Monday, July 1, 2019

My Parents in Washington

Our recent vacation in Washington, DC prompted me to reflect on the times my parents visited Washington in their youth. My mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932 at age 16, and my father visited in June 1933 at age 18.

My mother went to Washington with her father who was working on his Ph.D. at American University. He was a professor at Norwich University and the family was living in Northfield, Vermont. She wrote in the family history:

During the summer after my Junior year of high school he succeeded in receiving an assignment of an office in the Library of Congress for research on his doctoral thesis. He had been blind in one eye most of his life, and reading tired him, so he took me to Washington, D.C. for six weeks.

She worked mornings in the dining hall on the campus of American University to earn her room and board, and in the afternoons she read to her father at the Library of Congress.

More from the family history:

The thesis was about the German theologian Schleiermacher, one perhaps lesser known. The reading was dry at times, except that he fell deeply in love and wrote some beautiful love letters which appealed to a sixteen year old!

My mother wrote about touring the Washington area on the weekends, specifically mentioning the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, District of Columbia War Memorial, White House, Washington National Cathedral, Folger Shakespeare Library (new that year), National Zoo, Ford's Theatre, and Lincoln Memorial – her favorite along with the Library of Congress.

In 1932 the Library of Congress, now three buildings on Capitol Hill, consisted of just one building, what is now called the Thomas Jefferson Building. The Jefferson Memorial, Supreme Court, National Gallery of Art, and many of the Smithsonian museums were not yet built.

In an amusing coincidence, the Librarian of Congress at the time was Herbert Putnam, full name George Herbert Putnam. My mother would marry into a distant branch of the Putnam family.

My father visited Washington a year later. He was active in 4-H as a youth, and in 1933 he was one of four 4-H club members who were
named delegates to represent Vermont at the National 4-H Camp to be held on the mall in front of the United States Department of Agriculture buildings, Washington, D.C., June 15 to 21.

(Source: newspaper clipping. Interestingly, the clipping says my father was from Cloverdale, which was only a neighborhood and not a town – see this. He lived in the town of Cambridge.)

Those were the years of the Great Depression. When my mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932, Herbert Hoover was president, but he lost his bid for re-election to a second term that fall. By June 1933 when my father visited, Franklin Roosevelt was president and he was just finishing up his famous First 100 Days in which more than a dozen major laws were passed by Congress. What a time to be camping on the National Mall in Washington!

In an interesting twist of history, the Farm Credit Act of 1933 was enacted on June 16 while my father was in Washington. This law significantly expanded the mission and structure of the Farm Credit System, where I worked for most of my career.

My father just missed being in Washington at the same time as his future in-laws. My mother's parents were in Washington for my grandfather's graduation from American University on June 5, 1933.

The photos above are my mother in 1933 when she graduated from Northfield High School and my father in 1932 when he graduated from the Vermont School of Agriculture.

No comments: