The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937

Article excerpt

The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937. By David Welky. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 355. $27.50.)

This book will appeal to regional, social, and policy historians for many reasons. Flood histories emphasizing Mississippi events have overshadowed one of the nation's worst environmental and human catastrophes. This disaster also compels readers to think more broadly about New Deal conservation policy and beyond the Dust Bowl. Furthermore, the author demonstrates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt capitalized on the disaster and mobilized New Deal relief and recovery agencies on an unprecedented scale.

David Welky has assembled a social history through traditional sources to explain how black and white men and women prepared for, endured, and lived through the deluge in Cincinnati, Paducah, Cairo, and Memphis. Welky also tapped unique records, generated by Louisville's local radio station staff, to demonstrate how broadcast technology nationalized the event. Equally textured material comes from the American Red Cross, an overlooked nonstate actor whose records--often filed by white women--make it possible to reconstruct disasters and the organization's financial contribution to recovery. Finally, Works Project Administration reports highlight the back-and-forth conversations between boosters, congressional representatives, and federal agents anxious to relocate Shawneetown, Illinois, after the flood.

The Thousand-Year Flood is more than just another flood history because of Welky's attention to larger questions about the United States' water management history. Before and after the 1937 flood, FDR's administration, Congress, and federal agencies jousted over what characterized "comprehensive" flood control. In simplified terms, New Dealers and regional planners envisioned comprehensive management of people, land, and water via multipurpose dams, reforestation, and community building (e. …