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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 68

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This is the grave of Rexford Guy Tugwell.

2016-08-31 17.05.49

Born in Sinclairville, New York in 1891, Tugwell was exposed to left leaning thinking early in his life, reading people such as Upton Sinclair and Edward Bellamy. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in Economics. He then did a Ph.D. at Columbia. He held a number of academic positions at the University of Washington, American University in Paris, and then at Columbia. He became a believer in widescale government economic planning at a time when the government did very little of this. When FDR became president in 1933, realizing that times had changed and only the government could fix the Great Depression, Tugwell joined the government.

He was part of what became known as the Brain Trust, a group of left-leaning social planners who wanted to push the New Deal toward forms of socialism and away from the small government conservatism that had dominated the Democratic Party and was still powerful within the administration. Aligning himself with people such as Henry Wallace, Tugwell was influential in the administration’s early years. He served as the first director of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, a fitting job as his academic specialty was the farm economy. He helped create the Soil Conservation Service as well. In 1935, he helped create the Resettlement Administration, intended to help rural people move nearer the cities to create economic opportunities for them at a time when millions of people were being forced off the land, mostly sharecroppers, both white and black. As part of the RA, Tugwell was in charge of creating the Greenbelt cities to move these people, of which 3 were created before it was ruled unconstitutional.

Conservatives hated Tugwell, including in Roosevelt’s administration. People such as Jesse Jones and Vice-President John Nance Garner basically thought of Tugwell as a communist and a danger to democratic (and Democratic) values. He was forced out of the administration at the end of 1936. In 1938, Fiorello LaGuardia named Tugwell the first director of the New York City Planning Commission, where he soon ran afoul of Robert Moses for wanting to protect open space. In 1941, he left that position to become governor of Puerto Rico, the last governor appointed by Washington. He served in that position until 1946, supporting the transition to self-government in the imperialist occupied colony. He then went back to the academy. He ended up living in Greenbelt, Maryland, one of the greenbelt towns he had created through the RA. He continued advocating national economic planning. In 1968, he wrote a glowing biography of Grover Cleveland, for reasons that surpass my understanding. He also a biography of FDR, a memoir of his time in Puerto Rico, and many other books. He died in 1979.

Tugwell has never been portrayed on screen (where are our films on national economic planning!) but he was in a documentary in 1959 titled “Project XX: Life in the Thirties.”

Rexford Guy Tugwell is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Sinclairville, New York.

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  • BlueLoom

    My father (1907-1996) worked for the Resettlement Administration under Tugwell. It was an exciting time to work at the Dept of Agriculture, but many who had worked there suffered for it during the McCarthy years. My father was brought up before a so-called loyalty board hearing and was cleared. Later, the “loyalty” rules were made more stringent, and he was put through a second loyalty board hearing. It was a scary time and devastating to family life for those who were targeted.

    • Bloix

      I am familiar with Tugwell through his decision, as head of the RA and the successor Farm Security Administration, to “show the city people what it’s like to live on a farm.” Tugwell hired Roy Stryker, who put together the largest collection of photographic talent ever amassed and sent them out to make pictures – Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks, and many others. The results were tens of thousands of images, many of them iconic, including Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and “Mississippi Plantation Overseer” and Rothstein’s “Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm.”

  • Gwen

    If you had asked me who Rexford Guy Tugwell was before reading this post, I would have told you he was one of the random characters on “The Simpsons” we see from time to time (like Bumblebee Man or Rainier Wolfcastle).

    That’s a roundabout way of thanking you for providing educational content.

    • Derelict

      +1935

    • Hogan

      A name to conjure with.

    • sigaba

      Name has a sort of Ayn Rand-villain quality to it, though maybe that’s no accident.

      • Gwen

        Yeah, sort of like Hank Scorpio (except isn’t Scorpio more of an Ayn Rand hero?)

  • Solar System Wolf

    By the way, it says on Tugwell’s tombstone that he died in 1979, not 1977.

    • Thom

      Ok, but who are you going to believe?

      By the way, I just read A Very Short Introduction to the Mexican Revolution. On the first page, it puts the Mexican Revolution in the context of other revolutions, including the French one, which it states occurred in 1798.

      • wjts

        If you take the long view of the Revolution, I suppose that’s technically correct* in the same sense that it’s technically correct to say that WWII happened in 1944.

        *the best kind of correct.

        • Jordan

          I’m interested in BOTH of these technically correct answers now.

          • wjts

            Just in the sense that if you count the Directory as part of the Revolution, the Revolution was occurring in 1798 just as World War II was occurring in 1944 so you could say they happened in those years.

  • MacK

    I think its pretty self evident that there is an error in this post where it says “he died in 1977”

    • (((Malaclypse)))

      Was it an error when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?

      • econoclast

        So you’re saying that Erik is on a roll?

        • Hogan

          Probably a papo seco.

  • Morse Code for J

    Tugwell was also the hero of Hawthorne Abendsen’s The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, taking over after Roosevelt’s assassination and guiding the United States to victory over the Axis Powers.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Imaginary New Deal novels for $300, Alex.

  • NewishLawyer

    You forgot the oddest tidbit. In the book of the Man in the High Castle, Rex Tugwell becomes President and saves the US fleet and the US.

    • wjts

      Does he show up in the TV show? If so, I demand a correction.

      • West of the Cascades

        He’ll show up in Season 4.

    • sigaba

      He doesn’t become president, in the book he is the president in a piece of alternate universe fiction.

  • Gareth

    In 1935, he helped create the Resettlement Administration, intended to help rural people move nearer the cities to create economic opportunities for them at a time when millions of people were being forced off the land, mostly sharecroppers, both white and black. As part of the RA, Tugwell was in charge of creating the Greenbelt cities to move these people, of which 3 were created before it was ruled unconstitutional.

    James Loewen says all three Greenbelt cities had covenants to keep African-Americans out.

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