Classroom Activities

  1. In her address, ER stated that “we are all immigrants–all except Indians, who, we might say, are the only inhabitants of this country who have a real right to say that they own the country.”  How does this part of ER’s argument support her understanding of citizenship?  Invite class members to share their family history. Is your class primarily homogenous or heterogeneous?  If this same group of students were living in 1940, would any members of the class be likely to have their civil liberties violated?  To what extent and in what ways has our nation preserved civil liberties since this time?
  2. J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924-1972, compiled an extensive FBI file on ER, monitoring and detailing her activities in light of his responsibility toward protecting the security of the nation.  In many ways, these two important figures held drastically different views about civil liberties and security.  For this project, half of the class should assume the perspective of ER and the other half should assume the perspective of J. Edgar Hoover.  The first half of the class should write a “My Day” article in which ER discusses just having found out that Hoover was keeping an FBI file on her.  Considering ER’s description of civil liberties, what might the first lady say about Hoover’s actions?  As a first lady, what would she be willing to write and share with the entire nation?  (For examples of ER’s “My Day” articles, visit http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/ and select the “Online Documents” link.) Students writing “My Day” articles should bring these to class for discussion and give them to a student from the Hoover group. Each student receiving a paper should write a response to the article, from Hoover’s perspective, in the format of an open letter that might be printed in a newspaper.  How might Hoover defend his actions?  What is he willing to share with the first lady, knowing that millions of Americans are reading his letter, too?  For more information on J. Edgar Hoover, students might examine Stephen Underhill’s Voices of Democracy unit on “The Menace of the Communist Party.”  Students should bring their letters to class for a second round of discussion.
  3. The U.S. Mint will be issuing two coin series beginning in 2007 and running through (at least) 2015. The Presidential One Dollar Coin Program will issue coins featuring the image of presidents starting with George Washington and continuing with each president in the  order in which he held office. These coins are meant for circulation. Simultaneously, the U.S. Mint is starting its First Spouse 24-Karat Coin Program, featuring the likenesses of first spouses starting with Martha Washington and also continuing in chronological order.  The first spouse coins are commemorative, collector’s edition coins.  Visit the U.S. Mint website and examine the coin designs. How are the presidents and first spouses depicted?  In what ways are these individuals remembered on each coin?  What is the significance of one series being in circulation and the other being for collectors?  Trace the differences between the two series and discuss these differences in light of the discussion of the historic first lady office that was featured in this unit’s essay.
  4. Examine ER’s travels in 1943 by visiting the PBS interactive map of her tour of the South Pacific (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/maps/tour.html).  Where did ER travel?  What was the purpose of this tour?  Think about how this relates to her idea of local, national, and global citizenship. How do you think ER understands the individual’s responsibility during times of war, especially in terms of knowing global community members?  Thinking about how ER advocates knowledge of the community in her civil liberties address, consider how and from whom we receive knowledge about global community members today.  How and from whom do we receive information about American initiatives and missions in other parts of the world?
  5. Consider ER’s initial hesitation in moving to Washington D.C. and becoming the first lady, as discussed in this unit’s essay.  Discuss how this is surprising or not surprising to you.  What would we think of the partner (male or female) of a current candidate who expressed a lack of interest in going to the White House? Reflect upon the role of spouses in a recent political campaign, noting how they are portrayed in campaign advertisements, interviews, etc.  How would you define the current expectations of political spouses?
  6. Read ER’s Address delivered to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.  Why did ER speak at the convention according to historical records of the event? After reading the speech, reflect on ER’s primary message.  What were the implications of the first lady delivering this speech?  How is ER credited for this rhetorical performance? Watch the portion of the PBS video entitled Eleanor Roosevelt that relates to this speech.  Pay particular attention to the testimony given by those who witnessed this moment of public address, and integrate this testimony into your discussion of the speech.
  7. View Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Worship” painting (https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/at0058a.5s.jpg).  Discuss the significance of the painting considering (1) the topic of the piece, (2) the artist’s graphic interpretation of this topic, and (3) the use of the piece as an advertisement for war bonds.  Also consider the implications of the piece being created by Norman Rockwell. Compare and contrast this painting with other well-known pieces by the artist.

