Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and the only chief executive to be elected to more than two terms in office.
Roosevelt held the presidency from 1934 to 1945, leading the United States through the Great Depression and World War II. His legislative program, the New Deal, greatly expanded the role of the federal government in American society.
At times, Roosevelt's New Deal incorporated watered-down elements of more radical political ideas that became popular during the Great Depression. Social Security was a less ambitious version of the Townsend Plan, while the largely symbolic 1935 "Wealth Tax" was clearly designed to co-opt supporters of Huey Long's Share the Wealth program.
Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979) was a Roman Catholic priest who became a national celebrity during the 1930s by hosting a popular radio broadcast.
By the middle of the 1930s, Coughlin attracted between 30 and 45 million listeners a week, making him one of America's most influential opinion-makers.
Coughlin started as a zealous supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, going so far as to call the New Deal, "Christ's Deal." Later, however, Coughlin became disenchanted with Roosevelt's leadership and began to espouse extreme right-wing views. By the late 1930s, he'd become an outright fascist sympathizer.
Huey P. Long (1893–1935) was a charismatic Louisiana politician who served as both governor and U.S. senator in the early 1930s.
A popular—if also, in the eyes of his critics at least, corrupt and demagogic—politician, Long's career was cut short when he was assassinated inside the Louisiana statehouse in 1935. Long was also the inspiration for Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer prize-winning novel All the King's Men, published in 1946.
Long rose to national prominence during the Great Depression by becoming the country's most impassioned advocate of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. More than 7 million Americans joined Long's Share Our Wealth clubs.
Fritz Kuhn (1896–1951), a German-born immigrant to the United States, was the head of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund in the late 1930s.
The country's leading Nazi sympathizer, Kuhn called himself "America's Führer."
Under Kuhn's leadership, the German-American Bund sought to bring Nazi-style fascism to America. While Hitler certainly had his admirers in American society during the 1930s, the Bund was never successful at attracting support beyond the German ethnic community. In particular, Kuhn's virulent anti-Semitism may have been off-putting to potential American supporters.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962) was the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and a world-renowned advocate of liberal causes in her own right. She became an early hero of the Civil Rights Movement, and was a lifelong advocate for the United Nations.
During her husband's presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt broke new ground for a First Lady by holding her own press conferences, traveling independently to all parts of the country, writing a syndicated newspaper column, and broadcasting radio addreses.
In so doing, she became something of a political leader in her own right, often staking out positions somewhat more liberal than those of her husband. After Franklin Roosevelt's death in 1945, Eleanor continued to speak out as an influential spokesperson for liberal ideals until her own death in 1962.
Lorena Hickok (1893–1968) was one of America's most prominent female journalists during the 1930s.
The only woman assigned to cover the Roosevelt campaign in 1932, Hickok struck up a very close relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, becoming the First Lady's most intimate friend and—some scholars believe—perhaps her lesbian lover.
During Franklin Roosevelt's first term, Hickok left her journalism career to work as the administration's eyes on the ground, chronicling the conditions of everyday life in Depression-struck America. Traveling all across the country, she filed a series of reports sent to federal relief administrator Harry Hopkins, providing vivid descriptions of the miseries endured by the American people during the Great Depression.
Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) was an author and socialist political activist. His best known work is The Jungle, a 1906 muckraking assault on the unsanitary and inhumane conditions in the meatpacking industry.
In 1934, Sinclair ran for governor of California on a utopian platform called End Poverty in California (EPIC), which called for unemployed citizens to work in state-sponsored collective factories and farms to produce goods for their own use.
Surprisingly, Sinclair won the Democratic primary on this radical platform before losing the general election to Republican Frank Merriam.
Dr. Francis Townsend (1867–1960) was an American physician who devised the Townsend Plan, a popular proposal for state-funded old-age pensions.
The plan promised to end the Great Depression by opening up jobs for younger workers, while forcing seniors to spend more money in the consumer economy.
In the mid-1930s, Townsend rose from complete obscurity to become the leader of a political movement that claimed the support of more than 25 million Americans. The Roosevelt administration eventually adopted a more austere version of the Townsend Plan when it created the Social Security program.