|Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute||Home|
Francis Peter Lynch
Between 1930 and 1950, Connecticut people shared two great experiences. The first was a severe economic depression which lasted for most of the 1930s and affected Connecticut deeply. World War II began in Europe in 1939 and ended in 1945, creating an enormous industrial growth in the state, and bringing about full employment, but giving rise to other social and governmental problems. By 1950, attitudes toward the role of state government were greatly different in Connecticut than they had been twenty years before.
The essay presents an overview of developments which helped shape Connecticut from immediately after the stock market crash in 1929 into the beginning of the Korean War and the gubernatorial election of 1950. Connecticut changed during those years from a place where the least possible government was strongly desired by an independent-minded citizenry into a more complex society where state government played an increasingly larger role in the everyday life of the people.
Three lesson plans are inserted in the essay. The first offers an oral history project concerning the Depression in Connecticut. A second lesson presents the same basic idea dealing with the wartime years in Connecticut. The third presents material for a debate between sides or individuals representing J. Henry Roraback, Republican political boss of the state in 1930, and John M. Bailey, Democratic Chairman in 1950, a man on his way to becoming a political boss. A list of suggestions for individual research on Connecticut 1930-1950 is included.
Party politics in 1930 Connecticut were dominated by a highly organized Republican machine. State Chairman of the Republican State Committee since 1912—and until his death in 1937—was J. Henry Roraback of North Canaan. Roraback and the men around him firmly believed that the ideal government was that which did as little as possible at the lowest available cost. Balanced budgets, comfortable surpluses, low taxes, scarce state services, and a strict pay-as-you-go policy were cherished and realized goals of Roraback and his Republican friends.2 The State Treasurer’s Office reported that the net bonded indebtedness of Connecticut in 1931 was $1,311,100.
Democrats had not won a governorship since 1912. Between that date and 1930, Democrats held few state offices, and only a small minority of those elected to the United States Congress were Democrats. The party was controlled by a group nicknamed “The Old Guard”, a group of city leaders who seemed content to take crumbs from the political table. Republicans held practically all political offices in the state, save those few granted by Roraback to the Democrats.
For most of the years when J. Henry Roraback was Republican political leader of Connecticut, he was also President of the Connecticut Light and Power Company, the largest utility in the state. Such dual office holding would be highly suspect today, but there were few complaints about it at the time. Roraback was never accused of money corruption, even by his worst enemies, yet he saw nothing wrong with using his position to win legislation favorable to the companies he controlled. Most citizens of Connecticut in 1930, along with Roraback and his allies, felt that the interests of the people, the government, and business were essentially the same, and could best be served jointly.3
Government in Connecticut in 1930 was run largely by various committees and commissions composed of leading citizens, almost all of whom were Republicans. The governorship was a part time job with little real power—even lacking an official residence until 1945—and the General Assembly met only every two years. Rural roads were generally poor, tending to keep travel irregular and difficult, and to keep most small towns isolated, enhancing a sense of independence. Population was concentrated in larger cities around manufacturing centers. Shopping was done downtown. Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport among them contained one third of the state’s population.4
There was a state Agricultural College in Storrs, and there were four normal schools for teacher training. The New Haven Railroad was the state’s chief transportation link and had much influence in business and government. Trolley car lines linked the cities and some of the small towns immediately around them, and there were a few busses. Along the shoreline and up the Connecticut River to Hartford towns were served by regularly scheduled steamship lines. A trip from Glastonbury, Farmington, or Granby into Hartford was regarded as a rare treat by most young people in 1930. Governor John Trumbull was very much interested in aviation, and was nicknamed “The Flying Governor,” but airports were few and small.
A few women in the General Assembly, only token Italians and Poles, and no Negroes held state offices. While most towns had received electrical power, complete electrification of the state was not achieved until 1946.
Connecticut had been generally prosperous during the 1920s, but the textile industry, a major factor in the economic life of eastern Connecticut, was leaving the state, with a third of the textile factories having gone elsewhere between 1920 and 1930. Much of the economy of the state was based on manufacturing. The insurance industry was concentrated in Hartford, brass in the Naugatuck Valley, small arms in New Haven and Hartford. Fairfield County was increasingly a suburban commuter area for New York City. Few towns outside Fairfield County could be considered as suburban in 1930.
Joblessness grew in Connecticut during much of 1929—the city of Hartford had to make an additional appropriation of $75,000 late in the year for relief costs—and unemployment grew rapidly in 1930. Citizens were increasingly concerned about the health of business after the 1929 stock market crash. There were no voices in Connecticut crying ‘depression,.
Democrats in 1930 nominated Dr. Wilbur Cross, retiring Dean of the Yale Graduate School, for Governor. Cross was a newcomer to state level politics, and was very much interested in opening up government in Connecticut, with special attention to better health and social services. Cross threw himself into the race for the nomination and defeated the entrenched “Old Guard” leaders of the party, who were at least as solidly conservative as the Republicans. Cross saw himself as an alternative to the passive, losing policies of the Old Guard, yet during his four terms as Governor, he was never able to win complete control over them.
