The First Dog, Fala Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, Fala, and MacKenzie King at Quebec, Canada for conference, 9/11/1944. (National Archives Identifier 196995)

Eleanor Roosevelt, Fala, and MacKenzie King at Quebec, Canada for conference, September 11, 1944. (National Archives Identifier 196995)

In celebration of National Dog Day, today’s post comes from Meagan Frenzer, graduate research intern for the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum maintains documents of critical participants within the FDR administration.

This list includes prominent figures such as Frances Perkins, Harry L. Hopkins, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., and, surprisingly, President Roosevelt’s dog, Fala.

The Scottish terrier became a national figure as President Roosevelt’s loyal, four-legged companion.

When his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley gave the terrier as a Christmas gift in 1940, President Roosevelt renamed the terrier Murray the Outlaw of Falahill after his famous Scottish ancestor.

Photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt and the late President Roosevelt's dog, Fala, at the dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt home at Hyde Park, New York, 4/12/1946. (National Archives Identifier 199362)

Photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt and the late President Roosevelt’s dog, Fala, at the dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt home at Hyde Park, New York, April 12, 1946. (National Archives Identifier 199362)

Shortened to “Fala,” the terrier accompanied the President on trips and attended key meetings, including the 1941 Atlantic Charter Conference.

Fala enjoyed entertaining international dignitaries and famous visitors with his tricks.

In his travels, Fala met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Queen of the Netherlands, and Mexican President Manuel Camacho.

During World War II, Fala served as an honorary Army private and became the national president of Barkers for Britain, which created chapters for dog lovers to help the war effort through membership donations.

Letter from a school child to Daisy Suckley  asking to explain how Fala can get mail from his K-9 mother and brothers. (FDR Library)

Letter from a school child to Daisy Suckley asking to explain how Fala can get mail from his K-9 mother and brothers. (FDR Library)

The Roosevelt Library holds thousands of letters sent to Fala by people and animals from across the country.

Daisy Suckley, who was also his trainer, acted as his appointed secretary and helped Fala answer his fan mail.

The library needed five document boxes to hold all of Fala’s correspondences.

In addition, the library holds the draft for the famous “Fala Speech.”

The “Fala Speech” was President Roosevelt’s response to the allegations by Republicans that the President ordered a destroyer to retrieve Fala when the terrier was left behind on an Aleutian island.

In a speech to the Teamsters Union, Roosevelt said:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him—at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars—his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself . . . But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.

After President Roosevelt’s death, Fala lived with Eleanor Roosevelt until his death in 1952.

Fala was buried on what would have been his 12th birthday in the Rose Garden at the Roosevelt Library alongside the President in Hyde Park.

Fala-related items are on permanent display at the Roosevelt Library and Museum.

For more information about Fala, visit the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum or read the article “Fala and the Barkers for Britain” from the Winter 2006 issue of Prologue Magazine. 

FDR at a picnic on "Sunset Hill" near Pine Plains, NY, August 8, 1940. Fala is 4 months old. (FDR Library)

FDR at a picnic on “Sunset Hill” near Pine Plains, NY, August 8, 1940. Fala is 4 months old. (FDR Library)

Fala's Grave  Fala, FDR's famous Scottish terrier died on April 5, 1952 and is buried in the Rose Garden at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park. (Courtesy of the FDR Library)

Fala’s Grave
Fala died on April 5, 1952, and is buried in the Rose Garden at the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, NY. (Courtesy of the FDR Library)

Posted in - World War II, Letters in the National Archives, National Archives History, National Archives Near You, Prologue Magazine | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Talk #POTUSvacation with us on Twitter!

Work can be stressful, especially when you’re the Commander in Chief.  Each President has sought a place to relax from the rigors of the White House. George Washington escaped to Mount Vernon, and for the next two weeks the Obama family is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard.

This summer, we invite you to explore Presidential vacations!

Let's GoThe Presidential Libraries have film footage, photos, letters, schedules, artifacts, and much more that provide a fascinating view into POTUS vacations. You can choose your own adventure on Instagram and chat with us on Twitter.

