August 22, 2014

Montana's Role in the War on Poverty: 50th Anniversary of the Passage of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act

By Matthew M. Peek, MHS Photograph Archivist

In his State of the Union address in January 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty.”  Speaking on March 18, 1964, just after a major bill to fight poverty was introduced to Congress, Montana’s U.S. Senator Lee Metcalf expressed his deeply held support:
Only a small fraction of our nation’s poor are wholly responsible for their condition.  Most often they are the victims of circumstances.  Just as some Americans inherit wealth, others are born into poverty. . . .  Somehow, we must find a way to break the cycle of poverty that so frequently carries from father to son.  The elimination of poverty is above all a moral obligation.
In July 1964, with a vote of 61 to 34, the U.S. Senate passed Senate bill 2642, its version of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.  The U.S. House passed the bill a couple weeks later and President Johnson signed the bill into law on August 20, 1964.  Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was launched with this act, signaling a national dedication to the eradication of poverty in the United States through the provision of “opportunity.”  The Economic Opportunity Act would become the hallmark of Johnson’s administration.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B8/14.04: Great Falls School District speech therapist Jean Irwin (right) works with Lily Meyer, a participant in Head Start, in Great Falls, Montana, [circa 1960s].

What few people realize is this ground-breaking legislation had its origins in the patient work of Montana’s Lee Metcalf, first as a representative to Congress in the 1950s, and later as a U.S. Senator in the 1960s.  Working closely with his friend and colleague Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), then Representative Metcalf envisioned a program for youth patterned on the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps, which he and Humphrey called the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC).  The idea behind the program was to help lower youth delinquency through federally-funded summer forest, park, and wilderness conservation and improvement programs.  The program allowed for “enrollment of up to 150,000 boys and young men, between the ages of 16 and 22.”

On December 29, 1956, Senator Humphrey unveiled the first version of the YCC, in a six-point youth opportunity program to address education, delinquency, and employment for youth and college students in America. On behalf of his colleague, Rep. Metcalf, Montana Senator James E. Murray introduced a bill (S. 812) he wrote for the establishment of the YCC in 1959, based on Humphrey’s proposal.  Despite setbacks, Humphrey and Metcalf would continue to work from 1956 to 1964 for passage of America’s most sweeping social welfare programs.

Metcalf testified with Senator Humphrey before a House of Representatives Education Subcommittee in April 1960 regarding the situation in which young boys and men found themselves after World War II.  Referring to the constant flow of youngsters into the labor market which he said “is at best inhospitable to teenagers,” Metcalf declared,
Many of these youngsters . . . are not going anywhere, except to boredom, confusion and trouble.  Evidence of this is provided by the growing problem of juvenile delinquency—and the increasing numbers of youngsters in our custodial and penal institutions.
The program failed in the U.S. House in 1960.  Nothing happened with the bill until February 14, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy gave a “Special Message to the Congress on the Nation’s Youth.”  He called for solutions to deal with the growing issues faced by America’s youth.

After years of work, Metcalf was ready to make the final push.  By 1963, he had become a U.S. Senator involved with Senate committees dealing with education, public works projects, and the Interior Department.  Senator Metcalf helped strategize and publically campaigned for the establishment of a series of national social welfare programs, trying to address rising social problems across the country.

After ascending to the presidency following Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson moved to capitalize on the years of preparation when he called for his “war on poverty.”  The President’s poverty program was multifaceted.  Along with an authorization for nearly a billion dollar appropriation to implement the proposed act, the bill called for the creation of the following: a Jobs Corps; work-training programs; a federal college work-study program; community action programs; rural areas programs; employment and investment incentives; a version of the Peace Corps for the United States, labeled the Volunteers in Service to America, or “VISTA”; and experimental or demonstration programs labeled “Family Unity Through Jobs.”  The bill would also create the Office of Economic Opportunity, whose Director would hold the power to define broad portions of the act and delineate funds for various programs.

MHS Photo Archives, Lot 31 B17/8.13: Glenn W. Ferguson (right), Director of VISTA (a branch of the Office of Economic Opportunity), appears as a guest with Senator Lee Metcalf (left) on set in the Senate Recording Studio, during the filming of a June 1966 film segment for one of Metcalf’s weekly “Washington Report”. Ferguson was discussing the role of Montanans in the VISTA program, June 21, 1966.
A key sponsor of this Economic Opportunity bill, Senator Metcalf was a member of the Senate’s Special Subcommittee on Poverty, whose responsibility was to conduct hearings on the Senate version of President Johnson’s poverty bill (S. 2642).  The Poverty Subcommittee began hearings on the bill on June 17, 1964, amidst accusations that it was Johnson’s attempt to court votes in the upcoming 1964 presidential election.  Laying politics aside, in a July 29, 1964 radio address, Lee Metcalf reflected on the purpose and need for the Economic Opportunity Act:
It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to provide for the general welfare.  The Economic Opportunity Bill of which I am a sponsor and which passed the Senate this last week is designed to help fulfill that responsibility. . . .  I am proud to have had a part in its inception.
Following the bill’s passage, Metcalf worked to establish and get funding for Head Start programs in Great Falls, Montana, Job Corps Camps at Kickinghorse on the Flathead Indian Reservation, neighborhood centers, and Neighborhood Youth Corps programs in Butte, Montana, among many others.

Despite the War on Poverty’s ultimate failure to fulfill its grand scheme, the legislation did and does still bring great benefit to the United States and Montana.  Senator Lee Metcalf’s role in laying the groundwork for the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was not in vain, and his steady and active drive to pass it marks him as one of America’s great social welfare legislators.

August 12, 2014

Lost in Translation?: Pierre Menard’s 1810 letter from the Three Forks—Part Two

By Rich Aarstad, Senior Archivist, Montana Historical Society Research Center

Pierre Menard's April 21,1810 letter from the headwaters of the Missouri is the earliest documentation the Montana Historical Society holds regarding the American attempt to open Montana for business. Taken on its own, the letter only hints at the compelling story hidden just below its surface.* 
Pierre Menard's letter written in French to Jean Pierre Chouteau
[From Montana Historical Society (MHS) Archives, MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]

But of equal interest is how the letter ended up traveling, through history, from the headwaters of the Missouri to the Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives. The Menard letter is only one of a number of items in the archives collection that has made a circuitous journey beyond the state’s borders only to return as a donation. In this case, the letter belonged to the Chouteau family of St. Louis, Missouri—a name that has a long association with the history of the Missouri River fur trade and Montana.

The letter first surfaced when Hiram M. Chittenden, then a brigadier general in the Army Corps of Engineers, was researching his seminal work on the fur trade - The American Fur Trade of the Far West - published in 1902. In the third and final volume of that work, Chittenden quoted the letter in its original French; he also included a corrected French version and an English translation. He described the original as “written upon a sheet of fine light blue paper, full letter size, and still in excellent preservation.” Chittenden noted that the original letter was in the possession of the St. Louis Chouteau family. Chittenden presented the family with a signed copy of his French and English versions, which prompted a descendant of Jean Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849) and his son, Pierre Chouteau, Jr. (1789-1865) to give Chittenden “an old missive made famous in the “Fur Trade” (Pierre Chouteau letter to Hiram M. Chittenden, March 13, 1902, MHS Archives MC 4, Box 1, Folder 2.) —this very letter from Pierre Menard to Jean Pierre Chouteau.

Chittenden's English translation of the original French version.
[From Montana Historical Society Archives, MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]
[Scanned by MHS staff]
Chittenden donated the original letter, along with his English translation, to the Montana Historical Society in 1902, shortly after receiving it from the Chouteau family. Both versions are now part of the Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and Company Records, Manuscript Collection 4, an amalgam of donations from Granville Stuart (1894), Paris Gibson (1905), and Hiram Chittenden that outlines the Chouteau family business interests in Montana 1810-1864.

*To learn more about the story, the previously published article by Rich Aarstad, "'This Unfortunate Affair': An 1810 Letter from the Three Forks,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Winter, 2008), pp. 62-67, 96, provides an in-depth description of the situation at Three Forks.

August 4, 2014

Lost in Translation?: Pierre Menard’s 1810 letter from the Three Forks—Part One

By Jared Peloquin, Montana Historical Society Research Center Intern
Attempting to translate an historic document can be a tricky task.  The difficulty is most prominent when the text of a document is far removed from one’s own language, customs, and culture.  I was recently asked to translate an 1810 letter written to Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849) in French and, even though I’ve studied French, this would require more than just an understanding of the French language.

I was forced to think not only about the letter, but about the person who wrote the letter.  The author, Pierre Menard, spoke French but was born in 18th century Montreal to a French soldier’s wife.  He left school at the age of fifteen to become a fur trader in the expansive American wilderness.  Given the age of the document, the changing nature of any language over the past two hundred years, and the fact that this man was born in the New World, I knew I would encounter words or spellings with which I was unfamiliar.  Growing up in Louisiana, I learned Parisian French while attending a French immersion school.  However, at home my elders spoke Cajun, which closely resembles 18th and 19th century peasant, or rural, French.  Despite my background, there were many questions I didn’t anticipate.
Close-up of the first page of a letter from Pierre Menard to Pierre Chouteau, written April 12, 1810, from the Three Forks area of what would become Montana
[From MHS Archives Collection  MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]

Reading the first sentence, I noticed unique problems immediately.  The letter begins, “Je matandaie Pouvoire vous Ecrire Plus favorable…”  But, the words “pouvoire,” “ecrire,” and “plus” are not capitalized in contemporary French, and, there is no “e” at the end of “pouvoire.”  More troubling was the second word, “matandaie,” which I had never seen before.  I labored for some time until I started saying the word out loud.  Then I realized that the author must have meant “Je m’attendais” or “I was expecting…”  This makes sense in the context of the entire sentence: “I was expecting (or hoping) to be able to write you more favorably…”*

Multiple thoughts ran through my head, even after successfully translating that first sentence.  I wondered if “m’attendais” was spelled differently in 19th century North America, or if it was simply a result of the author’s lack of education.  Moreover, I was concerned about the capitalization of words throughout the letter.  All nouns in German - not just proper nouns as in English and French - are capitalized.  However, if one reads American documents written in English during the early Republic, one may notice often times that all nouns are capitalized, signifying a much closer connection to the English language’s Germanic roots.

Close-up of the signature of Pierre Menard from his 1810 letter from the Three Forks
[From MHS Archives Collection MC 4, Box 1, Folder 1]
We may never know all the factors which influenced and determined Pierre Menard’s particular French writing style.  Nevertheless, these are just some of the problems and questions one might face when translating any document.  Language is essential to culture, society, and history; and language can tell us much about all three.

* See the English translation of Menard's letter in Part Two.