FDR, Eleanor, and the Town of Arthurdale: A Story with No Hero.
Author CJ Maloney just published his first book “Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR’s New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning.” A superb read about the new deal, but unlike other books that give us the broad picture, the writer Maloney walks us through the social experiment of the “New Deal.” More important, he showed how big government touched the lives of those immediately affected.
Arthurdale, a town located in the Appalachian foothills of Northern West Virginia, was the pet project of the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. It was her attempt to create a utopian existence, all under the control and supervision of the Federal Government. Eventually the town expanded to 2,283 acres with 165 subsistence homesteads. It became the watershed moment for health care as it was the first time the government had funded a group plan.
Without demonizing the first lady’s efforts at a well intentioned, but ill conceived attempt to improve the life of the destitute, the author recounts Arthurdale from 1933 to the present.
The final cost to the taxpayer for each home at Arthurdale was about $16,000, which were eventually sold to the homesteaders for about $900 each.
Mrs. Roosevelt never abandoned her role as Arthurdale’s guardian angel making her final pilgrimage in September 1960, vowing never to forget her extended family. It was a promise she kept.
When the first Lady passed away two years later in New York City, her journals would show how she kept track of the stream of Federal jobs the residents of Arthurdale held from NASA through other White House posts. News clippings show the pragmatic side of the First Lady, when she was quoted in the Washington Herald about her true goal with the Arthurdale experiment. Mrs. Roosevelt said “what we are trying to do is to create for those who have endured poverty a more bearable poverty.”
John O’Hara is an attorney. He lives in Brooklyn.
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