Thursday, March 18, 2021

New Deal Art: "Retired"

Above: "Retired," an artwork by Don Emil Glasell (1895-1965), created while he was in the WPA's Federal Art Project, 1937. Image courtesy of the General Services Administration and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

CCC fire prevention and firefighting: How successful was it?

Above: In a fire lookout tower in Kentucky, 1939, a forest ranger and a CCC enrollee demonstrate a turntable device that helps pinpoint wildfires. Photo from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), September 10, 1939, provided courtesy of, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

CCC Firefighting: A history of speed

From 1933-1942, millions of men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built firebreaks, fire lookout towers, and forest access roads. They also fought wildfires and removed wildfire fuel. How successful were these efforts? 

Consider the following six points:

1. Ponderosa Way: During the California fire season of 1934, the CCC's 800-mile-long "Ponderosa Way" firebreak stopped 9 of 11 large wildfires ("Ponderosa Way Is Lauded By Officials," The Sacramento Bee, December 28, 1934, p. 7). 

2. Fewer Acres Burned: California's 1934 fire season was the least humid and most windy since 1924. In 1924, there were 1,932 fires that burned 762,150 acres. In 1934, there were 2,054 fires that burned only 82,773 acres. The CCC's role in the reduction was explained: "Each C.C.C. camp had a special fire crew ready for call at all times of the day or night, but the whole camp, or several camps, often would take part in suppressing a large fire. Forest officers give high praise to the spirit and determination of these boys, to whom a large part of the credit is due in the saving of valuable forests and watersheds" ("More Fires, Lower Cost," Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1934, p. 66). 

3. More Money for the CCC! In 1940, U.S. Congressman Francis Case (R-South Dakota) argued for more funding for the CCC because the CCC boys were so good at their job that they had saved South Dakota more money than what the CCC program had cost for his state. "In the Harney forest alone," he said, "there were more than 100 fires last year, but CCC control had held the burned area to an average of one acre per fire ("Case Fights Cut in CCC Funds," Rapid City Journal, March 8, 1940, p. 2). 

4. Manpower and Speed: Similar to the previous point, CCC Director James McEntee wrote that quick response was the main firefighting strategy of the CCC: "If men and equipment can catch a fire when it is small, the war is won. That is the principle upon which the CCC operates. CCC men build small roads and truck trails into the forests so they can quickly move men and equipment into the areas where the fires start" (Now They Are Men: The Story of the CCC, 1940, p. 22). U.S. Department of Interior statistics highlighted the success of this CCC strategy (as well as the value of overwhelming manpower). For example, in the National Parks, where the CCC was the main firefighting force, the average acreage burned, per wildfire, ranged from 20-86 acres between 1930 and 1932 (before the CCC), but only 3-18 acres from 1933-1939 (Department of Interior fiscal year report, 1940, p. 209).

5. Saving our Forests: In 1937, it was reported that fires in the national forests, during the season, were only a third as destructive as normal. Credit was assigned to favorable weather conditions, improved equipment, and "the presence in most national forests of trained, mobile firefighting corps of Civilian Conservation Corps workers" ("Report Smallest Forest Fire Record in Service Annals," Associated Press, in St. Louis Globe-Democrat (St. Louis, Missouri), October 24, 1937, p. 24).

6. Saving Private Land Too: When the CCC ended in 1942, the head forester for the southern region of the United States wrote, "Largely through the fire control improvements and facilities constructed by the CCC it has been possible for the state foresters in the southern region to provide fire control for millions of acres of privately-owned timber lands that otherwise would have continued to suffer severe damage annually" (Perry H. Merrill, Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942, 1981, p. 51).

Above: The description for this image reads, "Millions of these stickers are distributed annually in National Parks over the country. They help to make park visitors conscious of the need for fire prevention. Constant vigil is needed to spot fires from the lookout towers before they get beyond control. The C.C.C. firefighters then go out and put them out as quickly as possible. Image from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), September 10, 1939, provided courtesy of, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

"Then [we] went to work in the woods, cutting fire breaks which are 25 feet wide and extend around each square mile. We also do what is called Fire Hazard Reduction work. This work is in connection with fire breaks. Cleaning up all brush, dead trees and logs within 50 feet on each side of fire breaks. We are also building truck trails out into the forest... I have re-enlisted for another six months period. I am well satisfied and feel that I was lucky in getting in the C.C.C... I am taking a course in forestry. There is plenty to learn about this work and I am studying hard..."

