Archival Resources on the Great Depression

at the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives

“I get hundreds of letters each day and practically every one carries the same story, hence I am positively convinced that conditions are extremely bad, not only in our section but throughout the entire country.”

—Elmer Thomas to H. E. Diehl of Lawton, Oklahoma, May 21, 1932. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Subject Files, box 24, folder 50)


Broad subject areas on the Great Depression (1929-1941) are listed below, with entries describing specific materials contained in individual collections at the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives. Because of the political aspect of many subjects, researchers, no matter their topics, may also want to look at the section labeled “Politics.” Exact location of items is given whenever possible. An attempt has been made to include a description for every pertinent document or group of documents. Because of the size of some collections, not all topics and documents can be described here adequately. Other resources at the Carl Albert Center (CAC) can be utilized to find other information, and researchers who are interested in topics not discussed here should contact the archivists. Materials specifically relating to Native Americans can be found on another CAC Web page.

The Great Depression and the implementation of the New Deal saw the expansion of the federal government’s power, but the executive branch was not the only one busy during those years. Most of the new programs and agencies came into existence only with congressional legislation and approval, and the papers of members of Congress are a rich resource for studying this historical era.

Congresswomen and men bring home the bacon; they obtain for their states and districts as much federal money and as many projects as possible. At no other time was this more important than during the Great Depression, when millions looked to Washington for relief, jobs, and money that would return the country to prosperity. Members of Congress collected clippings on the projects and programs carried out in their states and districts, and they corresponded with federal and state administrators. They also monitored mail and telegrams from constituents for reaction to federal and congressional activity. Citizens told of conditions, recommended passage of legislation, and asked for relief money and work projects. They worried about the future, theirs and the country’s. Some of these letters are in the Carl Albert Center archives, where they provide an insight into the lives and attitudes of Americans during that era.

The following papers contain varying degrees of material on the Great Depression. Some, such as the Elmer Thomas Collection, are quite extensive. Others like the Jed Johnson Collection contain only a smattering of items.

Lyle Boren
Wilburn Cartwright
Wesley E. Disney
Helen Gahagan Douglas
Phillip C. Ferguson
Milton Garber
P. L. Gassaway
Thomas P. Gore
Jed Johnson, Sr.
Robert S. Kerr
Richard Lowitt
James McClintic
Thomas McKeown
William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray
Jack Nichols
Robert L. Owen
William B. Pine
Paul Stewart
Elmer Thomas
Claude Weaver

AGRICULTURE

“The farmers are all in the same class. Broke—financially, underfeed.[sic] —under clothed, all have the blues and disgusts.”

—John A. Garner, secretary of Farmers’ Union Local 370, to Elmer Thomas, November 10, 1931. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Legislative Series, box 4, folder 15)


With agriculture playing such a prominent role in the Oklahoma economy, the state had a significant rural population and many of its citizens were farmers and ranchers. Few of these people enjoyed the prosperity of the 1920s, and they were among the most affected by the Great Depression. Therefore, it is no surprise that agricultural legislation and programs greatly interested the state’s senators and representatives. This guide covers a wide variety of agricultural topics in the CAC’s congressional papers and separately discusses two, “Drought Relief and Soil Conservation” and “Farm Security Administration.”

Senator Elmer Thomas was very interested in agriculture. He served on the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee and introduced much legislation, including the Thomas Amendment to the 1933 farm relief bill (the amendment’s purpose was to boost agriculture and commodity prices). There are three major series in his papers with material on the topic. First is the Subject Files, and under “Agriculture” in box 1 are several folders with correspondence, newsletters, press releases, bulletins, and reports on the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), cotton production, and farm subsidies. Additional materials can be found in box 6, under “Federal Land Bank;” box 7, under “Food Stamps;” boxes 13 and 14, under “Loans;” boxes 15-19, under “Money;” box 27, under “Surplus Commodities;” and box 31, under “Wheat.” Subtopics include agriculture and farm credit, corn, and trading and milling taxes.

The second series in the Thomas Collection is the Resource Files. In box 1 are folders containing various publications, pamphlets, and other distributions from the USDA, other federal agencies, and several non-governmental organizations. Of note are a 1938 soil survey of Woodward County, Oklahoma; a 1937 report of the President’s Committee on Farm Tenancy; and the 1936 book The Future of the Great Plains.

The third pertinent series is the Legislative Files, which primarily contains constituent correspondence and legislation, but it also includes clippings, reports, and pamphlets. Most materials are filed under the general heading of “Agriculture and Forestry Committee.” Here are documents on the Federal Farm Board, relief, conditions, soil conservation, price stabilization, commodity credit, and parity prices. There is information on the demise and resurrection of the AAA and on proposals calling for silver as a medium of exchange for agricultural products. Wheat, cotton, livestock, and other commodities are also documented. Box 4 has three folders of responses to Thomas’s 1931 survey of conditions in Oklahoma. In box 47 are files on a 1941 conference of national agricultural leaders, organized by Thomas for the purpose of discussing parity prices, production costs, and price fixing on farm products.

Additional collections with material on agriculture include the papers of Wilburn Cartwright and Wesley E. Disney. The former contains, in box 1, folder 26, legislation and correspondence from the entire decade of 1930s. The latter holds scrapbooks with clippings from 1936-1940 on the federal agricultural projects, including the AAA; farm relief and food stamp programs, primarily in Rogers County, Oklahoma; and crop control.

The Milton Garber Collection contains some folders on pre-New Deal legislation, including early farmer relief bills and the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1932. There are also clippings and pamphlets on agriculture in general. Of note in box 3, folder 31, is a 1932 Republican National Committee campaign pamphlet titled “Emergency Relief for Agriculture.”

Drought Relief and Soil Conservation

“Some 150,000 to 200,000 acres of our cultivated land and a large portion of our grass land is literally blowing away for the reason that for the past two years no vegetation has grown. Fields are bare and pastures are without grass to hold the soil. Our roads are blocked. Trucks from consolidated schools have been unable to take the children to their schools.”

—F. E. Herring to Elmer Thomas, on conditions in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, April 7, 1937. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Project Files, box 11, folder 7)


Besides the Depression, some parts of the country experienced drought during the 1930s. One hit the southeastern U. S. in 1930-1931 and also affected southeastern Oklahoma. Of much greater impact was the dry spell on the Great Plains from 1934 to the end of the decade. While dust storms ravaged only the western part of Oklahoma, the lack of rain curtailed agricultural production throughout the state. In addition, agriculture methods contributed to soil erosion, also suppressing output. Poverty among the rural population increased dramatically and many people migrated out of the area. In response, the federal government implemented drought relief and soil conservation programs.