On Wednesday, August 19, join us for a #POTUSvacation Twitter chat!  Presidential Library archivists and curators will be on hand to answer your questions and share stories from:

We’ll also be joined by:

We look forward to chatting with you!

 

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The 60th Anniversary of the Presidential Library Act of 1955

Today’s post comes from Meagan Frenzer, graduate research intern for the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, August 12, 1955. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, August 12, 1955. (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

Signed into law on August 12, 1955, the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 (PLA) established a system to preserve and make accessible Presidential records through the creation of privately erected and Federally maintained libraries.

The precedent for the PLA began with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Before President Roosevelt’s terms, Presidential records were considered private property, which Presidents took with them upon leaving office.

They then donated the papers to repositories like the Library of Congress, or their collections remained at their estates.

President Roosevelt hoped to change this tradition by creating a single location where all of his papers would be available for the public.

He proposed the creation of a library, which would be donated to the U.S. Government. This library would then come under the control of the National Archives, which was established during Roosevelt’s administration.

FDR speaking at the dedication of the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park, NY, June 30, 1941. (FDR Library, National Archives)

FDR speaking at the dedication of the FDR Library in Hyde Park, NY, June 30, 1941. (FDR Library, National Archives)

Though President Roosevelt’s actions regularized the procedures of preserving the papers of future Presidents, other Presidents encountered difficulties when trying to emulate their predecessor.

For instance, governmental budgetary concerns regarding Presidential libraries slowed the transfer process for President Harry S. Truman’s Presidential materials. Truman therefore had to bring his materials with him back to Kansas City, Missouri, after his Presidency.

The Federal Records Act of 1950 hoped to fix these issues by allowing the Government to accept deposits of Presidential papers. But the act proved unsuitable for Truman’s donation.

In January 1955, David Lloyd, a Truman aide, sent Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover a draft resolution that would authorize the Government to accept the Truman Library.

Harry S. Truman at Groundbreaking for Truman Library,  May 8, 1955. (National Archives Identifier 6789287)

Harry S. Truman at the Truman Library groundbreaking, May 8, 1955. (National Archives Identifier 6789287)

Grover revised Lloyd’s draft to allow the Government to accept libraries from any President, past or future.

He also inserted language that allowed states, universities, foundations, and institutes to become partners with the Government in establishing Presidential libraries.

Grover was the primary witness speaking in support of the act when it came before Congress. No one testified in opposition, and the legislation passed without controversy.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 into law.

Since its passage, the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 has been used 13 times to bring Presidential libraries into Government control.

For more information about the Presidential Libraries Acts, read the Prologue article The Presidential Libraries Act after 50 Years.

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, accepts custody of the George W. Bush Library on April 24, 2013.

Archivist of the United States,David Ferriero accepts custody of the George W. Bush Library on April 24, 2013.

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Take a break with Presidential vacations!

Need a vacation? This summer, go on a vacation with 13 of our Presidents!  You can choose your own adventure on Instagram and chat with us on Twitter on August 19 using #POTUSvacation.  

Vacations are an integral part of Presidential history, a way for Presidents to relax and recharge outside of Washington. Many of the iconic images that we associate with Presidents were taken while on retreats from the White House.

 

The tradition of a summer White House dates back to the beginning of the Presidency, and several of our Commanders in Chief have had dedicated family retreats.  These retreats have been a place to recuperate, spend time with family, and pursue hobbies and recreation.  George Washington established the tradition with his estate Mount Vernon. Our first President traveled to Mount Vernon in Virginia 15 times during the course of his two terms in office. Some visits were only a few days, while other retreats lasted months.

John F. Kennedy grew up vacationing at his family’s home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.  As President, JFK would return to the family compound by the sea throughout the year. And each summer of his administration, Jacqueline Kennedy and their children Caroline and John Jr. stayed on Cape Cod full time, with JFK coming for an extended break. JFK would also commute from Washington, DC, on the weekends.

President John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr., depart a candy store in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, during Labor Day Weekend. Under Secretary of the Navy, Paul B. “Red” Fay, walks at left; White House Secret Service agent, Hank Rybka, walks behind President Kennedy.

