Discussion Questions

These questions help students explore the major ideas and themes in the film. Read a Program Summary for descriptions of specific program segments.

Before Watching

1. Explain to students that, as they will see from the program, the press respected the unwritten rule that FDR never be photographed in any way that indicated that his legs were completely paralyzed. Discuss with students their thoughts about this "agreement." Do they think it was right or should FDR's disability been reported? Why? How do students think this situation would have been dealt with by today's press? Assuming that it would be reported today, do students think a disability such as FDR's would be considered a political liability? Why or why not? How much information do we have a right to know about the president's health or personal life?

2. Ask students what they think the role of the first lady should be -- considering she is not elected -- officially or unofficially. Why do they think strong first ladies cause controversy? As students watch the program, have them take notes about how Eleanor Roosevelt contributed to FDR's success as a leader and how she influenced his programs and policies. How do Eleanor's actions as a first lady compare to recent first ladies, such as Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton?

3. Ask students to contribute what they know about what life was like for most people prior to 1933. Where did people in need go for help? What agencies, if any, existed to help the needy, the sick, or the elderly? What happened during national disasters such as hurricanes or drought? What forces drove the economy? As students watch the program, have them notice the changes that FDR's policies and vision brought to the lives of most Americans. How were these reflected in FDR's famous quotation, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself"?

After Watching

1. In what way did the experiences of FDR's early years, particularly his experience with polio, form his personality and views, and influence his behavior and actions as president? What events helped to prepare him for the presidency?

2. Ask students to refer to their notes on Eleanor Roosevelt. What was her role as first lady? How did she influence FDR? How did her involvement in programs and policies affect the country? Would you consider her a valuable role model? Why or why not? Ask students to use examples from the program to support their opinion. Ask students if they would like to revise their earlier view about the appropriate role of the first lady.

3. Was the fact that FDR served for four consecutive terms good for the country? Why or why not? Ask students to use examples from the program to defend their opinions. Do they agree with the 22nd Amendment, which imposed a two-term limit on the presidency? How do they think FDR would have been remembered if he had served only two terms (1933-1941)?

For the Classroom

This section presents a variety of tools to help you create curriculum for your classroom. In Activities you will find innovative and engaging ideas for reports, debates, research projects and more. Days of Decision links to an interactive activity where students are able to make choices regarding issues facing voters in 1912. The related activities in Take It Further use a multidisciplinary approach and encourage students to explore the culture and political climate of the times. Who's Who is a list of influential people of the era which students may use for further research or reports. Terms to Know is a brief glossary of useful terms that teachers may want to use to enhance activities or lessons.


Early Career -- A Presidential Dialogue

FDR greatly admired his older cousin Theodore Roosevelt, and consciously followed TR's career path to the presidency. Using the section of this Web site on TR, the further reading for TR and FDR, and other resources, have students compare and contrast the two presidents by creating a fictional dialogue between the two men. How were they alike? How were they different? Topics might include their childhoods, their relationships with their parents, their marriages, and the personal characteristics -- positive and negative -- that shaped them in their personal and public lives. (Program references: Chapters 1-5; see also TR: The Story of Theodore Roosevelt, Tape One, Part One, Segments 1-7)

Presidential Politics -- Write an Editorial

Explore with students the influence that major newspapers wield during an election, especially when they endorse a particular candidate through an editorial. Editorials, written by the editor or publisher of a newspaper, offer a persuasive argument for or against a specific person or issue, and usually present a call to action. Ask students to bring in sample editorials from today's newspapers. They may especially want to locate editorials from the last presidential election about the candidates. Have students analyze the editorials to identify the elements of a good editorial.

