Children plead, complain in letters to presidents

Monday, June 14, 2004

WASHINGTON -- A girl who wanted to keep her father home during World War II and a boy who wanted federal help to clean his room turned to the one person they thought could make those things happen: the president of the United States.

So, like many thousands of others each year, they wrote the commander in chief. Their correspondence, to go on display at the National Archives and Records Administration, offers a view of government through the eyes of children.

Carolyn Weatherhogg was 10 when she dashed off a note to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II.

"Dear Mr. Roosevelt," she began, "I am sending you a suggestion that is draft fathers alphabetically." She apparently figured it would take her father's draft board considerable time to reach the 23rd letter of the alphabet -- W.

The agency does not have the envelope that bore the letter, so it is not known where Carolyn was from or whether her father went to war.

Andy Smith of Irmo, S.C., sought President Reagan's help after his mother declared his room a "disaster area."

"I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room," he said in a neatly typed note.

The president himself gave Andy a handwritten, tongue-in-cheek reply. In it, he noted a new effort -- the Private Sector Initiative Program -- set up to encourage volunteers to tackle local problems rather than relying on government help.

"I'm sure your mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster," Reagan wrote. "Therefore you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with more than 3,000 already under way in our nation. Congratulations."

The letter and Reagan's response were mentioned by President Bush when he eulogized the former president last week.

Anthony Ferreira did not give age, but his awkward block letters indicate he was not far along in the H.B. Milnes School in Fair Lawn, N.J.

He sent a note to President Ford after Ford pardoned former President Nixon for the Watergate break-in. His succinct letter:

"Dear President Ford,

"I think you are half Right and half wrong.

"yours truly,

"Anthony Ferreira."

Fourth-grader Brandon Golden of Lafayette, Ind., struck a plaintive note in a letter to the first President Bush.

"I like the educational tools we have in our schools," he wrote, "but could lunches be better?"

Sometimes the young letter-writers became well-known. Fidel Castro, 12, wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940.

"If you like," the future Cuban dictator wrote, "give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them."

More than 35 years later, Castro told an Associated Press reporter how proud he had been when he got an acknowledgment from a U.S. diplomat and his school posted it for a week on the bulletin board. However, there was no $10 bill.

Some kids' letters are a bit sour.

"I would like to know why, in this age of physical fitness, there are still paunchy teachers around," Richard Millington wrote President Kennedy from Sacramento, Calif. "These teachers are supposed to be good examples to us poor, disgusted kids."

Millington suggested a law that would require teachers "to keep themselves in the pink, too."

He added, in a postscript: "Even some of the Scoutmasters have midriff bulges."

Millington did not give his age or school. His careful spelling and well-placed commas suggest a high school student with a good English teacher.

Then there is the letter from three girls in Noxon, Mont., to President Eisenhower. They expressed concern about the welfare of Elvis Presley.

"We think it's bad enough to send Elvis Presley in the Army, but if you cut his sideburns off we will just die!"

Alas, the sideburns fell victims to a regulation GI haircut.

The exhibit opens in November at agency headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, just down the street from the White House. It is a wide-ranging sampling of the archive's holdings, including 32 letters to the government, 15 of them from children.


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A sample of letters is available at:

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