FDR Advisor Learned Agriculture in Wilson
Rex Tugwell, the Undersecretary of Agriculture during the first FDR administration (1933-1937) was born in Sinclairville (Chautauqua County), NY in 1891. His father, Charles Tugwell, was a partner in William Tugwell and Son, a livestock and produce processing company. At the age of thirteen, Tugwell and his family moved to Wilson where his father managed a cannery that operated from June through November. Their home and barn still exist on Lake Street in Wilson, with the Tugwell name still prominently displayed. Young Rex Tugwell took his turn working in the canning factory and accompanying his father to visit area farmers to negotiate deals to buy produce. He also wrote of leaving Wilson on summer evenings, driving a horse and wagon all night to Buffalo to get to the Washington Street Market before day break to set up their produce stand. He and his father would then have lunch in Buffalo and start the trip back to Wilson. During the winter months Tugwell attended the Wilson Union School, read extensively and wrote down the thoughts and ideas that he would apply to situations later in life. Summers were spent working or exploring the Lake Ontario shoreline.
As his senior year approached, he decided to attend his final year of high school in Buffalo. He chose Masten Park High School and boarded in a home on Linwood Avenue. He entered the Wharton School of Finance and Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 1911. Tugwell continued to return to Wilson in the summer until his father passed away.
Between his graduation from Wharton and his work with the New Deal, Tugwell taught at Wharton, the University of Washington at Seattle, the American University in Paris, and Columbia University (where he received his doctorate in 1922). In 1932 he was recruited by the FDR campaign staff to work as an advisor and speechwriter. He was part of a group that became known as the “Brain Trust.” During FDR’s first administration, Tugwell was characterized as being a conservative and a socialist. He had opponents in the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1937, Tugwell left his job in the Agriculture Department and served on the New York City Planning Commission. He was Governor of Puerto Rico from 1942 to 1946. He joined the University of Chicago in 1946 until his retirement in 1966.
In 1970 his proposal to re-write the U.S. Constitution was met with great derision. In 1976 he and the surviving “Brain Trust” helped launch Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign at FDR’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. Tugwell died three years later in 1979 at the age of 88. A cabin he used as a “retreat” while in Wilson is now restored and on the grounds of the Wilson Historical Society.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094