Probably because of Senator Elmer Thomas’s great interest in the plight of agriculture, his papers contain a substantial amount of material on drought relief and conservation. His Legislative Files, again under “Agriculture and Forestry Committee,” contain folders on both droughts. For the 1930-1931 one, there are correspondence, clippings, press releases, hearing transcripts, legislation, and reports that inform researchers on conditions as well as relief efforts primarily carried out by the Red Cross (see box 1, folders 63, 66, 67, and 71). For the 1934-1940 spell, several boxes contain folders titled “Drouth” or “Soil Conservation” under “Agriculture and Forestry.” In addition to conditions and relief, there is also information on “feed and seed” loans (box 16, folder 2), Indian drought relief (box 21, folder 69), and Oklahoma soil conservation projects (box 16, folders 33-58). Additional documents can be found under “Appropriations Committee” and elsewhere.

Other series in the Thomas Collection hold items on this topic. In the Subject Files, box 5 (under “Drouth Relief”) and box 26 (under “Soil Conservation” and “Soil Erosion”) have clippings and constituent correspondence that describe conditions, present relief requests, and reveal project criticism. They also contain USDA reports and press releases. Similar materials exist in the Subject B files and include correspondence resulting from a 1936 Red Cross survey of conditions in Leflore County, Oklahoma (box 31, folders titled “Relief”). The Project Files (box 16 and others ) contain yet more documents. Thomas Map 117 shows emergency drought counties in Oklahoma (1936).

Other collections also hold materials on the drought and soil conservation. The papers of Wilburn Cartwright (box 3, folders 49-50) contain copies of the correspondence of J. G. Puterbaugh, who oversaw the 1930-1931 Oklahoma committee on drought relief. Speeches by the congressman exist here and in box 42, folder 62. Clippings in box 53, folder 54, cover all drought years. In box 30, folder 37, is a 1934 campaign handbill in which Cartwright advertised assistance he provided to drought-stricken counties. Numerous clippings on the drought also exist in the Wesley E. Disney scrapbooks. The William H. Murray Collection contains the governor’s 1931 executive order urging Oklahomans to give to the Red Cross for drought and unemployment relief (box 2, folder 39). In the Lyle Boren Collection, the Subject Correspondence Files have folders labeled “USDA—Soil Conservation Service” that hold documents on that agency’s operations in Oklahoma, especially the central part of the state. There are also documents on conditions, projects, and employment. The papers of Robert S. Kerr shows the long-lasting impact of the dry years. The Conservation Series of this collection is filled with materials from the 1950s and early 1960s, but it also holds a few soil conservation publications from the 1930s and early 1940s.

Only a few areas of Oklahoma—the Panhandle and perhaps a few counties in the western part of the state—could be considered part of the “Dust Bowl” (a geographically amorphous term). The phrase appears in only a few places in the Carl Albert Center’s finding aids. It is used to describe images of dust storms and ravaged farms in the Thomas and Helen Gahagan Douglas Photo collections. Also, the Elmer Thomas Project Files contain a “Dust Bowl” folder (box 4) that holds USDA publications on the prevention of blowing soil.

Farm Security Administration

“Since 1935 the Farm Security Administration has been making small loans—averaging about $350—to needy farm families, to enable them to get a new start on the land. Ordinarily such loans are just large enough to finance the purchase of the seed, livestock, and equipment necessary to carry on farming operations. They are repayable over a period of from one to five years at 5 per cent interest.”

—Will Alexander, FSA administrator, statement before the Temporary National Economic Committee, p. 5, May 24, 1939. (Helen Gahagan Douglas Collection, box 129, folder 7)


The Farm Security Administration (FSA) and its precursor the Resettlement Administration (RA) were New Deal programs designed to move poor farmers onto good agricultural lands. The RA did such by relocating them and the FSA by loaning them money for farm purchases or improvements. Both programs addressed the issues of farm tenancy and migrant workers, and because of this they generated a substantial amount of controversy and criticism.

A number of Carl Albert Center collections contain materials on the operations of the RA and FSA, especially in Oklahoma, for the years 1936-1941. There are also related items on tenancy and migration. The Subject Correspondence Files of the Lyle Boren papers contain folders labeled “Farm Security Administration” and “USDA—Farm Security Administration,” which hold correspondence on the state’s FSA programs, on the agency’s personnel issues, and on constituent problems. Also, the file titled “D. P. Trent” has letters between the congressman and this head of the RA’s Dallas office. In the Wesley E. Disney Collection, the scrapbook for April 1938 contains a few clippings on loans made to Major County, Oklahoma, farmers, the first FSA loan recipients in the state. In the Wilburn Cartwright papers, two folders (box 15, folders 36 and 47) contain correspondence between the agencies and the congressman on programs and benefits provided to southeastern Oklahoma (including a project at Lake Murray). Some reports are also included. In the P. L. Gassaway papers (box 55, folder 13) is an undated memo from the National Committee on Small Farm Ownership on the status of farm tenancy in Oklahoma. Although most items in the Helen Gahagan Douglas Collection date from a later time period, there are a few 1938-1940 FSA publications, especially on agency activity in California (box 129,folders 4 and 7).

The Elmer Thomas Collection contains several pertinent documents. The Subject Files hold materials on the FSA (box 6) and RA (box 25), and these include correspondence, clippings, press releases, and other documents on loans, projects, agency offices, medical care, and employment. Of particular interest is I was a Share Cropper, an illustrated booklet printed by Texas and Oklahoma FSA employees and highlighting the agency’s successes in those states. Related materials also exist under “Loans” (boxes 13-14) and in the Subject B files. Other folders of interest exist in the Project Files, mainly in boxes 4 and 15. The Legislative Files for 1937 under “Agriculture and Forestry Committee” have a few folders (in boxes 28 and 29) on the Farm Tenant (Bankhead-Jones) Act and resettlement issues. Additional items on farm tenancy are scattered throughout this series.

An enduring legacy of the New Deal is the FSA photographs that agency employees shot to document agricultural and rural conditions during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Several well-known photographers, including Dorothea Lange, worked on this project. Lange gave several prints of her work to Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was interested in the plight of migrant workers. Consequently, the CAC’s Douglas Photo Collection contains many famous images of the so-called “Okies” en route to California and in the migrant labor camps there (these images are also available in the FSA/OWI Collection at the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress).

BANKING

“We have had in this state 500 closed state banks. A few were reopened and many have been fully liquidated. . . . I think it safe to estimate that the actual amount of deposits which have been paid through liquidation will approximate 30%, the balance being a total loss.”