--H.T. Bonds, Company 479, C.C.C., Alabama, in "What the Three C Boys of Co. 479 Are Doing," Our Mountain Home (Talladega, Alabama), October 25, 1933, p. 4.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The story of New Deal water for Texas, told in images

Above: Part of the 2013 infrastructure report card for Texas, from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Drinking water infrastructure received a "D-" letter grade. The Lone Star State has been warned for many years that its infrastructure is substandard. Is it any wonder then, that millions of Texans have lost their water supply over the past few days? Image used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: The New Deal showed that infrastructure doesn't have to be crummy. Here is a graphic showing new, large-scale drinking water projects in Texas, and across the nation, funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA), 1933-1939. Image from America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939.

Above: In the 1930s, the PWA funded the construction of the Buchanan Dam in central Texas. Today, this New Deal dam still provides electricity, drinking water, flood control, and recreation opportunities to many Texans. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Above: The Buchanan Dam, as it appears today. Image from Google Earth, used here for educational and non-commercial purposes.

Above: A town hall gathering in St. Augustine, Texas, called to discuss ways to raise funds to continue the local work of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), April, 1939. Typically, locals had to raise 20% of the money for their proposed projects before the WPA provided the other 80%. The Texans above had good reason to want more WPA work. For example, WPA laborers installed 655 miles of new water lines in Texas from 1935-1943. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Today, as Texans struggle with their toxic stew of limited government (e.g., lack of infrastructure investment) and private sector sociopathy (e.g., sky-high, predatory utility bills), it is useful to remember the New Deal's investment in Texas, 1933-1943. Maybe future generations of Texans--uninterested in being abused--will opt for, and revive the latter.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Forgotten New Dealer: The amazing, multi-talented Lizzie McDuffie

Above: Elizabeth "Lizzie" McDuffie, 1937. Lizzie worked in the White House, as a cook, maid, and nursemaid to the Roosevelts, from 1933-1945. Lizzie had received a very good education in her youth, and in 1936 she campaigned for FDR's re-election, telling large audiences in the mid-west about New Deal statistics, and the benefit of the WPA and the National Youth Administration to the African American community. Photo from The Atlanta Constitution, July 30, 1937 edition, provided courtesy of, and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: Lizzie had theater and acting experience, and this is how she appeared when she auditioned for the role of "Mammy" for the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a letter of support for Lizzie to get the part. However, the role eventually went to Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar for her performance. In modern times, the role and the movie have come under increasing scrutiny for what many feel is a furtherance of racial stereotypes. Photo from The Elizabethton Star (Elizabethton, Tennessee), January 10, 1938 edition, provided courtesy of, and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: Lizzie McDuffie, fourth from left, at the first anniversary of the United Government Employees, a union she helped create, 1937. Photo from the Elizabeth and Irvin McDuffie Papers, Atlanta University Center, Robert W. Woodruff Library, and the Scenic Hudson article, "FDR’s Deft Civil Rights Advocate, Elizabeth McDuffie," used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: In 1964, Lizzie recalled her time in the White House. Of FDR, she said, "He was a grand, wonderful man." She was at Warm Springs when he passed away on April 12, 1945. Photo and quote from "F.D.R.'s Maid Recalls: Offspring Lively Brood," The Daily Review (Morgan City, Louisiana), June 24, 1964, provided courtesy of, and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Above: In Atlanta, April 1966, Lizzie received a visit from Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., who was then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The reunion was emotional and Lizzie, frail and losing her sight, grasped Roosevelt's hand and said, "Oh, darling boy." When Lizzie had worked in the White House, Roosevelt Jr. was ages 18-30, and he had given Lizzie a photograph of himself, with the words, "To my Mrs. Mac from her boy Franklin, Jr." Elizabeth McDuffie died seven months after this reunion, on November 27, 1966, at the age of 85. Associated Press photo and information, from the Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), April 12, 1966, provided courtesy of, and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

"[President Roosevelt] said to me ‘For years your people have been hewers of wood and drawers of water, but now they are going to get those rights which are theirs’."