Have students suppose that it is 1932 and they are editors of a major American newspaper. Ask them to write an editorial supporting either Herbert Hoover or FDR for president. The editorials should outline in detail the reasons why students support one candidate over the other, including references to each man's record up to that point and as well as his platform and proposals. You may want to have students design a front page to go with their editorial page, with additional information about the newspaper (such as name, slogan, price, etc.). (Program references: Chapters 10, 11, 17)

Domestic Policy -- Report on the New Deal

The first Hundred Days of the New Deal was an exciting period of experimentation as the government struggled to ease the ills of the Depression. Have students choose one of the New Deal programs to research, such as the National Recovery Administration, Work Projects Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and write a report analyzing its effectiveness. Reports should include the origins of the program, the problem it targeted, its provisions, how effective it was, how it was received at the time by various groups (e.g., women or minorities) and the end results. (For a discussion of some of these programs, see Extemporaneous Address Before the Conference on Human Needs, 1933 -- Greetings to the CCC, 1933 -- A Message to Congress on Social Security, 1935 -- Extemporaneous Address to A.A.A. Farm Groups, 1935 -- An Emergency is On! -- Will the New Deal Be a Square Deal for the Negro? -- Take the Army Out of the CCC, and A Radio Address to the CCC, 1936.) (Program references: Chapters 14-17)

Foreign Affairs -- Create a Poster

One of FDR's greatest political struggles was how to take an unwilling country into World War II. Until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, neither Congress nor the American people wanted to become involved in another foreign war, despite the president's belief that it was the right thing to do. Have students suppose they are writers, designers or artists employed by a public relations company hired by FDR's administration. Working in teams, ask them to create a poster designed to persuade the public to support involvement in the war. As students present their posters to the class, have them explain why they chose to include particular images or phrases. After the presentations, arrange a class display. For sample posters, see this site's selection of Propaganda Posters. See also FDR's Pearl Harbor Speech of December 8, 1941. (Program references: Chapters 18-23)

Legacy -- Debate on the New Deal Legacy

Perhaps the most lasting effect of FDR's presidency was the development of the idea that the government is directly responsible for the economic welfare of its citizens. Since the New Deal, this idea has been under constant debate. Tell students that they will debate this issue by focusing on the value and effectiveness of a specific government program, such as Social Security, farm subsidies, Medicare, or welfare.

Organize the class into student pairs (or teams) and have each pair select a program to discuss from a 1930s or 1990s perspective. One student will argue in favor of the program, and the other against the program. To prepare for their debate, students should research the history of the program, current status, cost, and effectiveness. After student pairs have compared notes and rehearsed, ask them to present their debate in front of the entire class. Encourage the class to offer comments and ask questions after each debate.

For a discussion about the merits of New Deal programs, students can read Three Essentials for Unemployment Relief, 1933 and This Business of Relief, and other materials online or in the library. (Note: To prepare for this activity, it may be helpful to hold mock debates on topics important to students, such as school issues. This will help students understand the elements of a good debate and the impact of debating.) (Program references: Chapters 13-15)

The Era -- An Oral History of the Great Depression

The Great Depression was one of the most serious crises in American history, and there are some people still living who can share their experiences of the time. Have the class brainstorm a list of basic interview questions. Then ask students to interview a relative, neighbor, acquaintance, or other community member who lived through the Depression. Be sure students secure permission from the interviewee before they begin. You may want to extend the activity by inviting one or more of the interviewees to come and share their stories with the class.

The interview should include the subject's age, family, where he or she lived, occupation, and economic status. If possible, have students compare the family's lifestyle before and after the 1929 stock market crash. Students should also gather information about how the New Deal did or did not affect the person's life and how he or she felt about FDR. If possible, have students tape the interviews on audio tape or on video. When the interviews are concluded, have students present their subjects' stories to the class.

With prior permission from the interviewees, you may want to have students gather transcripts of the interviews into a book for the school library, or post the interviews on the World Wide Web. (Program references: Chapters 10, 11, 13, 14)

Take It Further

During this unit, students may be interested in doing the following activities related to Franklin Roosevelt and his times:

Identify works of art, architecture, or infrastructure (e.g., roads, dams or bridges), that were completed locally under New Deal programs such as the WPA, PWA, or CCC, and write a brief description of which agency sponsored it, who worked on it, and its purpose. (If there are New Deal projects right in your community, you might want to organize a class field trip to view them.)

Find out what, if any, locations in your state benefited from the Rural Electrification Act, and how it changed the way people lived.

Posing as a newspaper reporter of the time, visit a Japanese American internment camp and write an account of what life is like there.

