Josephus Daniels minimized FDR’s health problems

[While he was governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s] polio seemed almost forgotten — but would the nation at large react the same when he ran for president?

“To reassure any doubters, his old friend and navy superior Josephus Daniels penned an article for the Saturday Evening Post in September 1932….  ‘The fact that conservative and nonpolitical life insurance executives,’ Daniels wrote, ‘after thorough examination by medical experts, insured his life for $500,000 thus demonstrated by the highest testimony that physically he is sound.’

“While not perceived as cured, Franklin was generally regarded by his physicians as having overcome the worst of his disability….In fact, Franklin could get around only moderately better than he could a decade earlier; what [Warm Springs Rehabilitation Institute] had done was strengthen his upper body and, more important, his spirit….”

— From “The Wars of the Roosevelts” by William J. Mann (2016)


Josephus Daniels, FDR and their ‘unprintable’ scandal

“In 1919, Navy Secretary [Josephus] Daniels – whose crusade against sin went far beyond banning wine in the officers’ mess – became concerned about homosexual behavior among sailors in Newport, Rhode Island.

“This was almost 75 years before ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and almost a century before being gay was removed as a barrier to military service. Then, homosexuality was a very serious offense.

“Daniels ordered the base commander to clean things up, and the solution he found was to set up a sting operation, using new sailors as bait. To be certain the men they entrapped were indeed homosexuals, the recruits – some as young as 16 – were allowed to submit to fellatio – and praised for their ‘zeal’ in the investigation when they did so. As assistant secretary of the navy, FDR had signed off on the sting while Daniels was abroad, but denied knowing the sordid details.

“The case erupted…. Headlines laid the scandal at Roosevelt’s feet, with the story on the front page of the New York Times declaring the details to be ‘unprintable.’”

— From “The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency” by Kathryn Smith (2016)

How dry he was: Daniels banned alcohol on ships

On this day in 1914: As Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the navy, former Raleigh newspaper editor Josephus Daniels bans alcohol at officers’ mess aboard United States ships. The ban will go unbroken until 1980, when crew members of the aircraft carrier Nimitz are issued two beers apiece in recognition of their having been at sea for more than 100 days.

Daniels’ other innovations meet more resistance. To facilitate the training of recruits, he orders the terms port and starboard replaced with left and right. He has to abandon that effort, as well as one to make sailors wear pajamas.

In 1915, he halts the navy’s issuance of condoms, saying, “The use of this packet I believe to be immoral.” One result is that the navy suffers the highest incidence of venereal disease among the services. The onset of World War I causes Daniels to reluctantly give in; he leaves on an inspection trip, allowing his assistant — the young Franklin D. Roosevelt — to reverse the order.

The war gives Daniels leverage to clean up red-light districts that have fed off sailors. The most famous of these is Storyville in New Orleans, where the mayor argues strenuously, though futilely, for the “God-given right of men to be men.” By making Storyville’s brothels off-limits, Daniels removes the economic base of early jazz musicians, scattering them to Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis – and earning himself the wry title, “the Johnny Appleseed of Jazz.”


Welcome, Mr. President — how ’bout those ditches!

When the 44th president speaks at Bank of America Stadium, will he say something memorable? The record of his predecessors is an interestingly mixed bag.  Can you can identify the presidents or future presidents who made these comments on their visits to Charlotte?

1. “I have seen the denuding of your forests, I have seen the washing away of your topsoil, I have slid into the ditch from your red clay highways.”

2. “Every four years, the Republican candidate or his supporters comes down to North Carolina, Texas or some other Southern state and warns the Democrats in this section of the United States that they have been abandoned by the national party.”

3. “I regret that some people in this country have disparaged and demeaned the role of the homemaker. I say — and say it with emphasis and conviction — that homemaking is good for America.”

4. “Because of our young men and women in uniform, things really have changed around the world. You know, America used to wear a ‘Kick Me’ sign around its neck. Well, we threw that sign away. Now it reads, ‘Don’t Tread on Me.’ ”

5. “This will have a lot of subsidiary good benefits. For example, it’s doing those white folks up there a world of good to sing in a choir like that. That may be a racially insensitive, politically incorrect remark, but having spent countless hours of my life in Baptist church choirs, I do know what I am talking about… I can’t believe I said that.”

6. “The world today, although joined physically by a few hours of flight or by an instant in telecommunications, is further apart in idea, in political belief, in basic philosophy, than it ever was — even before the discovery of the Western World.”

I’ll append the answers tomorrow.

And here they are:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt at “Green Pastures” rally (Sept. 10, 1936).

2. Sen. John F. Kennedy at campaign rally (Sept. 17, 1960).

3. Gerald Ford at state convention of Future Homemakers of America (March 20, 1976).

4. Ronald Reagan at campaign rally for Sen. Jim Broyhill (Oct. 28, 1986).

5. Bill Clinton at first joint meeting of Progressive National Baptist Convention and Alliance of Baptists (Aug. 9, 1995).

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Freedom Celebration Day (May 18, 1954).


Homefront fashion: pajamas suitable for flying

“I hope when I wear them that I do not start counting ten and jump!”

— President Franklin D. Roosevelt, writing on Feb. 2, 1943, to thank N.C. Gov. O. Max Gardner for his Christmas present — pajamas custom-made from nylon parachute cloth manufactured at Gardner’s textile mill in Shelby.

Gardner devised the gift to tout the value of synthetics research, which had invented nylon for parachutes just in time to offset the Japanese monopoly on silk.