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    "It is the old row between the landed gentry and the field laborers..."

    Franklin D. Roosevelt: Typed Letter Signed as President Regarding Power Generation and the South.
    -May 3, 1939. Washington, D.C. Two pages. 7" x 9", White House letterhead.
    -To: Miss Gertrude Ely of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
    -Professionally restored from several torn pieces. Appears as fine.

    In a powerful and politically significant letter, FDR writes, in full: "Dear Gertrude:-/ Thank you for your note. That Charleston paper, 'The News and Courier,' represents everything that is reactionary in the South. It is the old row between the landed gentry and the field laborers, white and colored - only in this case the landed gentry are not South Carolinians but are Northerners who have bought up the old places and use them for winter sojourns. A few of them, like Nick Roosevelt of Philadelphia, do a good job by raising cattle, etc., but most of them are distinctly rich absentee landlords. Most of the opposition to Santee-Cooper comes from them, aided and abetted by the anti-Administration Democrats./ As a matter of fact, it is perfectly reasonable to admit that the success of the Santee-Cooper project cannot be guaranteed. But the fact remains that it will develop power, it will prevent floods, and will, first and last, give a tremendous lot of work./ The complaint that it will kill all the ducks from Florida to Maine is silly. As an old-line professional ornithologist, I vouch for this!/ The thing is not political any more than building a schoolhouse or a bridge or a Boulder Dam or a Grand Coulee is political - and the fact remains that the opposition comes 100% from every non-liberal element in the State of South Carolina./ It was approved four years ago - it is under way - it could not be stopped even if I wanted to - and I don't./ As ever yours..."

    FDR is referring to the Santee Cooper Power and Navigation Project, constructed in 1939, which improved navigation on and provided hydroelectric power from the Santee and Cooper rivers in South Carolina. In 1934, legislation under the Roosevelt's public works programs allowed South Carolina to obtain federal grants and loans for the creation of the South Carolina Public Service Authority with the primary purpose to construct and operate the Santee Cooper Project. At that time, 93 percent of the state's residents lived without electricity. Private power companies fought the project and the battle was eventually taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April 1939, injunctions against the project were overturned and construction proceeded for twenty-seven months until completion. The $48.2 million project (55 percent federal loan, 45 percent federal grant) was the largest land-clearing project in U.S. history, with over 12,500 workers clearing over 177,000 acres of swamp and forestland; it first generated electricity on Feb. 17, 1942.

    Gertrude Ely was a fascinating woman; her life was one of activism and adventure. The daughter of a Pennsylvania Railroad vice president, Miss Ely was an 1899 graduate of Bryn Mawr College. She worked with the YMCA in Europe during WWI and was twice decorated with the French Croix de Guerre for "distinguished bravery under fire". Ely was also the first American woman to cross the Rhine with the American army of occupation, marching at the head of the column just behind General Frank Parker and his officers with the 18th Infantry, 1st Division. Later, she was active in the League of Women Voters and served as president of the Pennsylvania chapter. A staunch Democrat, she also worked with the Pennsylvania Works Progress Administration. It is not known for certain why this letter was torn into six pieces but luckily, it has survived to give us this insight into FDR's personal feelings about his anti-liberal detractors and his strong belief in his progressive New Deal legislation.

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    December, 2008
    2nd Tuesday
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