—L. R. Baird, Receiver, North Dakota, to Elmer Thomas, November 7, 1933. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Legislative Files, box 10, folder 24)


Even during the “prosperous” 1920s, an unusual number of banks failed. The number rapidly climbed after the Stock Market Crash, and by early 1933 public confidence in the banking system had plummeted to a point that many states imposed “bank holidays”—they closed banks to prevent people from withdrawing their money. One of the first things Franklin Roosevelt did as president was declare a national bank holiday, and Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act to bolster the system. Over the next few years, additional laws came into being that provided lasting changes and created such entities as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

Various collections held by the Carl Albert Center contain materials on banking. In boxes 1 and 7 of the Robert L. Owen Collection are a few hearing transcripts and other legislative documents on the Banking Act of 1935. The James McClintic Collection contains two folders titled “Bank Deposits” (box 2) with various documents on deposit insurance. McClintic claimed to have authored deposit guarantee legislation as early as 1921, and he supported the measures of the 1930s. The William H. Murray Collection contains one folder with correspondence on the bank holiday (box 1, folder 23). Folder 5 of the William B. Pine Collection contains a 1938 address of Edward E. Brown, president of First National Bank of Chicago, on banks of deposit. There is also a 1934 draft of an article in the New York Daily News on Pine’s 1928 prediction that small bank failures in the South and West during the 1920s would cause an economic Depression. The senator, a Republican, also thought Herbert Hoover would ruin the country. Folder 16 contains clippings on banking. In the Thomas Legislative Files (box 10) are three folders of 1933 correspondence to and from state banking officials about bank failures. Located in the same box is a list of Oklahoma banks that closed between January 1, 1927, and November 1, 1933.

BONUS AND OTHER VETERANS LEGISLATION

“There are thousands of Veterans unemployed, and [sic] many of whom have families that are in actual need and no chance for employment. In addition to this there are rumors that the shelters are going to be closed and the Veterans Kitchen likewise. These rumors are tending to create another idea in the minds of some eight or ten thousands of veterans and that idea is this: Go to Washington in body by whatever means of transportation that can be obtained and inquire in person just what reason there is that the United States Government can loan money to bankers, send money to Europe and cannot pay what is justly due the Veterans.”

—Paul Busby and Patrick Harkins to Elmer Thomas, April 18, 1932. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Legislative Series, box 6, folder 10)


The 1932 march of the Bonus Army, veterans of World War I, to Washington to ask Congress for immediate payment of “adjusted service certificates” is among the most unforgettable aspects of the Great Depression. Although Congress did not pass legislation at that time, the episode clearly affected some legislators. Senator Elmer Thomas met with some of the men on the Capitol steps, and he tried to legislate payment. Congressman Wilburn Cartwright, a veteran himself, expressed sympathy for their plight. In the papers of these two men and in other collections are materials on the bonus legislation, as well as other legislation meant to alleviate the suffering of down-on-their-luck veterans.

In the Cartwright Collection are folders titled “Bonus Legislation” and “World War Veterans Legislation” that contain correspondence, clippings, legislation, and lists of congressional supporters. There also exist statements by the congressman and President Hoover on the Bonus bill and such related legislation as that concerning interest on loans against the certificates and restoration of forfeited rights to compensation and pensions. The Speech Files hold additional items.

Elmer Thomas discusses his involvement in “Forty Years a Legislator” (pp. 131-142). In addition, there are numerous documents, similar to those in Cartwright, in the Legislative Files (under “Finance Committee” and “Veterans”) and the Subject Files (under “Money” and “Veterans”). There is a great deal of correspondence with constituents and the general U. S. public, as well as copies of Thomas’s 1933 bill. In the Subject Files (box 15) are form letters Thomas sent out indicating the progress of the failed 1932 legislation and occasionally describing activities of the Bonus marchers in Washington. There are also materials on the Veterans’ Administration (VA), hospitals, pensions, and insurance.

Other papers with pertinent materials are those of Lyle Boren, Thomas P. Gore, Wesley E. Disney, and Milton Garber. The Disney scrapbooks contain clippings on 1936-1937 congressional attempts to pass bonus legislation. The Garber materials are of some interest because the congressman was the lone Republican in the Oklahoma delegation at the time, and he also sponsored a bill for payment of certificates. Pertinent items in this collection can be found under “Adjusted Compensation for Veterans,” “Veterans,” and “American Legion.”

CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS

“There has been a CCC camp located in this community for the past eighteen months and it has been our pleasure to observe the functioning of both the Army and SCS [Soil Conservation Service] officials, and the observation has disclosed the fact that the CCC has a two-fold purpose, that of reclaiming our eroded and wornout soil and that of building men, building men out of boys who have never had the opportunities afforded our own sons.”

—H. N. Courtney, chairman of CCC committee, Konawa, Oklahoma, to Lyle Boren, May 29, 1937. (Lyle Boren Collection, box 76, “USDA—CCC” folder)


A popular New Deal program in Oklahoma, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) initiated some of the state’s best known parks, such as Robbers Cave and Beavers Bend, and carried out much of the soil conversation work. The Wilburn Cartwright Collection (primarily box 13 under “Civilian Conservation Corps”) contains numerous materials for the period 1934-1941. There are lists of Oklahoma camps, personnel, and projects. Other documents include clippings, press releases, and constituent correspondence. Topics cover soil conservation, camp closures (including the one at Robbers Cave in 1941), and other national and Oklahoma CCC activities. In addition, the collection has publications of the CCC and the 1935 book The School in the Camps: The Program of the Civilian Conservation Corps by Frank Ernest Hill.

In the Subject Files of the Elmer Thomas Collection (in boxes 3 and 4) are additional materials. Most of these documents are constituent correspondence, and topics include the establishment, continuance, or closure of particular Oklahoma camps between 1935 and 1941. The camps documented were mostly engaged in forestry soil conservation. In these files, researchers can find correspondence on the Emergency Conservation Work (ECW) in Oklahoma

and 1936 issues of the “Oklahoma Soil Conservation Newsletter.” There are also requests for a Lake Murray camp for African-Americans and communications on conditions in camps. Scattered in Thomas’s Legislative Files are documents on bills affecting CCC personnel and wages.

Additional materials also exist in the collections of Wesley E. Disney (scrapbook clippings) and Lyle Boren (in Subject and Legislative Files). Topics similar to those in Thomas and Cartwright are covered. The Boren papers have documents on the congressman’s failed attempts to make the CCC permanent (box 112) and a few letters on African-American camps in Oklahoma (box 76).

LABOR

“I saw one of your workers bloody another man’s nose last night for speaking ill of you. This man defended you because he said, ‘you had the courage of your convictions, and that you were honest in what you were doing, regardless of other circumstances. He said, The Old Man has principal and damned if we don’t need more of the same thing in the world today.’”

