The early 1930s were not good years for Arkansas. Parts of the state were still struggling to recover from the massive Mississippi River Flood of 1927. Arkansas was also at the center of a severe drought in 1930 which withered crops in the field, leading to a devastatingly bad harvest. Crop failures led to widespread unemployment in a state heavily dependent on its farm economy. Harvey Couch, President of Arkansas Power and Light, was named chairman of the Arkansas Advisory Committee of the President’s Organization for Unemployment Relief [POUR} to address these many problems. Couch was a dynamo, setting up state-wide relief agencies, raising funds to ensure that farmers could plant, and leading a publicity that brought Will Rogers to Little Rock for radio relief programs.
In early November 1931, Harvey Couch wrote to his D. C. supervisor, POUR Assistant Director Fred Croxton, asking that Herbert Hoover give special attention to Arkansas in his annual Thanksgiving Proclamation. Arkansas had been hard hit by the drought of 1930 [‘the weakest link in the chain of forty-eight states’ according to Couch], with nearly half of its 1.8 million citizens relying on the American Red Cross for food relief in 1930. Couch wanted Hoover to address the people of Arkansas via radio on Thanksgiving.
Couch, who had earned Hoover’s respect and admiration for his work in recovering from the 1927 Mississippi River flood, knew that this was asking a lot of the President. Couch presented his case in a manner that he knew would appeal to the number-crunching part of Hoover’s engineering mind. He laid out the particulars of Arkansas’ 1931 recovery with admirable specificity: 17 million quarts of fruit canned, 11 million quarts of vegetables, 1.3 million gallons of kraut, 2 million pounds of dried fruit, and 6400 beeves butchered and canned. With this groundwork laid, Couch hoped to convince Hoover to deliver a radio address to Arkansas on Thanksgiving morning.
Hoover was reluctant to set a precedent of delivering state-specific speeches, but he did agree to send a message to be read on his behalf. Couch seized this proffered half-loaf and sent his friend Hoover a draft version of remarks to be radio broadcast on Thanksgiving ‘with such editing as he sees fit.’ As was his wont, Hoover edited with gusto, shaping the draft to his voice:
‘The remarkable recovery of Arkansas from the effects of the drought during 1930, which had followed the floods in 1927, is evidence of the courage and energy of the people, it is evidence of the blessings of Almighty Providence. Reports show that Arkansas has been blessed indeed. The people have enjoyed immunity from disease and pestilence. Weather conditions have been most favorable and its harvest is the largest and most varied. Larders that were empty last year are now filled to almost overflowing.’
The edited version of Couch’s address, with Hoover’s hand-written additions and deletions, is in box 211 of Hoover’s Presidential Personal Files [in the folder ‘Thanksgiving Day, 1931-1932’]