--Lizzie McDuffie, October 1936, on the re-election campaign trail for FDR (“Life as Lived in White House Told By Insider,” The St. Louis Star-Times, October 17, 1936, p. 3)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

New Deal Electricity for Texas

Above: Morris Cooke, head of the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration, approves electricity funding for rural areas in Texas and six other states, November 4, 1935. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The New Deal powered Texas

As Texas is currently experiencing an energy crisis, due to its philosophical rejection of "big government," it's worth remembering how the New Deal (i.e., big government) powered the lone star state.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, the New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was instrumental in modernizing the power grid of Texas in the middle decades of the 20th century:

"By January 1, 1965, the REA borrowers and investor-owned utilities had more than reversed the statistics on rural electrification - instead of only 2 percent of Texas farms with electricity, there were only 2 percent without electricity. By 1966 REA loans had financed seventy-seven distribution systems in Texas (seventy-six cooperatives and the Rural Electric Division of Bryan) and two generation and transmission cooperatives. Together, these systems operated more than 165,000 miles of line reaching into all but ten Texas counties." 

The WPA helped Texas too, building or improving 183 utility plants, including those producing electricity (Final Report of the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1947, pp. 132 and 136).

Also, the New Deal's Public Works Administration (PWA) provided funds for about 25 large-scale electricity projects in Texas (see graphic below).

This type of work proves that there is nothing wrong with "big government," as long as that big government is truly of, by, and for the people... and NOT for those who seek to monopolize, nor for those who would crush the common good for the sake of of personal profit.

Above: PWA-funded electric power projects in Texas and across the United States. Image from America Builds: The Record of PWA, 1939.

Above: The New Deal's PWA funded the construction of the Red Bluff Dam, 1934-1937. The dam is located near Pecos, Texas, and still provides electricity (and farm irrigation water) for Texans today. Image from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 21, 1937 edition, and used here for educational, non-commercial purposes.

Friday, February 12, 2021

A New Deal solution to QAnon, Trumpism, and similar societal ills: The Federal Forum Project

"Every man and woman with an education has a twofold duty to perform. The first is to apply that education intelligently to problems of the moment; and the second is to obtain and maintain contact with, and understanding of, the average citizens of their own country."

--President Franklin Roosevelt, "Remarks at Washington College, Chestertown, Md., on Receiving an Honorary Degree," October 21, 1933.

Above: John Studebaker, Commissioner of Education, and Josephine Roche, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, 1935. Studebaker developed the Federal Forum Project: Public meetings across the nation that combined lecture and group discussion, for the overarching purpose of strengthening democracy. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Trumpism and QAnon prey on a lack of critical thinking skills

A recent Huffington Post article highlighted a woman who escaped from the QAnon cult: "She said she fell for QAnon content that presented no evidence, no counter arguments, and yet was all too convincing. 'We as a society need to start teaching our kids to ask: Where is this information coming from? Can I trust it?' she said." (Note: What she is calling for, is an increased emphasis on critical thinking skills.)

And with respect to Trumpism and similar societal ills, Chris Stirewalt, a former Fox News political editor, put things more crudely: "What connects [the adherents]--the same thing that threatens the health of the republic—is rank imbecility... our current concentration of imbeciles has surpassed any kind of safe level. How we became a nation of so many dupes and fools is a matter at least as complicated as the causes of Trump’s presidency... we are suffering the consequences from generations of Americans who are both undereducated and miseducated. This many millions of nincompoops didn’t show up overnight. They have been stumbling out of our nation's failing schools for decades."  

Indeed, it is clear that tens of millions of Americans have not received an adequate education in good citizenship. A good citizenship education is composed of four main things: (1) Critical thinking: the ability and readiness to scrutinize claims and assertions, examine evidence, and consider counterarguments. (2) Ethics: The proper way to conduct oneself while in the public and while in public service. (3) Civic responsibility: The "active participation in the public life of a community in an informed, committed, and constructive manner, with a focus on the common good" (Center for Community & Civic Engagement, Mesa Community College). And (4) History Awareness: A thorough understanding of the nation's historic mistakes, successes, and journey to the present.

