The Clever Miss Loretto Chappell, Champion of Georgia’s Poor Children and Accused “Red, from the Bottom of Your Feet to the Top of Your Head” (Or, Why We Reappraise and Reprocess)

“[F]or I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
— Thomas Jefferson

As noted in a recent post, we’re reappraising and reprocessing some of our older collections and updating their finding aids as we migrate them out of our institutional repository, The Knowledge Box, and into a new home. Because we have a lack of digital storage space right now, we’re giving the finding aids a temporary home in LibGuides before moving them again to a different repository, hopefully by the spring.

Because we’re rehoming the finding aids, it made sense to review them before posting them in LibGuides, and that meant making sure they conveyed the subject matter well, were clearly organized, and matched up with the physical collection to which they are attached. When they do not, we update the finding aid and in some cases reprocess the collection. One such case has been the Loretto Chappell correspondence to get rid of an excessive amount of folders. There were folders with as little as one piece of paper in them, which can weigh boxes down. The name of the collection is now the “Loretto Chappell correspondence, 1948-1987” because the new version of Describing Archives, a Content Standard (DACS) requires naming collections according to the largest component and adding dates. Though Loretto Chappell had many accomplishments, her collection is almost totally correspondence kept with an East German woman, Gertrude Mahler, which she donated to the History Department in 1987 as a record of life in the Communist-ruled part of Germany. The correspondence remains chronological, but it’s now easier to navigate the box. Finally, I moved the news articles and editorials about Chappell to one folder and made this event central in her biographical note in the finding aid. Previous versions of the finding aid had noted there were press clippings but hadn’t gone into great detail as to why they were attached to the collection, but after reading them, I thought they were due their time in the sun. You see, Loretto Chappell was very publicly accused of being a Communist in 1951 at the height of McCarthyism by our state legislature.

loretto-1Loretto lived outside of what we’d consider expectations of a Southern lady of the 1950s (i.e., to get a MRS degree), though she definitely was a Southern lady. She was the eldest daughter of Georgia Normal & Industrial College’s first president, Dr. Joseph Harris Chappell, and she attended school here before studying social work at William & Mary College (now the College of William & Mary). Dr. Chappell was one of the sons of the Honorable Absalom H. Chappell, a former Congressman and state senator. He married Loretto Lamar, who came from a line of distinguished Southerners to include her brother, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, the third President of the Republic of Texas. Loretto of our focus had a cousin of a similar age also named Loretto Chappell, both of whom were named for their grandmother. Cousin Loretto would become one of Columbus, Georgia’s most well-known librarians, and her collection at Columbus State University includes decades of correspondence, journals, and literary criticism. How I wish our collection had the richness and depth of that one, because our Loretto had quite the experience in 1951, and I would relish the chance to know her private thoughts on it!

Our Loretto returned to Georgia after graduate school, moving to Atlanta, where she worked her way up to head the Children’s Bureau of the Georgia Department of Public Welfare after 16 years with the agency. She joined the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, and she also supported a letter to Congress that aimed to make the Fair Employment Practice Committee a permanent agency (a move supported by President Truman). These things don’t seem radical or weird today, but in the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, was in his heyday, imagining Communists lurking in the wildest of places in the United States. It did not matter that Loretto was from a very distinguished line of Georgia Democrats, nor that Georgia was at the time (and had been for more than five decades) also controlled by Democrats. This was the era of Herman Talmadge and his daddy before him, Eugene. The Talmadge faction is worthy of its own post (or two, three, or four) – and the New Encyclopedia of Georgia has a great entry on the Three Governors Controversy that provided for Herman Talmadge’s ascent to power – but as The New Republic of April 23, 1951, points out, “the late Eugene Talmadge and now his son, Herman, have built a political dynasty mouthing racist epithets. People who care about such things felt that an alliance of Talmadgism and McCarthyism was bound to come sooner or later.” And here it was.

