Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Everything old is new again. Especially in politics!
On Day 4 of the countdown to National Kick Butt Day (October 14), I am honoring Mary Vaux Walcott, an adventurous member of the Society of Woman Geographers. She reminds us that we have been fighting over politics for a very long time.
Mary Vaux Walcott was the “Audubon of Wildflowers.” She was a friend of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. They frequently corresponded, as Mary was often in Canada or out west painting wildflowers.
During the Great Depression, President Hoover had tried to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes, initiating public works spending, and convincing large employers to postpone layoffs. When this failed, he increased taxes, farm subsidies, and tariffs. Unemployment soared to 25%, and 10,000 banks failed. On the eve of the election, Hoover claimed that, despite his lackluster record, recovery was just around the corner. Most pundits agreed, however, that Hoover had little chance of winning a second term against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
President Hoover attacked FDR’s New Deal saying that it would “break down our form of government. It would crack the timbers of our Constitution. Free speech does not live many hours after free industry and free commerce dies.” Mary agreed that FDR’s socialist and fascist policies would lead Americans on a “march to Moscow” and destroy the foundations of American society.
A week after Hoover lost the election, Mary wrote to the First Lady, “We need you both so much & the country needs you both & our hands are tied in the fight against evil. We pray that evil may be overcome with good.”
Two years into FDR’s term, despairing of the New Deal program, Mary wrote to Lou Hoover:
Politics are everywhere & almost all on the hill are looking to their fences & playing politics. They don’t seem to have any brains, or at least of they have them, they do not use them and the whole newspaper information seems to be given to lauding the president. The propaganda & publicity are terrific, and the papers seem afraid to say anything except to hurrah to keep their courage up.
An interesting side note to this story relates to the number of members of the Society of Woman Geographers involved in politics in the 1930s. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, joined the Society in 1933 and promptly invited Te Ata, a Chickasaw storyteller and Society member, to perform at the White House. During FDR’s presidency, at the urging of Blair Niles—one of the Society’s founders—Eleanor convinced her husband, President Roosevelt, to appoint a female cabinet member. He chose Frances Perkins, who also joined the Society. In 1939, Frances Payne Bingham Bolton assumed her husband’s seat on the U.S. Senate upon his death. She retained the position for 14 terms and joined the Society in 1944. Mary Vaux Walcott was surrounded by many dauntless and intelligent women worthy of celebration as we approach National Kick Butt Day.
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