President John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr., depart a candy store in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, during Labor Day Weekend. Under Secretary of the Navy, Paul B. “Red” Fay, walks at left; White House Secret Service agent, Hank Rybka, walks behind President Kennedy.

 

For George H. W. Bush, Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine has been a cherished place to gather with family his entire life.  His grandfather, George Herbert Walker, bought the property in 1902, and George H.W. Bush has spent summers there since he was born. During his Presidency, George H.W. Bush would travel to Kennebunkport as a restorative place to think clearly, exercise, and be with family.  Bush 41 has described Walker’s Point as “conducive to making decisions” during his Presidency.

Vice President George Bush plays with his grandchildren at Walker's Point, Kennebunkport, Maine. 8/6/88.

Vice President George Bush plays with his grandchildren at Walker’s Point, Kennebunkport, Maine, 8/6/88.

 

Vacation pastimes also provide a humanizing look at a President and reflect his personality and interests. Presidents were photographed playing with their children, holding hands with the First Lady, fishing, or riding horses.

President William J. Clinton take a horseback ride on the beach at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.  8/31/94.

President William J. Clinton takes a horseback ride on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, 8/31/94.

 

The image of Ronald Reagan on a horse at his ranch is an iconic part of his Presidency.  At Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, California, Reagan enjoyed physical activities like chopping wood, building fences, and of course, riding horses.

President and Nancy Reagan standing in front of their ranch house at Rancho Del Cielo. 8/13/81.

President and Nancy Reagan standing in front of their ranch house at Rancho Del Cielo, 8/13/81.

 

Many Presidents did not own a private vacation home, but they still found a place to unwind. Harry Truman was of modest means, but still needed to get away from what he dubbed “the Great White Jail.” He found a retreat on the Key West Naval Air Station in a home that was once the residence of the base commandant. Truman spent a few weeks there each year of his administration, earning it the nickname the Little White House. Like most Presidential vacations, trips to Key West weren’t an escape from work. The Truman Presidential Library has Key West photos of swimming, fishing, and volleyball, but Truman continued to meet with advisors, hold press conferences, and attend ceremonial events.

President Harry S. Truman stops the motorcade at a scenic spot on the highway to Key West after going to Boca Chica to meet additional guests who arrived late. In the front seat, left to right: unidentified, Admiral William Leahy, President Truman. Back seat, left to right: Harry Vaughan, Judge John Caskie Collet, and John Steelman. 11/20/46.

President Harry S. Truman stops the motorcade at a scenic spot on the highway to Key West after going to Boca Chica to meet additional guests who arrived late. In the front seat, left to right: unidentified, Admiral William Leahy, President Truman. Back seat, left to right: Harry Vaughan, Judge John Caskie Collet, and John Steelman, 11/20/46.

 

In 1978, Jimmy Carter took a vacation rafting on the Salmon River in Idaho. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, children Amy and Chip Carter, and an entire group of reporters and guests accompanied him.  At the conclusion of the trip on August 24, a reporter asked the President if he had missed what was going on in the world. President Carter answered, “I have gotten a Presidential briefing every morning at 7 o’clock from the State Department and also from the CIA.”

Jimmy Carter and family rafting down the Salmon River, 7/23/1978 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/180915

Jimmy Carter and family rafting down the Salmon River, 7/23/1978

 

Even on vacation, a President’s work is never done.

The Presidential Libraries have film footage, photos, letters, schedules, artifacts, and much more that provide a fascinating view into POTUS vacations. Explore all 13 libraries and their holdings.

 

 

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Before the ADA, there was Deaf President Now

Danica Rice is an archives technician at the National Archives at Seattle, is partially Deaf, and considers herself a member of the Deaf culture and community.

During our celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it’s worth reflecting on an event two years earlier that served as a catalyst for the Deaf community and may well have pushed passage of the legislation forward. The eight-day event I refer to is called Deaf President Now, and it happened in Washington, DC, on the Gallaudet University campus and involved marches in nearby areas as well.

