In late summer of 1932, the county was heating up with political fervor over the approaching August primary and fall elections. In York County, 37 candidates were running for eight offices. Seven men were vying to become county sheriff, three for auditor, three for clerk of court, five for county supervisor, three for coroner and six for game warden. This number did not include the 13 men running for the office of magistrate in two townships nor the 25 for county commissioner. Two women were making themselves known — Mrs. Ethel K. Jenkins was a candidate for clerk of court, and Miss Wilma Quinn was seeking the office of auditor. Wilma was already in the auditor’s office to complete the term of Mr. Love, who had passed away.
The nation was in such a deep financial crunch that nothing like it would be seen again for some 75 years or so. The State Highway Commission had just announced that it would ask Governor Blackwood to apply to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for a loan of $10 million for road building.
While $10 million seems a paltry sum compared to our current national debt of over $14 trillion, many were wondering if it could be comfortably paid off and if the needed road construction warranted going into debt during such tough times. Citizens of South Carolina were demanding the state legislators adhere to a “strict economy.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Here’s another familiar subject. A 45-volume audit of the Peoples State Bank and its 44 branches was filed in the federal court at Charleston. This audit showed that loans to six officers and directors were inadequately secured and violated banking laws. The heaviest losses were in the branches located in Columbia, Lexington, Batesburg, Edgefield, Springfield, and Sumter. And they were caused by “bad paper” held as assets.
Today we hear conflicting reports on the economy and the likelihood of a turnaround. It was no different in 1932. The Central Union Bank right here in York County had a surplus of $1 million. They touted that “all signs point toward better business” and that thousands of jobs had been made available.
Relief, however, was just around the corner — at least at the local drug store. For those who were suffering the “curse of the ages” (constipation), a new medical theory was abroad as well as a remarkable discovery. The ads for Sargon Soft Mass Pills informed potential customers that the problem was due to a sluggish liver not producing the necessary bile. The ad went on to say that until the discovery of Sargon pills, the most common practice was to “blast out the intestines with calomel and other drastic cathartics and purges.” Reportedly, this laxative was sweeping the nation with over 135 million users.
World War I had been over for almost 14 years, but the economy-minded were still smarting from the cost. Some of the more frugal taxpayers were quipping, “Germany won the war, France collected on it, and the taxpayers of the United States footed the bill.”
The Lame Duck Resolution passed by the Senate (63 to 7) and approved by the House (335 to 36) in February 1931 guaranteed the winner of the 1932 presidential election to be the last one inaugurated on March 4. The 20th Amendment changed the inauguration date to January 20. The former tradition had been kept since the days of stagecoach travel. The amendment achieved two other purposes. The Lame Duck Congress, which was scheduled to convene January 1933 after the election, would be the last lame duck session. That Congress contained members who had been defeated in the 1932 election but retained their seats for three more months. Also, Congress met every year from December until March 4, when the session then automatically expired. (This arrangement had been in operation for more than 100 years.) Congressmen elected in November would go on the payroll in the upcoming March, yet not start to perform their actual duties until the following December, more than a year after their election (unless there was a call for a special session).
A Clover correspondent for the Yorkville Enquirer, who wrote under the name “Ben Hope,” was as doubtful about the future of the United States as he was of the Democratic presidential nominee Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to Hope, the Democrats disgraced themselves at the convention in Chicago and, since then, many were sick and disgusted with the party and were of the opinion that if FDR won, it would be on the tide of a liquor flow (since he had promised to abolish the 18th Amendment on Prohibition). Some were saying that the Democratic National Party was no longer democratic, it did not represent the common people, and it was becoming the party of national destruction.
