I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge that PBS has been showing the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt family (mainly focusing on Teddy, Eleanor, and Franklin), but I’ve been keeping up with it as best I can, considering television should not be a part of my daily schedule. The Roosevelts are some of my favorite historical figures, and all three of the Roosevelts featured in the documentary happen to have interesting connections to Berry. This is evident not only from the Roosevelt Cabin on campus, but also from the various documents in the Martha Berry Digital Archive. While the PBS documentary may not be entirely relevant to our work on the website, Franklin D. Roosevelt had more of an impact on the Berry Schools than previously known, at least more of an impact than just what this picture suggests.
It isn’t well known that Martha Berry had direct contact with FDR’s New Deal programs of the 1930s. The Berry Schools, like the rest of the southern United States, suffered from the Great Depression. Miss Berry, however, took the opportunity to provide work for young men in rural areas by having a Civilian Conservation Corps camp placed on her campus. The CCC was one of many “alphabet soup” programs coming from the New Deal. The program built roads and telephone poles, prevented and stopped forest fires, and planted millions of trees in rural areas like Rome, Georgia. FDR’s New Deal policies, in total, brought jobs, food, clothing, housing, and electricity to the economically depressed United States.
But not everyone saw the benefits of these New Deal programs. One letter, written in 1936, from Edward W. Clark of Philadelphia mentions his inability to donate to the Berry Schools due to the New Deal’s “attacks on public utilities and other business enterprises” in the southern states of South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama. He points out the Tennessee Valley Authority (another one of the “alphabet soup” programs) as one of the main problems in the South since it “greatly affected the earnings and credit” of companies working in utilities.
While Mr. Clark’s views of the New Deal may have been a minority in the country, having this opinion sent to Miss Berry must have been a shock to those benefiting from the conservation program supported by the Berry Schools. Yet Mr. Clark’s opinion of the New Deal is valid given that programs to provide services or assistance to the poor could interfere with the livelihood of others. Nevertheless, I saw his outcry against the New Deal as strange. The Berry Schools and millions of young men across the country benefited from FDR’s policies during the Great Depression, so seeing such a negative view on them gave me a new perspective. A perspective, moreover, that echoes much of the political debate today about the positive and negative effects of governmental stimulus of the economy.