The charter for Galluadet University: April 8, 1864, Public Law 43: An Act to authorize the Columbia Institution for the Deaf & Dumb and the Blind to confer degrees.

The charter for Gallaudet University, signed by Abraham Lincoln, April 8, 1864, Public Law 43: An Act to authorize the Columbia Institution for the Deaf & Dumb and the Blind to confer degrees. (National Archives)

In March of 1988, Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees was responsible for choosing between three deaf and one hearing candidate for the presidency of the only fully Deaf university in the country. After hasty deliberation, they chose the hearing candidate.

The resulting uproar among the students and faculty led to marches protesting the decision, which were nationally recognized by the media. Protesters associated themselves with the civil rights movement by stating “we still have a dream,” making it easier for people to understand where the Deaf as a culture and identity were coming from in their desire for someone who spoke their language to lead their university.

On the second day of the protest, four students organized those around them to devise and present four demands to the Board of Trustees that morning. They demanded that:

  • Elisabeth Zinser (the hearing president-elect chosen by the Board of Trustees) must resign, and a deaf president be selected.
  • Jane Spilman must resign from the Board of Trustees (This was the result of a rather uncouth comment she made, which she later denied, defending her decision to elect Zinser: “Deaf people are not able to function in a hearing world.” Needless to say, this angered many.)
  • The percentage of deaf members on the Board of Trustees must be increased to at least 51 percent. (At the time, there were few or no Deaf members on the board.)
  • There must not be reprisals against any of the protesters for exercising their rights under the First Amendment.

Eventually, after eight days of ongoing protests, marches, boycotts by students of their classes, and much more (even deflating tires of school buses in front of the University gates!), the board finally gave in—a huge civil rights movement victory for the Deaf.

At long last, the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University became Dr. I. King Jordan, and during his acceptance speech, he said, “A Deaf person can do anything a hearing person can, except hear.” This became the mantra for Deaf people worldwide.

The media focus that this week-long event elicited made the world sit up and take notice. Due to the focus from the media and the widespread support in the form of letters or interviews from many public figures as well as members of Congress, this movement became, in Deaf history, a culmination of who they were as a culture, giving profound strength to the Deaf community as a whole.

How does this relate to the ADA, you may ask? When I consider the freedoms we have today, the two most important events I consider crucial in our history are the signing of the ADA and Deaf President Now.

There are still many ways in which the world can improve on working with the Deaf and other disabilities, but the signing of the ADA made enormous strides for all disabilities. Without these two remarkable events, the Deaf would have considerably fewer rights—but through their existence, our culture solidified and unified as a culture with a history.

For further information on Deaf President Now, go to: http://www.gallaudet.edu/dpn_home/issues/week_of_dpn.html

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The Archivist’s Favorite Pancakes

Some might say the best part of sleeping over at the National Archives is snoozing the night away beneath the Constitution, but we know the best part is having the Archivist of the United States make you pancakes for breakfast!

Enjoying pancakes made by the Archivist.

Enjoying pancakes made by the Archivist.

Three times a year, kids and their parents can stay overnight at the National Archives. And the next morning, David S. Ferriero is there, taking a break from his job as head of the agency to flip pancakes for our guests.

We asked him to share his favorite recipe that he uses when he makes pancakes at home–and now you can make pancakes just like the Archivist!

The Archivist’s Pancakes

Yield: 30 pancakes—depending on size

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups milk
4 tbsp melted butter
2 large eggs

Directions:

1.  Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt

2. Separately mix together milk, butter and eggs

3.  Add dry ingredients to wet and mix—don’t overmix

4.  Spoon or pour batter (amount dependent upon how big you want them) onto griddle or frying pan

5. Sprinkle on chocolate chips or berries and cook for a couple of minutes until underside is brown

6. Flip and cook another couple of minutes

 

Southpaws at work! Patrick Madden, director of the Foundation for the National Archives, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, flip pancakes.

Southpaws at work! Patrick Madden, director of the Foundation for the National Archives, and David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, flip pancakes for our Archivist Sleepover guests.

