ON WITH HISTORY
The 75th Anniversary of the Social Security Act Evokes Memories of John F. Kennedy’s Visit to Hyde Park.
On August 14 1960, the 25th Anniversary of the Social Security Act, United States Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy travelled to Hyde Park, New York. The Senator’s trip was motivated by two important goals. The first was to visit former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt in an attempt to gain her support for his Presidential campaign. The second was to deliver a speech to the Golden Ring Club, an organization of senior citizens, who had gathered on the grounds of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site to pay tribute to FDR and the Social Security bill he had signed into law in 1935.
Eleanor Roosevelt agreed to meet with Senator Kennedy at her Val-Kill home on August 14th. Sadly, tragedy struck the Roosevelt family the day before Kennedy’s expected visit when Mrs. Roosevelt’s 12 year old granddaughter, Sally, died as a result of a horseback riding accident. The Senator, offered to postpone the visit with her, but Eleanor Roosevelt insisted he keep the appointment.
In 1960, Eleanor Roosevelt was a major political force in the Democratic Party. Anyone running for the Presidency of the United States realized her active support was important to a successful campaign. Eleanor Roosevelt wanted Adlai Stevenson to be the next President, but John Kennedy won the Democratic Party’s nomination. Mrs. Roosevelt felt the next leader of the nation needed to support Civil Rights. Based on his voting record as Senator, she thought John Kennedy would be unwilling to push for Civil Rights legislation. During the course of their meeting at Val-Kill, they came to a compromise. John Kennedy agreed to make a strong stand on Civil Rights issues. Mrs. Roosevelt, in turn, agreed to actively campaign for the Senator.
In one of the campaign ads she did on his behalf, Eleanor Roosevelt stated: “John F. Kennedy came to visit me at Hyde Park. We talked together and I learned he was truly interested in carrying on many of the things which my husband had just begun. Mr. Kennedy is a strong and determined person who, as president, will provide the leadership for greater social security benefits which the social welfare of a civilized nation demands…”
Following the intense and productive, meeting with Mrs. Roosevelt, Senator Kennedy travelled to the Home of Franklin Roosevelt National Historic Site, two miles west of Val-Kill. Due to Sally Roosevelt’s death, Mrs. Roosevelt did not accompany the Senator, as she had originally planned. A large crowd had gathered on the lawn, just east of former President Roosevelt’s birthplace home and gravesite. They greeted Senator Kennedy with great enthusiasm.
During the course of the speech Senator Kennedy stated: “…’Standing on this quiet lawn – this spacious and soothing scene – it is difficult to recall the furious battles which were fought by the man who lies here in honored glory… Today we commemorate one of those battles – the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 – the most important single piece of social welfare legislation in the history of this country. It was 25 years ago this very day that Franklin Roosevelt could say, after a long and arduous struggle: “Today, a hope of many years’ standing is in large part fulfilled”’, and with that he signed his name and social security became law.
It is fitting that we celebrate this anniversary. It is essential from time to time that we pay tribute to past greatness and historic achievement. …We celebrate the past, to awaken the future…”
75 years after its inception, Social Security, continues to impact every American and to generate speeches and debates about its future.
On August 15, 2010 the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library opens a new exhibition:
“Our Plain Duty: FDR and America’s Social Security” to commemorate the 75th Anniversary, featuring rare photographs, film footage and documents from their archives.