What are “The Winston Hours”?

Where did the name of my blog come from? If you think it’s a reference to Winston Churchill, you’re absolutely correct.

I came across the phrase while reading a book on President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which I can no longer find…I know it’s on my bookshelf, I just can’t figure out which book I found it in.) I thought the story was entertaining and the phrase just hit my ear so nicely.

The phrase was coined by someone in the Roosevelt White House. I’ve read that it was first uttered by Eleanor Roosevelt but I’ve also read that a member of the White House staff came up with it. So while I can’t say who created this phrase, I can confidently say that it was used to describe Churchill’s erratic schedule and FDR’s attempts to keep the same schedule when the men were together.

Churchill liked to stay up late, making it so he’d wake up late the following morning. According to Eleanor, Churchill’s daily schedule while at the White House looked something like this:

  • Have breakfast delivered at 9 AM
  • Wake up and actually eat breakfast around 11 AM
  • Work with Roosevelt, or by himself, until after lunch
  • Take a two-hour nap, waking up around 5 PM
  • Eat dinner
  • Get to the “real work” after dinner, staying up until 2 or 3 AM

Roosevelt tried to keep a similar schedule but this was nothing like his usual day-to-day. Roosevelt was an avid bird watcher and liked to wake up at “ungodly hours” to do so (Eleanor wrote that he never invited Churchill to bird watch with him, probably because he knew Churchill wouldn’t like getting up at that hour.) After Churchill left, Roosevelt would spend days recovering from “keeping the Winston hours.” Apparently, he’d sleep 10 hours a night for three days trying to get back on his normal schedule.

Eleanor repeatedly hinted that this schedule wasn’t good for him and he needed his rest but Roosevelt wouldn’t listen. Aside from being leaders of the two most powerful members of the Allied powers, they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company (see point 8 in the telegram below).


Telegram from Roosevelt to Churchill, January 1942. Image via FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

So “the Winston hours” refers to Churchill’s unconventional work schedule and President Roosevelt’s struggle to accommodate the Prime Minister. I’m unsure if Churchill kept a similar schedule at home or if the 5 hour time difference between London and DC had something to do with it. Either way, I loved the phrase and decided to start this blog because I desperately needed A) something that would allow me to use my education and B) something to name “the Winston hours.”

Oh, and I know what you’re thinking. It was Winston Churchill. Surely they were enjoying a few drinks during these late nights. And you’re absolutely right. Churchill enjoyed dry martinis (although he was not a fan of Roosevelt’s dry martinis), Johnnie Walker Red, champagne, or a good brandy. But it was the strange hours that were taxing on Roosevelt, not the drinking. He was a drinker in his own right, preferring the aforementioned martini and various dark rum cocktails.


All images via the Franklin D. Roosevelt President Library and Museum
Churchill at the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt
How to Drink Like Winston Churchill by Warren Dockter
In the Darkest Days of World War II, Winston Churchill’s Visit to the White House Brought Hope to Washington by Erick Trickey


Who Was Viola Desmond?

Every once in a while I come across an event or a person I’ve never heard of. Most of the time it’s because they’re from a part of the world or a time period I just haven’t studied much. But sometimes I don’t know why or how I never managed to run across this person or event. That’s the case with Viola Desmond (née Davis.)

Who was Viola Desmond?

Viola Desmond was a hairdresser, beautician, and businesswoman. Modeling herself after Madam CJ Walker, she built a thriving beauty supply business and beauty school in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was biracial, one of ten children born to a black father and white mother. Her parents were active members of the community and raised Viola and her siblings to be ambitious.


A tin of face powder from Viola’s line of beauty supplies. Image via CBC and Nova Scotia Archives.

On November 8, 1946, 32-year-old Viola was headed to Sydney, Nova Scotia for business. About halfway through the nearly four and a half hour drive, her car broke down. Stranded in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, knowing she’d have to wait overnight for her car to be fixed, she decided to see a movie. She headed to the Roseland Theater, a landmark in New Glasgow, and purchased a ticket. After handing the ticket-seller $1, she received seventy cents and a balcony ticket in exchange.


Viola Desmond. Image via CBC and Wanda Robson.

Viola entered the theater, presented her ticket to the ticket-taker and continued into the main seating area. The ticket-taker, Prima Davis shouted that her ticket was an upstairs ticket and that’s where she’d need to go. Viola returned to the ticket counter, explained the situation, and claimed that there must be some mistake. She hadn’t ordered a balcony ticket. She offered to pay the ten cents difference in the ticket prices.