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On Exhibit: Voting Rights Act of 1965

Today’s post comes from Alex Nieuwsma, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives)

The Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965 (signature page). (General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives Identifier 299909)

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a milestone in American history. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it on August 6, 1965, marking the culmination of decades of efforts toward African American equality.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, clearly stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

In response, many southern states issued voting tests to African Americans that all but guaranteed they would fail and be unable to vote. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine permitting racial segregation. While African Americans were legally citizens of the United States, they commonly had separate drinking fountains, stores, bus seats, and schools.

The civil rights movement grew immensely after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. The Board of Education ruling in 1954, which struck down the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and deemed the segregation of schools to be unconstitutional.

The leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., further propelled the movement.

A Baptist preacher in Alabama, King became a national face of the civil rights movement following his nonviolent marches and protests in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights Leaders in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC, April 6, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 2803443).

Photograph of President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights leaders look on, Washington, DC, April 6, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 2803443).

It was during one of these marches, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, that King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Two years later, King was back in Washington, DC, to watch President Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act into law. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a 328-74 vote and in the Senate by a vote of 79-18.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 immediately changed the political landscape of America. 250,000 new voters were registered by the end of 1965. More than half of all African American citizens were registered by 1967.

The Voting Rights Act will be on display at the National Archives from July 31 to September 16, 2015. It will be featured in the Landmark Document display of the Rubenstein Gallery.

 

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On Exhibit: Bloody Sunday

Between 1961 and 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held a voting registration campaign in Selma, Alabama, a town known to suppress African American voting.

When their efforts were stymied by local enforcement officials, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed Selma into the national spotlight.

On March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights protesters attempted a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the state capital, to draw attention to the voting rights issue.

Led by Hosea Williams of SCLC and John Lewis of SNCC, the marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River on their way to Montgomery. There they encountered Alabama state troopers and local police officers who gave them a two-minute warning to stop and turn back. When the protesters refused, the officers tear-gassed and beat them. Over 50 people were hospitalized.

Photograph of the Two Minute Warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

Photograph of the two-minute warning on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. (National Archives Identifier 16899041)

The events became known as “Bloody Sunday” and were televised worldwide.

A few weeks later a march from Selma to Montgomery was completed under federal protection.

Later than year, on August 6, 1965—partly due to the efforts of civil rights activists in Selma and around the nation—President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. This act attempted to remove barriers faced by African Americans in exercising their constitutional right to vote.

The statement made to the FBI by activists John Lewis and Stella Davis, who were both injured during the events of Bloody Sunday, are on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. from July 30 through August 26, 2015.

Statement of John Lewis regarding Selma's "Bloody Sunday," March 8, 1965. (Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Archives)

Statement of John Lewis regarding Selma’s “Bloody Sunday,” March 8, 1965. (Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Archives)

A group of an estimated 3,200 Civil Rights demonstrators crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, March 21, 1965. (Records of the United States Information Agency, National Archives)

A group of an estimated 3,200 Civil Rights demonstrators crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, March 21, 1965. (Records of the United States Information Agency, National Archives)

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Towards Freedom and Equality: The Americans With Disabilities Act

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, D.C.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, page 1. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

July marks the 25th anniversary of the historic moment when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA prohibits employers, the government, and transportation, among other agencies and institutions, from discriminating against people with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities.

On July 26, 1990, a White House press release stated: “The American people have once again given clear expression to our most basic ideals of freedom and equality.”

Like other movements for freedom and equality, the disability community endured years of discrimination before the ADA established their equality under the law.

However, even before 1990, 1973 marked a turning point, when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act banned discrimination against people with disabilities in the allocation of Federal funds. Previous antidiscrimination laws regarding race, ethnicity, and gender influenced this new legislation.

This law helped to build solidarity among people with different disabilities, and from 1973 through 1990, the disability community battled against trends of general deregulation across the government.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, July 26, 1990, signature page. (National Archives Identifier 6037488)

Finally, on July 26, 1990, the ADA established “a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.”

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who championed the final version of the ADA, delivered part of his speech in support of the bill in sign language for his deaf brother to understand.