So, the question is this: How do we teach good citizenship. The answer is easier (but not necessarily easy) when we talk about K-12 or college. For example, we might expand K-12 to K-14, with the additional two years focused on critical thinking, ethics, civic responsibility, and history awareness. In college, we might focus less on STEM and skills training, and more on good citizenship. When FDR received an honorary degree at the College of William & Mary, he said: "Man must build himself more broadly... The necessities of our time demand that men avoid being set in grooves, that they avoid the occupational predestination of the older world, and that in the face of the change and development in America, they must have a sufficiently broad and comprehensive conception of the world in which they live to meet its changing problems with resourcefulness and practical vision."

But what about Americans who are not in high school or college? How do we reach them? 

The New Deal's Federal Forum Project

Above: A WPA poster promoting a free Federal Forum Project gathering, ca. 1936-1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the 1930s, FDR's Commissioner of Education John Studebaker (not to be confused with the wagon and carmaker John Studebaker) called for public forums to be routinely held all across the country. These forums were events "where old and young in a community may hear qualified speakers on questions of national importance and then join in the discussion of them" ("Joining in a National Advance," The Brandon Union (Brandon, Vermont), May 6, 1938, p. 9).

Studebaker explained the rationale behind the forums: "If we are to have that trained civic intelligence, that critical open-mindedness, upon which the practical operation of a democracy must rest, we must soon take steps to establish throughout the nation an impartial, comprehensive, systematic, coordinated and completely managed system of public forums, publicly supported and publicly administered. If we are to have the intelligent public opinion upon which the public welfare depends, all adults must be provided with an opportunity to obtain the education which will enable them to gain intelligent understanding of the issues of the day" ("National Public Forums Urged by Education Chief," The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), March 4, 1935, p. 6). 

Studebaker had conducted these types of forums in Iowa, before the New Deal, and now sought to greatly expand them. And with WPA funding, he did just that. During fiscal year 1936, Studebaker and the federal Office of Education created forum demonstration centers in Manchester, New Hampshire; Morgantown, West Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Wichita, Kansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Santa Ana, California; Little Rock, Arkansas; and Portland, Oregon. The program was well-received by the communities. For example, in the first five months of the West Virginia program in Morgantown (which also held forums in the broader Monongalia County), there were 184 meetings attended by 7,879 people, or about 42 people per meeting (Department of Interior annual report, 1936, p. 238). 

By 1939, and with an increasing emphasis on rural areas, over 500 communities had conducted public forums (also called "Adult Civic Education Forums"). 17,000 total forums had been held, and 2 million Americans participated (Department of Interior annual report, fiscal year 1939, pp. 78-80). 

The "Federal Forum Project" lasted at least through 1941, but seems to have ended when America entered World War II, and apparently was not re-instituted after the war.

Today, an educational outreach program, either publicly-funded or privately-funded, and modeled after John Studebaker's public forums, could be a good way for liberal, conservative, and centrist Americans to connect with each other and discuss important issues. For example, a brief lecture on taxation or the 2nd Amendment, followed by open discussion, could be a healthier way to address modern problems than Twitter snark, Sean Hannity's nightly blather, or Marjorie Taylor Greene's constant apocalyptic warnings about "Marxist Democrats trying to take America away from you!!" 

Such forums would need lecturers & moderators with extremely good people skills, and the lecture part would need to be kept brief, perhaps only one quarter or less of the amount of time devoted to group discussion. 

It's worth a try, because our nation is becoming more and more divided, and in increasingly violent ways. If we want to avoid the storming of capitols, and shootings caused by anger, and conspiracy theories that have people thinking their neighbors are cannibals, perhaps we need to talk to each other more.

Above: A WPA poster, advertising a WPA-sponsored public forum in Des Moines, Iowa. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Above: Another WPA poster promoting a public forum. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

New Deal Art: "Journey's End"

Above: "Journey's End," an artwork by Eleanor Banks, created while she was in the WPA, ca. 1935-1943. Image courtesy of Julie Redwine and the General Services Administration.