Why We Fight

why we fight

In 1942, in the first full, dark year of the War, famous Hollywood director Frank Capra had a problem. Commissioned by the Government to make a series of films to demonstrate why America should actively support the war effort, he had the daunting task of convincing a recently non-interventionist population of the need to become involved across the globe. Taking Germany’s own propaganda films, most notably Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will,  and twisting their message back on the source,  Capra managed to create what is today widely credited as one of the most effective documentary-style series of all time. Originally intended solely for the Armed Forces, it was immediately released by FDR to the general public. By 1945, 54 million people had seen Why We Fight.

So, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with the Restoration? Well, let me tell you: yesterday I was chatting with one of our alums, and I realized it’s been a while since we outlined our progress to date, and what we hope to achieve through our efforts here. So briefly, our battle plan:

The Physical Restoration of the Suite is about 75% accomplished. To date we have raised (and already spent!) a bit over $100,000, and we have approximately another $25,000 to go. I say “approximately” here because the items remaining to be acquired – textiles, rugs, a bronze, period decorative items, framed art & ephemera – vary wildly in price, and some are quite costly: we’re searching for a set of period crew oars, for instance, which will probably set us back several thousand dollars, unless some kind soul donates them. (Hint hint!) But by and large we hope to finish renovation fundraising the summer of 2011 and complete this aspect of the project by that fall.

The next item on the agenda is to develop a Virtual Tour of the Suite, so that anyone around the world can visit  FDR’s student digs and understand what it was like to be at Harvard during the Gilded Age.  To get some idea of what we are talking about, here’s something similar: a tour of 10 Downing Street. Since this tour was completed a few years ago, the graphics are a bit old-fashioned and we hope to do something much more sophisticated, where you can move through the rooms, select individual items and request the background information for each. Though it sounds easy, a project like this is surprisingly complicated, requiring a complete photographic catalog of the room, and some heavy-duty graphics programming well beyond my limited ken. We’re estimating that to get the site up and running will cost $50,000, but once completed, it will provide global access to this remarkable Harvard historical resource.

And finally, The FDR Scholarship Programs. We are seeking to fund two scholarship opportunities. The first provides undergraduates the chance to intern at Hyde Park for the summer, learning historic preservation, museum curatorial skills, participating in public affairs and educational programs, as well as permitting students to work with primary source documents relating to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his life and presidency. Here we would tap into an existing program at the FDR Library and Presidential Museum, essentially funding an extra slot. The cost is $5000 per student per summer. The students work, learn, and receive a small stipend to cover expenses.

The second scholarship program is more ambitious, and is motivated by something FDR’s Harvard roommate and life-long friend  Lathrop Brown said in an interview with filmmaker Pare Lorenz. Remarking on why FDR later became such an effective leader, Brown stated: FDR had traveled much more than most boys of his own age… He had an inquiring mind, and unlike other boys brought up like a litter of puppies in a kennel, who spent their time cuffing each other, he had plenty of time to spend on individualistic pursuits. Because of this, he was more mature in many respects than his contemporaries. His eyes opened earlier.” The key here is travel: by age 15, FDR had spent nearly half of his life abroad, spoke fluent French and German, and had seen much of Western Europe: the very land he would be charged to save 40 years later. It occurred to me, as a former language concentrator, and as someone who came to Harvard on full scholarship – and who returned home each summer to Milwaukee to earn money for the next school year – that while the College has done a magnificent job of equalizing the social and academic experience during the term, the summer break is entirely another matter. So to level the playing field a bit and provide less affluent students with study opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, we’re proposing an FDR Traveling Scholar Program, which would each year award a stipend of up to $8,000 to pay for an accredited academic program abroad, and then, once successfully completed, provide the student with a $3500 stipend to make up for lost summer wages. This program would only be available to Harvard students below a certain economic threshold, and would be awarded to those wishing to pursue clearly delineated goals that foster cultural communication and global understanding in the international spirit of FDR’s fourth inaugural address:

“Today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons—at a fearful cost—and we shall profit by them.
We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other Nations, far away…  We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that, ‘The only way to have a friend is to be one.'”

The cost of these two programs would be  $16,000 per annum. At the beginning, these grants will be awarded as funds become available, but over the course of the next five years, we hope to build up a $500,000 endowment to fund these programs annually from investment earnings, as well as to finance expansion of the Suite’s educational mission. This last is critical, as while the College maintains the physical shell of Westmorly Hall, once through the door of B-17, it’s all up to us: the preservation of the interiors and the maintenance of the entire FDR Suite collection is the sole fiscal responsibility of the Foundation. We receive no funds from the College.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is WHY WE FIGHT.

