History

Bringing Thomas Jefferson's Libraries to Life (in .pdf; click title to view)

by Michael Wormser


From the April 2016 Midcoast Inquirer:

Historical Nuggets from the Midcoast Past

By Robert Williams

Everyone knows that General Samuel Waldo (1696- 1759) (von Waldow) helped settle the coastal towns along Broad Bay, imported German settlers to populate them, and modestly named two towns after himself, Waldo and Waldoboro. But what about Waldeboro’s neighbor, Bremen? In 1828, the town of Bremen (pronounced Breemen) set itself off from Waldeboro and Bristol and was incorporated by the new State of Maine. Bremen took its name from the Hanseatic League town in northwest Germany from which the first boatloads of Huguenot refugees came to Maine in the 1730s. Why the name? No one in Bremen seems to know. Huguenots were not quite Germans or Ulster Scots, although many came from France via Germany and Northern Ireland. Pierre Baudoun arrived in America in 1686 from Ireland as a Huguenot refugee following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He soon prospered in land purchases and Boston real estate. His grandson James Bowdoin II (1726-90) became the second governor of Massachusetts. His great-grandson James Bowdoin III (1752-1811) donated much of the family’s Brunswick land to what became Bowdoin College. The Baudouns became famous as the Bowdoins. The famous Brementown Musicians of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale never quite made it to Bremen. But the little coastal town of 800 or so people in Maine still bears the name of a German town on the Weser River where hardy Protestant refugees from France found temporary sanctuary before taking sail for the New World. Perhaps Bremen, like Bowdoin College, owes its name to its courageous Huguenot ancestors who helped settle Midcoast Maine.


From the December 2015 Inquirer:

Historical Nuggets from the Midcoast Past

By Robert Williams

Everyone knows that Joshua Chamberlain of Brunswick was the hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain, a former Bowdoin faculty member, accepted Confederate surrender at Appomattox and went on to become Governor of Maine. But how many have heard of Holman Melcher (1842-1905), the first officer down the hill for the 20th Maine on July 3, 1863, when the fate of the nation seemed to hang in the balance? Melcher was from Topsham, not Brunswick, and attended Bates, not Bowdoin. Chamberlain gave the order to charge downhill without ammunition, but Melcher actually carried the order out. The president of the 20th Maine Regimental Association was not Chamberlain, but Melcher, who went on to become Mayor of Portland. The two heroes argued for the rest of their lives about who did what on one of the most fateful days in American history. But Chamberlain of Brunswick won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Melcher of Topsham dropped into the memory hole. They are two Midcoast heroes, one remembered, the other forgotten, from opposite sides of the Androscoggin. We celebrate them both.


Check out the Course Websites page for Bud Warren's course on the lower Kennebec valley.


From the April 2015 Inquirer:

Let Us Now Praise....Frances Perkins
By Michael Wormser

“I see one-third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill- nourished,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in his second inaugural address Jan. 20, 1937. And with “tens of millions of its citizens” still denied the “necessities of life” despite all the reforms and emergency relief legislation enacted during the “Hundred Days” in 1933, widespread unemployment and poverty persisted. Much more needed to be done, and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first woman in any presidential cabinet, had taken Roosevelt’s words seriously long before FDR dramatized these seemingly intractable economic problems.

Perkins had been one of the president’s longest serving advisers, starting with FDR’s two terms as governor of New York. In her book of reminisces about her association with Roosevelt, The Roosevelt I Knew, Perkins maintained that FDR came to “understand the problems of people in trouble” after confronting his own crisis when stricken with polio in 1921. It might be more accurate to say that after his affliction he developed a humility and an open mindedness and greater capacity to learn about the problems of ordinary people. He became sensitized to their needs. FDR’s understanding of these problems was due in large measure to Frances Perkins. She became, first in Albany and then in Washington, his educator in chief on issues of labor relations and more specifically on the dire living conditions faced by working men and women during the Great Depression.

Roosevelt came into office with no preconceived master plan for ending the Depression and held traditional, rather conservative economic beliefs. His ideas on public spending on relief projects were distinctly cautious. On the other hand, he was pragmatic and willing to experiment with whatever might work. He did not let preconceived prescriptions interfere with the need for decisive action. Being practical meant not sacrificing the peoples’ immediate needs for the sake of some greater ideal, no matter how laudatory. FDR knew Perkins was committed to alleviating the plight of the working classes and came to trust her judgments and political instincts in drafting social legislation and lobbying Congress. She told him in 1934 it was high time “to be farsighted about future problems of unemployment and unprotected old age.”

With unemployment still woefully high, Roosevelt did not need to be convinced. In fact, his enthusiasm for grand, universal relief and economic security, what he called “cradle to the grave” insurance, had to be tempered at times by what was feasible. Perkins told him any proposals had to be based “upon a practical knowledge of the needs of our country, the prejudices of our people, and our legislative habits.” She realized quickly that FDR’s desire to include a national health insurance plan would not survive politically. “Powerful elements of the medical profession were up in arms over the idea of any kind of government- endorsed system,” she wrote in her memoir.

Perkins was at the center of  the two most important proposals of what came to be known as the Second New Deal: Social Security and unemployment relief. The essential role she played in developing the recommendations that led to successful enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935, which also included the first national program of unemployment insurance, are well documented. She was also influential in the advice she gave the President on the Second New Deal’s jobs programs, the most important of which was the Works Progress Administration (WPA).