Backtrack: Trailblazing Trip

April 2017Add a comment

Courtesy Indiana Historical Society

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arrived in Indianapolis on June 16, 1936, at the end of a 385-mile drive across two states. Although she’d started her day at 4 a.m. with a visit to an Illinois coal mine before her long drive, the 52-year- old first lady arrived looking polished in her second outfit of that day, a blue traveling suit and hat.

The first lady’s car pulled into the drive of the governor’s mansion, then located at 101 East 27th Street, precisely at 5:30 p.m. Governor Paul V. McNutt and his wife, Kathleen Timolat McNutt, greeted her. With them were five uniform-clad Girl Scouts—Eleanor was the honorary president of the organization. The girls presented Mrs. Roosevelt with a bouquet of roses and Indiana delphinium. Afterward, she posed for photographs at a meet-and-greet in the garden of the governor’s mansion. The Indianapolis Star reported that “Mrs. Roosevelt smiles and looks tidy when lesser souls would growl and look disheveled.”

After another wardrobe change, Roosevelt attended a dinner party at the mansion with the muckety-mucks of the Indiana Democratic Party. Following dinner, the first lady presented a lecture at the Murat Theatre. Governor McNutt, a strong supporter of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, introduced the first lady as “one whose deep interest in the human problems of our nation has endeared her to all.”

Roosevelt’s talk was about housing for the poor, a huge problem in these years of the Great Depression, and the dismal conditions of coal-mining camps in Ohio, Illinois, and West Virginia. The working and living conditions of miners was a topic about which she was greatly concerned. A famous photograph taken the year before shows Mrs. Roosevelt in a miner’s hat riding a cart into a coal mine in Ohio. That picture had already become a symbol of both the hard days of the Depression and the first lady’s compassionate search for knowledge and determination to improve the world by the time she gave this talk a year later in Indianapolis.

At the end of her lecture, she wasn’t yet ready to call it an evening. She motored across town to the B.F. Keith Theatre on Pennsylvania Street. There, she saw a play by the Federal Players, an organization funded by one of her husband’s New Deal make-work programs. Afterward, she went backstage to meet the cast.

Finally, Roosevelt’s long day in Indianapolis ended. She spent the night at the governor’s mansion. The next morning, she was up and ready to start again. At 8 a.m., she left Indianapolis, headed to her first stop: Purdue University in West Lafayette.

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