—letter from “Your Friend” to William B. Pine, December 19, 1937. (William B. Pine Collection, box 1, folder 1)


With the weakened state of business and the favorable attitude of the Roosevelt administration, the organized labor movement surged in growth. Particularly active were the unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), who effectively used the sit-down strike to gain their demands. Like the rest of the nation, Oklahoma’s politicians either strongly supported the rights of workers or condemned the activities of unions.

The Carl Albert Center holds the collections of at least two who opposed unionization. William B. Pine owned the Pine Oil Company, which experienced a sit-down strike in 1937-1938. He stubbornly refused to recognize the Oil Workers International Union as the representative of his employees. His papers contain 1937-1940 correspondence, clippings, and other documents on the strike and workers’ attempts to organize and collective bargain. Among the correspondents is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Paul Stewart likewise condemned sit-down strikes, and in his collection is a scrapbook (box 5) containing clippings on his attempts as state senator to outlaw the practice in 1939.

Elmer Thomas was more favorable toward the labor movement, and his papers reflect his interest in it. Several folders labeled “Labor” in the Resource Files contain such documents as the “Monthly Labor Review” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pamphlets on unemployment compensation, and reports and statistics of the federal government and other organizations. In box 21 of the Subject Files is a folder under “Oil” on the strike at the Phillips Petroleum Company in 1936. The Legislative Files, particularly in boxes 19, 32, 40, and 41, have constituent correspondence on such labor legislation as the 30-hour work week bill, Wagner Labor bill, wage-hour bill, fair labor standards bill, and National Labor Relations Act amendment. Also here are a small number of letters on the 1939 strike at the Mid-Continental Oil Company.

MONETARY AND ECONOMIC POLICY

“It is my contention that we could issue a reasonable amount of new currency against the surplus gold and silver and, while the issuance of such money would make money plentiful and, thereby, cheaper, such a policy would not constitute inflation in the true sense of the term. Inflation is the issuance of an unjustified amount of irredeemable paper money.”

—Elmer Thomas to Oscar D. Green, May 17, 1935. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Subject Files, box 17, folder 35)


Many people of the era considered proper control of the money supply crucial to eradication of the Depression. Some criticized Federal Reserve policy for the massive deflation and advocated raising prices by increasing the amount of currency in circulation and removing the dollar from the gold standard. For others, the thought of inflation kindled memories of Germany during the early 1920s. A related debate concerned government regulation of the economy.

Monetary policy and economic planning are topics that exist in many of the CAC collections from this time period. Senator Robert L. Owen co-authored the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which established the Federal Reserve system, and although by the 1930s he was a private citizen again, he maintained his interest. In box 1, folder 6, of his papers is legislation on federal reserve policy for the 1930s and 1940s, as well as memos, comments, and an article written by him in 1939. The papers of Thomas P. Gore contain correspondence (box 1, folders 20-23) between the senator and Chase National Bank’s Benjamin M. Anderson and other officers on economic planning. There are additional materials on the gold standard (box 5, folder 35) and money (box 8, folder 50). In folder 5 of the William B. Pine Collection are an article and letter from a citizen on the Federal Reserve’s role in the Depression. Folder 11 contains a 1930 speech in which Pine blames the Depression on the central banking system.

Like many “liberals” during the early years of the Great Depression, Senator Elmer Thomas carried the baggage of Populism, including an affinity for the silver standard and support for the American farmer. In “Forty Years a Legislator,” (pp. 197-293) he indicates that during the economic crisis he advocated stabilization of purchasing power by controlling the expansion and contraction of the currency. At the time he was called the “leader of congressional inflationists,” and he spent much legislative energy on bills designed to increase agriculture and commodity prices. He supported the silver standard, recommended removal of the dollar from the gold standard, and, in the late 1930s, chaired the Senate’s Special Committee on Silver Policy. His Subject Files contain substantial material on monetary policy (boxes 15-19), and they include correspondence with Robert L. Owen, banking officials, Father Charles Coughlin, Federal Reserve Governor Eugene Black, Bernard Baruch, and others. Additional materials include bills, hearing transcripts, reports, clippings, and publications. Several folders are labeled “National Bank Matters,” and box 18 contains materials on Thomas’s Monetary Authority Act of 1937 (S. 1990) to stabilize agriculture and commodity prices through regulation of the dollar’s value. Similar materials can be found in boxes 28 and 29 of the Legislative Files. Also scattered throughout this series under “Banking and Currency” are folders on inflation legislation, bimetallism, gold, and purchasing power. Box 18, folders 5-7, cover a 1935 National Monetary Conference that Thomas chaired and in which Robert L. Owen participated. Box 27, folders 71-78B, cover the senator’s involvement with the Silver Committee. In the Resource Files under “Money” and “Money/Silver” are over a cubic foot of publications, government reports, and other materials, including a transcript of a radio address by Father Coughlin (box 11, folder 7). The Legislative Files (box 10, folder 57, and box 18, folder 5), the Subject Files (box 4, folders 45-46), and the Project Files (box 3, folders 5-8) contain documents on The Committee for the Nation to Rebuild Prices and Purchasing Power. The terms “money” and “monetary policy”occur too frequently in the inventories to include every mention.

POLITICS

In many respects, all documents in the collections of the Carl Albert Center concern politics. No matter the subject of the correspondence or clipping, there is a political angle. Ultimately, everything done by a member of Congress—or a governor or president for that matter—is done to get his or her program enacted or to win votes. Some files, though, seem to reflect best the politics of the time; they reveal squabbles among politicians, conflicts between ideologies, and the importance of political patronage. Such materials are the focus of this section.

National Politics

“Huey Long was born in the dark side of the moon. . . . And it also holds that a man born in the dark of the moon in August is iconoclastic. That is, he wants to tear down instead of building up. He doesn’t have any respect for authority. He is invariably egotistical.”

—P. L. Gassaway, radio address, April 7, 1935. (P. L. Gassaway Collection, box 4, folder 17)


Perhaps because he had lost to Franklin Roosevelt in his bid to become the 1932 Democratic presidential candidate, William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray vehemently opposed the president’s program. After leaving the governor’s office in 1935, he established the Association for Economy and Tax Equality as a vehicle for denouncing Roosevelt. In box 1, folders 6-17, of his papers are the organization’s pamphlets, press releases, and correspondence. Also in the collection are drafts of Alfalfa Bill’s anti-New Deal books Rights of Americans, the Presidency, Supreme Court, and Seven Senators, and Essays on Forms of Government from Theocracy to Foolocracy (box 5). The folder labeled “Roosevelt” in box 4 contains correspondence about the chief executive. In addition there is correspondence with the America First Committee (box 1) and with Alf Landon (box 3). A file with materials from the 1932 campaign exists in box 1, folder 49.

