Posts Tagged ‘american history’

Searching for Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1, 2010

Again, my favorite class intrigued me with a tidbit to pursue. In American History, Dr. Robert Rydell closed class by bringing the McCarthy era home to us. He told our class about a gentleman who used to be part of the MSU staff, Robert Dunbar, and his invitation to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to come speak here at the (then) Montana State College.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt

Even Eleanor Roosevelt was accused of communism for her support and activity with the UN.

For those who didn’t know, Mrs. Roosevelt had been a signer in the formation of the United Nations. She worked feverishly to alleviate hunger and suffering across the world in the aftermath of World War II. But since, in the eyes of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the UN weakened America, anyone supporting it, especially those who were instrumental in creating it, were seeking the destruction of America and must therefore be Communist.

At the time, then MSC President Roland Renne had some political ambitions and was seeking the office of Governor of Montana. He had grave concerns regarding Mrs. Roosevelt’s pending visit and how it would reflect on him. Fearing association with a suspected Communist sympathizer, Mr. Renne had the audacity to deny Mrs. Roosevelt a place on campus to speak. She was only able to take her plans into downtown Bozeman and speak at another venue (Dr. Rydell wasn’t sure which. If I’m able to find out, I’ll update this.)  Dr. Dunbar was flabbergasted, of course, but powerless to do anything about it.  Mrs. Roosevelt stepped up to speak on a stage completely draped in red – the carpet, the podium cover, the curtains, all of it. The implication was obvious. Still, she went on to deliver her message to a packed house.

Dr. Dunbar, in the meantime, was accused of communism by the Bozeman community. He received numerous death threats, kidnapping threats aimed at his children and other persecution. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, Dunbar wasn’t deterred. He went on to form the school’s first Peace Corps chapter – a group that in 2008 received recognition from the parent organization for high volunteerism and service.

What I found most perplexing was the near complete lack of information available about this episode with Mrs. Roosevelt. There is a very brief mention on the University’s website (historical page) and, so far as I have found, nothing else. Why? Perhaps it wasn’t (isn’t?) considered noteworthy. That may be, but looking at the utter nonesense that otherwise finds its way into historical documents, this seems at least as memorable or significant. Perhaps it’s a splotch of mud on our shining coat. No one today likes to be remembered as reactionary or worse, duped.

Most likely, I’m just not looking in the right place. That’s what I’m hoping. If true, then once more, I’ll update this when more facts are known. In the mean time, here’s looking forward to more of Dr. Robert Rydell’s classes. May they all be as thought provoking as this series have been!


History of the Pledge of Allegiance

February 13, 2010

We had a rather interesting class in American History this week. My professor, Dr. Robert Rydell, gave us a brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve always known it had been changed a time or two over the years, like adding the words “under God” in the 1950s. But I had no idea the evolution the Pledge has gone through!

First, a little background. The pledge was the effort of Francis Bellamy in August, 1892. According to Dr. Rydell, the Pledge was written for children in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World. It would be published in the Boston magazine, “The Youth’s Companion”. The words to the Pledge were sent to school children all over the country. The original Pledge holds only limited resemblance to the words we recite today:

From 1892: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Dr. Rydell showed us the differences in how people saluted the flag in that day. First, the salute – known as Bellamy’s Salute – began the same as a military salute, at the eyebrow. That would be held as people said the words, “I pledge allegiance to”. As they then said, “my flag…” the right hand was extended from the salute to a reach toward the flag, hand still open with fingers together. It was held there until the pledge was finished.

Changes were not long in coming. First of all, the word “to” was added before “the republic” almost immediately. Larger changes took a bit longer.

This was a time in the US when immigration was becoming vastly unpopular, the economy was in turmoil due to over-production, a series of labor strikes and subsequent economic “panics”, as well as an influx of European and Asian immigrants. Concern grew among some groups, including some national leaders, that those immigrants would be pointing to the US flag, while privately intending their “pledge of allegiance” to their own flag back home. Thus, in 1923 at a National Flag Conference in Washington, DC, “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America”.

In the 1940s when the US was at war with Nazi Germany, the dreaded “Heil, Hitler” salute was all too close to the part of our salute raised to the flag. The American salute to the flag was changed to the “hand over heart” that we do today.

In 1942, the Pledge was made an official part of displaying the American flag, as part of an effort “to codify and emphasize the existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America,” Congress enacted a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.” [H.R. Rep. No. 2047, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. 1 (1942)]

The final big change came in 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved adding the words, “under God”. He said, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

In 2002, Michael Newdow, an atheist and attorney, filed suit in the 9th District Court seeking to ban the Pledge because it purported to teach monotheism to his daughter. With various decisions, overturnings, and refilings for different plaintiffs, the Eastern District Court of California declared mandatory teacher-led recitation of the Pledge to be unconstitutional. Since then, other states have taken their own paths, some allowing voluntary recitation, others dropping it all together. Some, including New York, require it to be read each day. The United States Congress, Supreme Court and other organizations recite the Pledge at session openings.


“Francis Bellamy”,
Lectures: Dr. Robert Rydell, American History 102, Montana State University, Bozeman
Newdow v The Congress of the United States, et al (NO. CIV. S-05-17 LKK/DAD)
“The Pledge of Allegiance”, John W. Baer,