Out With the Old, In With the New: FDR’s Inauguration and a New Wolfsonian Library Installation

On this date in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. In delivering his inaugural address, he pledged to “dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy was a significant departure from the Gunboat Diplomacy of his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, as commander of the Rough Riding volunteer cavalry fighting the Spanish in Cuba, and as Commander-in-Chief, “Teddy” Roosevelt lived by the motto “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Not surprisingly, Teddy was far more prone to bullying his Latin American neighbors rather than dealing with them.


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

The Wolfsonian Library has just recently taken down its exhibit on the early history of Miami Beach, From Mangrove to Tourist Mecca, and replaced it with a timely exhibit examining U.S.-Cuba relations titled, Cuba: From Gunboat Diplomacy to Good Neighbor Policy.



The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

Put together by two Florida International University students, Famirka Then and Francisco Salas, and edited by Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn and myself, the exhibition makes use of several generous gifts to the collection. Famirka has been working in our rare book library as a volunteer for some time, accessioning and cataloguing hundreds of sheet music covers from the era of the Spanish-American War of 1898. These items were originally collected and preserved by Joseph K. Albertson and donated to The Wolfsonian by the Monroe County Public Library in Key West. Famirka made the initial selection of those to be included in the exhibit and worked with Rochelle on the descriptive and interpretive label text for these items.


Sheet music was an important medium for building popular support for the American intervention in Cuba’s independence struggle. In the wake of the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor, propagandistic sheet music cover illustrations and martial or sentimental music constantly reminded Americans to “Remember the Maine.”




The Wolfsonian-FIU, Joseph K. Albertson Collection, Gift of Monroe County Public Library,         Key West, Florida

Francisco Salas, an FIU student enrolled in my America and Movies: Cuba and the United States, 1898-2016 history class selected photographs, labels, envelopes, magazine covers and other rare artifacts donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf and Vicki Gold Levi. He used these in cases and a Powerpoint slideshow to illustrate changes in policy and relations from the days of Teddy and the “Rough Riders” to the era of Franklin and the “New Dealers.”



The Wolfsonian-FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The Wolfsonian-FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

This final image, an original photographic print dating from February, 1933, captures a ceremony held at the Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba. It seems only fitting that the joint Cuban-American ceremony commemorating the 35th anniversary of event that triggered American intervention in Cuba’s independence struggle was held just weeks before FDR’s inauguration. Fitting also that this installation on U.S.-Cuba relations opens at this auspicious moment, when another U.S. President has adopted a more conciliatory policy of engagement with the island nation.

~ by "The Chief" on March 4, 2016.

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