A Philosophical and Practical Evaluation of the Arthurdale Business Model

Jaclyn Smith

Abstract


The New Deal era is known for the presidential administration’s many efforts to improve the quality of life for everyday Americans through the promotion of Progressive goals. One of the pet projects of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, was to promote rural living in a setting that would maintain employment and relieve the crowding of the cities. During the 1930s, the best example of this idea in practice was the Arthurdale model homestead experiment in West Virginia. This community drew on ideas the First Lady had already realized in a similar enterprise in Hyde Park, New York: the Val-Kill Industries. Neither this business nor the one modeled after it in Arthurdale experienced much profit. This factor, combined with the government’s failed micromanagement of the community’s economic interests, administrative inefficiency, and unsuccessful transition to private industrial investment led to the demise of the experiment. The First Lady received much criticism for these economic failures, yet more important than an evaluation of these economic indicators of success is the question of whether the homestead resettlement project met the New Deal’s goals of increasing morale and standard of living. Secondary materials and primary documentation obtained at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York prove that the Arthurdale experiment fulfilled these “human goals.” Therefore, regardless of the government’s inability to maintain an isolated, stable economy, the significance of the project at the model community of Arthurdale was its general fulfillment of the progressive ideals of the New Deal era: the raising of the morale, wages, and standard of living of a group of rural Americans.

Keywords


Eleanor Roosevelt, New Deal, Arthurdale

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