded on paper player rolls, which have now been transcribed. These are the actual performances of 100 year ago, by major talents of the day.) Most importantly, this transformation allows us to share for the first time this wonderful period of music with our students and guests.

Ghosts, it seems, have an infinite repertoire, unencumbered by availability.

Needless to say, this modernization wasn’t cheap – $6500 – but we’ve had a pledge from an anonymous donor for half the amount, and we’re hoping that there are one or more of you who’d like to give the gift of music of the last century to an entirely new generation of listeners.




FDR: A Life in Pictures

The Foundation is DEE-lighted, to borrow a turn from TR, to announce the publication of its new Roosevelt biography, FDR: A Life in Pictures.

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From the back cover:

“Lightweight yet Machiavellian. Frivolous but intense. Socialist and fascist. Devious yet charming. Communist while Caesar. Both traitor and savior combined. Rarely have such contradictory descriptions been attached to a single man. But at one time or another, each was tagged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, perhaps the most influential political figure of the 20th century. Here for the very first time in one volume: a visual road map through the extraordinarily rich timeline of FDR’s life, charting step-by-illustrated-step his amazing progression from pampered youth to 32nd President of the United States. Meticulously compiled from more than 70 large-format, digitally restored period photos — some never before published, and most with extended captions — FDR: A Life in Pictures documents as no other book can the remarkable living legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

This 154-page volume features several newly discovered photos found in our archives, as well as a half-dozen full color spreads of the Suite. Three of these were recently shot for us by noted photographer Ralph Lieberman, who’s in the middle of a two year campaign to document the architecture of Harvard in conjunction with the Fine Arts Library and the Graduate School of Design. This is one of his great wide angle views, which finally shows the extent of the study.

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This book has been a real labor of love, arising out of the hallway timeline exhibit I put together over the winter with my friend Dr. Cynthia Koch, the former director of the FDR Presidential Library and now public historian in residence at Bard College. The short story is that having spent a huge amount of time tracking down and digitally restoring so many fine images – and then researching and writing the extended captions –  I discovered due to limits of space we’d need to exclude dozens of important photos. So rather than limit the work, I expanded it, and decided to put the full range together in a book, and there you have it. This volume is particularly helpful for the Foundation, as not only does it expand awareness of the Suite and its activities, but it also goes a long way to placing FDR’s Harvard experience in the wider context of his life and presidency.

For now, copies are only available through Amazon or through us (Click here to order.). Proceeds, of course, go entirely to benefit the Foundation. So start thinking about that perfect gift for FDR fans on your list!