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An Appalachian New Deal

West Virginia and the Great Depression

Jerry Bruce Thomas

Publication Year: 2010

In this paperback edition of An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression, Jerry Bruce Thomas examines the economic and social conditions of the state of West Virginia before, during, and after the Great Depression. Thomas’s exploration of personal papers by leading political and social figures, newspapers, and the published and unpublished records of federal, state, local, and private agencies, traces a region’s response to an economic depression and a presidential stimulus program. This dissection of federal and state policies implemented under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program reveals the impact of poverty upon political, gender, race, and familial relations within the Mountain State—and the entire country. Through An Appalachian New Deal, Thomas documents the stories of ordinary citizens who survived a period of economic crisis and echoes a message from our nation’s past to a new generation enduring financial hardship and uncertainty.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Series: West Virginia and Appalachia


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iv-v


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p. vi


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p. vii

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Preface to the Paperback Edition

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pp. viii-x

In 2008, ten years after it had first appeared, the original edition of An Appalachian New Deal, following the typical cycle for an academic book, went out of print, leaving it largely unavailable in bookstores or at online dealers. At about the same time, I began to receive more inquiries about the book than I had during its in-print life. The reason for the renewed interest, of course, was the economic downturn that...

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pp. xi-xii

It is a pleasant duty to acknowledge those who have helped ease the tasks of researching and writing this book. I am grateful to the many scholars from whose works I have borrowed, and I can only hope that I have given proper credit where due and that the views of others have been faithfully represented. Though teaching is the primary mission at Shepherd College, the professional development committee and the administration have...

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pp. 1-5

Some years ago when a colleague who usually teaches the West Virginia and Appalachia history course went on leave, I was drafted to stand in for him. In preparing for the assignment, I was struck by the lack of information about the Depression in West Virginia. Despite the crucial nature of that era for the state, almost nothing had been written about it beyond the brief summaries in the standard textbooks. 1

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1. On the Eve

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pp. 6-26

Editors and commentators in West Virginia newspapers and journals met 1929 with the kind of hyperbole that was typical of the twenties. In the West Virginia Review, a statewide monthly business journal, Commissioner of Labor Howard S. Jarrett claimed that the records for the past year would disclose" a period of growth unprecedented in the state's history." The outgoing governor, Howard Mason Gore, took...

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2. Drought and Depression

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pp. 27-41

On Thursday, October 24, 1929, responding to the news of rapidly declining stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange, throngs of Charleston businessmen and stock speculators rushed to the capital city's two main trading centers-Harris Winthrop and Company, and Stein Brothers and Boyce-to watch the ticker tape recite its disheartening news. At noon the ticker announcements escalated from sales...

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3. A Search for Order

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pp. 42-69

From spring 1931 to the end of the Conley and Hoover administrations in spring 1933, the state and the nation slipped ever deeper into depression. Charleston Gazette publisher and former U.S. senator William E. Chilton complained to a friend in New York that "nobody away from here can understand how damnable hard the general situation is."1 In the midst of growing disaster, a remarkable outpouring...

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4. A "Jump in the Dark"

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pp. 70-90

The popular solution to West Virginia's Depression crisis-the Tax Limitation Amendment of 1932-turned out to be untimely, ill-advised, and poorly crafted, adding a mind-numbing constitutional conundrum to the desperate economic situation. The amendment virtually paralyzed the new and largely inexperienced state government, presided over by Herman Guy Kump, the first Democrat in the...

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5. The Blue Eagle

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pp. 91-111

While Governor Kump and the legislature struggled through the financial, legal, and constitutional quagmire brought about by the Tax Limitation Amendment, Congress passed numerous measures during the hectic first hundred days of the New Deal that would directly affect West Virginians. Proposed by President Roosevelt and his advisers, many of these measures were passed with slight debate by an...

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6. A Failed Experiment in Federal Relief

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pp. 112-135

The NRA brought some recovery to the coal industry, stimulated business activities in the many communities dependent upon coal, and lowered the state's high unemployment figures. Even so, unemployment remained a severe problem in West Virginia as in the country, and the question of what should be done to help the unemployed demanded the New Dealers' attention. One of the enduring consequences...

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7. Reshaping the Welfare System

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pp. 136-159

When President Roosevelt said in January 1935, "We must quit this business of relief," he meant the dole-giving money to people because they were unemployed or unable to seek work. He sought to divide the relief burden into two general classifications: the unemployed and the unemployable, and he proposed to return care of the unemployable to the states and local governments who had cared for...

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8. The New Deal and Mountain Agriculture

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pp. 160-188

By the time Herman Guy Kump moved into the Governor's Mansion and Franklin D. Roosevelt took up residence in the White House, the ravages of the past fifty years of industrial abuse of the landscape as well as the lack of a scientific approach to mountain agriculture and forestry had left much of West Virginia's land exhausted. The West Virginia landscape presented, as Jack Temple Kirby writes of Appalachia...

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9. The New Deal and Families in Distress

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pp. 189-210

When the impact of the Great Crash hit Huntington in 1929, Milton Levine was in the sixth year of ownership of a men's clothing store, the Togery, which catered to the students of Marshall College. He witnessed the failure of the Huntington Bank and Trust Company, the Union Bank and Trust Company, and the Coal Exchange. By 1933 Levine, married and the father of three young children, had lost his...

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10. Reluctant New Dealers

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pp. 211-233

Many students of the New Deal have noted that one of the reasons the New Deal fell short of its goals was that state Democratic leaders often lacked enthusiasm and gave only lukewarm cooperation. 1 In West Virginia this was particularly so. In spite of the great popularity of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, the Democratic governors of the era, while proclaiming their loyalty to the president, often...

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Epilogue: From Nearly Perfect to Almost Heaven

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pp. 234-240

Looking back from the perspective of more than sixty years, what are we to make of the impact of the New Deal on West Virginia? Historians have long agreed that the New Deal failed to bring economic recovery before the coming of World War II, but there is disagreement over the long-term impact of New Deal policies. 1 Numerous circumstances intervened with the passage of time to...


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pp. 241-284


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pp. 285-299


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pp. 300-316

Image Plates [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 317-324

E-ISBN-13: 9781933202976
E-ISBN-10: 1933202971
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933202518
Print-ISBN-10: 1933202513

Page Count: 332
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: West Virginia and Appalachia
Series Editor Byline: Ronald L. Lewis, Ken Fones-Wolf, Kevin Barksdale See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 801665501
MUSE Marc Record: Download for An Appalachian New Deal

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Subject Headings

  • West Virginia -- History -- To 1950.
  • New Deal, 1933-1939 -- West Virginia.
  • Depressions -- 1929 -- West Virginia.
  • West Virginia -- Politics and government.
  • West Virginia -- Social conditions.
  • West Virginia -- Economic conditions.
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