In the Thomas P. Gore Collection (box 1, folder 111) are publications on the “communization” of the U. S. and about the president’s supposed Jewish ancestry. Scattered throughout the collection is correspondence with national politicians. In box 5 are materials on the 1932 election. In box 8 are political speeches Gore made, including one titled “Is the Constitution a Mere Souvenir?” and one on the National Recovery Administration (NRA).

Materials are scattered throughout the Wilburn Cartwright Collection. Box 1 contains the congressman’s constituent newsletters on activities in Washington and in Congress. Three folders in box 12 hold documents on House speaker and majority leader elections during the late 1930s and in 1940, and these include correspondence with Joseph Byrnes, William Bankhead, Sam Rayburn, and other members of Congress. In boxes 15, 16, and 19 are also letters between Cartwright and Byrnes, Jim Farley, other politicians, and other important persons. There are also clippings on politicians of national prominence in box 53 and in the outsized materials.

Documents on national politics in the Elmer Thomas Collection exist in the Legislative and Subject files. They cover a variety of topics. Of particular interest are the 10 folders labeled “Supreme Court Packing” in box 36 of the former series and the Huey Long correspondence and clippings in box 14, folder 40, of the latter.

Additional documents can be found in several small collections. The P. L. Gassaway papers (box 2) contain correspondence and clippings on various politicians of the 1930s. Of note are the letters about Huey Long. In box 4 is a copy of Gassaway’s colorful April 7, 1935, radio address denouncing the Louisiana senator. The James McClintic papers contain political speeches made by the congressman, as well as copies of his newsletters on national politics and the Oklahoma congressional delegation in Washington. The Milton Garber Collection contains speeches and clippings on the Republican Party, correspondence and pamphlets on government expenditures (1932-1933), and a 1940 pamphlet by newspaper publisher James M. Thomson and denouncing Huey Long and Franklin D. Roosevelt as dictators. The Thomas McKeown Collection holds speeches and clippings on campaigns and politics and documents the congressman’s involvement in the LaGuardia-McKeown and farm mortgage refinancing bills. Correspondence with James Roosevelt is in the Jack Nichols papers. The Wesley E. Disney scrapbooks contain clippings on Henry T. Rainey.

Central to the politics of the 1930s and early 1940s was the presence of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It might be expected that the files of contemporary members of Congress would contain substantial and significant correspondence with the president, but this is not the case. Some collections, such as that of Elmer Thomas, contain letters to and a few letters from Roosevelt, but these amount to invitations or official statements on legislation or policy. More substantial are the materials about the chief executive and his wife Eleanor. Constituents wrote their congressmen about the two and many members cut clippings on them. These exist scattered throughout many collections, particularly those of Elmer Thomas, Wilburn Cartwright, and Wesley E. Disney. The president and his bid for a third term are among the topics contained in a folder labeled “Roosevelt” in Lyle Boren’s Subject Correspondence.

Oklahoma Politics

“We have been waiting until your return from Congress in order that we may have you as our guest at our Fourth District Postmasters meeting. . . . This will be a Postmasters meeting on the ‘outside,’ and what ever you want to make it on the ‘inside’. I believe it will eliminate any hollering of ‘politics’.”

—Mel Clow to Lyle Boren, August 21, 1937. (Lyle Boren Collection, Subject Correspondence, Box 77, “Clow, Mel” folder)


Alfalfa Bill Murray was Oklahoma's governor during the early years of the Great Depression, and his papers contain materials resulting from his unique handling of the crisis. Murray still had a hand in state politics in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, and this is also reflected in his collection. Researchers can find materials on the 1930 gubernatorial campaign (box 1, folder 48), other election campaigns (also box 1), the Red River Bridge controversy (box 1, folder 32), the 1931 shooting of Mexican citizens (box 3, folders 2-3), the 1933 supposed impeachment conspiracy against the governor (box 3, folder 9), 1931-1934 relief scandal cases (box 4, folder 4), and Oklahoma higher education employee salaries (box 4, folder 13). Copies of executive orders imposing a bank holiday, calling for the arrest of Pretty Boy Floyd, removing Lew Wentz from the State Highway Commission, and ordering the state militia to take over oil drilling operations and the Red River Bridge can be found in several folders in box 2. In box 4 are Alfalfa Bill’s gubernatorial messages, including one on the financial condition of the state government. Correspondence with Governor Leon Phillips from the late 1930s also exists (box 4, folder 59). Political cartoons can be found in boxes A2 and 6, clippings in 5 and 6.

Claude Weaver was Murray’s secretary and legal adviser during the gubernatorial term. His papers contain campaign materials from 1930 and 1932, correspondence with the governor, and copies of executive orders. There are also materials from Weaver’s own 1932, 1934, and 1935 races for public office.

The Lyle Boren Collection contains numerous materials on Oklahoma and local politics. In the Subject Correspondence series are letters from Murphy Barker, A. J. Brock, Mel Clow, “Cyclone” Covey, Bruce Carter, and Ed Gill, all associates who kept tabs on government appointments and federal projects in the state. Scrapbooks in the collection contain clippings on Boren, his 1940 campaign against Mabel Bassett, state politics, and President Roosevelt’s 1938 visit to the state.

The Wilburn Cartwright papers also hold numerous materials on state and local politicians. Correspondence with such people exists in boxes 15, 16, and 19, and clippings on them are in box 53 and the outsized materials. The Campaign Files in boxes 23-24 contain similar documents, as well as political advertising for Cartwright and a large number of other people running for national, state, and local office.

The Special Correspondence Series of Elmer Thomas holds the senator’s letters to and from those active in state and local politics. Correspondents include Ernest Chamberlain, Charles Dierker, Walter Ferguson, H. G. House, John P. Logan, Tom Phillips, and John A. Simpson. There is an especially large amount of correspondence between Thomas and Oklahoma Democratic party chair Scott Ferris. Folders labeled “Oklahoma Matters” in box 21 of the Subject Files contain additional correspondence. In box 29 of the same series are files on the Veterans of Industry in America (VIA) and correspondence with Ira Finley and other VIA leaders on such topics as employment, old-age pensions, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Campaign Files contain additional information.

