Resettlement Administration (RA) (1935)

The Resettlement Administration (RA) was created on May 1, 1935, with Executive Order No. 7027, under the authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. President Roosevelt created the RA to resettle “destitute or low-income families from rural and urban areas”; administer projects addressing “soil erosion, stream pollution, seacoast erosion, reforestation, forestation, and flood control”; and to make loans to “to finance, in whole or in part, the purchase of farm lands and necessary equipment by farmers, farm tenants, croppers or farm laborers.” Roosevelt’s executive order placed Rexford Tugwell, the Undersecretary of Agriculture, in charge of the RA [1].

American farmers were hit particularly hard by the economic downturn of the 1930s. Not only did they have to deal with the Great Depression and plummeting prices for their crops, they had to pay off debt accumulated over many years and many, if not most, faced serious problems of soil erosion, worn out land, drought and floods. The New Deal had been attempting to assist farmers with a variety of programs from the outset: the Agricultural Adjustment Act, Civilian Conservation Corps, the Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control works, and the Soil Erosion Service under the National Industrial Recovery Act. When the RA was created, it absorbed similar programs that had been in operation under the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) [2].

The RA engaged in a variety of activities during its brief two-year existence. One was financial aid, with emergency loans and grants for farm families in dire straits and debt reduction for others. Another group of RA programs dealt with conservation work: planting trees on 87,000 acres; creating 1,900 miles of firebreaks; improving 261 miles of streams; educating farmers in best practices for land-use; and purchasing 9 million acres of land, “unsuitable for crop cultivation,” for “forestry, grazing, wildlife conservation, and recreation.” A third type of activity was aimed at building physical and social infrastructure in the countryside: over 500 vehicle, horse, and pedestrian bridges; 65 blacksmith shops; 1,800 miles of telephone lines, and enhanced medical and dental services [3].

Rexford Tugwell and the RA were controversial because of their emphasis on cooperation and collective life as a way of improving conditions for America’s small, isolated farm families and tenant farmers [4]. In particular, the RA built and managed dozens of model farm communities across the country, such as Lakeview Farms, Arkansas; Escambia Farms, Florida; Ironwood Homesteads, Michigan; and Sam Houston Farms, Texas. These and other RA planned communities were denounced by conservatives for their socialist tendencies. One newspaper’s headline about the planned community Greenbelt, Maryland, read: “First Communist Town in America Nears Completion” [5].

The incessant criticism took its toll and Tugwell was forced to resign in December 1936, and the RA came to an end [6]. Despite the criticisms, the RA did much good. It restored hope, saved farms, rehabilitated land, and created many communities that have thrived ever since [7].

The work of assisting farm communities was revisited in the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act, signed by Roosevelt on July 22, 1937, after which Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace created the Farm Security Administration (FSA) as successor to the RA on September 1, 1937. The FSA performed many of the same functions as the RA and felt many of the same criticisms [8]. The FSA lasted, in one form or another, until 1946 [9].

Sources: (1) “Executive Order 7027 Establishing the Resettlement Administration,” The American Presidency Project, University of California – Santa Barbara, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15048, accessed June 28, 2015. (2) Robert D. Leighninger , Jr., Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2007, pp. 136-148. (3) Ibid., pp. 152-153, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Resettlement Administration, Report of the Administrator of the Resettlement Administration, 1937, pp. 1-12, available to view at http://babel.hathitrust.org/shcgi/pt?id=coo.31924071822492;view=1up;seq=5 (accessed June 28, 2015). (4) Daniel Rogers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Era, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008, pp. 468-73. (5) See note 2 at pp. 152-153, 162. (6) Alan Lawson, A Commonwealth of Hope: The New Deal Response to Crisis, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. (7) See, e.g., “History of Greenbelt, Maryland,” http://www.greenbeltmd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/558, accessed June 28, 2015. (8) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Security Administration, Report of the Administrator of the Farm Security Administration, 1938, p. 1, available to view at http://babel.hathitrust.org/shcgi/pt?id=coo.31924071822492;view=1up;seq=43 (accessed June 28, 2015), and James Stuart Olson, Historical Dictionary of the Great Depression, 1929-1940, Greenwood Press, 2001, p. 100. (9) “Records of the Farmers Home Administration,” National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/096.html#96.1, accessed June 28, 2015.