Born in Gurleyville (part of Mansfield), Cross had won recognition as a scholar, author of several books, Professor of English at Yale, editor of the Yale Review and as a strong administrator. He was essentially a state’s rights conservative, but wanted to open state government to better serve the people and to break the power of the boss-dominated Republican machine.5
Knowing that he faced strong odds against winning the election, Cross chose to wage a fighting campaign all over the state, poor roads and all. Using a shrewd combination of country wit, dialect stories about farmers, great personal charm, a splendid sense of humor, and solid, common sense programs, the sixty-eight year old Cross came away with a narrow victory in 1930, the only Democrat to win state office, a temporary accident, a Governor surrounded by a surprised but still efficient Republican machine.6
During all of 1930, unemployment was a major concern in Connecticut, and this doubtless played an important part in the Democrats electing Cross, but there was no conception that a major economic crisis was looming. In conjunction with the outgoing Governor Trumbull, Wilbur Cross established a program of public works designed to get unemployed young men to work in clearing woodlands and other conservation projects, very similar to later federal programs. Trumbull and Cross also cooperated in forming the Connecticut Unemployment Commission to try to ease problems of joblessness, and to encourage employers to do what they could to keep their men working. This commission underwent a change of names, but remained as the basic state liaison with federal relief projects after 1933 and the coming of New Deal relief programs.7
As unemployment increased, relief problems were most severe in larger manufacturing cities. Bridgeport was very hard hit and took stringent measures to remain solvent. Aliens were dropped from some relief roles. In most cities and towns, the number of public employees was reduced, teacher’s salaries cut back, town services severely curtailed. As unemployment continued to increase, by 1932, several banks in Connecticut encountered serious difficulties, real estate values plummeted, and towns had difficulty collecting property taxes. Smaller towns tended to be less affected by bad times, but there was a general shrinkage of cash. Manufacturing employment, which stood at an index number of 100 in the middle of 1929, had fallen to 65.5 in New Haven in January 1932, 77.2 in Bridgeport, 74.1 in Hartford County. Town resources for relief were being pushed beyond bearable limits. 8
In Connecticut, as in the United States, unemployment continued to rise, reaching its greatest extent in April of 1933, when the employment index reached 49.6 in New Haven, 57.6 in Bridgeport, and 60.8 in Hartford County.9
Wilbur Cross, despite severe political problems caused him by Republicans, won reelection for a second two year term in 1932, and Democrats won a majority in the State Senate. Although there was an initial resistance from Cross and other Connecticut leaders about accepting federal assistance through relief or federally sponsored public works, New Deal programs began to bring money to the state in various forms. A few voices continued to insist that the state go it alone, but however much their consciences might bother them, state political leaders realized that federal help was necessary. Hunger marchers and the unemployed demonstrated at the state capitol in 1933, seeking help from the state government in finding food and jobs.10
The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the first New Deal programs to have a direct impact on the state, employing several thousand young Connecticut men on various reforestation, park building, and conservation programs in parts of the state by mid-1933. Other federal programs, notably the Work Projects Administration, did much work in Connecticut from 1935 to 1944. WPA records are not systematic, but they list nearly a thousand different labor intensive projects in the state ranging from building airports to painting park outbuildings. In March of 1936, WPA employed 28,671 persons in the state. 11
When Governor Cross won a third two year term in 1934, federal and state relief and job programs were an important element of life in the state. By 1935, the depression and unemployment had driven state government to play a much larger role in the lives of the people than it had in 1930, using state laws on relief, labor practices, and regulations to eliminate ‘sweatshops’ from Connecticut. Construction of the Merritt Parkway from the New York state line in Greenwich, eventually reaching Stratford, was a source for many jobs, as well as being the primary link in a limited access highway system for Connecticut. The Metropolitan District Commission, formed in 1929 to supply water to the Hartford area, was much involved in construction of a series of water reservoirs in West Hartford, Avon, Hartland, and Barkhamsted, opening the huge Saville Dam in 1936.
Great floods along the Connecticut River Valley in March of 1936 caused immense devastation and led directly to much state and federal government activity to prevent a recurrence and to supply immediate relief. As warm rains combined with an early snow meltoff in the Connecticut River watershed, water levels rose rapidly in river valleys. The Greenwoods Dam in New Hartford burst. The Connecticut River swelled to record flood stages at Hartford, then climbed to unprecedented levels, inundating much of East Hartford, Windsor, and other towns along the Connecticut River. State and federal governments responded rapidly as men from the CCC and more than a thousand from the WPA were employed in immediate flood rescue and relief. The federal government promptly appropriated $3 million for Connecticut flood relief. As a direct result of the great 1936 flood, the Park River, flowing across part of downtown Hartford, was placed in a large underground tunnel, and a dike system was designed and built to prevent flooding along parts of the Connecticut River.12
One effort to expand the role of the federal government in New England was made unsuccessfully in 1935 when United States Representative William Citron of Middletovn proposed creation of a Connecticut Valley Authority covering four New England states, patterned after the Tennessee Valley Authority. Citron’s plan provided an extensive program of dam building and flood control, and the generation of electricity, as well as other conservation projects. Citron’s plan brought immediate howls of rage from independent-minded governors and editorial shrieks of indignation in Connecticut. It was not seriously considered for implementation by the federal government. It did lead, however, to efforts among the four states for a flood control compact for the Connecticut River Valley.