M.J. Heale, author of McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935-1965, believes that Talmadge’s interest in anti-Communist rhetoric was just bluster in an attempt to placate American Legion branches and working class whites in the state. During the 1951 legislative session, for example, the biggest piece of legislation was an anti-mask bill aimed at curbing the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, largely on Talmadge’s radar because veterans and businesses around the state demanded it. However, one Georgia legislator wasn’t following along with the Talmadge faction’s rhetoric-only stance when it came to communist-control programs, and that was Representative J. Bush Mims from Colquitt.

Before Representative Mims is totally vilified, he pushed to eliminate Georgia’s poll tax – in fact, authored the bill that would do just that – 10 years before this incident. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a firm believer in segregation, because he was, though he did see the unfairness of the poll tax on poor citizens. By 1951, however, Mims was deeply troubled by the specter of the Red Menace, and it just so happened that he was selected to chair a committee that would be investigating the welfare department, putting liberal, desegregationist, Unitarian Loretto in his line of sight. She was, he said, a “Red, from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head.”

loretto-2The crimes Loretto’s Children’s Bureau were accused of included “bureaucracy” and ideas “not exactly in keeping with democratic and Southern principles.” Even worse, Mims stated that Loretto’s support of breaking down race barriers must mean she was colluding with the Communist Party, as that was a key part of its platform. Though these charges amounted to very little, the Director of the Georgia Department of Public Welfare, Alan Kemper – a Talmadge appointee – publicly stated that Loretto was a “thorn in his side” and that “all social workers are abominations.” He was all too happy to allow Mims’ crusade against Loretto and her department.

I have located stories of Loretto’s testimony before the House committee in several large newspapers. However, in his 1952 Anti-Defamation League report entitled The Trouble-Makers, Arnold Forster asserts that most readers would find Loretto’s name unfamiliar, even though the book was written merely a year after the incident. Certainly, Loretto’s name was never as well known as the likes of Anna Rosenberg, though the tactics used against her were eerily similar.

Try though I might, I have been unable to lay hands on the transcript of the joint committee’s investigation into the welfare department. Thankfully, the Atlanta Constitution and Forster’s The Trouble-Makers quote portions of the proceedings, and the state legislator who served as Loretto’s counsel, James Mackay, provided two oral histories to Georgia State University’s Georgia Government Documentation Project and West Georgia University’s Georgia’s Political Heritage Program in which he discusses the hearing, so we can reconstruct much of what transpired. Regardless of which of the sources you favor, it’s apparent that Representative Mims was totally unprepared for Loretto, whose cleverness and forthrightness seemed to both infuriate and confound committee members.

The three biggest pieces of evidence the Joint Committee had to support its assertion that Loretto was a Communist were that she signed the FEPC letter, she attended the Unitarian Church, and the Public Welfare Department’s library contained copies of The New Russia’s Primer, Red Wine First, Our Rejected Children, and The American Race Problem. One of the more bizarre exchanges in the hearing happened when Representative Mackay asked Representative Mims why the Joint Committee had felt it necessary to impound books from the welfare department that were available in all the public libraries in Georgia? Representative Mims explained he wanted to keep the books in a safe so he knew where they were. Perhaps he thought the social workers might hide them. No, Loretto assured the committee, books were meant to be read. At another point, Representative Mims read a portion of one of the books that dealt with a sexual situation. To counter, Loretto read the story from Genesis 19 detailing incest in Lot’s family.

To the charges of the Unitarian Church allowing African Americans to join, one of Loretto’s character witnesses, the famed Dr. Hines Roberts, responded, “Mr. Chairman, I have never advocated the comingling of the races in the churches, but to the extent that I do not believe in it, I would to that extent not be a Christian.” A number of other citizens of Atlanta and Milledgeville came to testify to Loretto’s good name, including many members of her chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. After the hearing had ended, the Atlanta Constitution called for Representative Mims to issue a formal apology to Loretto – which absolutely did not happen.

