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A New President Takes Command: New Exhibition Explores the Dynamics of Presidential Transitions
Free Soup Line, Unemployed men wait in line for a free meal at a Chicago soup kitchen, 1931. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- What can America expect of a new President’s first months in office? How might the new administration gain support from the public? What social, economic and political forces might be in play as the President frames an agenda and puts it into action?

With questions such as these occupying people’s minds as America looks ahead to January 2009, the New-York Historical Society offers a fascinating and compelling parallel to the past. Beginning December 13, the Historical Society will present the exhibition A New President Takes Command, exploring President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s history-making First Hundred Days in office.

“No President in the past century took office in such difficult circumstances as did Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and no President moved ahead more quickly and forcefully,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “This new exhibition provides much-needed perspective on what we ourselves might see during the first months of President Obama’s administration, and can help the public understand how we have succeeded as a nation, in spite of dispiriting times.”

Presented by the Historical Society in collaboration with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, the exhibition is based on “Action and Action Now”: FDR’s First Hundred Days, currently on display there through the Fall of 2009. This is the first in a series of collaborative installations drawing upon the rich collections of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park and the New-York Historical Society.

“We are delighted to be able to work with the N-Y Historical Society to use the President’s own archive to help Americans today draw the judgments that shape contemporary civic life. That is exactly why FDR founded his presidential library in 1941,” said Dr. Cynthia M. Koch, director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. “I hope this exhibit will encourage people to travel up the Hudson to see our exhibit in Hyde Park and learn more about the First Hundred Days and how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s work affects our lives today.”

A New President Takes Command marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt’s first inauguration and the beginning of the New Deal. Designed to evoke the desperation of the Great Depression, followed by the hope and energy of a nation rebuilding, the exhibition displays rarely seen documents, photographs, artifacts, and newsreels drawn from the archives of the Roosevelt Library and Museum and from the New-York Historical Society collection.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in March 1933, nearly 13 million Americans—one in four workers—were jobless. In some cities, unemployment reached more than 80% of the work force. Nineteen million people depended upon meager relief payments to survive. Workers lucky enough to have jobs earned, on average, only two-thirds of what they had been making in 1929, at the start of the Depression. Many had lost their homes and their savings: four thousand banks collapsed in the first two months of 1933.

In his first speech to the nation as Chief Executive, FDR addressed this crisis by telling Americans “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He then launched into an opening one hundred days in office that marked a turning point for a troubled country.

The speed and scope of Roosevelt’s actions were unprecedented. Many later Presidents have used the “First Hundred Days” as a measure for their own administrations. But none has matched FDR’s agenda or its achievements. In less than four months, the Roosevelt administration stabilized the banks and the economy, saved homes and farms from foreclosure, and instituted a vast range of programs to address the dire needs of the people. Most important, the first Hundred Days restored hope and, in the process, preserved democratic government in the United States.

A New President Takes Command will remain on view at the New-York Historical Society through May 3, 2009.

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