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Themes: government, the presidency and the first lady, the role of women, domestic policy and social programs, civics
Before Viewing Discussion:
1. Discuss how socioeconomic status might affect government policymakers: How in touch are policymakers with those less fortunate than themselves? Can upper-class policymakers understand what these lives might be like, and what actions might help? What data do policymakers use to create programs, and how do they gather it? What sorts of people might succeed at making such policy? Why? What biases might different classes have about each other within public aid systems? How is trust built in such cases?
2. Ask students what they think the responsibilities of the first lady (or first spouse) should be: How much responsibility should this unelected official have? What sorts of policy might she make, if any? What relationship should she have to government and to the official actions of the president? Should gender affect this person's assignments?
After Viewing Discussion:
1. Eleanor Roosevelt's Uncle Teddy taught her that she "owed something back to those less fortunate." Discuss Mrs. Roosevelt's motives and methods: Why was someone of her class so interested in social work? What made her care about those so different from herself and her family? Was she successful at influencing social policy systems? How did she gather data to determine need? (You may use the map section to show her extensive touring.) Did the public trust her? Did government officials trust her?
2. Discuss how Eleanor Roosevelt treated the office of the first lady. Was she political? What sort of sway, if any, did she hold? Did she serve to further her husband's career, or did she focus on her own interests? Did she influence policy, and if so, which sort? How?
1. Eleanor Roosevelt often used her syndicated newspaper column "My Day" as an editorial pulpit from which to further social and political change. Have students read the columns on Key Events, Race Issues, and Women Issues. Then ask them to write their own editorials about policies they'd like to see changed, whether in school, in their town, or in the government. If appropriate, send the editorials to student and local newspapers, or compile them as a publication to be read by other students. Advise students that they must state clearly the problem as they see it, and provide a sound argument as to why and how the policy should be changed.
2. Eleanor Roosevelt once remarked of the first lady's job, "The wives, of course, have certain official obligations, but they are certainly not responsible for their husband's policies. And they do not have to feel that sense of obligation at every point to uphold the ideas of the man of the family." Ask students to choose a first lady to research, and report on how her public presence related to her husband's. Did she have a political presence? How much of a separate identity did she have from her husband? Did she always publicly agree with his policies? Did she do so even if privately she disagreed? Why? Did her work support his policies? Did she support groups or causes that he did not support? What did she feel was her obligation to her husband and his political party? What background or personality traits might have led her to act the way she did?
3. Clothing is a great signifier. Ask students to look through the Fashion article, and discuss what particular clothes meant regarding the role of women in society for each era discussed. Then ask students to look for women's clothing as advertised in media such as magazines, television, or the web, and choose items to present as signifiers to the class. Ask them to answer the following questions: What might this item say about the person who buys it and what’s important to them, and how are such views formed? How does the item relate to attitudes towards women today? Does it reflect a particular role of women in society? What does the advertiser want the audience to think about women from his depiction? What do students believe today's women's clothing says about women? About men? How are men's clothes different than women's?
4. Were Eleanor Roosevelt's public actions good for the country? Ask the class to decide by putting her on trial. Divide students up into small groups and assign each group a specific position to present to the others. Positions may include those of J. Edgar Hoover, FDR, Marian Anderson, the DAR, women journalists, Admiral Halsey, a resident of Arthurdale, a member of the Youth Congress, Louis Howe, Harry Truman, JFK. Students may use the People and Events and FBI File sections to further their research. Each group may disagree with other groups' views, and students may ask questions of each group during its presentation. After the presentations, ask students to vote on whether Mrs. Roosevelt's political actions had a positive or negative effect. Each student must vote yes or no, and state his or her reasons.
My American Experience
How has a First Lady inspired you or someone you know? Who was president when you were young, and what were your impressions of the First Lady? What First Lady has most influenced the world around you, and how? Share your stories with AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.