Care to join the battle?  We welcome, and need, your support.

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Home Stretch

This window treatment for a "portiere" or French door, is very similar to what's intended for the study.

This window treatment for a "portiere" or French door from Paine's 1898 catalogue, is very similar to what's intended for the study.

“They write me from Jordan and Marsh that the curtains are to be put up in your rooms today, so I hope you will be in order by tomorrow.” Sara to FDR October 6, 1900

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We’re entering the home stretch of the renovation, and we need your help. Our immediate goal is to raise 6K for the room textiles: draperies, door swags, mantel cover, etc. We know they were there, because we have both written evidence from Sara, and physical evidence in Suite itself: we can see the attachment holes! Victorian rooms aren’t complete without fabric, and this is a remarkable opportunity to recreate a real bit of history, as we actually have, thanks to the Baker Business Library Collections, a period Paine’s catalogue (the supplier of  some of FDR’s furniture) to base our designs from.

For all of you who have not contributed (and that’s about 90% of you reading this post, ahem) please consider supporting us. For those of you who already have, October is the time to renew your annual memberships. Won’t you consider an additional donation to help us meet this important milestone? I will keep you posted on progress.

BTW: our adopt an antique program still has many homeless children!

Contributions may be sent to:

The FDR Suite Foundation, Inc.
Adams House, 29 Plympton Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Bird’s-Eye View of Harvard

birdseye view of harvard1

A while back, I acquired this wonderful 1895 bird’s-eye view of Harvard for the Suite, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it.

(The original is 11 x 17;  click on the image above to expand; in most browsers, you may then click again to supersize; or, use your browser’s scaling feature (the same one that increases type size) to increase image size.)

This is the College much as FDR would have known it. You’ll see many lost buildings: the old Appleton Chapel, torn down to make way for Memorial Church;  Gore Hall, the library building replaced by Widener; even the original hexagonal gymnasium, which stood where the Fire Station is now, across from the GSD. It’s also interesting to note how open the Yard was; notice the lack of gates and iron fences (these were just being started in 1900) as well as all the missing Yard dorms  – Straus, Lionel, Mower and Wigglesworth. These last were built, beginning in the 20’s, with the distinct idea of enclosing the Yard against increasing urban encroachment. Another difference is in the Memorial Hall tower: in 1898 it gained four clock faces, and FDR would have told the hour by their sonorous strike. No Union either, you’ll note. That arrived in 1901. Nor anything, really, east of Sever: the current Fogg is four decades away. Oh, and where Lehman Hall now stands, diagonally fronting the Square? In FDR’s time, the Greek Revival edifice you see tucked next to Matthews was the Bursar’s office; before that,  it was the first home of the Law School. In this picture, the new Austin Hall embodies the whole place. How things have changed!  O tempora, o mores!

And as a reminder, this is just one more item that is up for adoption, ladies and gentlemen! It’s going in FDR’s bedroom. The piece needs some conservation, and framing: $200 will give it a new home! Anyone interested, please email me at the following: mweishan at fas dot harvard dot edu, or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Lathrop’s Desk


“The rooms look as if struck by sheet lightning, the sitting-room having the chairs and tables but no curtains or carpets. The bed is in place in my room and it looks inhabitable.” FDR to Sara, 9/25/1900

“Also tell me if you have your two big rugs, blue and red and the small rugs I ordered. I have a bill from Paine for only the large red room rug, and Lathrop’s spring (without the mattress or covering). I enclose a card showing a desk which might suit Lathrop if he has not bought his.” She then goes on to correct his grammar: “*One does not say “inhabitable.” Sara to FDR 9/30/1900

For over a year, we’ve been looking for two desks: a small roll-top for FDR, and a gentleman’s desk for Lathrop. The latter, I’m delighted to say, is finally in hand. I found this wonderful piece half-forgotten in a barn in New Hampshire, and was able, by a margin of a quarter inch, to fit it into my car and get it home. Desks like these are extremely rare these days, as the demands of modern electronics generally mandate far larger surfaces. (As I write this, I sit at a desk 9.5′ long, which is almost buried under phones, monitors, scanners, printers and other paraphernalia of the electronic office.) But this little gem harks back to a gentler age. Dating to about 1895, it measures just 40″ across and is made of solid black walnut, with a black leather top. Stylistically the piece is quite interesting, sitting exactly on the cusp of two ages: the bat-wing handles on the drawers are very much Victorian, but the turned spindles of the legs, and the overall simplicity of the work  suggest the beginnings of a new design aesthetic, one that would ultimately be known as Colonial Revival. And what a location beside these glorious windows! Who wouldn’t want to pen a line or two here? On top the desk, another prize: a 12-piece solid brass desk set I found recently (also very rare, as it’s complete) along with a green-shaded Alladin desk lamp. Add a nice leather blotter, a calendar, a black walnut chair and some gentleman’s calling cards, and the desk of Mr. Lathrop Brown will soon be ready for occupancy.

