By William A. Harris, Deputy Director
With March upon us, it is once again time to celebrate the first inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as FDR himself did almost every year (except 1941 and 1945) of his Presidency. In 1933, FDR became the last President to be sworn into office on March 4th. On that cool late winter day (and for Presidents until 1981, in fact) , FDR was sworn in on the east front of the US Capitol.
The 1933 inauguration occurred during one of the darkest crises in American history, the Great Depression. Outgoing President Herbert Hoover, soundly defeated after one term, attended the ceremonies, even riding with the President-elect to the US Capitol, if not in good humor, at least with the great strength of character and dignity that marked his life and career.
Planning had been underway for weeks since FDR’s landslide victory on November 8, 1932. Guests needed to be invited, and declined, and plans made for travel and accommodations. The night before the inauguration, FDR and his party stayed at the Mayflower Hotel, already rich with Presidential history, located on Connecticut Avenue, a few blocks from the White House.
The night before the big event, the President and Mrs. Roosevelt stayed in suites 775 and 776 of the Mayflower Hotel, the rooms paid for by the inaugural committee. Like many hotel guests, he charged room service, used the valet services, and not surprisingly made a substantial number of long distance phone calls as the above receipt shows.
At the US Capitol on March 4th, invited guests and the general public assembled in anticipation of ceremonies rich with tradition. In this photo, we see the inauguration stand from an unusual angle looking north. Note the people crowding the roofs of the Capitol and nearby buildings to get a glimpse of the ceremonies.
In the background, Union Station is just visible. Invited guests, like one of the incoming President’s secretaries, Grace Tully, filed to their seats down a long ramp installed for the President-elect. Tully’s seat was in section C, as seen on her ticket below. The subsequent photograph offers a unique perspective of the crowd FDR would soon address.
The President’s first inaugural address proved to be memorable, outlining the President’s philosophy that as a nation, together, with support from all levels of government, the nation could overcome the Depression. He believed firmly that fear posed an immense threat to progress and sought to instill hope and confidence in the American people while nevertheless being frank about the difficulties yet to be overcome.
Following the ceremonies, President Herbert Hoover and Mrs. Hoover departed for New York City and the life of the post-Presidency. Hoover would remain active publicly, even appointed by Democratic President Harry S. Truman to oversee the Federal Executive Branch reorganization after World War II.
After the inauguration, the President and Mrs. Roosevelt rode in a motorcade to the White House, smiling broadly and waving to the crowd. They arrived at the south entrance along with a phalanx of motorcycle officers and secret service agents. The south entrance allowed for entry into the White House on the ground level without steps.
Inauguration days are busy affairs, and the first family and their guests spent considerable time on a platform on the north side of the White House, facing Pennsylvania Avenue, watching the ceremonial parade. The viewing platform had been designed to mimic Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, in Tennessee.
Most years thereafter, the President either attended a church service commemorating the anniversary of his first inauguration and/or hosted a cabinet dinner at a Washington hotel. The President wanted these events to strengthen and encourage the dedication of his cabinet and members of his administration to the tasks before them. In 1937, the anniverary also included a “victory dinner,” at which the President spoke to the nation. The President’s schedule notes the event more bluntly as a “money raising dinner.”
In 1938, FDR and his family attended commemorative ceremonies at St. John’s Episcopal Church adjacent to Lafayette Park across from the White House. The President and his guests, including his granddaughter Sara Delano Roosevelt, bundled under a blanket for the short ride to the church.
The following year, March 4th corresponded with the 150th anniversary celebrations of the US Congress. In longhand, the President drafted a lengthy address that he presented to a joint session of Congress on March 4, 1939. Unlike his 1937 after-dinner remarks, this speech was broadcast mid-day, forming part of the larger celebrations.
In 1940, the President celebrated again at St. John’s Episcopal Church as he did in 1942 and 1943. But in 1944, commemorative services were held in the East Room of the White House. That year, Eleanor Roosevelt observed in “My Day” that FDR had “always asked for” the program and added furthermore that “[the ceremonies] must give to all courage to go on along the lines which have kept us together and allowed us to move forward during the past difficult years.”
In 1945, no service was held, and perhaps fittingly, as fate would have it, the President travelled instead to Hyde Park on March 4th for one of his last trips to the Hudson Valley, to the home he loved so much. Over the years, the annual commemoration of his first inauguration had marked not only political success, but also a commitment to public service. Perhaps, most importantly, the annual commemoration signaled the President’s firm and abiding confidence in the American people and in the strength of this nation to overcome any crisis together.
List of Annual Services/Dinners:
1934 – March 4th, Memorial Service, National Cathedral and Cabinet Dinner, Mayflower Hotel
1935 – March 3rd, Memorial Service, National Cathedral and March 4th, Cabinet Dinner, Mayflower Hotel
1936 – March 4th, Cabinet Dinner, Mayflower Hotel
1937 – March 3rd, Cabinet Dinner, and March 4th, Victory Dinner, both Mayflower Hotel
1938 – March 4th, Memorial Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church and Cabinet Dinner, Mayflower Hotel
1939 – March 4th, 150th Anniversary of Congress Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church and Cabinet Dinner, Carlton Hotel
1940 – March 4th, Memorial Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church, and Cabinet Dinner Carlton Hotel
1941 – No service or dinner, President sick with a cold
1942 – March 4th, Memorial Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church and no Cabinet Dinner
1943 – March 4th, Memorial Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church and no Cabinet Dinner
1944 – March 4th, Memorial Service, East Room, White House and no Cabinet Dinner
1945 – No service or dinner, President traveled to Hyde Park