A great hurricane swept unexpectedly into southern New England in September 1938. The storm was preceded by several days of rain which caused concern about river flooding in Connecticut. The hurricane was of great severity, killing hundreds of people and doing immense damage along the shoreline in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Uncounted millions of trees were knocked down by high winds all across Connecticut. Huge tides and extremely powerful winds, in addition to some inland flooding, caused unprecedented damage. Governor Cross, who had won reelection in the Roosevelt landslide of 1936, responded quickly, directing a variety of state and federal relief efforts, but problems caused by the hurricane were massive, and recovery slow. Roads were made impassable by fallen trees, power was out for many days, and sections of the shoreline were washed away, including whole rows of summer cottages. The hurricane played an important part in the political campaigns of October and November, 1938.14
Wilbur Cross ran for a fifth term as Governor in 1938, still struggling against Old Guard Democrats. He was opposed by Republican Raymond Baldwin of Stratford, a former majority leader of the House. J. Henry Roraback had died in 1937. Lacking a strong successor to him as party leader, a number of young, much more liberal Republicans had organized “Beefsteak Clubs” to talk politics and work out leadership roles for the party. Baldwin was recognized as their natural leader.
Socialist Jasper McLevy, Mayor of Bridgeport, also entered the race for Governor in 1938, ready to lash out at both sides, playing the role of spoiler. McLevy was Mayor of Bridgeport from 1933 until 1957, building his own political machine centered in that city. He was a Socialist in name, but in practice, his political philosophy amounted to extreme thrift in city government and the procurement of as much state aid for Bridgeport as he could. He was boss of Connecticut’s Socialists, running for Governor several times. McLevy’s strength was generally in the larger cities, and he was a political force to be reckoned with during the 1930s and after.15 In 1938, McLevy’s slogan was “Don’t let the raiders raid you.”
The gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut in 1938 was a bitterly controversial one. Wilbur Cross was a popular, effective Governor, well liked even by his political enemies. He had made the governorship a full time job, the first to do so. He won some useful reforms during the 1937 General Assembly session, strengthening the power of the Governor and increasing efficiency of government workings. Yet Cross was hectored by forces of the Old Guard in his own party and could not achieve clear control. Republicans maintained control of the House and were able to block much of his reform effort. But he had won advances in education and human services by state government and was a highly respected, if sometimes disregarded Governor. 16
Unfortunately for Cross, 1938 was also a year of major political corruption scandals in Connecticut, which hurt both major parties. Republicans were deeply involved in a land grab for profit in building the Merritt Parkway. Democrats were heavily involved in a long term embezzlement in Waterbury, including Mayor T. Frank Hayes, an Old Guard Democrat who was also Lieutenant-Governor of the state. After the election, convictions, appeals, and imprisonment followed for many of the men involved, but that came later, and the reality of the scandals was used by Jasper McLevy as a clear example of how far both major parties had slipped down the road to moral ruin and abuse of the people. He attacked Cross’s term as Governor as one of decadence and power seeking, a failure for the people.17 Republican Baldwin chose to address issues facing the state, and allowed others to attack the Cross record in office. None of the candidates hinted that the state might return to the way things had been in 1930.1 Only a few scattered voices, mostly in small towns, cried out for a return to the good old days.
A week before election day, a group of very conservative Republicans, led by Albert Levitt of Redding, demanded a place on the ballot for the Union Party. The Union Party had run candidates in the 1936 election with the backing of Father Charles Coughlin of Royal Oak, Michigan, a Catholic ‘radio priest’ of considerable national influence. The 1938 Union Party in Connecticut had no connection with Coughlin but was chosen as a device to make mischief in the campaign. The Levitt group won a writ of mandamus from a superior court judge to force the Secretary of the State to provide the Union Party with a line on the ballot. They entered Baldwin as their candidate for Governor, and an assortment of Democrats and Republicans for other offices. McLevy’s candidacy and the confusion caused by the last-ditch inclusion of the Union Party tipped the balance in the election. The final count was:
|Wilbur Cross, Democrat||227,549|
|Jasper McLevy, Socialist||166,253|
|Raymond Baldwin, Republican||227,191|
|Raymond Baldwin, Union||3,04619|
Raymond Baldwin proved to be the best Republican vote-getter in modern Connecticut. His programs were considered liberal, and he repeatedly stressed a progressive and “friendly” government. He led Connecticut Republicans in strong support of Wendell Wilkie in the 1940 presidential campaign, where he was often mentioned as a vice-presidential possibility. In 1940, Baldwin was so busy helping Wilkie and the national ticket that he neglected his own campaign for reelection as Governor, and lost to Democrat Robert Hurley.21 Baldwin returned to win the office of Governor in 1942 and 1944, and won a United States Senate seat in 1946. He resigned as senator in 1950 and was appointed to the State Supreme Court of Errors by Democratic Governor Chester Bowles, an action by Baldwin which deeply distressed many Connecticut Republicans.22
Wilbur Cross left the governorship in January 1939 a widely admired man. The 1937 General Assembly voted to name a planned state parkway in his honor, the road to run from the end of the Merritt Parkway in Stratford to the Massachusetts line in Union. A large new bridge at Hartford, the Charter Oak, was completed as part of the plan. A new high bridge over the Thames River between New London and Groton was completed in 1943, both bridges integral parts of an evolving system of highways for Connecticut. Part of the Wilbur Cross Parkway was later incorporated into the interstate highway system as I-86, and the bridge in New London-Groton as part of I-95.
Listed below are some questions to talk about with your students. They may be used in total as a way to conduct an interview with persons about Depression days. One question may be enough to get the interviewee wound up. Then stopping them will be a problem. If these do not seem to suit your purposes, include some of your own questions, or have students make them.
