America in the 1930s was Dickensian. Ushered in with the Great Depression and shepherded out with the ravening maw of global war, the 1930s was a time of great fear. Yet the 1939 New York World's Fair heralded the hope of social and technological innovations, which would help transform postwar America. The 1930s were the best of times, they were the worst of times.
Like the English writer Charles Dickens, 1930s' society seemed to focus on children. The presidency of Herbert Hoover, “the Children's President,” opened the decade, and the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a favorite of childhood “polios,” closed it. In between, Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935, Title V, which provided the first consistent federal funding for children with physical disabilities. The pediatrician Martha May Eliot, who published in these pages in the 1930s, crafted most of the parts of the Social Security Act dealing with child and maternal health.1- 2 The focus began with Hoover's White House Conference on Child Health and Protection in 1929-1930 and ended with Roosevelt's 1939 White House Conference on Children in a Democracy.