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[picture: Arthudale Association Cooperative Store]Arthurdale, West Virginia, was the first of several planned New Deal resettlement towns designed to take impoverished laborers and move them to newly constructed rural communities to help them become economically self-sufficient.

The idea for such a community originated when ER learned of a plan to relocate a group of West Virginia coal miners to a nearby farm with the intention that they could combine subsistence farming with simple industries to reclaim their economic footing. The first lady was so enthusiastic about the idea that she brought it to the attention of her husband, who decided to federalize the project by placing it under the direction of the Interior Department.

Construction began at the end of 1933 and from the outset it was clear that the Arthurdale community had become one of ER's chief priorities. She intervened with Interior Secretary Harold Ickes and with others to insure that the Arthurdale homes were properly outfitted with all the basic necessities (including insulation and indoor plumbing). For some time she acted in the capacity of a micro-manager for Arthurdale, contacting people who could help bring jobs to the community, raising money and awareness, even monitoring the budgets with a close eye. While ER saw Arthurdale as an exciting new chance for the government to provide destitute citizens with the foundation for successful, self-sufficient lives, the project soon faltered on budgetary and political grounds. The cost of constructing and maintaining the Arthurdale community far exceeded what the government had anticipated and the idea of federally planned communities had never sat well with right-leaning conservatives. To its critics, it smacked of socialism, but ER remained firmly committed to seeing Arthurdale succeed. She visited the area regularly, attending graduations, dances, and other rituals, but always closely monitoring the progress of construction as well. When it appeared as if the community would fail to attract industry, ER arranged for General Electric to open an operation there. Although GE did not stay in the community for very long and a nervous Congress cut off funding, the citizens of Arthurdale proved resilient and adaptable.

Nonetheless, by the late Thirties, Arthurdale had fallen out of favor in most of Washington, and even though ER had become its political champion, she could not prevent the eventual backlash in Congress and FDR's cabinet. As the country moved increasingly towards a war economy, the Arthurdale project grew that much more irrelevant to government budget makers. In 1941, the government officially returned Arthurdale to private hands by selling off all of its remaining holdings to local residents and entrepreneurs.

Although the project had long been regarded as a failure in government planning, ER consistently felt proud about the role she had played in engineering the creation of a community. Most of Arthurdale's residents were far better off than they had been as homeless, unemployed miners and the houses the government built afforded them a dignity that few in that section of the country had known prior to the government's intervention. The stability that Arthurdale offered families allowed many more children to pursue education and many descendants of Arthurdale's homesteaders went on to become successful professionals. The community itself continues to exist today, with many of the original structures still in use some seventy years later.


Beasley, Maurine H., Holly C. Schulman and Henry R. Beasley, eds. The Eleanor Roosevelt Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001, 30-35.

Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books, 1999, 138-152.

Lash, Joseph. Eleanor and Franklin. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971, 399-417.

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