Other materials can be found in several small collections. Scattered throughout the Thomas. P. Gore and P. L. Gassaway collections is correspondence with Oklahoma politicians and about various election campaigns of the 1930s. The James McClintic Collection contains materials from the 1932 and 1934 campaigns and from his position as Oklahoma Governor E. W. Marland’s “patronage” assistant. The Jed Johnson papers have campaign flyers and posters, as well as clippings on state politics. In the Jack Nichols Collection is 1936 correspondence between the congressman and Jim Farley on the political situation in Oklahoma (box 1, folder 16). In the scrapbooks of the Paul Stewart Collection are clippings on a 1937 state highway commission controversy, the 1940 election, political appointments, and the 1940-1941 state school funding and textbook investigation. The Wesley E. Disney Collection holds clippings on campaigns, elections, the Will Rogers Memorial, and Tulsa and northeastern Oklahoma politics. In the Lyle Boren Subject Correspondence, under “WPA,” are letters from several members of the VIA on a proposed stagger system for local projects of the federal agency.

PROHIBITION

“There were 83 car loads of Beer unloaded in Tulsa yesterday morning and the State collected $132,840.00 in license fees the first day and the crowd of applicants was so great it will take the Tax Commission several days to work out the crowd. They were as thick as the job seekers in your office on March 4th.”

—letter to Elmer Thomas, July 13, 1933. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Legislative Files, box 15, folder 22)


Many considered Prohibition to be an abject failure, and by the late 1920s its termination was considered a means for increasing federal revenue (alcohol would be legal, but taxed). This goal became part of the Democratic Party platform in the 1928 and 1932 elections. In Oklahoma, with its heavily rural and fundamentalist population, state law continued to ban alcohol sales after the repeal of the Volstead Act and Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, although purchase of 3.2 percent (“nonintoxicating”) beer was legalized and harder liquor could be easily obtained from bootleggers. Debate over legalization continued in the state throughout the 1930s and after (Prohibition in Oklahoma did not end until 1959).

Wilburn Cartwright voted against repeal, and his papers contain correspondence and clippings on the topic (see box 8, folders 19-20, and box 53, folder 16) from the early 1930s. The Wesley E. Disney scrapbooks have clippings on the “liquor ban” and “3.2 beer” for 1932-1938. Three series in the Elmer Thomas Collection contain pertinent materials. In box 13 of the Resource Files are four folders of reports, essays, pamphlets, and clippings on Prohibition for the period 1927-1930. Constituent correspondence exists in the Subject Files (box 23) including letters dated 1931 and discussing problems with enforcement of Prohibition. Scattered in the Legislative Files are clippings and correspondence on legislation or enforcement of legislation, 1930-1935.

PUBLIC WORKS PROJECTS

“The clothing that has been made in the [WPA] sewing rooms of Marshall County [Oklahoma] has made it possible for many little children to keep warm and have suitable clothing to wear to school. The women in this county have used the money that they have made to buy necessities of life, while many of the men have used their money for other purposes. The women seem to appreciate what the government is doing for them more than the men do.”

—Raymond Gary to Elmer Thomas, January 6, 1937. (Elmer Thomas Collection, Subject Files, box 31, folder 66)


The New Deal was most visible through its various construction projects. The Civil Works Administration (CWA), Public Works Administration (PWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and other agencies left an enduring legacy on the American landscape through numerous post offices, city halls, roads, dams, and reservoirs. The primary emphasis on these projects was not the product, however, but the work—they were a means of providing employment. Members of Congress knew that they would become heroes to their constituents if they could encourage the federal government to put a project in their state or district. As the New Deal gained momentum, their files began to fill with documents generated in requesting, obtaining, and monitoring these programs. Three CAC collections contain the majority of documents. For dams and reservoirs, see WATER PROJECTS.

Several scrapbooks in the Wesley E. Disney Collection contain clippings on post offices and government buildings constructed in such northeastern Oklahoma towns as Nowata, Pryor, Vinita, Claremore, and Skiatook. A number of folders exist in the Wilburn Cartwright papers (box 15) on the financial status of various Oklahoma projects. The Elmer Thomas Project Files holds folders titled “Armories,” “Federal Buildings” “Oklahoma Projects” “Oklahoma Public Works Projects,” “Projects,” “Public Works Administration,” and “Works Progress Administration,” as well as with the names of particular cities. Information also exists in the Subject Files under “Public Works Administration,” “Works Progress Administration,” “Federal Buildings,” “Post Offices,” and “Oklahoma Matters.” In the WPA folders are reports on Oklahoma economic conditions for the last few years of the Depression. Much correspondence in these two series concerns appropriation of funds, securing of projects, problems with contractors, and administration of the agencies. There is also material on wages and employment. Soil conservation, water projects, and building ventures are well represented, but there is information on other activities, such as the sewing projects.

Besides the manuscript collections, the Cartwright and Thomas photograph collections contain images depicting New Deal projects. The former contains black-and-white-prints of facilities, primarily in southeastern Oklahoma, and the latter has similar items for the entire state. Depicted are fish hatcheries, airports, roads, bridges, shelterbelts, schools, post offices, libraries, water mains and sewers, and armories. Most photographs were taken upon completion, although a few show actual construction. In Thomas are pictures of vocational training activities for men and projects for women and African-Americans.

One of the myriad works projects of the New Deal was construction or improvement of the nation’s highways, roads, and bridges. Wilburn Cartwright chaired the House Roads Committee, placing him in a unique position, and he co-authored such legislation as the Hayden-Cartwright Act providing “emergency relief highway funds.” The “Roads Committee” files in his papers comprise more than two cubic feet of correspondence, clippings, and legislation on federal highway appropriations and road and bridge conditions in Oklahoma and other states. These files also contain materials on Oklahoma’s dispute with Texas over the Red River Bridge, Cartwright’s spat with Oklahoma Governor Leon “Red” Phillips over federal funding of state road construction, and the congressman’s advocacy of a national “superhighway” system. A smattering of images in the Cartwright photograph collection depict road conditions during the period. A few pertinent materials also exist in the Elmer Thomas Legislative Files under “Post Office and Post Roads Committee.”

RURAL ELECTRIFICATION

“At a price the farmer can afford” —REA slogan.

During the 1930s, it is estimated that only one in ten American farms had electricity . In 1935 the Roosevelt administration created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to provide low-interest loans to utility companies and farmers cooperatives to stimulate construction of power lines in rural areas. Because of the substantial rural population in Oklahoma, its congressmen were naturally favorable to this development.