FDR’s desk, however, still remains at large…

And of course, it goes without saying that these items (ahem, ahem!) are all up for adoption: the desk at $500, the lamp at $100, and the desk set at $300. More homeless antiques can be found HERE.

Also, if any of you have period volumes you might be willing to donate to help fill our book cases, we would be most grateful to accept them. FDR was quite the bibliophile, and avidly collected rare volumes. Leather or cloth bound fiction or non fiction, with decorative covers & published before 1904, would be most welcome!

As always, we thank you for your interest and support.

Adopt an Antique!

I’m just back from the Brimfield Antiques Fair, the largest in the country. Held three times a year, it’s a truly amazing event, spread out along three miles of bucolic road in Brimfield Massachusetts, with thousands of vendors filling acres of open fields with tents. This year, I was able to find some really wonderful pieces for the Restoration, and it was my first thought to show you a few of them here. But then it occurred to me, rather than just share pictures, why not give you, our supporters, the chance to participate directly in completing the Restoration?  (We really need your help, our coffers are near empty again!) So an idea was born: from now on, I’ll regularly post notices of new acquisitions here on the blog.  These pieces will then move to a new section on our website, “Adopt an Antique” where they will wait exspectantly until some kind soul takes them under their wing. Once they find “a home,” their generous sponsor will be permanently memorialized on our website, as well as in a bound printed book that will reside in the Suite. It’s a great way for you to help us out, and have some fun at the same time. And what a nice present or commemoration for a friend or loved one! Best of all, you can keep coming back for more!

So here are our first batch of “children,” wide-eyed and waiting for your attentions!




This is a spectacular piece, quite rare, in the Oriental ball and stick style so popular in the late 19th century. Called a corner chair, its name is something of a misnomer: it’s armless design was originally inspired not to fit the architecture, but rather so that gentlemen wearing a sword – on either side – could sit down without taking it off.  Nonetheless, these chairs became popular features for odd nooks, and we have just such a one in FDR’s bedroom.



SIZE: 22 X 38″


Now, I’m hoping that someone is going to love this as much as I do. I realize this picture of a brace of pheasant is not exactly to modern taste, but I’m guessing that it would have been exactly to FDR’s, given  his love of ornithology. (Remember our president-resident was an avid hunter and taxidermist since he was a boy. Birds were his passion) What’s really interesting about this piece, and what you can’t see in the picture, is that the image is three dimensional – the chromo-lithograph has been bonded to pressed cardboard, in a way I’ve never seen before: the feathers are raised and articulated, the berries rounded, you can even see mock brush strokes to emulate a fine oil painting. The dealer I purchased this from had four others depicting fishing and hunting scenes, and said these were the only ones he had ever seen in two decades in the biz.



DATE: CA 1900


Now here’s something that should tickle the cleats of the golf fans among you. We found an retired pro golfer to put together this basic set of early 1900’s clubs for us. Both Lathrop and FDR golfed (FDR badly, according to LB) and Lathrop especially would have had a set with him in Cambridge: his mother was the first woman amateur national champion, in 1895. The entire Brown family golfed together, and we have several pictures in the Suite of them on the links. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a case in good enough condition. If anyone has a golf bag in canvas or leather with a 4″ opening (common to that period) that they would like to donate, please let me know!



DATE: PRE-1905
SIZE: 9″


Oh, what a beauty! This is an INCREDIBLE rarity, as very few footballs survive from this period. According to David Patterson, in his excellent article How the NFL Football Got Its Shape, “the football’s nickname of pigskin explains a lot of its history. In the early days, before Charles Goodyear made better use of rubber, balls for early rugby, then football games were made from inflated pig bladders. They were relatively round, durable and in plentiful supply. Later versions covered them in a leather skin, stitched together by laces. Those laces are still on today’s balls, even though they’re not needed for closure. Players use the laces to better grip the ball.Even when pigs were spared in favor of rubber versions in the late 1800s, the early versions were difficult to blow up manually. Their ultimate shape varied from game to game as the bladders were inflated. Moving into the new century, the quality control improved, but the watermelon shape was retained. Over the years, as production methods matured, the ends of the ball became even more pronounced. With all leagues promoting the forward pass, being able to grip the ball with one hand, as well as throw a spiral pass, has ensured the current shape will be retained.”

