Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,622

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,622


This is the grave of Mon Wallgren.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1891, Monrad Wallgren (I don’t know Monrad seems like an insane name, but Conrad doesn’t; in any case, one can see why he went by Mon) spent the early years of his childhood there before his Swedish immigrant family moved to Everett, Washington in 1901. Wallgren just went to the public schools, graduated high school, and went to some kind of low-level business college. He then decided he wanted to go into optometry and graduated from the Washington State School of Optometry in 1914. He used that training not only to be an eye doctor but also to have a side business in jewels. He ran these businesses from 1915 to 1932. He was also a member of the National Guard for several years in there.

So by 1932, we are talking about a man in his early 40s whose clam to fame was as one of the state’s top billiards players. That’s cool, but hardly a likely person for this oh-so-important internet series. But the Great Depression and the disastrous Republican response to it led Wallgren into politics. He ran for Congress in 1932 and won his seat, knocking out the incumbent Republican Albert Johnson, primarily known for his racism (the Johnson-Reed Act is better known as the Immigration Act of 1924 that shut the doors of this nation to eastern and southern Europeans). This was the year of the FDR wave election and the second of four straight wave elections for Democrats, if we include the midterms.

Wallgren became a staunch supporter of the New Deal in Congress. Where Wallgren really took the lead was the creation of Olympic National Park. This was the New Deal-era version of the controversies over the Utah national monuments of the last 25 years, particularly Grand Staircase-Escalante and then Big Ears. In this case, Democratic presidents create these huge monuments, Republicans hate them and then reduce them, then the next Democrat restores them. This was more or less how things were for Olympic as well during these decades. It wasn’t that anyone opposed the creation of a high mountain national monument or park, as Theodore Roosevelt had done with the original protections in 1909. It was the idea of expanding it to protect some of the timber in the lowlands. As anyone who has been to the Hoh Rain Forest can attest, that is some amazing country. It also has exceedingly valuable timber that companies wanted.

By the late 30s, the timber companies’ treatment of the American forests were pretty well established and for many, including in the Forest Service and in the timber unions, it was time to intervene and take power away from them before they turned the Northwest into the cut-over of Minnesota or the desiccated forests of Arkansas. Wallgren became the representative of these ideas in Congress. He’s largely forgotten today, but I wrote about him in Empire of Timber and am very happy to share some of that material here, because Wallgren was a good egg on all but one issue (more on that in a minute) and the kind of progressive legislator we should treasure (again, outside of said issue). So allow me to quote the book here a bit:

In 1938, Monrad Wallgren, a New Dealer congressman from Washington, introduced a bill to create Olympic National Park. The bill added 400,000 acres to the current national monument boundaries to construct a 900,000-acre park with some of the last old-growth low-elevation forests in western Washington. While many in Washington supported a mountain and glacier park, including commercially viable timber caused consternation. The USFS opposed the loss of control over the area while local newspapers attacked Wallgren and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the park’s most powerful supporter in Washington. The editor of the Forks Forum charged Wallgren with caring more about New York tourists than the people of his home state and the Roosevelt Administration of trampling on the rights of local people to develop land. The Hoquiam Chamber of Commerce requested an investigation of Ickes from Martin Dies’ House Un-American Activities Committee, accusing administration officials of tying up the peninsula’s resources to serve America’s enemies

The International Woodworkers of America (the CIO timber union) invited Wallgren to pen an editorial for The Timber Worker explaining the bill. Calling the park a magnet for “increased tourist travel from California,” he promoted tourism as a job creator in a forest whose long-term sustainability remained in question, creating a diversified Northwest economy that would provide economic stability if the timber industry cut the rest of the forest. The IWA lauded the bill as “a move to conserve the timber and other natural resources from greedy and rapid depletion” and noted that local residents would make more money on the tourist industry over the long run than through logging the forests.

Then in 1940, Roosevelt nominated the Washington senator Lewis B. Schwellenbach to be a judge. Wallgren ran as his replacement and won that election too. Unfortunately, while Wallgren remained excellent on economic issues, he helped lead the fight to throw all the Japanese Americans into concentration camps during World War II. In 1942, he was named chair of the new Senate Committee on Alien Nationality and Sabotage, which basically was fear-mongering and race hatred. Then the next year, after Japanese internees protested over the bad conditions of the camps, Wallgren called for the camps to be transferred from the War Relocation Authority to the Army, based on the idea that the WRA was pampering the Japanese. Wallgren legitimately saw all Japanese Americans as enemies of the state and not deserving of constitutional protections.

In 1944, Wallgren decided to return to Washington state by running for governor. He was still strongly associated with the New Deal, which by that time was still popular but much less so than a decade earlier. He continued as a New Dealer while governor, but the nation’s politics changed rapidly after the war. Republicans were in the ascendant, especially against liberals like Wallgren. So in 1948, he lost his reelection bid to Arthur Langlie. While governor, he opposed the return of Japanese Americans to Washington, though that most certainly is not why he lost, since perhaps a majority of Washington whites believed this too.

Now, Wallgren was a significant player in the Democratic Party so Harry Truman wanted to take care of him. Truman nominated him as chair of the newly formed National Security Resources Board. But his liberalism caused resistance in the Senate and Truman withdrew the nomination. So Truman named him to the Federal Power Commission, where he served in the early 50s, representing interests that supported a public approach to the question.

Wallgren died in 1961, after a car accident. He was 70 years old.

Mon Wallgren is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Everett, Washington.

If you would like this series to visit other senators elected in 1940, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Harvey Kilgore is in Arlington, though he represented West Virginia in the Senate, and Joseph O’Mahoney is in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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