Lawrence (“Chip”) Robert, Jr. served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury from 1933 to 1936 and Secretary of the Democratic National Committee from 1936 to 1940. One of his responsibilities at the Treasury was the supervision of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a New Deal program that gave employment to artists in need of work . During its existence, (December 1933 to May 1934), the PWAP employed over 3,700 artists and “produced some 15,663 works of art, including 3,821 oil paintings, 54 portraits, 1,076 etchings, 2,938 water colorings, and 647 pieces of sculpture” . These works decorated public buildings and parks.
Lawrence Robert, Jr. was born in Monticello, Georgia on September 3, 1888. He attended the Georgia School of Technology (today called the Georgia Institute of Technology) and was a star athlete, earning 15 letters in football, baseball, and track. He graduated in 1908 with an engineering degree, maintained a close relationship with his alma mater for the rest of his life, and today he is a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Robert signed a major league baseball contract with the Detroit Tigers, but ended up pursuing a business career instead . At one point, he managed the Atlanta Crackers, a very successful minor league baseball team .
In 1917, Robert started his own architectural firm, Robert and Company , and went on to be a prodigiously successful businessman, directing “textile companies, railroads, banks, airlines and industrial enterprises.” He then answered the call of public service and was appointed as Assistant Treasury Secretary at the outset of the New Deal, a time when the Treasury Department was charged with vast new responsibilities under the Roosevelt Administration . The Treasury managed or assisted with several New Deal programs, including the PWAP (1933-34); the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture (1934-1939); the Treasury Relief Art Project (1935-1939); and construction projects funded through emergency relief appropriations and the Public Works Administration (PWA) .
Near the end of Roosevelt’s first term, Robert had to devote more time to his business activities. He submitted his resignation with “reluctance and genuine regret” and told the president he was “deeply grateful… for the opportunity to serve my day and generation in your great and forward looking administration.” The wealthy entrepreneur added: “I return to the business world with the highest confidence in the security of business and society, in the economic and social rehabilitation for which you have so wisely planned and wrought.” Roosevelt replied, “My dear Chip, Your expression of confidence in the soundness of the work we have been doing is as gratifying to me as the loyalty with which you have served throughout the last three years” .
Robert was not ready to sever all political ties, however, and served as the secretary of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) until September 1940 . He died on June 9, 1976, at the age of 88, survived by his brother A. Pierce Robert and two daughters from his second wife Evelyn Walker: Mrs. George Carroll of Sea Island, Georgia and Mrs. Birney Robert Jones of Warrenton, Virginia. Roberts was previously married to Louise Ayers from 1910 to 1935, and the couple had two children, Louisa A. Robert and Lawrence W. Robert III . Robert’s legacy lives on today in the art of the PWAP, the continued success of his firm Robert and Company, and the “L.W. ‘Chip’ Robert Alumni/Faculty House” at Georgia Tech .
Sources: (1) Public Works of Art Project, “Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 – June 30, 1934,” Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934. (2) “Annual Report of the Secretary of the Treasury on the State of the Finances, for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1934,” Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1935, p. 148. (3) “Inductees, L.W. ‘Chip’ Robert,” Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, https://georgiasportshalloffame.com/site/our-inductees/, accessed February 14, 2016; and “‘Chip’ Robert Appointed To Board Of Regents,” The Technique, April 2, 1937, available at https://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/29300 (accessed February 14, 2016). (4) Clifford Kuhn, Harlon Joye, and E. Bernard West, Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948, University of Georgia Press, 2005, p. 265. (5) “Architecture,” Robert and Company, https://www.robertandcompany.com/Architecture.html, accessed February 14, 2016. (6) “Lawrence W. Robert, U.S. Treasury Aide In 30’s, Dead at 88,” New York Times, June 10, 1976. (7) See, e.g., our summary on the U.S. Treasury’s Public Buildings Branch, as well as the art programs, at https://livingnewdeal.org/what-was-the-new-deal/programs/. (8) “T. J. Coolidge Quits His Treasury Post… L.W. Robert Jr. Also Goes,” New York Times, January 18, 1936. (9) “Secretary Robert Resigns,” New York Times, September 25, 1940. (10) See note 6, and also “Evelyn Walker Wed To L.W. Robert, Jr.,” New York Times, October 12, 1935. (11) See, Public Works of Art Project collection at the Smithsonian, Robert and Company, and Faculty/Alumni House (all accessed February 14, 2016).