The ticket-seller, Peggy Melanson, simply replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m not permitted to sell downstairs tickets to you people.

Viola immediately recognized that she was being forced to sit in the balcony because of her race.

She turned and reentered the theater, silently walking to the only partially full main seating area. She quietly took a seat, waiting for the movie to start. Prima Davis followed her into the theater and said, “I told you to go upstairs.”

Viola remained seated.

Prima left and returned with a manager, Harry MacNeil, who threatened to have her removed. The theater had a policy that allowed them to deny service to “any objectionable person.” Viola calmly pointed out that she hadn’t been denied service, she had just been denied a downstairs ticket. She wasn’t making a scene and didn’t believe they could, or would, legally kick her out of the theater.

MacNeil left, irate, and returned with a police officer. Again, Viola told them that she only wanted to sit in the main seating area. She couldn’t see well from the balcony. The officer grabbed Viola by the shoulders while MacNeil grabbed her legs and together, they dragged her to the lobby. She lost her purse and a shoe in the process. When they stopped in the lobby, a bystander brought her her purse and the officer allowed her to get her shoe. Then she was put into a waiting taxi and taken to the police station. About an hour later, MacNeil and the Chief of Police, Elmo C. Langille, returned to the station with a warrant for Viola’s arrest.

She was taken to the town jail where she was held for twelve hours…in a cell with men. They kept bringing more men in as the night progressed. Viola later recounted, “The matron was very nice and she seemed to realize that I shouldn’t have been there.”

Viola Desmond on Trial

The next morning, Viola was brought in front of the town magistrate, Roderick Geddes, McKay. She had not been briefed of her rights, had no lawyer, and there was no Crown attorney (government prosecutor in the Canadian legal system) present. She was charged with violating the provincial Theatres, Cinematographs, and Amusement Act. While that act had no clauses related to racial segregation, it did state that patrons would pay an amusement tax on any tickets purchased in provincial theaters, such as the Roseland.

Viola’s ticket, the balcony ticket, cost 30¢. The main floor ticket cost 40¢. They claimed that Viola had paid 30¢ for a 40¢ ticket, making her 1¢ short on the amusement tax. The witnesses testified that she knowingly purchased a balcony ticket and then took a seat in the main seating area. Viola was asked if she had any questions and she later recounted that she didn’t realize they meant questions for the witnesses. She was being asked to perform a cross-examination in undeniably vague terms with no lawyer on her side. When she took the stand, she testified that she offered to pay the difference but was told they wouldn’t allow that. You’ll remember that she had initially given the ticket-taker $1, plenty to cover a floor ticket in the first place.

At the end of the trial, Viola was found guilty and fined $26: $20 was the minimum fine for this offense and the other $6 went to Harry MacNeil, who was listed as the prosecutor in the case. To put it another way: she had to pay the theater manager who helped drag her out of her seat and obtained a warrant for her arrest.


Viola Desmond on the front page of The Clarion, December 1946. Image via The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Viola, with the support of the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP), appealed the verdict. She lost the appeal but the judge conceded that it wasn’t about that 1¢, it was about unspoken segregation “laws” in the province. He stated, “One wonders if the manager of the theatre who laid the complaint was so zealous because of a bona fide belief there had been an attempt to defraud the Province of Nova Scotia of the sum of one cent, or was it a surreptitious endeavour to enforce Jim Crow rule by misuse of a public statute.”

It was an unbelievable use of a loophole to prosecute someone based on the color of their skin.

The case garnered a lot of attention, much of it negative, which weighed heavily on Viola. She divorced her husband, shut down her businesses, and moved to Montreal, Quebec. She eventually left Canada and relocated to New York City where she died in 1965 at the age of 50.

In 1954, Nova Scotia abolished the province’s segregation laws. But we know that just because something is off the books doesn’t mean that it stopped happening. While segregation was no longer legal, Nova Scotians continued to fight for equality.

In the meantime, Viola and her story all but faded away.

Viola Desmond Gets Recognition

In 2000, Viola was the subject of the documentary Long Road to Freedom: The Viola Desmond Story.


Viola (right) and her sister, Wanda. Circa 1950. Photo via CBC and Wanda Robson.

