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Back to the Land: Arthurdale, FDR's New Deal, and the Costs of Economic Planning by C. J. Maloney

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Chapter 7

“A Human Experiment Station”

It seems to me the time has arrived … a human experiment station is being established. We are doing a laboratory job which will be useful and far-reaching in its ultimate results.

—Eleanor Roosevelt on Arthurdale (1934)1

By the end of 1939, FDR’s Resettlement Agency (RA) had selected and resettled about 14,000 families.2 Although the most publicized, Arthurdale was far from an only child; it had three siblings and many cousins. The federal resettlement project birthed a bit fewer than 200 colonies, and they stretched across the continent; one even sailed the cold waters of the northern Pacific into Alaska.3

Devolving from the frenzied activity of 1933, in late 1937, Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace* had declared resettlement activities to be “only a minor part” of his department’s functions.4 While it lasted, the experience of those resettled presented a vast contrast from the pioneers of old. The hardy folk would not arrive to tear a living out of the earth and battle those already upon it; here a working farm awaited, all the natives long ago slaughtered or safely corralled onto distant reservations by the U.S. Army; here a home bearing all the gifts the modern world could offer trumped a crude log cabin. And, for a time, these new pioneers had caught the attention, if not the admiration, of the American press.

More so than material comfort, what set the colonies off from those that came before was the degree of political control ...

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