Answers that students discover may be shared in class, made into family journals, or form the basis for individual research projects.
- 1. Where was your family (or you) living during the Depression? Did you have to move? Why?
- 2. Did any relatives have to move in with you or your family?
- 3. Did any members of your family lose their jobs during the Depression? What was it like to try and find another job? Did anyone in your family have to share a full time job with another person?
- 4. Was there a poor house near where you lived? Why did people go there? Did your town have soup kitchens? Was there a city farm?
- 5. What did you or your family do for recreation during the Depression?
- 6. If some of your family were recent immigrants to the United States in 1930, what kind of problems did they meet in looking for jobs? Did their problems get better during the Depression? Was there outright job discrimination?
- 7. How many women members of your family had jobs? What roles did women play in your family during the Depression?
War in Europe and American defense policies brought great changes to Connecticut. Jobs were plentiful, there was much overtime. Real wages grew rapidly. Electric Boat in Groton produced submarines for the American government; three in 1939, five in 1940, six in 1941, and later had as many as twenty subs in various stages of construction at one time. Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford more than quintupled its work force. Hamilton Standard expanded its propeller production into several locations. Bridgeport boomed. Areas of prefabricated housing projects were built for workers, and all over the state, workers began to commute longer distances to get to their jobs.
Connecticut in 1940 was less concerned about politics than in gaining benefits from the new-found prosperity. Manufacturing employment drew workers from rural areas of Connecticut and from northern New England states, creating housing shortages around industrial centers. 130,000 new people moved into Connecticut between 1940 and 1943, two thirds of them into the Hartford and Groton areas. 24
After America entered the war, the military draft called thousands of young men into the services. State and federal governments established rationing programs for tires, gasoline, and food. Connecticut’s rationing program was headed by Chester Bowles, an advertising executive who had retired at forty, and later headed the federal Office of Price Administration. Bowles made a concerted effort to involve people from both parties in establishing and running ration boards in every town in the state. In 1942, Bowles began a practice of making frequent radio talks on a statewide hookup to explain the program of rationing, a practice he carried over when he ran for Governor in 1948. Cooperation of people in Connecticut on rationing was generally good, but some black markets flourished, especially in gasoline and meat. Rent controls were not an outstanding success in Connecticut. Once the people realized the need for rationing, they accepted it in good spirit, and their reaction was generally supportive.
Governor Baldwin created a State Council for Defense in 1940 to guide the state’s transition from Depression into defense preparations and to make long range plans for development of Connecticut’s resources. The Connecticut Development Commission had been created in 1939 to promote economic development and tourism in the state through government sponsored promotions, but was sidetracked by rapid industrial growth and wartime demands.
The situation of Connecticut in wartime accelerated opportunities for women and minority groups. Italian-born residents who had not become citizens were declared enemy aliens, and could not work in defense industries, causing a sharp increase in new citizens. But American born citizens of Italian descent had no employment problems as demands for workers soared. Women were the largest single source for new workers, and although the Connecticut Manufacturers Association repeatedly urged employment of women, some employers were reluctant to hire them.27
By the end of 1942, forty percent of manufacturing jobs in Connecticut were held by women, twice the percentage of 1939. Blacks made up three percent of the population, and were generally employed in menial jobs or in agriculture. Racism was the general rule in Connecticut employment, with some firms refusing to employ black workers. The general opinion was that blacks were best suited for work in tobacco or some form of agriculture. Blacks were hired for the first time by Pratt and Whitney in 1941, in part because of federal pressure for fair employment practices.28
Rent controls, rent control rollbacks, housing and labor shortages continued to haunt Connecticut during the war years. Schools were disrupted as teachers moved into lucrative jobs in industry. Social problems increased among young people as fathers were drafted and mothers went to work. During the war years 1939-1945, Connecticut was a busy, fully employed state, beset by consumer shortages and rationing, strongly oriented toward doing its part to win the war.29
World War II, as World War I, brought great changes for those traditionally out of power. Connecticut women were first allowed to sit on juries through action of the 1937 General Assembly. A woman was first selected for state-wide office in 1938 when Republicans nominated Helen Lewis of Stratford for Secretary of the State. When Lewis drowned during the Hurricane of 1938, the Republican State Committee replaced her with Sarah Crawford of Westport, who won the election. 30 Clare Booth Luce of Greenwich, a Republican, won a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1942 and 1944, and her sharp tongue and partisanship made her memorable. Democrat Chase Going Woodhouse of New London was Secretary of the State and won election to Congress in 1944 and 1948. With one exception, women have been elected Secretary of the State since 1938.
