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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

January 20th

This edition of LaGaceta will come out on January 20, which is Inauguration Day -- and my oldest brother’s birthday. He has shared that date with incoming presidents every four years since Franklin Roosevelt’s second swearing-in in 1937.

Our parents, like most of the nation, were negatively affected by the isolationist and free-wielding capitalist policies of Republican presidents during the Roaring Twenties, which brought on the Great Depression in 1929. Humble Minnesota farmers and faithful Lutherans, they were part of the 1932 electoral revolution in which 22.8 million Americans voted Democratic, as opposed to 15.7 votes for the incumbent Republican, Herbert Hoover of Iowa. Moreover, more than a million people voted for minor candidates, all of them leftist.

Socialist Norman Thomas alone garnered almost 900,000 votes. His economic philosophy made him the Bernie Sanders of his day, but I never knew that my Dad had supported Norman Thomas until the 1960s, when I was in college. We had moved to Arkansas by then, and racial integration roiled the South. Without telling my parents, I joined a rally against our segregationist governor – and they saw me on TV. Mom chastised me for this unladylike behavior, but Dad came to by rescue by saying, “Well, Leona, don’t you remember when I went to St. Paul for a Norman Thomas rally?”

My older sister had been born by Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. That was the first in January, as opposed to March. The US Constitution, adopted in 1789, specifies the oath of office that a president must publicly vow, but it did not set a date for that ceremony. With vastly improved communication and travel systems by the 1930s, there was no need for a six-month delay between the November election and the beginning of the new president’s term in March. That month can be rather spring-like in Washington, with the first crocuses appearing, and January almost always is bitter – but the nation decided it wanted the incoming administration to get to work, pleasant weather for ceremonies be damned. Congress and the required ¾ of state legislatures added the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution late in 1933, setting the date of January 20.

The Second Revolution Even Stronger

Roosevelt’s 1932 election was a political revolution, and his coattails also brought a strong Democratic majority in Congress. His 1936 re-election was an even greater landslide, as Republican nominee Alf Landon, the governor of Kansas, won only eight electoral votes compared with 523 for Roosevelt. Both the 1932 and the 1936 campaigns were based on policy, not personality; Landon was not a bad man, nor was Hoover. Neither ever was involved in any scandal, and both were honorable family men who honestly did their best. Both Republicans, however, clung to a conservative catechism of small government, and they equated unregulated success for capitalists as success for everyone.

With their votes in 1936, Americans rejected this unbridled capitalism, this disdain for the powerless and needy. They agreed with Roosevelt, who said he wanted to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Voters honored the clause in the Constitution’s preamble that lists one of the federal government’s goals as “to promote the general welfare.” They wanted Roosevelt’s new Social Security program, minimum wage/maximum hour laws, and other aspects of the Democratic New Deal. The majority continued to vote this way from the 1932 election to that of 1952 – and then the Republican who won the presidency was from the military, not from business, and he did not win by attacking the New Deal.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected in 1952 shortly after declaring himself to be a Republican, had led the Allies to victory in Europe during World War II. A West Point graduate, he always lived in the comfortable bubble of military security, as the Army provided his food, housing, transportation, medical care, and everything else. He did not truly understand the reality of ordinary people, who don’t have such an all-encompassing security blanket. He demonstrated his fundamental economic confusion when he became president at the same time that a vaccine against polio became available.

Polio was a devastating disease then, with many people, most of them young, forced to live in “iron lungs” that did their breathing for them. A vaccine to prevent it was greeted with joy – but like Hoover and Landon, Eisenhower was a good man who lacked economic thoughtfulness. He showed his naivety by promising two contradictory things: Children, of course, should be treated free of cost; and of course, the pharmaceutical companies providing the vaccine should profit from it.

How to resolve this was left to Oveta Culp Hobby, a Texas woman who was the first head of the new Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Ultimately forced to resign, she was widely criticized as she worked her way through the dilemma, and the president did little to support her. But she did it, as I remember mass vaccinations of us Arkansas kids in the school lunchroom on a Sunday afternoon.

Today’s parents no longer have to live in fear of waking up one day to find their child running a fever that could cause permanent crippling – but now, in 2016, we have elected a president who not only gives a high place to an anti-vaccine guru, but also has the temerity to mock the disabled. It’s as if he has forgotten – or never knew – that the greatest president of the twentieth century worked from a wheel chair. Franklin Roosevelt, you may remember, was crippled by polio as a young adult, after he had been nominated for vice president in 1920. He survived that electoral loss; learned to live without use of his legs; and went on to be elected governor of New York in 1928 and president in 1932. Now there’s an inspiring story, as opposed to that of the guy moving into the White House.

And Gasparilla

Local Republicans will be busy the next two weekends, what with the inauguration being followed by Gasparilla on January 28. Perhaps the best thing to come out of Tampa’s obsession with Jose Gaspar – a pirate whose terrorism of Florida’s West Coast should be deemed criminal – is the Gasparilla cookbook, which was first published by Tampa’s Junior League in 1961.

I’ll go backwards on the Junior League. It began in New York at the turn of the twentieth century with the daughters of affluent but liberal families. Daisy Harriman, who later became America’s second female ambassador, was a founder, as was Eleanor Roosevelt. They volunteered at settlement houses for the era’s immigrants – the ancestors of many people who now oppose immigration – and these young women did what they could to bring awareness of poverty to the wealthy. Indeed, Eleanor Roosevelt insisted that Franklin pick her up for dates at the settlement house where she volunteered, explicitly so that he would have to venture into the city’s slums.

The Junior League thus has a heritage of affluent women who support the needy. Tampa’s Junior Service League began in 1926 with a hundred young women who were voted in as “provisional members:” The “provisional” was because the national organization required that members demonstrate their community service. At the end of the first year, 96 of them had donated 6,350 volunteer hours for local charities, and that has continued up to the present. On the League’s 75th anniversary in 2001, it estimated that over the years, members had donated over $3 million and three million hours. Their work included the area’s first mental health services, as well as seed money for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

The Junior League’s greatest success, though, probably is The Gasparilla Cookbook.. With delectable recipes and charming descriptions of local life, it was so popular that its first printing of 7,800 copies sold out in less than three months. First Lady Jackie Kennedy was photographed holding a copy at the 1964 World’s Fair, and that prompted national sales. With regular re-printings, about a quarter of a million households have bought it, making it a giant among community cookbooks.

So when I made it an aim this holiday season to serve its appetizers for several small parties, I was surprised that even some long-time residents were unaware of the cookbook. The most striking thing to guests who perused it was that every woman was identified by her husband’s name – and in the few cases that she had none, that was made clear by “Miss.” The 1973 edition that I own does not have an index by recipe creator, but my analysis is that the most prolific author was Mrs. J. Brown Farrior. She had seven in the 13-page appetizer section alone, and I did the ones featuring shrimp and anchovies.

I also fixed “Dessie Smith’s Clam Dip” – which includes potato chips in the dip and was not very successful. Even the stray cat who eats what I put out on the deck snubbed the leftovers. But I tried the recipe because I remain surprised that Dessie Smith was included in this book by elite Tampa women. Her name was in the title only, though, and in the place for authors, it credited “Withlachocee River Lodge, Inglis, Florida.” That probably was a way of masking who Dessie Smith Prescott really was. She was no Gasparilla debutante, but instead a central Florida fishing and hunting guide who dressed like a man and built her own log cabin at age 19.

And yes, I remember that last week I said I’d write more about Arabian explorer Gertrude Bell. I also want to quote some of the Gasparilla cookbook’s descriptions of Tampa in the 1960s. Later.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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