Ohio History Journal

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Harry Hopkins and Martin Davey:

Federal Relief and Ohio Politics

During the Great Depression



The Great Depression and its accompanying economic and social

dislocations catapulted a number of personalities to a national promi-

nence they would never have experienced in easier times. They

ranged from the eccentric to the demagogic and found ready audi-

ences among Americans eager to grasp any alternative to the despair

of the 1930s. Foremost of the new prophets were Dr. Francis Town-

send, who promised to cure America's ills by paying every citizen

over the age of sixty a government pension of 200 dollars a month; Fa-

ther Charles Coughlin, whose solutions to the depression were ulti-

mately discredited because of his virulence; and, of course, Huey

Long, Louisiana's governor, whose Share the Wealth program of-

fered a little something to almost everybody.

Nearly lost in the eccentricity and flamboyancy swirling about the

likes of Townsend, Coughlin, and Long was an Ohio politician, Mar-

tin L. Davey, whose battles against President Franklin D. Roosevelt's

New Deal commanded much of the nation's attention in the mid-

thirties. Davey, a Democrat, was a three-term mayor of Kent, Ohio, a

long-time congressman, and, from 1935-1939, governor of Ohio. In the

last capacity, controversy was his constant companion. For instance,

when the state legislature refused to vote funds to replace worn car-

peting in the governor's office, Davey solicited enough private contri-

butions to do the job. On another occasion, after the legislature

denied an appropriation for a new limousine for the governor, Davey

bought one with National Guard monies, sweeping aside criticism

by declaring he was entitled to do so because he was the state's

commander-in-chief. On still another, rather than simply fire the

warden of the Ohio penitentiary, Davey ordered the National Guard






Frank P. Vazzano is Professor of History at Walsh College.