Raymond Baldwin was Governor of Connecticut 1939-41 and 1943-46. He was considered a liberal Republican who increased the role of state government to achieve worthwhile programs. He created an interracial commission to further job opportunities for blacks, started a Defense Council later called a War Council to coordinate state efforts for defense and war, did much to ease town welfare costs through state action, and generally enhanced the state’s role. Baldwin also encouraged planting of wartime Victory Gardens, and in his third term, appointed a postwar planning board for Connecticut, headed by Yale President Charles Seymour. This non-partisan group evolved the ‘Connecticut Plan’ to deal with anticipated post-war difficulties. Baldwin also made regular radio broadcasts to the people during his years in office to keep them informed of what the state was doing.31 But in spite of planning, within ten days after VJ Day in August, 1945, 73,000 workers were laid off in Connecticut, and within a month, unemployment rose to 90,000. In September 1945, there were sixty percent as many manufacturing jobs in the state as there had been at the wartime peak.32
World War II provided a second great common experience for those who lived through it. War in Europe was from 1939 until 1945, and America entered the war late in 1941. But Connecticut was affected by war orders from Europe before the first draft calls. One of our senators (Danaher) was strongly isolationist, although a majority of the people did not appear to hold that position. Anyone whose memory goes back to first hand experiences in World War II will have to be past forty, and since it involved so many people, anyone who lived through the period, regardless of age, will have some memories of it.
Ask if any of the students have any World War II artifacts in their houses—helmets, flags, battle ribbons, ration books, or wartime publications. Were any of their parents in the service? (Try to make sure it was the right war.) Military people love to talk about their experiences, and will at almost any opportunity. Those who worked on the home front or who remained at home may have memories which need prodding but which offer glimpses of those who worked in the Connecticut defense plants when they grew into war industries.
Findings by the students may be brought together in a class discussion that might fill several class periods. Comparisons can be made with our way of life today, or even during the Viet Nam War. Don’t lose the artifacts students will bring in—catalogue them as they arrive.
- 1. What kind of things were you doing between 1939 and 1945?
- 2. Where did you work? What kind of a job was it? What was your company making? What kind of hours did you work? What was it like getting back and forth to work?
- 3. How did rationing work for you? What things were hardest to buy under rationing? Were there any other shortages of consumer goods? What happened to prices? Did the Office of Price Administration work well? Was there a black market in your neighborhood?
- 4. Did you take part in Civil Defense drills, or were you an airplane spotter? Did you save cooking fat and toothpaste tubes?
- 5. What was life like in your neighborhood with so many men gone into the service?
- 6. Were there any dissenters from the war that you heard about? What did they do? What did people say about them?
- 7. What was it like where you were on VE Day? On VJ Day?
- 8. What was your biggest worry for the time after the war?
- 9. What was it like to find a place to live in Connecticut during and right after the war?
- 10. What happened to prices and jobs when the war ended?
Housing shortages were especially severe in the years immediately after the end of World War Il. Little housing had been built during the Depression or the war, yet population of Connecticut increased twenty-five percent between 1930 and 1950. Trailers, prefabricated buildings and other makeshift arrangements were necessary for young couples and returning veterans. The grounds around rapidly expanding state colleges were filled with ‘prefabs’ being put to various uses. In some cases, landlords used rent gouging practices which led tenants to demand some form of rent protection or state-subsidized housing. In some cases, landlords evicted tenants so they could charge more. Families were separated and eviction cases became a major factor in court cases in Connecticut.33
Connecticut rode with the tide of the Republican sweep in the elections of 1946. James McConaughy, President of Wesleyan University, a Republican, won the governorship over Wilbert Snow, an English professor at Wesleyan, and a Democrat. The 1947 session of the General Assembly created a $15 million fund to guarantee local bonds for housing construction. It also appropriated $20 million to towns for school construction under a traditional formula for state aid which granted rural communities almost four times as much money per pupil as the larger cities. This session also approved Connecticut’s first sales tax, starting at a rate of three percent. Newly elected Democratic State Chairman John M. Bailey, who first won the post in 1946, carried out a carefully calculated criticism of the 1947 Republican General Assembly for providing too little and doing it in a way far too awkward to have positive effects for the people. Bailey’s actions upset the Republicans, but shortages of school rooms and housing were no less acute because of Republican inaction and Bailey’s attacks. It was there, and the people wished to have it dealt with by state government.34
Chester Bowles of Essex, former Director of the federal Office of Price Administration, won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1948. With the support of John Bailey, Bowles waged a vigorous, fighting campaign, and despite polls which predicted certain disaster, won the governorship by 2225 votes. Bowles was a clear departure from the mold of conservative Connecticut politicians. He advocated immediate action by the state to build housing for sale and rental, to provide rent subsidies, to expand state teachers colleges (formerly called normal schools) and the University of Connecticut, and to supply greatly increased state help to towns for school construction.
Bowles and the small-town-conservative-Republican General Assembly clashed repeatedly over his program. The Assembly refused to pass the Bowles budget, claiming it would bankrupt the state. During Bowles’s term as governor, the last of the two year governor’s terms, five special sessions of the General Assembly did produce some action by the state for school construction and human services, but it fell far short of what Bowles felt was necessary. Overall, the protracted wrangling between the progressive Governor and the conservative General Assembly was not productive.36
Among much else, Bowles felt that the structure of state government in Connecticut was clumsy and out-of-date. Governmental reforms which Wilbur Cross had won in the 1937 session of the General Assembly were outmoded, and politicians from both parties viewed the state government primarily as a source of jobs for themselves and their friends. Bowles found himself as a Governor with 202 committees for various purposes, with membership overwhelmingly Republican. In 1949, Bowles appointed a Commission of State Government Reorganization to study the structure of the whole state government and make recommendations for making it more efficient. The Commission was chaired by Carter Atkins of Simsbury, head of the Connecticut Public Expenditures Council, and included four Republicans. 37
The Commission made its report to Bowles in February of 1950. The Commission Report to the Governor, usually called the Bowles Report, called for restructuring the General Assembly, Constitutional revisions, a direct primary, reducing the 202 existing commissions to fourteen, with three central service agencies and the Governor’s office, as well as many other recommendations which would modernize Connecticut’s government structure and put it on a businesslike basis. A special session of the General Assembly was called to discuss and act on the Bowles Report. The Commission’s recommendations received strong editorial support around the state and was backed enthusiastically by groups interested in good government. 38
However, when hearings were called by the General Assembly to receive public comments on the Bowles Report, there were strenuous objections from a wide variety of special interest groups ranging from the insurance industry and education to sportsmen and sheriffs. Each of these many groups insisted that their particular area of interest must be excluded from the proposed reforms and allowed to continue as it had been. This selfish reaction shocked Bowles and the Commission members, but vested interests proved to be overriding. Political power and jobs were at the root of the objections, since modernization and an efficient, business-like approach would eliminate much of the political patronage in state government, and with that, pockets of personal power would disappear.
