Roosevelt House To Open New Campaign-Season Exhibit: “See How They Ran! FDR & His Opponents: Campaign Treasures From The New-York Historical Society”

Show Runs September 29-November 30, 2016

Historian Geoffrey C. Ward Featured at Opening Night Preview September 28 

(NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 12, 2016)—To mark the final, and what will surely be the most intensive, phase of this year’s pitched battle for the White House, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College will mount the new exhibit, See How They Ran! FDR and His Opponents: Campaign Treasures from the New-York Historical Society.  The show will present vivid examples of the onetime “new media” tools that were powerful enough in its time to mesmerize and motivate millions of American voters during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four historic campaigns for President from 1932 to 1944.

These deceptively quaint buttons, posters, broadsides, and radio broadcasts once seemed just as cutting-edge as the Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and television platforms that are dominating the campaign of 2016—and in their time, proved equally powerful as tools to convey the campaign messages of FDR and his four rivals for the nation’s highest office.

The rare and rarely seen political, relics—including original artwork (like an FDR campaign poster by Ben Shahn), along with metal and celluloid pins, paper prints, signs, consumer goods, sound recordings, and popular music—all boasted captivating messages, slogans, and images that reverberated through four of the most important White House campaigns in our history, and arguably moved millions of voters to the Roosevelt camp.

See How They Ran! is drawn primarily from the collections of the New-York Historical Society, with additional material provided by The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park, the Museum of the City of New York, the Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History, the Margaret Chase Smith Library in Skowhegan, Maine, and the Brooklyn College Archives & Special Collections, along with Roosevelt House’s own archives, and private collections.  The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust.

“We are proud and excited that, nearly 85 years after his initial race for the presidency in 1932, FDR’s media-savvy campaign efforts will at last be recognized and interpreted in his own home for the first time,” said Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College.  “We can’t think of a better time and place to situate this dazzling, nostalgic, informative, and instructive show than during yet another heated campaign for the White House.

See How They Ran will serve to enlighten visitors, augment the experience of audiences at our public programs, and most important of all, educate our students—among whom are many first-time voters who can only benefit from exposure to the history of presidential campaigning.  We are grateful indeed to the New-York Historical Society and the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust for making this display possible.”

Commented Harold Holzer, the historian who serves as Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Roosevelt House: “Modern commentators are forever bemoaning the decline of presidential campaigning—its supposed descent into sloganeering and negativity.  What we want to show with See How They Ran are the deep and wholly American roots of just this kind of White House race, and how such hullaballoo campaigns once joyfully inspired the American public to participate, and vote, in greater numbers than the electorate does today.  We look forward to welcoming students and the general public, and also building a program rich with insight and analysis that will bring superb speakers to Roosevelt House to explore the campaigns of the Roosevelt era and the contentious 2016 race as well.”

Roosevelt House announced that for the official exhibit opening on September 28, Holzer would host a conversation with historian Geoffrey C. Ward, whose many books include Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt, 1882-1905, A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, and the film script for the acclaimed 2014 Ken Burns documentary series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, for which he co-authored the companion volume.

In the run-up to the exhibit opening, and in the weeks to follow, Roosevelt House will present such programs as a September 12 talk by Joseph Lelyveld on FDR’s final year (and campaign); a September 20 panel on “Race and the Race” featuring Hunter professor and Sirius Radio host Karen Hunter; and a September 22 session on current presidential polling practices featuring numbers-crunchers and analysts for the noted Quinnipiac Poll, among them former New York Times political correspondent Maurice Carroll.   Also featured will be an October 13 program with author Ellen Fitzpatrick, author of the new book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency; and a November 1 program to celebrate the publication of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962.

The schedule also calls for debate-watch events for students in September and October, an election night marathon the following month, and a unique post-election opportunity to explore the election results with the host of CBS’ Face the Nation, John Dickerson, author of the new best-seller Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History.

The Exhibition

a_gallant_leader-finalWhile media and persuasion tools have changed radically since the age of FDR, See How They Ran! will demonstrate how the once-high tech political marketing tools of the Roosevelt era galvanized millions of voters, stimulating exceptional turnouts in times of deep economic and, later, global crisis.  This material offers not only a nostalgic look at campaigning in the 1930s and 40s, but a powerful lesson for today, when our two presidential candidates boast nearly 17 million Twitter followers between them, but even the most optimistic predictions about their elaborate get-out-the-vote efforts estimate that they will likely produce comparatively anemic voter turnouts.  How can new campaign technologies and techniques widen voter participation?  How can the marketing platforms of the last century inform and improve the messaging of the 21st century?  Those are the questions that See How They Ran! will attempt to answer—or raise for discussion—by reminding visitors of a time when seemingly primitive efforts worked miracles.