Student Research

  1. Using historical accounts or an online resource such as the Lower East Side Tenement House Museum website (www.tenement.org), create a presentation for the class outlining a day in the life of a settlement house worker in the early part of the twentieth century.   With whom might settlement house volunteers interact?  What were the living and  working conditions of those residing in poor and crowded urban areas?  After your presentation, ask the class to discuss how settlement workers and neighbors might have thought about their own citizenship.  How might they describe their responsibilities?  What might they consider their rights?
  2. ER was a vocal supporter of the American Youth Congress.  Research this organization, focusing on its membership, mission, and supposed communist affiliation.  How did ER support the group and how does this relate to her “Civil Liberties” speech?
  3. Locate several history text books (or the reading list from history courses) used by your peers. Are first ladies included in these books?  If so, which first ladies figure prominently and how are they depicted in these texts? Make a list of what you would add, change, or omit if you were in charge of writing this material.
  4. Although a vocal proponent of civil liberties, ER was less outspoken in relation to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, a government policy that has been considered one of the most blatant violations of civil liberties in United States history.  Research the internment program, tracing the role of the Roosevelt administration.  Next, examine the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Reagan. Consider this history from multiple perspectives: that of the Japanese-Americans who were displaced, that of President Roosevelt and his aides, and that of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
  5. An extraordinary number of organizations in the non-profit sector were started by women committed to benevolent work.  Examine the work and legacies of several benevolent women.  Examples include Clara Barton (American Red Cross), Frances Willard (Women’s Christian Temperance Union), Emma Robarts and Mrs. Arthur Kinnaird (Young Women’s Christian Association), and Eunice Kennedy Shriver (Special Olympics). What led these women to embrace such work?  Do you think that their efforts were political in nature? Why or why not?  What is the legacy of these women today?  How would our society differ, socially and politically, without the dedication of these women?
  6. Read Representative Nancy Pelosi’s January 4, 2007 speech, delivered upon her election as the speaker of the House of Representatives.  Analyze the speech rhetorically, paying attention to how Congresswoman Pelosi established credibility and articulated her vision of a “new America.”  What is the underlying theme of the speech and how is this theme enhanced by Representative Pelosi’s role as the first woman to be elected speaker of the House? Identify the similarities and differences between the strategies used by Eleanor Roosevelt in her March 14, 1940, address.
  7. Lou Hoover was a first lady whose activities while in office enabled ER’s continued innovation of the parameters of the first lady role.  At the same time, Lou Hoover held a strikingly different concept of the role of first lady than ER.  Examine ER’s predecessor, noting how she interpreted the function of the first lady. What are some of Lou Hoover’s most important accomplishments while in office?  Compare and contrast these two first ladies in light of your research, your opinions of the function of this office, and the legacy both have had on the first spouse role.
  8. Read FDR’s 1941 “Annual Message to Congress,” also known as the “Four Freedoms Speech.”  When reading the speech, answer the following questions: How does President Roosevelt define freedom in the speech? How does the president define patriotism? How does the president describe the enemy of the American people, and how should this enemy be handled? After answering these questions, compare and contrast the president’s understanding of freedom, individual responsibility, and the role of citizens in a national community with those of ER as suggested by her civil liberties speech.
  9. Research ER’s support of other political candidates, including Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy. What kind of support did ER give male candidates?  Trace how the former first lady became involved in these activities.  What do your findings suggest about ER as a political figure respected in her own right?
  10. Strong correlations have been drawn between First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and ER, particularly in light of how both women were viewed negatively in the popular press but refused to let this publicity render them voiceless. Class members should divide into groups and create a list of information known about both of these first ladies.  Conducting outside research before groups meet so that students can read or view historical articles, cartoons, or other documents that reflect opinions on both ER and First Lady Clinton.  As a class, discuss findings, considering the following questions: How are Hillary Rodham Clinton and Anna Eleanor Roosevelt similar? How are these two former first ladies different? Do you consider the comparison between these two first ladies to be valid?  Why or why not?  What is the basis for the comparison–public speaking, public service, performance of the first lady role, something different? In what ways are values associated with republican motherhood present in the discourse and/or image of both these women? To what extent is Hillary Rodham Clinton and example of the rhetorical first lady?  Does she further our understanding of this role?  If yes, how so?