In the end, most of the Bowles Report was rejected, clearly a defeat for the modernizers of government. Bowles and the Commission members attributed the unexpected result to the reality that they had tried to do too much too soon, not taking into account Connecticut’s conservative traditions or human selfish interest intent on protecting what existed. They felt that since their recommendations were sensible and logical, also badly needed, that others must see it that way, too. Their political naivete’ brought them down the path of defeat.39
When war broke out in Korea in June of 1950, Connecticut was recovering rapidly from a brief economic downturn of 1949. The gubernatorial election of 1950 was between incumbent Chester Bowles and Republican John Lodge of Westport as they competed for Connecticut’s first four-year term for Governor, the result of a Constitutional change. Emotions ran high about Communism in 1950 while Joseph McCarthy campaigned from his base in the United States Senate to expose Communists wherever he thought they were. Bowles had been one of the founders of Americans for a Democratic Action, a strongly liberal national organization frequently attacked by conservatives. Lodge made strong criticisms of Bowles’ programs as Governor, calling them incomplete and spendthrift. During the campaign, Lodge also implied that Bowles himself was a dangerous leftist, if not a Communist sympathizer.40 Lodge thus took advantage of the specter of Communism often raised by Republicans during the 1940s, usually directed against policies and people in the federal government. During most of the 1940s, Communism was a bitter issue in Connecticut, especially among Italian and Polish groups as well as Catholics generally. 41
John Lodge won the election by 16,000 votes, and proved himself to be much more in the conservative Connecticut tradition than Bowles. The House of the General Assembly was to remain solidly in small-town-Republican control until the great Democratic sweep of 1958. Wilbur Cross was a mild variation from Connecticut’s conservative traditions during his time in office, but Cross did play an important part in increasing the role of government in Connecticut life. Chester Bowles was a major variation from tradition during his term in office, an active, driving force for change in the state. Between the comings of Wilbur Cross and the bowles loss in the 1950 election, Connecticut underwent a major change in the role played by state government and of people’s expectations of what a state government ought to do.
In 1950, Connecticut clearly had moved away from its isolation and laissez-faire attitudes of 1930, although many pockets of solid conservatism remained, largely in small towns. Pay-as-you-go policies had been abandoned and bonding was used regularly to fund state purchases of parks, highways, for hospitals, schools, and other capital improvements. In 1951, Connecticut’s general bonded indebtedness stood at $91,386,000. As a point of information, in 1981, the general state debt is approximately $2,226,550,000.
In 1950, hard surface roads connected all towns with all other towns. Major highways crossed the state, but not yet in a network of limited access high speed roads. There was a television station operating in New Haven and radio stations in almost every city. The four state colleges (no longer called normal schools) and the University of Connecticut (no longer Connecticut Agricultural College) graduated record large classes in 1949 and 1950. Public housing complexes were a reality in most Connecticut cities. There was a basic parity between the two major parties. Jasper McLevy was no longer a power at the state level, but he was still mayor of Bridgeport. The people in 1950 expected that state government would play an active role to help employment, protect workers, maintain a good road system, provide public education through college, buy and maintain parks and beaches, take care of the sick and those who could not help themselves. Government was not something that sat in Hartford doing as little as possible, but an entity which played a major role in roads, police protection, education, and more. Continued expansion in the role of government was to come in succeeding decades.
In 1950, the New Haven Railroad was beginning to slip backward, but it was still a power in Connecticut. Trolley lines were gone, and steamship passenger service was dead. Airports were expanding. For better or worse, Connecticut was in the age of the automobile, television, and jets.
Items that can be brought in, based on the attitudes shown by these readings:
a. special education
b. state run day-care centers
c. an expansion at the Norwich State Mental Hospital
d. more state control of the local high school program
e. a new state beach on Long Island Sound
My name is J. Henry Roraback. I am State Republican Chairman, and have been since 1912. I believe in a good, sound, businesslike government that pays for things as it needs them. Let’s have none of this bonding for things like hospitals and highways. Let’s pay for them as we use them. Keep taxes down. Keep spending down. When you get a lot of state services they cost a lot of money, and then taxes have to go up, and this hurts the businessman.
You ask me how I felt about women voting. Well, the bad part about that was that since women didn’t vote at the time, it was not really a constitutional question. Neither Governor Holcomb nor I were in favor of it because that would upset the political balance. Oh yes, Holcomb called a special session and Connecticut ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, once Tennessee was the thirty-sixth state. Then it was official anyhow, so we had to set up mechanics to make it go.
