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Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky

Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky: 1929--1939

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 271
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  • Book Info
    Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky
    Book Description:

    The Great Depression and the New Deal touched the lives of almost every Kentuckian during the 1930s. Fifty years later the Commonwealth is still affected by the legacies of that era and the policies of the Roosevelt administration. George T. Blakey has written the first full study of this turbulent decade in Kentucky, and he offers a fresh perspective on the New Deal programs by viewing them from the local and state level rather than from Washington.

    Thousands of Kentuckians worked for New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Projects Administration; thousands more kept their homes through loans from the Home Owners Loan Corporation. Tobacco growers adopted new production techniques and rural farms received their first electricity because of the Agricultural Adjustment and Rural Electrification administrations.

    The New Deal stretched from the Harlan County coal mines to a TVA dam near Paducah, and it encompassed subjects as small as Social Security pension checks and as large as revived Bourbon distilleries. The impact of these phenomena on Kentucky was both beneficial and disruptive, temporary and enduring.

    Blakey analyzes the economic effects of this unprecedented and massive government spending to end the depression. He also discusses the political arena in which Governors Laffoon, Chandler, and Johnson had to wrestle with new federal rules. And he highlights social changes the New Deal brought to the Commonwealth: accelerated urbanization, enlightened land use, a lessening of state power and individualism, and a greater awareness of Kentucky history.

    Hard Times and New Dealweaves together private memories of older Kentuckians and public statements of contemporary politicians; it includes legislative debates and newspaper accounts, government statistics and personal reminiscences. The result is a balanced and fresh look at the patchwork of emergency and reform activities which many people loved, many others hated, but no one could ignore.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6213-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    In all his sixty-four years, Ruby Laffoon probably never had to perform a sadder duty than the one he undertook early in the morning of March 1, 1933. As governor of Kentucky he closed the banks of the commonwealth. Late in the evening prior to this extraordinary act he had finished a long and tiring day by signing the official proclamation; now on Wednesday bankers across the state followed his request and either did not open their doors as usual or curtailed business to minimal levels.¹ Signed and declared as a last resort, the proclamation climaxed weeks of concern over...

  5. 1. Hard Times in the Commonwealth
    (pp. 4-24)

    Prior to October 1929 and the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression, the phrase “progress and prosperity” seemed to permeate the American vocabulary. Rapid technological change following the Great War produced the obvious symbols of progress and prosperity and gave the impression—part real and part illusory—of social and economic improvement. Asphalt and concrete highways began to replace dirt and gravel roads, and Fords and Chevrolets drove horses and wagons into retirement. Once considered luxury items for the wealthy elite, these and other newly affordable automobiles now belonged to twenty-six million Americans in 1929.¹ They bridged...

  6. 2. Banks, Homes, and the Indigent
    (pp. 25-44)

    Among the forty acres of spectators awaiting Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration as president, March 4, 1933, were Governor Ruby Laffoon and several members of his administration. Because the Kentucky bank holiday, which started March 1, denied them access to their private accounts, the governor and his party had to borrow money from friends in Frankfort in order to travel to Washington.¹ Other governors suffered the same embarrassment; Pennsylvania’s Gifford Pinchot watched the ceremony with only ninety-five cents in his pocket.² This inadvertent poverty among state chief executives created an enforced, although temporary, equality among the multitudes gathered at the Capitol’s east...

  7. 3. Relief and Public Works
    (pp. 45-77)

    In the half century since its inception, the WPA has endured in the American memory perhaps more vividly than any other aspect of the New Deal. The largest of the depression-era programs, the Works Progress Administration (later renamed Work Projects Administration) came to symbolize the various “alphabet soup” agencies that provided relief and jobs for the unemployed. The WPA also came to symbolize the “boondoggling” of workers paid to loaf on the job who made WPA synonymous with We Piddle Around. Because of its size and duration, this agency became, for much of the public, a representative of the federal...

  8. 4. Kentucky Youth and the New Deal
    (pp. 78-103)

    Emma G. Cromwell lived by numbers. As a librarian, Kentucky’s secretary of state, treasurer, and state parks director, she had mastered tiny fractions and huge statistics. But when she tried to assess the effect of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Kentucky, numbers failed her. “There is no arithmetic adequate,” she wrote, “to calculate the immense amount of good accomplished by this agency. In addition to material benefits there is no doubt that thousands of boys had their eyes opened to the beauties of nature and were convinced of the dignity of labor.”¹ In contrast to this praise of impersonal statistics,...

  9. 5. Newly Plowed Fields
    (pp. 104-142)

    If a case can be made that the New Deal revolutionized America, the strongest and most obvious evidence would be in the field of agriculture. The changes that occurred in rural life between 1933 and 1940 as a result of new federal policies, appear radical in retrospect. Significant transformations took place in farmers’ attitudes, uses of the soil, farm productivity and marketing, and in the relationship of the individual farmer to the government. Prior to these New Deal innovations, the bookI’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition,published in 1930, caught much of the Kentucky state...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 6. Getting Back to Business
    (pp. 143-167)

    When Congress amended the Volstead Act on March 22, 1933, legal beer and wine returned to America for the first time since 1920. President Roosevelt’s signature on this bill also ushered in the gradual return of one of Kentcky’s oldest industries, which had been dormant since the end of the Great War. The production and sale of alcoholic beverages—always controversial and always profitable—had been the leading manufacturing enterprise in the state, but national Prohibition virtually dried up this industry. Passage of the Beer Bill cheered millions of Americans who looked for signs of hope from the new administration,...

  12. 7. Politics and Other Natural Phenomena
    (pp. 168-195)

    Politics—perhaps the most primal force in Kentucky—had to adapt to the unprecedented challenges of the New Deal, as did other institutions in the state. Businessmen, laborers, farmers, the young, and the elderly—all were compelled to alter their relationship with the national government during the 1930s. So too were state political leaders. Kentucky officials frequently found New Deal measures out of step with many of their southern, rural, and states-rights traditions. New Deal initiatives and federal regulations clashed with many time-honored customs. Loyalty for patronage jobs increasingly went to Washington rather than Frankfort. This dilemma was not exclusive...

  13. 8. New Deal Legacy in Kentucky
    (pp. 196-201)

    Beyond the political shift of power to Washington, the temporary strengthening of the Democratic party, and the liberalizing of the Republican party in Kentucky, the New Deal had a lasting impact on the state. Early and incomplete statistics revealed that federal programs during the 1930s spent more than $650 million in the state, or roughly $250 for every resident.¹ The immediate effect of this financial infusion was obvious in the revival of Kentucky’s economy, and its Keynesian aftereffects remained usable and visible in new roads, bridges, and public facilities. But when the emergency programs such as WPA, CCC, and NYA...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 202-231)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 232-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-252)