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Dear Mrs. Roosevelt

Letters from Children of the Great Depression

Edited by Robert Cohen

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5413-6
    Published: October 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6126-4
    Published: October 2003

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Impoverished young Americans had no greater champion during the Depression than Eleanor Roosevelt. As First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt used her newspaper columns and radio broadcasts to crusade for expanded federal aid to poor children and teens. She was the most visible spokesperson for the National Youth Administration, the New Deal's central agency for aiding needy youths, and she was adamant in insisting that federal aid to young people be administered without discrimination so that it reached blacks as well as whites, girls as well as boys.

This activism made Mrs. Roosevelt a beloved figure among poor teens and children, who between 1933 and 1941 wrote her thousands of letters describing their problems and requesting her help. Dear Mrs. Roosevelt presents nearly 200 of these extraordinary documents to open a window into the lives of the Depression's youngest victims. In their own words, the letter writers confide what it was like to be needy and young during the worst economic crisis in American history.

Revealing both the strengths and the limitations of New Deal liberalism, this book depicts an administration concerned and caring enough to elicit such moving appeals for help yet unable to respond in the very personal ways the letter writers hoped.

About the Author

Robert Cohen is director of the Social Studies Program in the School of Education, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, and an affiliated member of the History Department at New York University.
For more information about Robert Cohen, visit the Author Page.


"Cohen has assembled an excellent book that not only adds to our knowledge of how the Depression affected the lives of Americans, but also places the letters children wrote to the First Lady in an analytic framework that helps readers more fully understand the Depression and appreciate the magnitude of its grip upon the country."--Presidential Studies Quarterly

"After sifting through thousands of letters written by children to Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s Robert Cohen has masterfully organized several hundred into a rare and insightful look at Depression America. . . . This book offers a unique look into the American family from an insider's perspective at a time of great turmoil, and of all the academic studies on the Depression, none can offer what the children can. . . . We stand to learn a great deal from their words, and Dear Mrs. Roosevelt is a powerful vehicle for anyone willing to listen."--Journal of Children and Poverty

"By focusing on letters written by children, Cohen accents the effect of the Depression on some of society's most vulnerable members, and the letters are sure to tug at the heartstrings of even the most stoic readers. . . . The letters offer more than an ongoing tale of pain and suffering; they also present an opportunity to teach students how historians use primary sources to construct a textured portrait of the past."--The History Teacher

"Poignant, heartfelt, and brimming with childlike faith, these missives represent a portion of the population often overlooked by historians eager to capture the heart and soul of Depression America. . . . A priceless primary resource for both amateur historians and Depression scholars. . . . Teens will be caught by the personal history and by the hopes and dreams similar to their own."--Booklist

"The clear, real voice of people experiencing directly the conditions of the Great Depression will serve as a strong motivation for students of the Depression to learn more. . . . Although the letters stem from Depression conditions, they express needs that are universal: food, shelter, clothing, and better social conditions. The universality of the feelings and needs expressed in these letters make a strong bridge to an earlier time."--History of Education Quarterly

"Teachers who treat the period will be delighted to find this fresh material on the library shelf."--Kliatt