While the Republicans had done bad enough with their references to Prohibition and its destruction, it would take tons of whitewash to blot out the scandalous record of the Democrats at their national convention. Roosevelt was nominated and supported by the “wets.” Those who wanted Al Smith to be the nominee instead of FDR cared nothing about reform measures until Prohibition was repealed. Hope went on to say that no one cared about the 18th Amendment nor that the WWI bonus seekers got a check. There seemed to appear to be little or no cohesiveness of thought or opinion among the people. But everyone was unhappy with the political situation, and Hoover was being blamed for nearly every wrong in the country.
Another incident reflecting the feelings toward the White House occurred when Senator Harrison of Mississippi, a ranking member of the Finance Committee, opened fire on the 1932 presidential campaign by attacking President Hoover. Harrison said, “This panic started in October, 1929, and the first suggestion by the President of any legislation relating to economic cure was in June 1931. After more than a year and a half he asked the Democrats to cooperate with him in granting the extension of the time for payments on the foreign debt. It required two long years for the administration to present even that plan, and now he is glorified for it only by his own cabinet who are equally responsible for the inaction, procrastination and uncertainty of this administration to meet courageously and promptly these pressing problems. The President knows as well as his cabinet, that each of those proposals was woven and lined with Democratic thought.”
“Bail-out” may not have been a word tossed about in 1932, but the ideology was there all the same. Hoover authorized the Federal Reserve to step into the nation’s industries by furnishing money to revive industry, agriculture, and trade. He authorized Federal Reserve banks to make direct loans to individuals, partnerships and corporations for an emergency period of six months. In August, to keep York County running, county commissioners were considering borrowing $15,000. The Supply Bill of the prior spring allowed the borrowing of $80,000 for county expenses. Like the nation, the county was sinking deeper and deeper in debt.
The “Bonus Army,” some 43,000 WWI unemployed veterans and their families, gathered in Washington during the spring and summer, asking for assistance. These men had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. In 1924 they had been awarded certificates that they could not cash until 1945, but these men and their families were starving. In July Attorney General Mitchell ordered the police to remove them from government property, but the police were met with resistance, and two veterans were killed. President Hoover ordered the army to drive them off and burn their make-shift dwellings.
The next year, MGM released a film entitled Gabriel Over The White House, depicting a President Hammond refusing to deploy the military against the workers. Eleanor Roosevelt said the fictional Hammond treated the people better than Hoover ever had. Other than the economy, this was one of the things that turned the public against Hoover. In 1936 Congress authorized a payment of $2 billion in WWI bonuses over Roosevelt’s veto.
One Sunday night at a tent meeting in Fort Mill, Mrs. Willie Trammel Walker caused a disturbance that shut down the revival. During the service, Willie, a muscular young woman, attempted to snatch a six-year-old girl from the arms of the child’s grandmother. The little girl, Fannie Jewel Walker, had been living with her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. D. W. Trammel, for eight weeks, and Willie chose this time to try to grab the girl.
This was the fourth attempt to kidnap the child by her mother, who was the owner of a women’s ready-to-wear shop in Charlotte. Mrs. Walker was arrested and charged $25 for disrupting a religious service. Fannie had been born two weeks after her father died while serving in the US Marines. It seems she had an insurance payment of $1,100 that was coming to her and whoever was her guardian.
The next day, Willie went to Yorkville and hired attorney John M. Spratt to bring habeas corpus proceedings. Attorney Spratt drew up the necessary papers, expecting Willie to return the next day to sign them, but she did not return.
It was not the first time Willie had a run-in with the law. Some years before, she sued the city of Rock Hill for a large sum because the chief of police had arrested her and run her off the streets for wearing knickers (modern dress for women). At one time she had been a worker in a federal welfare office in St Louis. And earlier, she had been the owner of a dress shop in Ogden that had burned to the ground and caused a controversy with an insurance company.
Interestingly, though 1932 was nearly eight decades ago, much of what we saw then is what we see today.
J.L. West – Author
This article and many others found on the pages of Roots and Recall, were written by author J.L. West, for the YC Magazine and have been reprinted on R&R, with full permission – not for distribution or reprint!
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