This Hugh Morton photograph was likely taken at the White House on March 19, 1958—the day President Dwight Eisenhower met with the National Governors Conference Executive Committee regarding the economy and unemployment.
So your NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket has been shot to pieces by all the upsets and now you are looking for something educational to satisfy your brain’s curiosity? Well it’s been awhile since we have had a “Who am I?” post, and the photograph above–made by Hugh Morton fifty-eight years ago today on 19 March 1958–presents a good opportunity for a revival.
The photograph above depicts the National Governors Conference Executive Committee meeting with President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House. For the occasion Morton shot 120 format roll film, which has twelve exposures per roll; only frame numbers 3, 4, and 7 through 12, however, are extant . . . or at least filed together by Morton as negatives used in the book Making a Difference in North Carolina, which he co-authored with Ed Rankin, Jr. Clicking on the link in the first sentence of this paragraph will take you to the four images from the eight negatives selected for the online Morton collection. From there you can click on each of the images and use the zoom tool to get closer looks at their gubernatorial and presidential faces. In the descriptions for each of those images you will see the following phrase:
Caption in Morton’s book MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN NORTH CAROLINA indicates that the gathering was an 10/1/1957 emergency meeting of Eisenhower and select Southern governors regarding the Little Rock school integration crisis, however, Faubus and Muskie were not in attendance at that meeting.
Those descriptions had stated that the photographs were likely made on March 19, 1958, but did not identify the occasion. Using newspapers.com, I was able to determine the nature of the meeting from three Associated Press articles—if the revised date is correct—and update the description.
Background to the photograph
The United States experienced a recession between August 1957 and April 1958, referred to by some sources as “The Eisenhower Recession.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for 1958 rose to 6.8%, up from 4.3% from the previous year. It was the highest unemployment rate by far yet to be experienced after World War II.
On March 8th Eisenhower wrote a letter to the Republican minority leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives concerning measures to aid economic growth. Eisenhower acknowledged the government needed to take steps to stimulate the economy, but he was “concerned over the sudden upsurge of pump-priming schemes” emerging from Congress. The president’s letter detailed several actions that his administration had already taken, but it also included the following:
I deeply believe that we must move promptly to meet the needs of those wage earners who have exhausted their unemployment compensation benefits under state laws and have not yet found employment. I have requested the Secretary of Labor to present to me next week a proposal which, without intruding on present state obligations and prerogatives, would extend for a brief period the duration of benefits for these unemployed workers. This would enable eligible unemployed individuals to receive weekly benefits for a longer period than is now permitted under state laws and thus enable them to continue to seek jobs with a greater measure of security. I shall shortly place such a proposal before the Congress.
That letter eventually led to the meeting with the governors. James Bell wrote one of the three Associated Press articles mentioned above, and it explained the context of the March 19th meeting: Congress was drawing up “job-creating measures while it awaited President Eisenhower’s unemployment compensation measures.”
The second AP article, written without a byline, mainly reported on the press conference held by the governors after the meeting where California Governor Goodwin Knight outlined the president’s proposal. The article notes that the White House called the governors to the White House, and it contains the names of all the governors in attendance: Luther Hodges of North Carolina, Albert D. Rosellini of Washington, Edmund Muskie of Maine, Orval Faubus of Arkansas, William G. Stratton of Illinois, John E. Davis of North Dakota, and Joseph B Johnson of Vermont.
So the “Who Am I?” question is: who is who in Morton’s photographs? Some of the people in the descriptions already have names with faces, but others do not. If you recognize any or can figure them out from other images on the Internet, please leave a comment below.
The third article I uncovered, written by Associated Press News Analyst James Marlow, assessed the meeting. Some newspapers published an AP photograph along with the article. Each newspaper wrote its own headline for Marlow’s analysis; The Salinas Journal (Salinas, Kansas) headline, for example, asked, “Was The Conference A Farce?” Marlow began his article, “In fifteen years in Washington this writer has never seen anything more fouled up than what happened at the White House after President Eisenhower conferred with eight state governors. It was hard to tell whether a rabbit was being pulled out of the hat, or a rabbit was being put back into a hat.” When Eisenhower first floated his idea he seemed to be thinking of a grant that didn’t need to be paid back to the federal government, which is how the governors understood it. Then the administration began talking about it as a loan that states would need to pay back.
Marlow pointed out that all but about six states had adequate unemployment compensation funds to extend the period in which the jobless could could draw upon, and that most states had a maximum of twenty-six weeks, “but they have declined to do so.” Marlow asked one governor, who chose to remain anonymous, “Since no more than six states might need federal help to extend the jobless pay periods and all the rest have enough money to do it, if they want to why should the government have to hand out money to those other 42?” The governor responded, ” That is the best question of the day. And the best answer to it is that the question answers itself.”
On March 21st The Daily Times-News of Burlington, N.C wrote an an editorial titled “Let’s Say a Little Politics Right or Wrong in this Case.” It characterized Hodges’ impression of the meeting as “a waste of time for all concerned.” While Hodges agreed that a number of states had unemployment benefit finance troubles, he stated that North Carolina had a reserve fund of $178 million at the time. The editorial continued, “Governor Hodges is quoted as having said this: ‘I did not think and I do not think now the problem was serious enough to warrant calling the people together and making such a hullabaloo. My own conviction is that they should have done a lot more checking with the states before making any announcements that the administration planned to offer a proposal to extend unemployment benefits.'”
On June 4th President Eisenhower signed the Unemployment Compensation Act of 1958, which treated federal funds for unemployment compensation, accepted by states that requested them, as loans.