Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 15, 2011 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5771

Eleanor's little village

By David M. Shribman




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | ARTHURDALE, W.Va. -- More than three-quarters of a century ago this forgotten community, tucked in a wrinkle of rugged West Virginia, was surrounded by poverty and privation. The mines nearby were quiet, the miners unemployed, hopeless. Prosperity -- even the merest, meanest prospect of subsistence -- was a cruel, unattainable notion; it was not around any corner anywhere close to here.

And yet suddenly there were stirrings in these hills. Homes were built, farms laid out, a school established. Small crafts industries were sprouting. An assembly building began to take shape. A tea room opened. The first lady of the United States dropped by. Sometimes a band struck up the Virginia Reel, and Eleanor Roosevelt -- the portrait of sobriety, nobody's idea of a good-time girl, indeed nobody's idea of a woman who knew what a good time was -- was caught up in that folk dance.

Today this community, the first of the nation's 99 New Deal communities, is all but forgotten again. It is a monument to Depression-era social engineering, a landmark in the history of American economic experiments, a highly successful and deeply flawed effort at government planning, and yet the world goes on beyond Arthurdale, paying little mind to what happened here -- what was tried here, when hope was a thing with feathers but without a nesting place.

The story began when Lorena Hickok, the Associated Press writer who very likely was Mrs. Roosevelt's lover, set out to portray America in Depression and visited Scotts Run, where she found housing "most Americans would not have considered fit for pigs." She later returned with Mrs. Roosevelt, who said the "filth was indescribable" and who left determined to provide an antidote to the despair she found amid the tipples, the slag piles, the black shanties planted on the sides of the gulches and the stirrings of radical labor groups like the National Miners Union, backed by the Communist Party.

Of all the Washington undertakings designed to battle Communism -- secret wars in Central America, two overt wars in Asia, a bungled invasion of Cuba, witch hunts in the State Department and Hollywood -- the assault on poverty in Scotts Run is among the most benign. The Pumpkin Papers in Whittaker Chambers' farm and the intercepted cables of the Cold War never possessed the moral power that Mrs. Roosevelt found in the contents of a miner's weekly pay envelope. It was one dollar.

Before long Washington bought a swath of land belonging to a Pittsburgh businessman, Richard Arthur, and a social experiment was under way. The government built 165 homes in Arthurdale; all but five remain today, many quite handsome. Banish your Great Society images of government housing projects; these were single-family homes with room to swing a cat and, outside, to plant a garden, with a cistern and root cellar out back.

Then the government invited applications, asking potential homesteaders to indicate the proper planting distance for rows of beets, cabbage and snap peas and inquiring whether a bushel of oats weighs more or less than a bushel of buckwheat. In those days, in these hills, standardized tests had real stakes, and letters from the admissions office had real consequences.

This is the letter hundreds hoped to receive: "We are happy to tell you that you have been accepted for residence in Arthurdale. Please call at my office on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 9:00 a.m. to obtain your house and lot assignment."

Let's not pretend this was not controversial, for its racist air (no blacks allowed) and particularly for its socialist tint (in the first eight months, the government spent $435,645 on this project). "For two years," the Saturday Evening Post wrote, "the presumed virtues of a projected planned economy have been contrasted with the muddling of an existing capitalism."

Some described this village planted on an old farmstead as American Marxism. If it wasn't the apotheosis of the welfare state, Arthurdale was at the very least a welfare town, a creation and ward of the government, with central planning down to the refrigerators Mrs. Roosevelt picked herself. Other communities like it sprung up around the country, one in Alaska, 13 in Arkansas, 11 in Texas, eight in Nebraska.

In truth, Franklin Delano Roosevelt would have done anything -- tack right, dip left, do a political Virginia Reel, forward and back -- to salve the Depression. He was no political purist. And if the New Deal homestead and resettlement communities like Arthurdale looked a little bit like communes on the Russian steppes painted with Norman Rockwell hues, the camps and barracks of the Civilian Conservation Corps had a faint whiff of German paramilitary groups with the sweet perfume of Boy Scout values ("to help other people at all times").

In a way Arthurdale, known as Eleanor's Little Village, is the physical symbol of the New Deal -- a little experimentation, a little companionable collectivism, a heavy dose of reform rhetoric and, of course, a University of Chicago theorist. (One of the members of the school advisory committee was John Dewey.) Arthurdale High School graduated three people in each of the Classes of 1935, 1936 and 1937. The town's pupils studied geology and botany, learned spinning, tanning and churning, produced plays for the community.

It was, as Mrs. Roosevelt put it, "a laboratory in every way." At this distance it is clear that it was an economic failure but a social success. It salvaged some lives, allowing dozens of American families with no prospects to leap into the middle class in one generation, which is part of the American miracle. But it never became self-sufficient, which is part of the American creed.

We might think of Arthurdale (and another New Deal community in Greensburg) as a splinter from the American oak, the utopian community planted far from urban centers and animated by rural values. But like most of them -- Old Economy Village in Pennsylvania, New Harmony in Indiana, Brook Farm in Massachusetts -- it couldn't sustain itself even though it was underwritten by taxpayer dollars and was in fact an arm of the government, both anathema to the more famous pietist and transcendentalist enclaves.

But for all their communal aspects, Arthurdale and its New Deal cousins remind us of the power of an individual to make change --and, in moments of deep despondency, to offer hope. "I can remember Mrs. Roosevelt coming, but I did not realize how special her visits were," said Richard Myers. "I just thought she visited every community." If only she could have.

Comment by clicking here.

David Shribman, a Pulitzer Prize winner in journalism, is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Previously:



08/08/11 The agony of August
08/01/11 The politics of the impossible: What a country this might be if the political class served the broad interests of the majority
07/25/11 Pennant fever grips 'Burgh
07/18/11 Exemplar of an era
07/11/11 On summer
07/04/11 The soul of the party
06/27/11 What the Secretary said
06/20/11 Romney has big advantages over his rivals, but they will be coming after him
06/06/11 One question each
05/30/11 The 14-week challenge
05/23/11 Delay tactics
05/16/11 Republicans are waiting
05/09/11 Bin Laden is dead. What does it mean?
05/02/11 From nobodies to nominees
04/25/11 The founders left slavery for future generations to settle, and we still haven't fully come to terms with it
04/18/11 From audacious to cautious
04/11/11 Dreaming of space
12/12/10 The GOP takes control
12/06/10 DECEMBER 7
11/29/10 GOP presidential hopefuls already are lining up local supporters in what is now a red state
11/22/10 Burning down the House
11/15/10 Institutions of higher learning are finally beginning to teach important lifeskills
11/04/10 The war has just begun
11/01/10 Echoes of a speech 40 years ago this week still resonate today
10/25/10 50 years ago America chose between two men who were dramatically different --- and eerily similar





© 2011, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Universal Uclick, as agent for UFS.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles