After my father left Congress in 1947 he secured employment as the executive director of the cooperative league of the U.S.A. This required a move to Chicago, since the League's headquarters were in that city. My memories of the move and of the 1946 campaign are still quite vivid. I remember licking stamps and stuffing envelopes in the Manor House at the Voorhis school which by then had become a part of Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo. Little did I know that I was part of the first major election campaign against Richard Nixon. It would not be my last.
In order to make the move to Chicago, my father had to sell the house which he purchased in Alexandria, Virginia when he began his career in Congress. The Manor House in San Dimas on the Voorhis campus was not sold because it belonged to the state of California after 1938, like the rest of the campus property. However, my father had the use of the Manor House until the mid-1950's. As a result, my family left many items in the Manor House in hopes that we might move back to San Dimas at a later date.
My father, needless to say, was enthusiastic about the move to the Chicago area. His new job with the cooperative movement promised to be rewarding and challenging, although, partly for political reasons, it would be difficult and often psychologically draining. My mother was definitely not pleased with the move. She had made a number of good friends both in Washington, D.C. and California through her political work, involvement with groups like the American Association of University Women and her church and charitable activities. Suddenly she had to give all of that up and find a new home and life in an unfamiliar city with the world's worst climate. My sister Alice and my brother Charles also were apprehensive about the move. I was of two minds. On the one hand, it seemed like an exciting new adventure to me. I was used to moving across the country every year, from Alexandria, Virginia, where I spent the winter, spring and fall, to California, where the family lived during the summer months. On the other hand I would be giving up friendships and other ties which I had acquired in both San Dimas and Virginia.
We made the move in 1947, with my father establishing himself at the headquarters of the Cooperative League, located at 343 South Dearborn Street in the famous Fisher building. My mother and the rest of the family moved into the fashionable and then very Republican North Shore suburb of Winnetka. My mother chose Winnetka not for its politics, but for its school system. The Winnetka schools had patterned their curriculum on the educational theories of Carlton Washburn, the famous american pedagogical reformer. The main thrust in the Winnetka schools was on goal achievement rather than grades. This provided for a creative and non-judgmental atmosphere in the classroom where students did not have their desire to learn stifled by low grades. Also in the Winnetka system there was an emphasis on mentors and tutors who would reinforce the work of the classroom teacher. Actually I was the only member of the family to experience this novel approach to education. My sister, Alice, was over twenty years old in 1947, and she had graduated from Rollins College in Florida that year. During the same year she would marry a native Floridian by the name of Donald R. Hansen and both of them would settle down in Florida for the rest of their lives. My brother, Charles, was in high school when the family moved to Chicago. The high school in Winnetka which he attended followed the old fashioned style of teaching with the grade system and a more formal classroom structure.
The Cooperative League office in the Fisher building was a two room hole in the wall. When my father moved into his job his salary was less than half of what he made as a congressman. He had a staff of just one, a bookkeeper who also functioned as a secretary. The League was on the verge of bankruptcy, and it was maintaining three offices; one each in Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C.. It was spread out too thin financially, geographically and politically. My father's predecessor in the league, E.R. Bowen, was a totally idealistic individual who would not compromise even if it meant bankruptcy. My father, fortunately for the U.S. cooperative movement, was not that idealistic. His experience in Congress taught him the gentle art of compromise, and he used it to save the Cooperative League.
The first thing my father did when he took office as Executive Secretary was to close down the New York office. This saved the league a great deal of money and made possible a more economical concentration of staff, money, and resources in the all important Chicago and Washington offices. The Washington office was crucial because of the fact that federal taxation policy impacted all cooperative organizations. Also, federal agricultural programs were of great importance for farm cooperatives, while other federal policies including banking legislation, public housing projects and health legislation affected credit unions, housing cooperatives and pre-paid health plans, which were organized as cooperatives. The Chicago office was important because of its location in the center of the country. During the late forties, before the age of travel by jet aircraft, it was a long train or plane trip from the far west, mid-south, or mid-west to either Washington or New York. Also, the bulk of the nation's cooperative organizations was located in the mid-west within a 1,000 mile radius of Chicago. The Chicago headquarters was an ideal gathering point, and it served well as a place for monitoring state and local developments as well as business trends which would have an impact on cooperatives.
There were three centers of power within the American cooperative movement during the late 1940's and the 1950's. In later years that would change a bit as cooperative organizations became more geographically diffuse, but the division of power of the past is still pretty much true even today. The first power center was located in Ohio and the northeastern states. This grouping of cooperatives with their mainstream, pragmatic, and usually Republican political philosophy had been best personified by the President of Nationwide Insurance, Mr. Murray Lincoln, who served as President of the Cooperative League during my father's tenure as Executive Secretary. Mr. Lincoln was my father's immediate employer. A second power center existed in heartland America, with its center in Kansas City, Missouri. Howard Cowden, C.E.O. of Consumers Cooperative Association, later to become Farmland Industries Corporation, embodied the philosophy of this power center which was conservative, strongly Republican, or at least conservative southern Democrat.
A third power center was located in the upper mid-west, especially in the twin-cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. This consisted of a large and dynamic cluster of farmers marketing and supply cooperatives, mutual insurance companies, rural electric cooperatives, credit unions and a number of other often innovative organizations. Cooperative leaders from this area were my father's best friends in the cooperative movement, at least during his first years in office as Executive Secretary. If it weren't for their steadfast support, my father might not have been able to withstand the pressures of the McCarthy Era, the rebuilding of the Cooperative League and a great deal of the infighting or internal political conflicts which plagued the cooperative movement during the late '40's and early '50's. The political philosophy of this upper mid-west power center was Progressive, Farmer-Labored, populist, or at least liberal Democratic in nature. These cooperators would have been the most favorably disposed toward the New Deal, and they would have been in the fore-front of efforts to recruit my father for the office of League Executive Secretary. This grouping of cooperative organizations did not have one single group or individual as its spokesperson. However, some of the most important organizations were the Midland Cooperative Wholesale society located in Minneapolis, Mutual Service Insurance Companies, the Wisconsin Association of Cooperatives, the Farmers Union Central Exchange, later to be known as CENEX, and various rural electric cooperatives located throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. My father's biggest supporters were men like A.J. Smaby of Midland and Felix Rondeaux of Mutual Service Insurance Companies.
Other sources of support for my father and his overall philosophy regarding the cooperative movement and society in general would include the Rural Electric Cooperatives, New York City's Housing Cooperatives, cooperatively organized prepaid health plans, like the group health societies of Puget Sound and Washington D.C., and most consumer cooperatives, especially Associated Cooperatives, located in the San Francisco Bay area and Greenbelt Cooperatives in the area surrounding Washington D.C.. These cooperative organizations were generally newer, more struggling, and they often benefitted directly from New Deal programs, such as assistance to rural electric cooperatives. My father's philosophy of cooperation or solidarity among cooperatives especially appealed to them.
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