Office of Civilian Defense
ER saw World War II as an opportunity to unify the American people, encourage citizen participation, and strengthen American democracy. She believed that "we must continuewith the progressive social legislation as part of national defense." She was impressed with the accomplishments of her good friend Lady Stella Reading who directed the Women's Voluntary Services forCivil Defense in England and particularly by the way Reading was achieving greater social equality and justice through her work. She wanted American women to become involved in the war effort in asimilar way, and successfully urged FDR to ask Florence Kerr, the head of Works Progress Adminstration Community Service Projects, to draw up a plan to make use of women volunteers in the war effort. ERworked closely with Kerr to produce a document entitled "American Social Defense Organization."
Kerr and ER's document helped shape the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD), which FDR established byExecutive Order in May, 1941. Agreeing with Kerr and ER, and rejecting the advice of Harold Ickes and some of the other members of his administration, FDR gave the agency a mandate to meet a wide arrayof needs, including the protection of the civilian population, the maintenance of morale, and the promotion of volunteer involvement in defense. It was also charged with ensuring that federal agenciesresponded to community needs resulting from the war. FDR selected Fiorello LaGuardia, the flamboyant mayor of New York City, to head of the new agency.
The OCD established air-raid procedures,supervised black-outs, filled sandbags, and planned for protection against fire in case of attack. But LaGuardia showed little interest in organizing volunteer participation in civilian defense and in thesocial welfare programs that ER believed should be part of the program. ER was especially interested in seeing women and young people involved. Although she had resisted becoming officially...
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