Still, it wasn’t until the 21st century that her name and story became known again, thanks to the work of her sister, Wanda Robson. In 2010, Wanda wrote a book about Viola, Sister to Courageand travels around Canada to speak about her sister. Thanks to Wanda’s work, Viola was granted a posthumous apology and pardon by the Canadian government in 2010.


Wanda Robson and then-Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia Mayann Francis hold hands as the province formally pardons Viola. Image via CBC News.

In 2012, the Canadian Post released a Viola Desmond stamp.

In 2014, Nova Scotia honored her on a new holiday.

Also in 2014, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights included an exhibit about Viola in their “Canadian Journeys” gallery.

In 2015, community members in Halifax erected an outdoor movie screen in her honor. The project was spearheaded by Hope Blooms, an organization that helps at-risk youth.

And in 2016, it was announced that Viola would be the first Canadian woman to appear on the Canadian ten-dollar note.

She is often called the “Canada’s Rosa Parks”, which I think is unfair. Not only because Viola’s act of peaceful defiance came nearly a decade before Rosa’s but because we don’t need to compare the two. Yes, they made their mark in similar ways but both are worth acknowledgment. Calling her “Canadian Rosa Parks” erases her name again. Don’t erase it. She deserves to have her story told and her bravery recognized.

Colour-coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse, Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History
So Seldom for Us, So Often Against Us: Blacks and Law in Canada by Esmeralda M. A. Thornhill
The story of Viola Desmond, “Canada’s Rosa Parks” from CBS News
How civil rights icon Viola Desmond helped change course of Canadian history by CBC News
And while I didn’t use it as a source, I found this lovely children’s book about Viola’s case, Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged.

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Dalí and Disney: Actually, A Pretty Likely Friendship

Last year I got wind of an exhibit coming to The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL: “Disney and Dalí: Architects of the Imagination.” I knew I couldn’t miss it and I knew I’d be in Florida during the exhibit’s time at The Dalí. In April 2016, I made the journey to St. Pete, a short detour off my planned route, to see this exhibit that I had heard wonderful things about.

And I was not disappointed. It was crowded (understandably so) but so, so cool. I had never visited The Dalí before and it’s just a gorgeous museum. “Disney and Dalí” is no longer at The Dalí but it’s still a must-see if you’re in St. Pete. This isn’t an exhibit or museum review, though. This is about the friendship between these two men. (For the sake of clarity, I’m going to refer to Walt Disney as Walt and the company Disney as, well, Disney.)


Interior of The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, 2016. Original photo.

Nearly everything you’ll read about Walt and Dalí states that it was an unlikely friendship. I have to disagree. Of course, their styles were very different but these men were the same age (Dalí was only three years younger than Walt), both artists, and both pioneers in their fields. Walt kept abreast of trends in art and filmmaking so it is no surprise that he eventually met and formed a friendship with one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed artists. They both pushed the boundaries of their art, broke new ground, and had the kind of drive that it seems to me only another person with that kind of drive can understand. Of their friendship, Walt’s nephew, the late Roy E. Disney, once said, “It always seemed to me they were both really relentless self-promoters and they must have seen that in one another.”

And have you seen Fantasia? It’s not like Walt was unaware that animation could be surreal.

Anyway. I just don’t think we should be so surprised by this relationship.

By 1936, Disney had already revolutionized animation, syncing sound with animation for the first time and using three-strip Technicolor technology, which Walt had gained exclusive access to. Mickey Mouse was already a beloved figure, the company had produced its 36th Silly Symphonies short, and three years earlier, it produced the short Three Little Pigs.

By 1936, Dalí had become an internationally acclaimed artist. His first solo exhibition was in Barcelona in 1925 and an exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1928 brought him international notoriety. He completed his most famous work The Persistence of Memory (also known as “the melting clocks”) in 1931. He had visited Paris in the 1920s and returned in 1936 with his wife, Gala, to escape the Spanish Civil War.

All of this to give you a frame of reference as to where their careers were in 1936. It was that year that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held an exhibition titled Fantastic Art, Dada, and SurrealismNaturally, Dalí’s work was featured. But Walt also had pieces in the exhibit: two animation cels from Three Little Pigs. This was the first time their careers crossed paths and the men began to take note of each other. The next year, Dalí would travel to the US and write a letter to Andrê Bretton, the founder of Surrealism, stating, “I have come to Hollywood and am in contact with three great American Surrealists—the Marx Brothers, Cecil B. DeMille, and Walt Disney.” Dalí was eager to make an animated film, seeing animators as Surrealists.