Suppose you are a cabinet advisor to FDR. Write a memo explaining what America's policy should be regarding the rescue of European Jews. Write a response as FDR might have, explaining the reasons for his policies. Develop a timeline of events in the development of the atomic bomb, including information on the principle people involved.

Create a set of FDR fact cards. On one side write down questions about various aspects of the FDR's life and times, and on the other, write down the answers. Play the FDR "game" using the cards with a classmate.

Compose a dramatic monologue as it might have been spoken by Eleanor Roosevelt, focusing on her life and achievements after FDR's death.

Find someone who actually did participate in D-Day or had other combat experience in World War II and find out what it was like. Suppose you are a soldier at the D-Day landing. Write a letter to a family member describing what happened.

Write a diary entry, letter, or other first-person account of how you lost your farm in the "Dust Bowl," telling what happened and how you coped with the tragedy.

Act out a short radio program based on one of the scripts from the 1930s or 1940s, such as "The Lone Ranger," "The Jack Benny Show," or "The Shadow."

Interview someone who was a teenager or adult during World War II -- find out how the war changed or affected their daily lives. Present your interview to the class.

Compare and contrast the works of two or more writers, playwrights, photographers, painters, or other artists active in the WPA or the subsequent Federal Art Project, such as Aaron Copland, Clifford Odets, Richard Wright.

Learn a Woody Guthrie song about the Great Depression, such as "Pastures of Plenty," "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You," or "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" and perform it in class.

Read one of the following titles and write a brief book review: Farewell to Manzanar" by Jeannie Wakatsuki Houston, Fireweed by Jill Paton Walsh, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, My Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Native Son by Richard Wright,Summer of '42 by Herman Raucher.

Locate photographs by Walter Evans, Ben Shahn, and Dorothea Lange. How did these Depression-era photographers document the period?

Find out about the Navajo Code Talkers and describe the role they played in World War II.

Watch Schindler's List or another movie about World War II or the Holocaust and write a movie review.

Who's Who

Have students choose one of the following individuals who influenced American life and society during FDR's presidency, and present a short biography to the class highlighting the person's achievements. Students might also enjoy creating a poster or collage featuring their subject, which could include photos and drawings, a chronology of life events, and symbols representing the person's work. They may also choose to perform a song, recite poetry, or do an oral reading of a speech or an essay.

Marian Anderson: African American contralto who challenged racial barriers.

Irving Berlin: composer of musicals and over 1000 popular songs.

Mary MacLeod Bethune: educator and civil rights advocate active in the New Deal.

Sir Winston Churchill: Prime Minister of Great Britain.

John Collier: Commissioner of Indian affairs.

Father Charles Coughlin: Roman Catholic "radio" priest who opposed FDR's 1934 reelection.

W.E.B. DuBois: civil rights leader who founded the NAACP.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: World War II general and 34th president of the U.S..

Mahatma Gandhi: leader of Indian independence movement who advocated non-violent protest.

Adolf Hitler: Nazi dictator of Germany.

Herbert Hoover: 31st president of the U.S.

Harry Hopkins: close friend and advisor of FDR who headed several New Deal agencies.

John L. Lewis: labor leader and head of the CIO.

Huey Long: controversial governor of Louisiana and senator who opposed FDR.

George Marshall: secretary of state who proposed economic aid to Europe after WWII.

Benito Mussolini: Italian dictator of founder of Fascist party.

J. Robert Oppenheimer: physicist who worked on the Manhattan project.

Frances Perkins: first woman to be a U.S. cabinet member.

A. Philip Randolph: labor and civil rights leader who organized the 1941 March on Washington.

Diego Rivera: Mexican painter and muralist.

Alfred Emanuel Smith: political leader and governor of New York.

Joseph Stalin: Soviet political leader and dictator.

Henry Lewis Stimson: secretary of war and political advisor.

Harry S. Truman: 33rd president of the U.S.

Terms to Know

21st Amendment: the constitutional amendment, ratified in 1933, that repealed Prohibition as enacted in the 18th Amendment.

Agricultural Adjustment Acts (1933, 1938): a series of New Deal bills passed to help support farmers by paying out subsidies for crops or by paying farmers not to produce certain items in order to stabilize prices.

