with Alicia Mayer

The Humanitarian Hat – Ida greets First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt

My great-grandmother, Ida Mayer Cummings, greeting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of liberal and democratic President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, most likely at the LA Jewish Home for the Aged.

I love that the only person looking straight to the camera in this instant is the policeman on the right. With his smart glossy policeman’s hat with its polished badge and his craggy face, he looks straight out of Central Casting

I read recently, while watching the Republican National Convention, that my great-uncle Louis B Mayer was responsible for the wow effect in today’s modern political conventions. He’s been praised/blamed for a lot of things, but that his legacy also included the spectacle that is now an expected part of nominating a presidential candidate, was new to me. LB was a Republican, and while I have no need to be an apologist for his political beliefs (I’m loving the Democratic National Convention), I also don’t know anything about the political climate of the time. Who knows, and quite frankly, who cares?

Meanwhile, his big sister, my great-grandmother Ida Mayer Cumming’s approach to politics was quite practical – if you were in power she phoned and wrote to you and invited you to contribute to the important causes she was devoted to. I’ve seen the hundreds of letters she wrote – to political leaders of all types, mega stars, scions of family dynasties, heads of business and bishops.

In this photo we see the results of her dedication as my great-grandmother has just greeted the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and together they walk up the steps to either the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aged, or possibly a venue hosting one of their annual gala fundraising events. Both women are smiling broadly, in fact, Mrs Roosevelt seems tickled pink, like she’s been here before and is being greeted by old friends. Even in this era (I don’t know what year this is), having the First Lady arrive at your doorstep was a big deal and no doubt her support was hugely important.

In these simpler times you could still be met by a handful of policemen to help usher you in, but I doubt they saw themselves as crowd control as this would have been a very respectful gathering. I love that the only person looking straight to the camera in this instant is the policeman on the right. With his smart glossy policeman’s hat with its polished badge and his craggy face, he looks straight out of Central Casting.

Along with family legacy, for me this is a photo about headwear. Times have truly changed and it is rare to see anyone today, except for someone in service, wearing a hat. But in this image I spy several hats – a fedora, a kippah, a fascinator (clip-on ladies’ hat), cloth head wraps and of course, the glorious hat that Ida is proudly wearing – probably her best “VIP” hat.

I notice the man on the left has taken off his fedora – had he literally just taken off his hat as a sign of respect? Was he wearing it the second before the photographer captured this shot as the First Lady made her way up another step, and perhaps caught his eye? The man would have tipped his hat and removed it as fast as he could. These were more respectful times than now.

This is also a photo about faith because the man on the right wears his kippah paying respect to a force higher than political office.

You don’t have to share the same faith to appreciate the solid convictions he displays, but this was made easier when you met Eleanor Roosevelt, a friend of many from incredibly diverse backgrounds – what we now call a humanitarian.

On this note, I love that my great-grandmother is in step – literally and figuratively – with the First Lady, for she too was a humanitarian having dedicated her life to the service of others, and for that I am so proud. My great-grandmother wore many hats – daughter, wife, mother, sister, fundraiser, leader and humanitarian.

Eleanor Roosevelt books:
You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt (Quality Paperbacks Series)
Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage
My Day: The Best Of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962
Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933
Eleanor Roosevelt : Volume 2 , The Defining Years, 1933-1938

Copyright Alicia Mayer 2012.

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5 Responses to “The Humanitarian Hat – Ida greets First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt”

  1. ambrasancin

    Nice story – and photo – Alicia. I’m a big fan of Eleonor Roosevelt – wonderful woman.

  2. John George Archer

    Images like this are so ephemeral, and of another world; that Golden Age of Film has certainly receded into past now! That’s why it’s so great you’re sort of keeping the flame alive here. Probably no one better to do it justice.

  3. John George Archer

    “old photos are just like drops of amber forever capturing their subjects in the midst of living life…” applies exactly to what I was trying to say and what this blog does.

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