New Deal Ephemera

While the Caribbean islands and West Coast of Florida bore the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s impact, the storm caused comparatively minor inconveniences here at The Wolfsonian. The threat of the storm initially forced the postponement of a visit by a Junior Seminar History class of Florida International University students and also prompted the cancellation of a meeting of the Ephemera Society of America at our museum. A couple of weeks later, however, three intrepid Ephemera Society members ignored the post-storm news hysteria and came down for a visit and to sit in on my own rescheduled FIU class meeting to review, deconstruct, and critically analyze a display of some of the library’s Great Depression and New Deal-era ephemera.


Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

Diane de Blois, who serves as the editor of the Ephemera Society journal, arrived at the museum with her husband and business partner, Robert Dalton Harris. The couple are co-proprietors of the amazing West Sand Lake, New York-based American ephemera store, aGatherin’. Another Ephemera Society member, Kara Accettola of Little Sages Books, arrived at the museum to observe how The Wolfsonian uses art and ephemeral artifacts to augment university students’ understanding of the cultural history of America during the Great Depression.


Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

The twenty undergraduate students taking my Junior Seminar have been divided up into groups, with each group making weekly oral reports on five types of primary sources: literary;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

motion picture;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

museum objects and artifacts;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with contributions from Sam Herzberg, Leonard Lauder, Juliet Possati, Marco Possati, Mary Vuglen, and the Wolfson Family Foundation/Louis Wolfson, III

and music and sound recordings.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The meeting at The Wolfsonian introduced the students to VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies), image deconstruction, and critical analysis of historical artifacts.


Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

The students and visitors had the opportunity to examine a wide variety of ephemeral items, including: rare books, periodicals, pamphlets, portfolio plates, campaign stickers, advertisements, display cards, fans, pennants, sheet music covers, broadsides, calendars, mimeographed bulletins, posters, song books, and sound recordings.


Photographed by Lynton Gardiner

Collectively the class analyzed the iconography created to promote and critique President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration (NRA). The students noted the patriotic colors used for display cards, and we talked about the significance of the use of a Native American “Thunderbird” with lightning bolts and a cogwheel in its talons to symbolize the Administration’s aim of revivifying the nation’s depression-dormant industry.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The students noted how critics on the left caricatured the NRA symbol, with the Socialists converting it into a Capitalist eagle with industry and the nation’s hapless workers in its clutches.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Communists also lampooned the NRA symbol on the cover of Labor Defender, using photomontage images of starving and striking workers within the hollow outline of the eagle and superimposing a swastika over the same to imply that the program was fascist.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

Critics from the right also parodied the program, celebrating its demise when the conservative justices of the Supreme Court ruled the NRA unconstitutional.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The students had the opportunity to view ephemeral items promoting the entire alphabet soup of New Deal programs. These included Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) yearbooks, handbooks, badges, and even mimeographed newsletters produced by the young enrollees themselves.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Much of the brochures, pamphlets, and booklets produced by the Administration to document the economic problems of the Depression and to tout the effectiveness of FDR’s New Deal solutions focused on words and images of jobs and work.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Christopher DeNoon Collection for the Study of New Deal Culture


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Communist detractors devoted considerable effort and propaganda to recruiting African-Americans to their cause, focusing on racism, Southern chain gangs, lynchings, the plight of the Scottsboro Boys, the inequities of sharecropping, and the fact that the percentage of unemployed blacks was double the rate of their white counterparts.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Roosevelt Administration made successful overtures to African-Americans, wooing and winning over many black Republicans to the Democratic Party by the 1936 presidential election with federal relief and work programs that promised the community equal pay and fair employment. The First Lady, Eleanor, was also recognized as an outspoken and tireless champion of civil rights.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Source unknown


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

While many of the New Deal programs did much to alleviate the suffering brought on by the Great Depression, it was the outbreak of the Second World War that actually brought America back to full employment. With millions of men shipping off to the European and Pacific front lines, the need for workers to fill war-production assembly required campaigns to bring six million women into the workforce.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn Le Coultre


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Leonard A. Lauder

~ by "The Chief" on October 5, 2017.

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