According to records held by the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, Senator Harkin argued: “The American dream is the dream of opportunity for all. And when any American is denied the opportunity to contribute, we all lose.”

The ADA introduced a legal framework for an ongoing conversation about accessibility and a mission to accomplish it.

Still, the journey continues towards freedom and equality.

According to a 2014 accessibility intern working in Washington, DC, the balance between accessibility and aesthetics is delicate. Many building components are built for grandeur, including long, stone staircases. For example, she explained: “When they were first put in, no one was thinking of including an accessible ramp with a slope of 1:12. That means that if a staircase goes one foot up, it has to go twelve feet out.”

She also addressed the accessibility of public events: “For most visitors, the two-inch drop between the flooring in the tents and the grass on the National Mall is no big deal. For anyone in a wheelchair or scooter, however, those two inches are the difference between being stuck outside and getting something to eat or drink.”

Between 2001 and 2005 the National Archives in Washington, D.C. underwent a major renovation which made the building more accessible to visitors with disabilities.

Today, the National Archives accommodates all visitors in both the archives and the exhibits. Accommodations include wheelchair accessibility, properly constructed and displayed signage, and alarm systems with audio and visual warnings.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. from March 16, 2015, to July 30, 2015, in the Landmark Document display of the Rubenstein Gallery.

A nurse pushes a person in a wheelchair up the ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, c. 1969. (Records of the National Archives)

A nurse pushes a person in a wheelchair up the ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, ca. 1969. (Records of the National Archives)

Permanent ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, July 28, 2015 (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

Permanent ramp at the entrance on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the National Archives Building, July 28, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Reed, National Archives)

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Frances Perkins aided the von Trapp Family Singers

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1938 the von Trapp family singers were in danger.

Baron von Trapp, a heroic Austrian sea captain in World War I, declined a commission to serve in the naval forces of the Third Reich.

His eldest son, Rupert, likewise declined a request to serve as a doctor for the Nazis.

Finally, according to daughter Agathe von Trapp’s memoir, the singing family “refused in unison” an invitation to sing on the Munich radio in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

In 2005, Prologue magazine published an illuminating account of “The Real Story of the von Trapp Family,” which relied on immigration and citizenship records held in the National Archives at Boston.

Documents at the National Archives at College Park—in Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’s immigration correspondence—build upon this story. These documents suggest that Perkins was instrumental in the immigration case of the von Trapp Family Singers.

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1933, less than two months after the Nazis seized power in Germany, Perkins became Secretary of Labor. As Secretary, she oversaw the Immigration and Naturalization Service throughout the 1930s. Perkins’s immigration correspondence includes a series of letters from American citizens to Perkins concerning refugees.

The von Trapps were one case among hundreds in Perkins’s correspondence.

The family left Austria for Italy in the summer of 1938. They then entered the United States on temporary visitors’ visas. After a brief stay in the United States, the von Trapps traveled to Scandinavia for a singing tour.

In the fall of 1939, the family returned to the U.S. for another singing tour. This time, Ellis Island officials detained the family because Maria von Trapp cried, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!”

The Department of State, which shared some jurisdiction over immigration with the Department of Labor, had asserted that the repeated extension of visitors’ visas conflicted with American immigration law.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 19, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 19, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In her memoir, Agathe mentioned that the other detainees cheered when the family was released from detainment after three days because this was rare on Ellis Island. She attributed their release to a kind friend in Pennsylvania they had met during their first singing tour. That friend was likely Gertrude Ely, also a friend of Perkins.

Ely wrote to Perkins on behalf of the family on March 12, 1940, saying, “I am sending this note with the sheaf of forms made out by Baron von Trapp for his singing family, making the request that their visitors’ visas be extended six months.”

Three days later, Perkins requested safe passage for the von Trapps in a memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration.

On March 19, 1940, Ely replied that the Baron hoped to thank Perkins for her successful efforts.

The family became citizens nearly a decade later.

Baron von Trapp’s calling card. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Baron von Trapp’s calling card. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Baron von Trapp’s calling card is in Perkins’s correspondence file to this day at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

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