THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF PUBLIC RECREATIONAL SPORT: NEW YORK CITY, 1933-43
This dissertation examines the relationship between federal work relief programs of the New Deal era and the democratization of public recreational sport in New York City. While sport historians assert the New Deal's important role in democratizing sport, their accounts are brief and frequently based on secondary sources. This study relies predominantly on primary sources, especially documents of the national and New York City WPA, the city's Department of Parks and the New York Times as a chronicle of daily events.
Since the late nineteenth century, social reformers promoted public recreational sport as a means to combat ill-effects of urban life such as poor health, delinquency and unsavory pastimes. The city provided public parks in wealthy neighborhoods but consistently neglected the recreational needs of tenement districts. By 1930, existing public facilities for the poor and working class were appallingly inadequate and dilapidated; recreational sport remained a prerogative of the wealthy.
Federal work relief, which followed private, city and state efforts, attempted to counter the Depression's harmful effects. Recreational sports projects met the criteria of providing benefit to the community hence were acceptable as work relief projects. Presidential approval of large federal grants for recreation reflected Franklin D. Roosevelt's intention to expand recreational sport, particularly for urban residents. Directed by Robert Moses, New York's ambitious Park Commissioner, relief workers built a system of public recreational sports facilities often regarded as the nation's finest. Under Eduard C. Lindeman's leadership, the WPA recreation service program promulgated recreational sport as a civic right for all rather than as a privilege of the rich or charity for the poor.
The study illustrates that federal involvement in public recreational sport occurred within the liberal reform tradition in which democratization is viewed as increased equality of opportunity. Such unprecedented federal activity represented change from the past and continuity with traditional democratic values.