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The notion of the Four Freedoms has inspired dozens of national constitutions across the globe, yet Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration that the United States was willing to fight for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear—now considered a sublime moment in rhetorical history—did not turn out to be the immediate triumph envisioned by the president. As the nation found itself sliding ever closer to direct involvement in World War II, the underlying meaning of his words captured surprisingly little attention among Americans. Following his January 1941, Annual Message to Congress, government surveys showed that only half of Americans were aware of FDR’s Four Freedoms and that less than a quarter could identify them correctly. Many had no clear idea why the United States was being called upon to enter the war.
It would take the continuous efforts of the White House, the Office of War Information, and scores of patriotic artists to give the Four Freedoms new life. Most prominent among those was Norman Rockwell, whose interpretations became a national sensation in early 1943 when they were first published in The Saturday Evening Post. Roosevelt’s words and Rockwell’s artworks soon became inseparable in the public consciousness, with millions of reproductions bringing the Four Freedoms directly into American homes and workplaces. When Eleanor Roosevelt convinced United Nations delegates to include these ideals in the new organization’s postwar statement of human rights, FDR’s words—now forever entwined with Rockwell’s images—achieved immortality.
Stephanie Haboush Plunkett is the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum. The curator of many exhibitions relating to the art of illustration including“Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms;”
”Inventing America: Rockwell and Warhol”; “Rockwell and Realism in an Abstract World The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator. She has held positions at Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Heckscher Museum of Art. She leads the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, the first scholarly institute devoted to the study of illustration art. “Expert Tips from the Golden Age of Illustration” is her most recent publication.