Unfortunately for the poor children of Georgia, Loretto resigned from the welfare department several months later, unable to run her department because of opposition from Kemper and others. To end this strange tale, however, I want to leave the words verbatim from Loretto’s testimony:

“I am Georgia-born, Georgia-raised and Georgia-minded. I conceive it to have been in the tradition of Georgia women to stand up for the helpless, and particularly the children of all races and creeds. Those who do less are not a part of the Southern and Christian tradition as I learned it from my family.”

After researching this incident in depth, we have decided to create a vertical file for Loretto in addition to her correspondence. It will contain the family history and the list of sources I compiled for this blog post, as it required research far beyond our collection of her items. This is one incident in Loretto’s life, and I can only imagine that she was equally interesting in other facets. I feel very lucky that this spunky “Georgia-born, Georgia-raised and Georgia-minded” lady is part of Georgia College’s story.

Works Cited:

Curtis, Harold. “GEORGIA’S BIG SMEAR,” New Republic (New York, NY), April 23, 1951.

Forster, Arnold. The Trouble-Makers: An Anti-Defamation League Report, 61-70. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1952.

“Georgia Legislators Attack FEPC Supporter: Welfare Dept. Chief In Georgia Styled Red,” Indianapolis Recorder (Indianapolis, IN), Apr. 14,1951.

“Georgia to Keep Its Poll Tax,” St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), Feb. 19, 1941.

Heale, M. J. “Controlling Communist Subversion, 1948-1956,” in McCarthy’s Americans: Red Scare Politics in State and Nation, 1935-1965, 234-253. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800, in the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 32, 168. Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1950. Transcription, Founders Online. Retrieved from http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-32-02-0102

Mackay, James. Interviewed by Clifford Kuhn 31 March 1987, P1986-01, Series B. Public Figures, Georgia Government Documentation Project, Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.library.gsu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ggdp/id/5791

Mackay, James. Interviewed by Mel Steeley 15 January 1999, Georgia’s Political Heritage Program oral history interviews. Annie Belle Weaver Special Collections, Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library, University of West Georgia, Carrollton. Retrieved from http://dlgmedia1-www.galib.uga.edu/uwg/flv/uwg_phc_mackay19990115playerflv.html

Press Clippings 1951, Folder 2, Box 1, Loretto Chappell correspondence, 1948-1987. Special Collections, Ina Dillard Russell Library, Georgia College, Milledgeville. Finding aid: http://libguides.gcsu.edu/chappell-correspondence

“Stormy Session Marks State Welfare Probe: Proves Only ‘Truman Democrat,’” Rome News-Tribune (Rome, GA), Mar. 27, 1951.

See Also:

James A. Mackay papers, 1963-2002, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. Finding aid: https://findingaids.library.emory.edu/documents/mackay-james456/

Loretto Chappell collection, Columbus State University Archives, Columbus State University, Columbus. Finding aid: https://archives.columbusstate.edu/findingaids/mc29.php

“More State Control on Welfare Funds Proposed: Talmadge Seeks Leeway,” Rome News-Tribune (Rome, GA), Jan. 9, 1952.

Nasstrom, Kathryn L. Everybody’s Grandmother and Nobody’s Fool: Frances Freeborn Pauley and the Struggle for Social Justice, 47-49. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Reese, Ellen. “Southern Welfare Backlashes: Georgia and Kentucky,” in Backlash Against Welfare Mothers: Past and Present, 70-85. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Talmadge, Herman. Interviewed by Mel Steeley and Don Wagner 14 March 1986, Georgia’s Political Heritage Program oral history interviews. Annie Belle Weaver Special Collections, Irvine Sullivan Ingram Library, University of West Georgia, Carrollton. Retrieved from http://dlgmedia1-www.galib.uga.edu/uwg/flv/uwg_phc_talmadge2playerflv.html

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