The Establishment of the TVA

The Establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority

 

By Elton Camp



 

Franklin Roosevelt was president of the United States.  The New Deal was in full sway.   The Tennessee River, were it passed through North Alabama, had a long history of regular, devastating floods.  Crops and even houses were swept away.  The situation added to the grinding poverty during the Great Depression.  Some thought the entire Tennessee Valley, covering parts of seven States, was beyond saving.  Its poverty, including many people living in hovels and near starvation, was a serious embarrassment to the nation. 



 

Roosevelt had a plan.  During his famous first hundred days in office, he signed, on May 18, 1933, the act that established the Tennessee Valley Authority, commonly known as TVA.  Some deplored it on political grounds as an example of socialism.  Others welcomed the jobs it created, and still others were motivated in their approval by a genuine desire to help needy Americans who were unable to help themselves. 



 

Flood control wasn’t the sole issue.  The river needed to be made more navigable and there was dire need of additional, inexpensive electricity. 



 

Most people in the towns had electricity, but very few in the rural areas.  Private power companies argued that it was too expensive to string lines in the country, especially for people who were too poor to afford electricity.  The drive to provide rural electricity was based on the belief that it would both improve the standard of living and make the family farm better able to compete.  If private power companies wouldn’t provide the service, Roosevelt felt it was the duty of the Federal government to do it. 

           

Central to the mission of the TVA was the erection of a series of dams.  The mammoth projects required small armies of workers.  A fundamental requirement was provision of a school to handle the flood of new residents.    To that end, huge amounts of money were poured into the establishment of such schools.  Far superior to anything else in the areas, they provided cutting edge in facilities and equipment and somewhat experimental in its teaching methods. 



 

Authorities sought the best teachers available to staff the new institutions.  They must be open to new ideas.  My mother, a young elementary school teacher with the necessary normal school diploma and two years of solid accomplishment on her resume was among those employed at what was locally termed “the dam school” and located at Hebron in Marshall County.   A sister school of a similar type was located in the Shoals in the midst of the village constructed for workers on Wilson Dam, not originally part of the TVA. 



 

            Prominent people sometimes inspected the school, as well as teachers from other institutions who came to observe the innovative teaching methods being employed.       



 

On one such occasion, among the visitors was a very fat woman.  A series of activities that day were conducted outside.  The large lady started to sit on the school’s concrete steps to watch. 



 

            “Just a minute,” the principal said.  “I wouldn’t want you to get your dress dirty.”



 

            He half unfolded a newspaper, placed it on the steps, hesitated, made an appraising stare at the woman’s broad posterior, picked it up, and opened it fully before he again laid it down.



 

            His look and action didn’t escape her notice.  The woman jerked up the paper, folded it smaller, and angrily seated herself.  The administrator went on to make even worse blunders. 



 

            “When the dam’s finished,” the principal proclaimed in a faculty meeting, “a great wall of water’s gonna rush behind it and fill the lake within a few hours.” 



 

            His facial expression and animated delivery showed his excitement at the prospect of witnessing the virtual tidal wave.  The enormous lake, largest of all the TVA impoundments, actually took many months to complete its gradual fill.  His lack of scientific knowledge brought grins from the faculty who knew better. 


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Synopsis
FDR had a plan for an impoverised area of the nation.
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