I know that Connecticut never ratified the Eighteenth Amendment about prohibition. None of our business anyhow. No, I didn’t come out for repeal in 1930. Would have made a lot of good folks upset if I did. More important to balance the state budget and keep the size of state government small.
I come from a small town. Small towns are the heart of this state, and we aim to keep control of the House. That way we can keep those city folks in line. They can’t get anything past us.
Yes, they say I am a political boss. True enough, I guess. But what is a political leader supposed to do? I want low taxes and just enough government to get by. Farmers don’t want a lot of high paid people in Hartford telling them what to do. My electric power company doesn’t want the state telling us what to do. We know what is good business, and we want to do it. Yes we needed help from the state for legal rights to water flow so we could build the dams at Stevenson and to flood the area for Candlewood Lake, but that was for the good of the people—and the power company too, of course. What’s the matter with that?
Yes, 1 am a boss, I guess. But I don’t go around and make demands and order people around. I just let it be known what I want, and I have enough friends so they let me have my own way most of the time.
Welfare? Let the towns take care of it. Make the agricultural school at Storrs a university? Why? We got Yale, don’t we? Build more hard surface roads? What’s the matter with trains and trolley cars? Of course I don’t want the state to build airports. I know John Trumbull does, but he is a nut on flying so let him worry about it. Let the cities that want them build them.
Candidates? Get good, solid people, Yankees, Republicans. Run an Italian for state office in Connecticut? Maybe, but not now. A Pole? Yes, maybe. Next thing you know you’ll want a Catholic for Governor or a Jew in Congress. State’s not ready for any of that. It’s only 1930. A woman politician? Ha.
My name is John Bailey. I am a lawyer and also the State Democratic Chairman. Managed to last in that job for almost thirty years. Won a lot of elections. No question that I would have a woman run for office. My policy is that the best candidate should run. Have good programs for all the people. Be able to pay for them. Run the best people you have. Win the election. That’s the name of the game, isn’t it?
Funny you should ask me if women should be allowed to vote. Why not, for heaven’s sake? When I make up the state Democratic ticket, I like to have balance—-ethnic balance. I like the best people, yes, but there are a lot of good people in every group, so let’s have Italians, women, Poles, Jews, agnostics and whatever on the ticket—but only if they are good people.
Is the state government too big? Only if it doesn’t serve the people. That’s what state government is for. Big is not the thing, and neither is small. Quality is the name of the game. Look at Abe Ribicoff a Jewish Governor of this state, and one of the very best, and those people said it would never happen. Look at Ella—-don’t think of her as the first woman Governor, think of her as Connecticut’s first Italian Governor. Why not?
You say Connecticut ran up some pretty heavy deficits during the 1960s? Yes, we did. There were a lot of services the people of the state wanted in the sixties, and we have to pay for them. We needed hospitals, the state colleges, the community colleges, the University of Connecticut—they had a lot of expansion pressure, so we built. What about Mansfield and Southbury for the retarded? We had to put those kids somewhere. How about the new prisons, the highways?
So taxes went up. They sure did. The state debt went up sky high too, but we got better state aid for town roads, and school buildings. We built the UConn Medical School in Farmington. Those are all things the state had to do. We also have a highway system now, and downtown New Haven and Hartford and Bridgeport have all undergone urban renewal. Nowadays everybody uses a car. Towns just can’t control things for themselves anymore. The state government has to step in and do things it never did before. It costs money, it takes people, and each of us has to lose a little freedom so that other people can be protected.
Remember, we have more than fifty percent more people in Connecticut now than we did in 1950. There have been thousands of black people move into Connecticut since 1950, and in the last ten years, thousands of Puerto Ricans have come to Connecticut. We have suburbs now and people live in patterns that nobody expected thirty years ago. Of course the state government has to do more. Independence is another name for hiding your head.
Will government get bigger? Yes. It has to.
- 1. Floods along the Connecticut River 1936.
- 2. Great Hurricane of September 1938.
- 3. The Circus Fire in Hartford, 1944
- 4. Harry Truman comes to Connecticut, 1948.
- 5. Relief and work projects in your town 1933-1940.
- 6. Bursting of the Greenwoods Dam, 1936.
- 7. Civilian Conservation Corps or work Projects Administration projects in your town.
- 8. The poor house (poor farm, city farm) in Connecticut in the 1930s.
- 9. Roads in your town in 1930 location, surface, condition.
- 10. Building the charter Oak and/or Gold Star Bridges.
- 11. What buildings were opened in your town 1930-1950?
- 12. Hurricane of 1944.
- 13. Growth of a state teachers college, normal school, or state college 1930 1950.
- 14. Travel on board one of the Long Island sound steamboats.
- 15. Riding the trolley around Hartford or New Haven during the 1930s.
- 16. Franklin Roosevelt visits Connecticut 1936 1940.
- 17. What was your own town like in 1930 in terms of roads, schools, population, jobs and living conditions?
