Governor James Rolph and the Great Depression in California

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About the Book

In 1911, when businessman James Rolph first ran for mayor of San Francisco, he promised, “I will be mayor of the whole city, and not the mayor for any particular section.” This statement seemed to characterize Rolph’s political career. After serving an unprecedented five terms as mayor, he went on to win California’s 1930 gubernatorial election. Rolph, however, had severely underestimated the challenges he would be up against as a Depression-era governor. A genuine love of people and desire to help had gotten him as far as the governor’s office but could do little to help him solve the new problems he found. Lack of a firm agenda coupled with an unrealistic (or perhaps idealistic) governing style left him at odds with the legislature and found his chief lieutenants forming into warring cliques. Ultimately, Rolph—in spite of good intentions and a love of civil service—was unable to translate his mayoral triumph, with all its charm and style, into a gubernatorial success.
This biography relies heavily on primary sources such as contemporary newspaper articles and firsthand recollections. Beginning with Rolph’s mayoral career, the book enumerates the qualities which led to his phenomenal success as San Francisco’s top politician. The work then examines the criticisms levied against Rolph as governor and the ways in which these complaints were, and were not, justified. The unfortunate historical timing of Rolph’s governorship is also discussed. In many ways, Rolph’s attempt to translate from prosperous ’20s mayor to Depression-era ’30s governor was simply ill-fated from the very beginning. A detailed bibliography and index is also provided.

About the Author(s)

James Worthen writes about the impact of personality on political behavior. A former program manager at the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, he currently lives in Pismo Beach, California.

Bibliographic Details

James Worthen
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 235
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2574-7
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8296-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction: “The ‘Humanest’ Human Being I Ever Knew”      9

PART ONE: The Citizen Politician

1. “Mission Jim”      17

2. From the Earthquake to the Mayor’s Office      22

3. Moving Through Cheers      30

4. Friends and Family      38

PART TWO: A Civic “Hereditary” Monarchy

5. Second-Term Challenges      47

6. Wealth and Generosity      53

7. Strange Interlude—The First Run for Governor      56

8. Reversal of Fortune      59

9. Third Term—Growing Conservatism and Passivity      61

10. Hetch Hetchy and Municipal Ownership      67

11. Overdoing the Good Life      73

12. A Strong Finish      78

PART THREE: Moving On to Sacramento

13. The 1930 Campaign for Governor      89

14. Great Expectations      98

15. The Appointment Wars      106

16. Rolph and the Legislature      109

17. The Permanent Campaign      115

PART FOUR: The Long, Downhill Slide

18. The Depression Worsens      121

19. Capital Punishment and the Mooney Case      125

20. 1932—A “Most Troublesome Year”      135

21. A Government Divided      142

22. The Firestorm Over Taxes and Spending      146

23. 1933—In the Eye of the Storm      152

24. California’s Tax Revolution      159

25. Embattled, Fatigued and Broke      170

26. The Farm Labor Crisis      174

27. Preparing for the 1934 Campaign      179

28: The San Jose Kidnapping      182

29. The Central Valley Water Plan      187

30. 1934—Recovery and Ruin      192

31. A Final Accounting      198

Chapter Notes      209

Bibliography      219

Index      225

Book Reviews & Awards

“fascinating…thoroughly engaging”—California History.