Camera Rolls: 313:21
Sound Rolls: 318:1
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Arthur Goldschmidt , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on January 23, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
The first thing Hopkins did after he got—
Can you start at the beginning? He wasn't out of the frame.
All right. The first thing that Hopkins did after he, he took the job as Federal Emergency Relief Administrator was to hire a bunch of field people that went, and each had different areas they handled. And during the summer of 1933 those people began to discover that the relief program wasn't adequate, and the unemployment situation was getting worse, and that work relief was the only thing that people really wanted, and that the work relief program, as it was then being run, was not adequate to the, to the job. And this, these reports kept coming in from all over the country from people that Hopkins [sic], who were honest and concerned colleagues. And these reports kept piling up in Washington, and I think that was one of the major reasons why we, we began thinking about a program that would put people to work on a more massive scale. The other problem, of course, was the NRA wasn't working. Of course, it hadn't had time to work by then, but Hugh Johnson was having all these parades and blue eagle signs put up all over for people conforming to so-called "industry codes" that hadn't even been drafted yet, so that they weren't really putting people back to work on NRA. And the problem of employment is, is, when it was coming on, became much, the most serious thing we had to face against.
Can you tell me something about the creativity and energy of all of you working together?
Well, once we got something going like CWA or some idea of CWA going, and we had to look into how to make the thing work, there was an enormous creativity right across the board. I remember my friends in Treasury telling me how they found out how they could get these 4,000,000 checks out that had to go out every, every, every week.
As a matter of fact, you know, they ran out of both the check ink, the check paper, because people hadn't been paid by federal checks except a few hundred thousand in Washington.
** And so they had to start a whole new system of getting checks out in order a pay a program that was putting 4,000,000 people to work.
** And, by the way, those 4,000,000 people were being put to work in four weeks, in the four weeks between November 1933, November 15, 1933, no, October through November 1933. we started on October 15 and by November 15 there were supposed to be 400, 4,000,000 people to work. I think we missed it by a couple of days.
You didn't go down to Washington, D.C. starry-eyed, you know, thinking you were going to change the world. How did you go down there, and what changed?
Oh, I think we were, we went down to Washington because somebody offered me a job in Hopkins' outfit. It was Jake Baker, who was Hopkins' assistant for work relief, and I was the third employee in the work relief program. I went down very skeptical, because in the, on the streets of New York, and in the city of New York, the unemployment problem had not been relieved, even though New York was way ahead of everybody else, because Roosevelt had the TERA, that's the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, a wonderful name, by the way. "Temporary Emergency Relief," it's, it's a tautologist [sic], isn't it? But he had started this temporary thing that had kept going quite a long time, and New York was a bit better off than the rest of the country. But we were even there seeing that the Depression was, was eroding the employment picture, and so when I went to Washington, I went because it was a job, and because it would be of some interest. I think my whole skeptical attitude changed almost overnight by the, by the, I guess the personality of Harry Hopkins more than anything else. He, he was as skeptical as we were, but he also rolled up his sleeves and went to work and got something. And he encouraged people to think about their jobs, encouraged people to, people like us, us to work,
so that there was never any, any difference between work in the office and, and being away from the office. When we went to eat or to restaurants, or go even taking our wives dancing that hot fall up on the roof of the Powhatan Hotel. Very few people danced. They, they talked the whole time. We were talking about our jobs.
** Fortunately, I had a wife who was working and was interested in more in the talk than the dancing, too, but other people's wives were often irritated by our system of never having any private lives.
Great. How did you feel when they phased out the CWA?
Oh, [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] , CWA lost, began to be phased out because of the Congressional pressure of Congress, primarily through the Southern Congressmen who were worried about labor for the cotton fields. It broke, it broke my heart, broke most of our hearts who were working in, in the field, because we felt that that program had been the most extraordinary program that had been conceived of in the New Deal. And the problem of all these people who had come on board, and we're not only talking about the 4,000,000 plus but their families, the problem, what they would face, was, was something that couldn't help but troubling, trouble all of us. And I thought it was a, was a disaster and, when CWA was closed down. Fortunately they didn't, they phased it out, and, and provided funds that would help the states to, to take care of some of the cases.
What about charges of corruption?
Charges of corruption in, in the CWA never amounted to anything. There never was any problem of, of any serious corruption. There were charges of politics, charges of, of putting people on the role for political reasons, or, or adding to roles for political reasons, but there never were any charges, or substantiated charges, of any serious corruption. Partly, it was done so fast and so furiously there wasn't any time for corruption [laughs]. And these checks, they were always, the Treasury had been worried about the hiking of checks, because 4,000,000 checks was going to be a terrific temptation for check hikers, but they solved that problem by having all the checks read "Not good for more than $25." And the amount of the check to someone who was properly owed more than $25 would be $25 and second check to cover the, the rest of his salary would, would be added to it. That's why it was more than 4,000,000 checks. There were a lot of checks involved.
What about charges that this was just [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] work?
Well, the main, the work being done on CWA, I think the, the greatest handicap of the program was the fact that there was no lead time for planning projects, and only those places that had some either very imaginative management, city managers, or mayors, or local politicians, or had, had a town plan, or a city plan that they could bring up to date. For instance, I think Cincinnati was said to have, have done the first 10 years of its 20 year plan during the, during the few months of CWA, because they did have curb [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] or sewers or something that they wanted built. But many of the public works of that kind do require a bit of lead time, and we were trying to, our problem was getting people to work. And this, this meant that, that very often the work being done, and on this we depended entirely on local people, they couldn't think of anything but leaf raking or snow shovelling, that kind of thing.