Brain Trust: nickname for a group of FDR's advisors who helped develop some of the New Deal programs.

Dust Bowl: farming areas of the American midwest that was so affected by the drought of the 1930s that the topsoil was destroyed and literally blew away. Many people in the Dust Bowl region lost their farms and were forced to migrate to areas such as California in search of work.

Emergency Banking Act (1933): New Deal legislation that gave the president the power to close all banks, after which the secretary of the treasury investigated each bank and opened them individually as he felt appropriate.

Great Depression: the serious and widespread economic decline of the 1930s that was set off by the stock market crash of October 1929.

Fair Labor Standards Act (1938): New Deal legislation that gradually reduced the work week to 40 hours, increased the minimum wage from 25 cents to 40 cents, mandated time and a half for overtime, and forbade children under 16 to work.

fireside chats: a series of casual radio addresses in which FDR was able to communicate his ideas and explain issues directly to the American people.

lend-lease: FDR's program under which the U.S. lent or leased weapons, food, and services to the countries at war with Germany, especially Great Britain and the Soviet Union, while maintaining American neutrality. This enabled FDR to give aid to friendly nations without actively becoming involved in the fighting, until the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war officially.

Manhattan Project: the secret and successful U.S. program, begun under FDR, to develop an atomic bomb.

National Recovery Administration (1933): major New Deal legislation that provided for the development of fair prices and wages as determined together by industry and labor. In 1935 the NRA was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

New Deal: FDR's wide-ranging program to relieve the problems of the Great Depression through direct government action. New Deal programs included the Works Progress Administration (WPA), putting thousands of artists and writers to work; the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which established regulations on business and labor -- and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which employed thousands of people in public works projects such as planting trees and building roads; and the National Youth Administration (NYA), which provided job training for unemployed youths and part-time students.

Prohibition: enacted through the 18th Amendment and repealed in 1933 through the 21st Amendment, this law made the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. Lifting the ban on alcohol provided revenue and jobs during the Great Depression.

Selective Service Act: first passed in 1917 in preparation for World War I, this legislation requiring men between certain ages to register for military service. It was popularly known as "the draft" and was ended in 1973.

Social Security Act (1933): New Deal legislation that offered a three-pronged program for social insurance in the form of retirement pensions, public assistance, and unemployment insurance.

In "Quotes"

Below are quotations from the speeches and writings of FDR. Each is followed by a series of questions you may want to raise with your students.

"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

Questions to Consider:

  • What attitude was FDR expressing in this statement?
  • How do you think people of the time might have reacted to this quotation?
  • Given the situation when FDR became president, do you think this was an admirable way to tackle the problems faced by the nation? Why or why not?


"If I were asked to state the great objective which Church and State are both demanding for the sake of every man and woman and child in this country, I would say that the great objective is `a more abundant life.'"

Questions to Consider:

  • What do you think FDR meant by "a more abundant life"?
  • Do you agree that this should be the goal of the government? Of organized religion?
  • How did FDR put this idea into practice during his administration?


"I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master."

Questions to Consider:

  • Who is FDR targeting in this statement?
  • How does this statement contrast with his wealthy background?
  • Do you think he was successful in meeting his goals?
  • Was this a politically savvy thing for FDR to say? Why or why not?


"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want -- which, translated into world terms means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world."

Questions to Consider:

  • Do you think these "four freedoms" are the most important?
  • Are there others you think FDR should have included?
  • How does this quotation indicate the position of the United States in world affairs?
  • How did (or didn't) FDR put these beliefs into practice while he was president?
  • Would FDR feel that the world today has moved closer to these ideals since his time? Why or why not?


"The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over its government."

Questions to Consider:

  • What is FDR saying about the responsibility of citizens in maintaining their liberty?
  • Why is it important for a people to keep "informed" in a democracy?
  • What are the dangers when people lose interest in the activities of their government?


"In some communities employers dislike to hire women. In others they are reluctant to hire Negroes. We can no longer afford to indulge such prejudice."

Questions to Consider:

  • What do you think FDR meant by "we can no longer afford" prejudice?
  • How can prejudice harm society?
  • Do you think FDR would have approved of programs, such as affirmative action, that were created to redress past discrimination?

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?

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