The Elmer Thomas Collection is the primary one at the Carl Albert Center with materials on rural electrification, although the Jed Johnson Collection contains a speech on the topic and the Wesley E. Disney Collection contains some newspaper clippings. In the Thomas Resource Files under “Electrical Power” are three folders of pamphlets on public ownership of power; they also include a 1935 speech by Father Charles Coughlin and a 1941 Federal Power Commission study on electric bills in Oklahoma. The Subject Files include folders titled “Rural Electrification” and “Loans—REA” that hold REA pamphlets and press releases, as well as correspondence on loans, projects, and utility companies. Under “Federal Power Commission” is an electric rate survey. The Project Files, primarily in box 15 under “Rural Electrification Administration” but elsewhere too, have correspondence on particular Oklahoma county projects, especially problems experienced on them. In Legislative Files under “Agriculture and Forestry” and “Appropriations” is constituent correspondence dated 1936-1941 and requesting geographic expansion of the program and inclusion of telephone service. Thomas, in his “Forty Years a Legislator,” (pp. 118-121) linked the generation of power with the construction of new dams (see also WATER PROJECTS).

SOCIAL SECURITY, OLD-AGE PENSIONS, TOWNSEND PLAN

“As briefly as I can state in reply to your request relative to the Townsend Old Age Pension plan, [I] will say that this plan is indeed a mirage and a dream that has been hatched out of a nest of a group of designing persons calculated to appeal to the passions of the aged, illiterate, uninformed, and unfortunate persons of the United States.”

—P. L. Gassaway to Morris A. Bealle, editor of Plain Talk, January 9, 1936. (P. L. Gassaway Collection, box 2, folder 9)


As people recognized the extent of poverty among the United States’ senior citizens, many called for establishment of an “old-age pension” administered by the federal government. Congress deliberated over several proposals, in the end passing the Social Security Act in August 1935. For many years after, there were attempts to replace the law with different plans. Several collections contain materials under the headings “Social Security,” “Old-Age Pensions,” or just “Pensions.”

The Lyle Boren papers, in the Information Files, include such items as Oklahoma Public Welfare Commission correspondence on compliance, a 1938 Wigwam Press pamphlet on a national pension plan, and a 1937 Social Security Board summary of progress. In addition, Legislative Files contain the text of the 1935 Social Security Act and constituent correspondence on various bills.

Both the Elmer Thomas Legislative and Subject files contain folders on this topic for the years 1932-1940. In the former, documents are filed primarily under “Finance Committee,” in the latter “Old-Age Pensions” and “Social Security.” Most materials here are bills and constituent correspondence. Also included are flyers from various organizations, as well as brochures and press releases from the Social Security Board. Subtopics include the Social Security Act and related legislation, expansion of the program, location of Social Security offices in Oklahoma, and compliance of Oklahoma with the national system.

A few other collections contain material on social security or old-age pensions. The Wilburn Cartwright Collection holds six folders in box 8 with clippings, legislation, and correspondence for the period 1940-1941. Ira Finley, leader of the Veterans of Industry of America (VIA), is one of the more prominent correspondents. Also pertinent are scrapbooks in the Wesley E. Disney Collection and speeches in the Thomas P. Gore Collection.

One widely discussed plan was that of Dr. Francis E. Townsend, who advocated $200 per month for all citizens aged 60 or more. The appeal was long-term and continued for years after the Great Depression ended. Many collections already mentioned contain a few items on this proposal. In the Legislative Files of the Boren papers is the congressman’s own 1937 bill for a $30 per month pension to 60-year-old and older Americans. Also here is a folder titled “Townsend Plan” that contains correspondence with Oklahoma Townsend clubs. Clippings exist in the Disney and Gore papers, and a 1938 pamphlet in the William H. Murray Collection (box 4, folder 38). The Thomas Legislative Files for 1935-1936, under “Finance Committee,” contain correspondence with Old Age Revolving Pensions, Ltd., the official name of Townsend’s group. The files for 1937-1938 hold a few flyers from the organization. Also here is a Thomas-sponsored bill that the retired California physician supposedly supported. Congressman P. L. Gassaway vociferously opposed the Townsend Plan, and his correspondence lays out his views (correspondents include Ira Finley).

WATER PROJECTS (DAMS, RESERVOIRS, ETC.)

“As to the political side of it, I am not the kind of candidate who is for the dam below the dam, against the dam above the dam, and who doesn’t give a damn away from the dam. I am for the dam.”

—Wilburn Cartwright to Herbert Pate, May 13, 1938. (Wilburn Cartwright Collection, box 14, folder 1)


In response to Oklahoma’s alternating periods of drought and flood and its great need for rural electric power and employment opportunities, the 1930s saw the beginning of a 40-year dam and reservoir construction program that transformed the state’s landscape. Numerous projects are documented individually in the CAC collections and a few specific ones are described below. Some collections contain materials on projects in states other than Oklahoma. Of general interest are congressional documents in box 2 of the Phillip C. Ferguson Collection, including a 1935 report on the Arkansas River and its tributaries, a 1935 transcript of hearings on California’s Central Valley Project, a 1937 transcript on hearings for the river and harbors bill, and the 1937 comprehensive flood control plan for the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers. Documents for specific projects are described below.

Denison Dam

The Denison Dam across the Red River promised to be the most prominent federal project in the state during the Great Depression with a cost of $54,000,000. It was designed for hydroelectric generation and flood control and was responsible for the creation of Lake Texoma. The dam met fierce opposition from Oklahoma Governor Leon Phillips and others, however, who claimed the project would ruin valuable farm land and usurp state sovereignty; they succeeded in delaying construction until 1941. The controversy pitted them against Congressman Wilburn Cartwright. In boxes 13 and 14 of Cartwright’s papers are numerous folders labeled “Denison Dam,” dated 1930-1941, and containing publications, legislation, legal documents, testimony, clippings, and correspondence. The last concerns both construction and employment. Additional documents are in box 3 under “Appropriations” and box 8 under “Red River Project.”

Other collections contain pertinent materials. Clippings in the Wesley E. Disney scrapbooks trace the troubled course of the project. Correspondence and other documents exist in the Elmer Thomas papers, primarily in the Project Files under “Denison Dam,” “Oklahoma Projects,” and “Public Works—Denison Dam,” as well as scattered throughout the Legislative Files. These date from 1937 to 1941.

Grand River Dam

This $22,750,000 PWA-built hydroelectric and flood control project was so sought after that upon approval in 1937 Congressman Wesley E. Disney and Senator Elmer Thomas practically locked horns over claiming responsibility for its authorization. Each man’s papers contain materials on it. Dozens of Disney scrapbooks contain clippings on establishment of the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) in 1935, federal approval of the dam in 1937, appropriation of funds, and completion of the structure in 1940. Thomas discusses his role in “Forty Years a Legislator.” (pp. 101-104) His Project Files contain documents under “GRDA,” “Oklahoma Projects,” “Public Works,” and other headings. Other items can be found in the Subject Files under “Reconstruction Finance Corporation” and “GRDA.” Legislative Files primarily hold correspondence (including letters from Harold Ickes) and clippings.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

The Carl Albert Center holds some of the papers of Richard Lowitt, a history professor who has written on the U. S. West of the 1930s and authored a biography of George Norris. In this collection are documents generated from research done on the TVA. Included are notes, reports, biographies of TVA chairs, clippings, TVA memos, and oral history transcripts copiedfrom various items at repositories throughout the country. In the Jack Nichols Collection (box 1, folder 31) are materials on the TVA dated 1936, and in the Elmer Thomas Project (box 18), Subject (box 28), and Legislative (scattered) files are legislation, correspondence, publications, and clippings.

