The date is December 12, 1938 and Eleanor Roosevelt has spent some time thinking about the Bethesda Post Office – at least so she writes in her “blog.” You can see her notes at the White House Historical Association website. Eleanor visited the Treasury Department’s Procurement Division that day to take a look at the murals that were being done for the Bethesda Post Office. There was a competition for the work and the artist whose talents earned him the commission was Robert Franklin Gates who later became the head of the Art Department at American University. His mural of farm women shows them feeding their animals on one side and selling their produce at the market on the other – surely reflective of the Farm Women’s Cooperative Market that began across the street in 1932 – see our blog, Day 63.
Our Post Office next to The Madonna of the Trail
Eleanor Roosevelt thought his sketch to be “charming.” The full-size work was later completed and hung in the new Bethesda post office at 7400 Wisconsin Ave
where it still greets patrons today. I have a P.O. box in that post office building and have noticed and admired the mural many times while waiting in line, but I had no idea that it had such a rich history along with the historically designated building in which it resides.
The Bethesda post office was built in 1938 with funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
after the passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act of 1935 as a measure to provide employment for Americans struggling from the Great Depression. The Act provided almost 8 million jobs throughout the country and one of the projects that received funding was the construction of the Bethesda Post Office
The 4,300 square foot building stands now as a cornerstone of our community and it is estimated to be worth over 3 million dollars. It is priceless though as a historical piece reflecting our town’s struggle to emerge from the dark days of the Great Depression. After learning about the farm women who joined together to create the market across the street to help their families through this tough time, and now to understand that the post office was also built during those same years – the mural in its hall offers a whole new meaning. It reflects the pride in the women who made a successful cooperative business in their community to support their families. I can’t help but peer into the main lobby and take a look at that mural every time I visit my P.O. Box.
The mural in the Bethesda post office
I see in it the faces of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Robert Franklin Gates, the Farm Women of the Cooperative Market, the masons and workers who were no doubt gratefully employed during a time of such struggle and their families who were made stronger by its construction and the employment that it provided. I hope the building will stand for a very long time as a symbol of our community banding together to make a better life for its citizens during very tough economic times.
On a practical note, it’s a great post office to visit for passport services or any other postal needs. The people who work there are very friendly and efficient (a refreshing experience for a post office). The METRO elevator is right next door and there is a small lot with free parking (if a spot is open) in the back of the building off Montgomery Ave. I encourage you to stop by the next time you need stamps and take in this historical building and remember the lives that were impacted by it. ~Amy