Citizenship Resources

  1. In 2011, The New York Times provided space for a discussion about the role and need for the PATRIOT Act. Read the views here:  http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/09/07/do-we-still-need-the-patriot-act.  Write an essay responding to one or more of the writers giving consideration to the discussion of the PATRIOT Act included in this unit’s essay.
  2. Search the web to find organizations whose primary mission involves the protection of civil liberties. Compare and contrast these group’s goals to the mission of the ACLU’s Chicago Civil Liberties Committee. What differences and similarities exist between more contemporary civil liberties groups and the CCLC?
  3. Many biographies of ER mention, at least to some extent, this first lady’s physical appearance. According to collective memory, ER was dismissed as an “ugly duckling” as a young woman, but later developed into a poised and prominent political figure who commanded respect from many.  Examine several texts about ER (e.g. book-length, magazine, or on-line biographies), paying attention to any physical descriptions included.  Next, as a class, choose one current female and one current male political leader, either at a local, state, or national level.  Each student should bring one recent piece of coverage (formally, informally, or unpublished) related to each of the office-holders.  Compare and contrast your findings.  Do you find more or less attention paid to the physical appearance of political figures today than in ER’s time?  Does your data reflect a disparity according to gender?  Write a reflective essay in which you outline your results and consider their political implications.
  4. As a class, listen to the public radio segment entitled “Shouting Across the Divide: Which One of Them Is Not Like the Other,” episode 322 of This American Life (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/322/shouting-across-the-divide) originally airing on December 15, 2006. After listening to the segment, students should discuss reactions to the clip, answering the following questions: In what ways are the characters’ civil liberties being violated according to their testimony? What rights, if any, are not being met by those people mentioned in the segment? If you were the superintendent of the school district mentioned in the segment, how would you have handled the post-9/11 curriculum and the concerns raised by the mother in the story? The mother told her children not to complain to anyone about their unfair treatment, but later advocated on behalf of her children.  To what extent would you waive your own civil liberties and freedoms in such a situation?
  5. Read the point-counterpoint discussion of freedom of speech in relation to obscenity on the National Constitution Center’s website (“Does the First Amendment protect obscenity?” http://www.constitutioncenter.org/timeline/html/cw11_12271.html).  Break into small groups and develop a point-counterpoint debate related to this issue or another potential violation of the freedom of speech.  What are the most compelling arguments?  Why?  Make sure to base arguments on primary documents (The Constitution, The Bill of Rights) as well as your personal opinions and values.
  6. Research the situation at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.  What is the history of the center?  How many people are currently being held at the facility in relation to the U.S.-Iraq War? Why are they being held? Why have others been released? Once you have sufficiently researched the center, discuss how civil liberties relate to the presence of such a facility.  What public reactions have been leveled at the United States’ government’s operation of the center?  Do critiques of Guantanamo Bay address the issue of civil liberties during times of war?  Based on your research, what are the pros and cons of such a facility?
  7. As a class, decide upon the four freedoms that most influence you as a student body.  Once you have agreed on these four, have an in-class debate on which of these four freedoms are most important to you.  What freedom would be most difficult to lose? Is there any situation which you think would necessitate or warrant the loss of this freedom?
  8. Debate the issue of the USA Patriot Act and its ramifications for civil rights in the context of the U.S. war against Iraq. Students who support the USA Patriot Act should prepare a briefing on its security benefits; students who oppose the USA Patriot Act should prepare a briefing on its civil rights restrictions. All students should search the web to identify those groups that either support or critique its existence. During class, students should debate the justness of the wartime act, drawing on arguments from these groups.

Last updated May 12, 2016