Other Projects

CAC collections also have information on other water projects. The Altus-Lugert Irrigation Project in southwestern Oklahoma commenced during the 1930s in direct response to the severe drought, and materials are in the Thomas autobiography, Legislative Files, and Project Files (boxes 1 and 8). Also in Thomas are files on the Ft. Gibson and Markham Ferry dams. The Thomas (Project Files) and Cartwright (boxes 14 and 15) papers contain documents on the Wister Dam, and these as well as the Disney Collection have items on the Mountain Fork Dam. All of these structures were built in Oklahoma.

The Cartwright and Thomas photograph collections both contain images of dams and reservoirs constructed during the 1930s and early 1940s. The former holds black-and-white prints of completed projects in southeastern Oklahoma. The latter has photographs of Oklahoma’s Lake Lawtonka, Lake Elmer Thomas, and Grand River dams; the Altus-Lugert Irrigation system; and such western projects as the Grand Coulee Dam, the California Central Valley Project, and the various Colorado River projects.

MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS

“For myself, for my dad and my mother, whose hair is silvery in the service of building the state of Oklahoma, I say to you, and to every honest, square-minded reader in America, that the painting Steinbeck made in his book is a lie, a damnable, lie, a black, infernal creation of a twisted, distorted mind.”

—Lyle Boren, address in the U. S. House, January 24, 1940. (Lyle Boren Collection, box 78, “Grapes of Wrath” folder)


Other topics besides those already described can be found in the CAC collections. They do not have the volume of documents that the others have, but they are of interest nonetheless. A selection is discussed below. Others may exist, and researchers are encouraged to consult with the Center’s archivists if their areas of interest are not indicated.

Anti-Lynching Legislation

In the South, lynchings of African-Americans increased as unemployment among whites rose. Some members of Congress introduced anti-lynching bills, but southern chairs of congressional committees quickly squashed such efforts. Considering that Oklahoma was segregated at the time, it should not be surprising that its representatives in Washington voiced little support for these bills. Wilburn Cartwright certainly did not, but in box 32, folder 17, of his papers is correspondence with Roscoe Dunjee (spelled “Dungee” in these documents), editor of the newspaper Black Dispatch, concerning the legislation. In addition, the folder contains 1938 correspondence with constituents, Congressman Arthur Mitchell, and Wayland Childers. Childers, Cartwright’s main opponent in the Democratic primaries of 1936 and 1938, had written Mitchell, an advocate for anti-lynching legislation, requesting his support against Cartwright. In the Jack Nichols papers (box 1, folders 28-29) are materials on the congressman’s support for the 1937 anti-lynching bill sponsored by Joseph Gavagan and his denial that a 1939 radio statement he had made was racist. Additional items can be found in the Lyle Boren Legislative Files (box 116) under “Anti-Lynching Bill.”

Communism and “Un-American Activities”

With the establishment of the Dies Committee in 1938, “un-American activities” became a code word for “communism,” and although McCarthyism was several years off, persons suspected of being communists—frequently people who were merely liberal or supporters of the New Deal—became scapegoats for politicians who saw a way to increase their public exposure. “Un-American activities” in the CAC collections generally designates suspected communist plots to infiltrate U. S. society and government. The Milton Garber Collection contains one folder labeled “Communism” with documents dated 1931. In box 5 of the Paul Stewart Collection is a scrapbook with clippings on the Oklahoma state legislature’s 1941 probe into suspected communists at the University of Oklahoma. A folder in the Subject Correspondence series of the Lyle Boren Collection is labeled “Communism;” it contains correspondence on the topic and includes letters with Ira Finley, president of the Veterans of Industry of America. Of interest in the Wilburn Cartwright Collection (box 12, folder 2) is the pamphlet “Oklahoma Story—1940" distributed by the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties and concerning the trial of state communist party secretary Robert Wood and dismissal of Southeastern State College professor Stuart Streeter.

Federal Employees, Wages

The Milton Garber Collection contains five folders of correspondence, bills (including one introduced by Garber), petitions, and clippings on legislative attempts to reduce federal wages and expenditures for the years 1931-1932. The Republican Party’s strategy for combating the Depression was to balance the budget, which necessitated cuts.

Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel created an uproar in Oklahoma, and several politicians denounced the book. In the Jack Nichols Collection (box 1, folder 27) is correspondence between the congressman and Samuel Boorstin on Steinbeck. Lyle Boren denounced the book on the floor of the House in January 1940. In his Subject Correspondence files is a folder titled “Grapes of Wrath” with the text of his speech and correspondence detailing his viewpoint.

Oil Industry and Tariff

In his unpublished autobiography “Forty Years a Legislator,” Senator Elmer Thomas tells about his fight to include an amendment for an oil tariff in the Smoot-Hawley Act as a means of buttressing the oil industry during the Depression. He also recounts his one-man filibuster in March 1931 to force a vote on his resolution for an inquiry into the crisis experienced by the independent oil industry. His point was that a study of the situation was necessary because millions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs were at stake. During his monologue he produced a pair of overalls, which one commentator described as “a certain pile of frayed and greasy rags,” to show that his true cause was the western oil field workers. The drama had the desired effect, and Thomas’s resolution passed, although nothing substantial resulted from the study. More on the filibuster can be found in box 3, folder 11, of the Legislative Files. Information on the oil industry in general during the Depression can be found in the Subject Files, particularly in boxes 20 and 21.

Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC)

In box 24 of the Elmer Thomas Subject Files are several folders titled with the agency’s name. Contained here are reports on and correspondence about loans and the RFC board. Most lending was to banks holding agricultural mortgages and to municipalities needing money to pay teachers’ warrants. This material is dated mostly 1932-1934, although some documents are from as late as 1941.

Relief

This is such a ubiquitous topic in the Carl Albert Center holdings that materials on it can be found in almost any collection under almost any folder title. There are a number of folders specifically titled “Relief” in box 24 of the Thomas Subject Files. While documents here do provide some description of relief efforts, these folders mostly contain correspondence with average Americans who suggested remedies for the Depression. Some are extreme, such as the recommendation to deport African-Americans in order to free up jobs for white Americans.

For more information on the archival holdings, please contact the Carl Albert Center.


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