The exhibit will feature not only original campaign buttons, posters, and broadsides; but also news photographs, election posters, flags, banners, and souvenirs.  The exhibit will also acknowledge the once-novel and powerful medium of radio by featuring a ca. 1930s-era radio with usable headphones so visitors can access FDR’s original broadcast campaign speeches the way voter first heard them generations ago.  All these artifacts—accentuated by Roosevelt’s own ringing voice and accompanied by the rousing campaign music of his times—will demonstrate for modern visitors the remarkable marketing efforts undertaken in behalf of FDR and his opponents in the presidential campaigns of 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944.

The show will be introduced by far more primitive campaign items from the 19th century (including Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 race).  The show will also include a nod to FDR‘s first national campaign, his unsuccessful race for vice president on the Democratic ticket with presidential nominee James Cox ticket in 1920.  The show will feature a special epilogue in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt’s monumental behind-the-scenes role in all of her husband’s campaigns (including her speech to the 1940 National Convention credited with assuring FDR the nomination for an unprecedented third term)—and in acknowledgment of the first major-party presidential nomination of a woman.  This special epilogue will feature material on the very first women to seek the presidency before women even had the right to vote: Victoria Woodhull, who sought the office in 1872, declaring in one of the great understatements in campaign history: “I anticipate criticism,” and Belva Lockwood, who ran a national campaign in 1884, telling the press, “I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.”  Also featured will be the first two women to vie for the presidential nomination of the major political parties: Republican Margaret Chase Smith (1964) and Democrat Shirley Chisholm (1972)—illustrated by choice original items for each.

Commented Hunter President Raab: “It is a particular honor for the house where Eleanor Roosevelt once lived to acknowledge the historical significance of the 2016 campaign—the first major-party nomination of a woman candidate—by reminding visitors of the groundbreaking efforts by women who aspired to that achievement over the past two centuries.”

On view as well will be personal FDR relics that became familiar to Americans during his presidency, including the ubiquitous cigarette holder he habitually clutched at a characteristically jaunty angle, and a traveling cane which he took on his personal appearance tours here and overseas.  The very moment FDR captured the 1932 Democratic nomination—his first—is commemorated by a photograph showing the then-New York governor receiving news of his victory by telephone at Hyde Park—a historic occasion captured on film and autographed to his devoted secretary, Missy LeHand: “This was the moment. FDR.”

But the vast majority of exhibition space will be devoted to mass-produced campaign material designed to the campaigns of Franklin Roosevelt.  Almost quaint by 21st-century standards, these advertising tools, in their own time, characterized the most brilliantly conceived, ultra-modern campaigns for the nation’s highest office.  Distributed in vast numbers by political organizations, these artifacts were passionately used by voters of the era: eagerly displayed on lawns, fences, and in storefronts, proudly worn on lapels, hats, and dresses, or eagerly hoisted at rallies and parades.  They were designed not only to boost FDR, but to defeat him, to be shown by campaign buttons featuring slogans like “No Third Term” and “We Don’t Like Eleanor Either.”

Most of these items have not been seen together in the 72 years since the last of FDR’s presidential campaigns.  Now, at the height of interest in current White House campaigning, they will be re-assembled and interpreted for an expected audience including the general visiting public, Hunter and other students and faculty, as well as the growing number of tour groups who now gather at Roosevelt House.  Guests will enjoy the enriching opportunity to recall and learn precisely how leaders once ran for public office—and, inevitably, to decide for themselves whether campaigning has advanced, or regressed, since the Roosevelt era.

See How they Ran will be mounted in the historic southwest parlor and adjacent rooms of the Roosevelt family’s New York City home from 1908 to 1941, at 47-49 East 65th Street.  Franklin and Eleanor made the house their New York City headquarters during FDR’s first campaign for the presidency, and converted it into the nerve and control center for the run-up to his first inauguration in 1933.

Roosevelt House plans to digitize the artifacts and interpretations, and will re-create the show as an online exhibit that will live as an educational tool on the Roosevelt House website.

See How They Ran is curated by Deborah Gardner, Historian/Curator at Roosevelt House, who curated the acclaimed 2015 exhibition here, Women Take the LeadThe installation is designed by Dylan Gauthier, with Thomas Hunter honors student Yvonne Chow.  Generous assistance was provided by Gregory Nolan, John Winters, the operations staff of Hunter College, and colleagues from the New-York Historical Society and other loan institutions.

The exhibition will be open for viewing Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am-4:00 PM, and during Saturday tours and special evening events.  Guided tours of Roosevelt House are offered by appointment on most Saturdays at 10:00 AM, Noon, and 2:00 PM.  To make reservations, please consult the website: www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/tours