See How They Ran! FDR & His Opponents: Campaign Treasures from the New-York Historical Society
On View September 9 – December 17, 2016 at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College
Political media and persuasion tools have deep American roots in races for the White House dating back to the earliest presidential campaigns. What may seem like primitive efforts now–posters, souvenirs, buttons, banners, cartoons, slogans, and songs–were the chief means of promotion for nineteenth century candidates yet are still in use today. And every era has added something new. Radio broadcasts and newsreels became powerful tools in FDR’s four historic campaigns for President from 1932 to 1944, galvanizing millions of voters and stimulating exceptional turnouts in times of deep economic and, later, global crisis.
Television first challenged and aided candidates in the 1950s and 60s, and still has a central role even as the voter-reaching capabilities of the internet seem to expand by the day. The two current presidential candidates boast over 20 million Twitter followers between them, but even optimistic predictions about elaborate get-out-the-vote efforts estimate that they will likely produce comparatively weak voter turnouts. Campaigns of the past, full of hullaballoo and mass-produced advertising, once joyfully inspired the American public to participate and vote in greater numbers than the electorate does today. This exhibit asks visitors to think about how, and if, new campaign technologies and techniques widen voter participation; whether the powerful marketing platforms of the last century can inform and improve the messaging of the 21st century; indeed, whether campaigning has advanced, or regressed, since the Roosevelt era.
Fittingly for this historic, glass-ceiling-shattering election year the exhibit also highlights the groundbreaking efforts by women who first aspired to run for president. The earliest candidates were undeterred by the setback to the suffrage movement after the Civil War when women were excluded from the 15th Amendment. Victoria Woodhull sought the office in 1872 anyway, declaring in one of the great understatements in campaign history: “I anticipate criticism.” Belva Lockwood, who ran a national campaign in 1884, told the press: “I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.” A handful of women after them ran on minority party platforms, so the exhibit moves to the mid-20th century to feature the first two women to vie for the presidential nomination of the major political parties: Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Maine Republican (1964) and Representative Shirley Chisholm, New York Democrat (1972). Their candidacies incorporated attributes of Eleanor Roosevelt–as an innovative campaigner, feminist, and social justice advocate–and helped legitimize the idea that women could be on major party tickets. In 1984, New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro became the Democratic nominee for Vice President. Fast forward to 2008, with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin selected for the Vice Presidential slot on the Republican ticket. Only eight years later, and 144 years after Victoria Woodhull, the Democrats choose Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate.
Hosting this exhibition at The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College honors the legacies of Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in their former home, and highlights the important role FDR played in maintaining American democracy during a challenging era marked by Depression and world war. Roosevelt House is very grateful for the substantial loan of materials and significant collaboration from the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS). For additional resources that have been generously loaned or provided in digital format we thank: Brooklyn College Archives & Special Collections and Shola Lynch Collection (BC, SLC); Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library (FDRL); Gary Schulze (GS); Harold Holzer (HH); Jill Norgren, (JN); Margaret Chase Smith Library (MCS); Museum of the City of New York (MCNY); Stuart Lehman (SL); Thomas Mallon (TM); Tony Stepanski (TS); Wendy Chmielewski (WC); and Presidential Campaign Posters from the Library of Congress (LC). Items have also been drawn from the Roosevelt House collection (RH). The exhibition has been curated by Roosevelt House staff Historian Deborah Gardner and designed by Dylan Gauthier with the assistance of Yvonne Chow. We also acknowledge assistance from the staff of Roosevelt House and Hunter College and from Gregory Nolan and John Winters. We want to especially thank Marilyn Kushner, Alan Balicki, and Lauren Brincat (N-YHS); Herman Eberhardt (FDRL); Colleen Bradley Smith (BC); David Richards, John Taylor and Angela Stockwell (MCS); Miranda Hambro and Lindsay Turley (MCNY); CUNY Professors Jill Norgren and Barbara Winslow; and Swarthmore Curator Wendy Chmielewski.
Exhibition made possible by a generous grant from the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust.
See How They Ran! FDR & His Opponents: Treasures from the New York Historical Society.
OPENING RECEPTION AND DISCUSSION WITH GEOFFREY C. WARD
VIDEO FROM THE EXHIBITION OPENING
For the opening of this exhibition, Roosevelt House welcomed Emmy-winning historian Geoffrey Ward, author of A First-class Temperament: the Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, as well as the script for Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Ward was featured in conversation with Harold Holzer, Director of Roosevelt House. Welcoming remarks by Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College, and Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society.