(One) mission accomplished! Dalí sketching Harpo Marx, 1937. Photo via The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation.

In 1944, Walt read Dalí’s autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. He was so entranced, he sent his copy to Dalí to ask for an autograph and suggest a collaboration between Walt Disney Studios and Dalí. Walt made this suggestion for two reasons: recently, critics had been accusing Disney of sacrificing artistry for marketability and Walt wanted to continue working with the type of innovation used by Fantasia, which had been released in 1940.

Beginning with this initial letter from Walt, the two began exchanging letters and eventually met at a Warner Brothers Studio party in 1945. World War II had delayed their collaboration (Disney was making propaganda films) but with the war’s end, they could focus on collaborating.

In 1946, Dalí began spending half of his time in Burbank, home of Walt Disney Studios. (The other half was spent in Pebble Beach, CA.) They fleshed out their ideas, wrote outlines, and created drawings. Walt chose the name “Destino” (Spanish for destiny) for the project, after the title of the ballad they chose for the short film’s score.


Dalí working on Destino at Walt Disney Studios, 1946. Photo via the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation.

If it wasn’t apparent before, it quickly became clear that their storytelling approaches were very different. Walt’s stories relied on characters while Dalí saw characters as secondary elements, to be wrapped in symbolism. Walt described Destino as, “a simple love story—boy meets girl.” Dalí described it as, “a magical exposition of life in the labyrinth of time.” Of course he did.

While these differences might have spelled the end of any collaboration for others, the project soldiered on for nearly a year. Work on Destino came to a rather abrupt end when Walt determined that he couldn’t afford to keep Dalí on Disney’s payroll. (It’s unknown exactly how much Dalí was paid but Walt did comment that Dalí was “expensive.”) Walt also felt that Disney should move away from anthology features, which Destino had turned into. Overall, the project had sort of gotten away from them and was turning into something that neither man envisioned. There are also rumors that the men’s strong egos played a part in the project’s death but given that the men remained friends until Walt’s death, I doubt egotism was a factor. In the 1950s, they vacationed at each other’s homes in California and Spain and Walt had Dalí’s paintings on the walls of his Palm Springs home. There just wasn’t animosity there.


Dalí and Walt Disney in Spain, 1957. Photo via The Walt Disney Family Museum.

Over 50 years later, Disney released Fantasia 2000. It was the release of this film that inspired Roy Disney to resurrect Destino. Walt Disney Studios hired a team of French animators to bring Dalí’s notes and drawings to life. In 2003, Destino was finally released, nearly 60 years after its conception. 

It has elements of Disney’s animation style but Dalí’s influence is unmistakable. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2003. Of course, Walt never saw the film, passing away in 1966. Dalí lived until 1989. Unfortunately, not even Roy Disney lived to see the film. He passed away in 2001.

Destino stands as a reminder that art forms can merge and create something beautiful and unexpected. Dalí wanted to create an animated film and there was no better partner than Walt Disney.

Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination from The Walt Disney Family Museum
Walt Disney Timeline from The Walt Disney Family Museum
Timeline from The Dalí Museum
The Secret History of Salvador Dalí’s Disney Film by Trey Taylor
The Time Salvador Dalí Worked for Walt Disney by Mark Mancini
Destino from The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation

What is a Feed Sack Fashion Show?

During the Great Depression, women began using the fabric sacks certain foods, like flour, came in to make clothes for themselves and their families. Times were tough and perfectly good fabric wasn’t going to be wasted. Companies got wind of this and began packing flour and livestock feed in sacks made of patterned fabric.


This isn’t about flour sack dresses, though…well, not really. This is about a Feed Sack Fashion Show held in Raleigh, NC in 1948, when the war was over and America’s economy was on the upswing. Were feed sack dresses a necessity in 1948? Probably not. But nevertheless, the Farmers Exchange Cooperative and North Carolina Cotton Growers Cooperative Association held a “Fashion Parade” at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.

1,500 women from across North Carolina came to show off their creations, 3,400 people came to watch the show, and no dress cost over $1 in materials. Pretty dang impressive.


The winners: fourth place on the left to first place on the right. Mrs. Albert Eagles of Macclesfield took first place and a prize of $100!

Great job, ladies!

Photos via State Archives of North Carolina.