The forward pass, by the way, is how we can date the ball: the pass was part of an intercollegiate agreement signed in 1905 which attempted to reduce fatalities on the field, and rounded balls like this one quickly became outdated. (Pointed balls better facilitated the newly permitted pass.) Interestingly, another idea to decrease football injuries was to increase the side of the field, on the theory that more room meant fewer deadly collisions. This plan was vetoed by Harvard, who had just, in 1903, completed a fixed-width ferro-concrete stadium, one of the first in the country, and was not about to rebuild. The field has been the same size ever since.

We acquired this rare and costly item for two reasons: it recalls, like nothing else, the football mania that gripped Harvard during FDR’s tenure, as well as the fact that Lathrop, huge fan, managed both the Freshman and Varsity teams, and received a varsity “H” for his efforts.


SIZE: CA 10″


This is the first in an odd half dozen or so steins we plan to acquire. Steins were a common feature in almost every room,  inevitably hung beneath the mantle for use on “beer nights.” This is a particularly nice prewar example from Germany with classic detailing.



DATE: CA 1905
SIZE: CA 10″


Another stein, this time one of the sub-genera of advertising steins common at the turn of the century. The Boston firm, Murray Co, produced soda waters, which is not as curious as it sounds: businesses of all types commonly used the ubiquitous stein to get out their advertising message.



DATE: CA 1900
SIZE: CA 15″

ADOPTION PRICE: (shelf) $100 (tin) $25
These little ball and stick shelves are surprisingly rare, especially folding ones like ours. (The shelves pop out, and the sides fold flat for storage. Very handy for a student!)  This great piece will be mounted over the tub, and house a collection of period patent medicines and other period drugs. (Note to Administration: all benign!) A 1901 tin of “Fresh Seidlitz Powders” begins our collection.



DATE: CA 1880
SIZE: CA 36″


This clever item will allow guests to hang towels or clothes in a bathroom from an age before towel racks. Very intelligently designed, the hooks fold flat in an ornamental pattern when not in use, ideal for the space we have in mind behind the door. While this piece, with its Eastlake styling, predates the Suite by a few decades, it’s so handy that I’m thinking it’s one of those essentials Sara insisted FDR take from Springwood: “Franklin, don’t forget those interlocking hooks for your bathroom; I notice there was nothing installed in Westmorly Court, and you wouldn’t want to damage your linens!”



SIZE: 6″ X 5″

This little gem I found for $10. It’s signed Albert Shay; the back has a framing label from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Stylistically, it’s very much of the period, and the subject matter is spot-on for an enthusiast of all things nautical like FDR. The adoption cost includes a new mat and frame to restore this little beauty to its rightful pride of place.



DATE: 1905
SIZE: CA 12″ x9


OK, so technically this was copyrighted in 1905, but I’m invoking president’s privilege here; who’s to say it wasn’t drawn in 1904? Here’s why I’m willing to fudge: it’s an original William Penfield from Colliers, the same Penfield who painted the murals in the Randolph breakfast room in 1897. Highly collectible, it’s a beautiful image, very much in Gilded Age style. Adoption cost includes framing.



DATE: CA 1880-1910

I found a wonderfully knowledgeable vendor at Brimfield who will be helping us select period linens for the tables, mantels, beds etc. These are all hand-stitched pieces, mind-bogglingly detailed. A huge find, and critical to Victorian decor.


SO THEN, have I whet your appetite to help us? I hope so!

If so, leave me a note below in the comment section (or email) as to what item you’d like to adopt, and I’ll be in touch. We’ll be building the official “Adopt an Antique” pages over the next weeks to register your gifts. First come, first commemorated!

As always, our thanks.

Presidential Pathways: A Walking Tour of Harvard

TRFDR copyThe Harvard Alumni Association invites you to a collection series:

Presidential Pathways: A Walking Tour of Harvard
Michael Weishan, Author, PBS Host, President of the FDR Suite Foundation.

Saturday, September 25, 2010
11:00 am -1:00 pm (Registration and meeting time 10:45 am) Meeting location: John Harvard Statue, Harvard Yard

This behind-the-scenes walking tour follows the student footsteps of two of America’s greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The tour includes exclusive access to interiors not normally open to the public. View the spectacular set of Edward Penfield murals in the former breakfast room of Randolph Hall, the recently restored 1904 interior of the FDR Suite in Westmorly, and the Theodore Roosevelt room in the Adams House master’s residence.

Light walking; uneven brick pavement, some steps.
The tour lasts approximately one hour; lunch to follow in the newly restored Annenburg dining hall.

Limited enrollment.
Alumni and friends of the Harvard community $20