Governors of Connecticut 1930 1950
|John H. Trumbull||Plainville||R||1925-31|
|Wilbur L. Cross||New Raven||D||1931-39|
|Raymond E. Baldwin||Stratford||R||1939-41|
|Robert A. Hurley||Bridgeport||D||1941-43|
|Raymond E. Baldwin||Stratford||R||1943-46|
|James L. McConaughy||Cornwall||R||1947-48||died in office|
|James C. Shannon||Bridgeport||R||1948-49|
|Hiram Bingham||New haven||R||1924-33|
|Frederic C. Walcott||Norfolk||R||1929-35|
|Francis T. Maloney||Meriden||D||1935-45||died in office|
|John A. Danaher||Portland||R||1939-45|
|Brien McMahon||Norwalk||D||1945-52||died in office|
|Thomas C. Hart||Sharon||R||1945-46|
|Raymond E. Baldwin||Stratford||R||1946-49||resigned|
Baldwin, Raymond. Let’s Go Into Politics. New York: 1952. Taken from a lecture series, encouraging young people to enter government 8y a former Governor.
Bingham, Harold J. History of Connecticut. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1962. A multi-volume set. Good on tHe thirties.
Bowles, Chester. Promises to Keep: My Years in Public Life 1941-1969. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. An autobiography by a former Governor expressing his views on a number of topics in and out of Connecticut.
Brainard, Newton. Report of the Emergency Relief Commission to the Governor January 1933, December 1934. Hartford: 1934. Commission report detailing various efforts to ease unemployment and its effects in the state.
Buckley, William E. A New England Pattern: The History of Manchester, Connecticut. Chester: Pequot Press, 1973. useful study of the effects of the Depression in a town where one huge silk mill dominated life.
Cross, Wilbur L. Connecticut Yankee: An Autobiography. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943. A sprightly account of his life by a former Governor and Yale academic. Opinionated, humorous. Cross seems to have been a loveable sort with a strong mind.
Dahill, Edwin M. Jr. “Connecticut’s J. Henry Roraback.” unpublished Ph. dissertation. Columbia University, 1971. Only the last part pertains to the period of this study. Presents a clear picture of a solidly conservative political boss and his organization.
Hyman, Sidney. The Lives of William Benton. Cnicago: university of Chicago Press, 1971. A former partner of Governor Bowles, Benton was appoint ed United States Senator by Bowles when Baldwin resigned his Senate seat in 1950.
Jeffries, John W. Testing the Roosevelt Coalition: Connecticut Society and Politics in the Ere of World War II. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979. An academic politicsl history with a strong liberal view. Useful for problems of minority groups and economic changes. Not easy reading.
Johnson, Curtis S. Raymond E. Baldwin: Connecticut Statesman. Chester: Pequot Press, 1972.
Lavish, even slavish in praise of Raymond Baldwin. Does offer useful information on its subject.
Johnston, William M. “On the Outside Looking In: Irish, Italian and Black Ethnic Politics in an American City.” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Yale University, 1977. A study of New Haven and the growth in power of the three ethnic-racial groups.
Leuchtenburg, William. Flood Control Politics: The Connecticut River Valley Problems 1927-1950. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953. Useful only in small part for this study. Much concern ed with interstate problems in all parts of the valley.
Lieberman, Joseph I. The Power Broker: A Biography of John M. Bailey, Modern Political Boss. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1966. Highly readable and most useful story of Connecticut’s Democratic State Chairman, 1946-1975, as far as it gets. Good for the late 1940s.
Lockard, Duane (W.D.). New England State Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959. Party discipline controls the legislature. Connecticut politics of the thirties dominated by Roraback.
———. “The Role of Party in the Connecticut General Assembly 1931 1951.” unpublished Ph.D. diasertation. Yale University 1952
Lombardo, Peter J. Jr. “Connecticut in the Great Depression” 1929-1933. unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Notre Dame University. 1979.
Mitchell, Rowland. “Social Legislation in Connecticut 1919-1939. unpublished Ph.D. disaertation. Yale Universitv, 1954, Very thorough study of many parts of the state for the period. Useful.
Murray, Sister Mary Hickson. “Wilbur Cross, Connecticut Statesman and Humanitarian.” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Connecticut, 1973.
Roth, David. Connecticut: A History. New York. W.W. Norton, 1979. A brief narrative which tries to cover the whole state. Extremely thin on the period of this study.
Shadegg, Stephen. Clare Booth Luce: A Biography. New York: 1970. Readable account of the life and times of a very tough lady, anti-communist, Republican, political fighter.
Snow, Wilbert. Codline’s Child: The Autobiography of Wilbery Snow. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1974. The life and times of a fisherman, poet, politician and humorist. A wry look at poets, college life and Connecticut.
Stave, Bruce M. “The Great Depression and Urban Political Continuity.” Chapter Seven in B.M. Stave (ed.) Socialism in the Cities. Port Jefferson, New York: Rennikat, 1975.
Talbot, Allan R. The Mayor’s Game: Richard Lee of New Haven and the Politics of Change. New York: Harper and Row, 1967. Story of New Haven in change. Useful for the city before Lee became mayor in the fifties.
Weller, John L. The New Haven Railroad: its Rise and Fall. New York: Hastings House, 1969. Interesting story of skullduggery in the operation and manipulation of the New Haven.
Work Projects Administration Records. Archive Record Group 33. Housed in the Connecticut State Library, Hartford. There are typed copies and some published copies of a miscellany of WPA records, more or less sorted. THey are not complete, they are voluminous, but they can be very useful.
Van Dusen, Albert E. Connecticut. New York: Random House, 1961.
Contents of 1981 Volume on Connecticut History | Directory of Volumes | Index | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute