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Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Orville E. Olson
BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Orville Olson was born in 1908. His father was a worker in the Minneapolis post office, and both parents were of Norwegian decent. Orville grew up in Minneapolis and started to study at the University of Minnesota, before the Great Depression forced him out of school. When the New Deal relief programs began, Mr. Olson applied for a job as a relief administrator. He worked in Pennington, Swift, Kandiyohi, and St. Louis counties under the State Emergency Relief Administration and Works Progress Administration. Here he gained first-hand knowledge of farm conditions and an acquaintance with labor leaders in Duluth and on the Iron Range. Ultimately, he was appointed director of the WPA for Hennepin County. Politically he found himself in an odd position. Although secretly a Socialist Party member, he had to be sensitive to the maneuverings of the fractured Democratic Party - which was the party of the president, and therefore in a position to hand out federal patronage jobs - and the directions of the stronger Farmer-Labor Party, which led the state government. In 1937 this position finally became untenable, and Mr. Olson threw in his lot with the Farmer-Laborites, becoming the director of personnel for the state highway department under Governor Elmer Benson. Because his job was a key patronage position, Mr. Olson became well-acquainted with Governor Benson, and their political lives intertwined for the next decade. After the defeat of the F-LP in 1938, Mr. Olson served for several years in the National Youth Administration in Washington, D.C., and then in the merchant marine during the war. He kept in close touch with Benson, however, and advised him in the merger of the Democratic and Farmer-Labor parties (1943-44). Shortly after that, Mr. Olson returned to Minnesota and helped to organize the Independent voters of Minnesota, which he headed until 1948. In that year he ran Henry A. Wallace's presidential campaign in Minnesota, while Benson chaired the national, effort. After Wallace's defeat, Mr. Olson effectively left the political field. Because of his radical associations, he had difficulty keeping a job in Minnesota, so he moved to Los Angeles. At the time of the interview he was still living there, in retirement. Mr. Olson was married and had five children. His marriage ended in divorce. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Democracy within the Farmer-Labor Party. Farm Holiday activities in Kandiyohi and Swift Counties, 1934. Impressions of John Bosch. Memories of growing up in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, 1910s. Experiences as a county relief administrator, 1930s. Evolution of his political views. Patronage in the Farmer-Labor administration. Rivalry between the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Federation of Labor. Assessment of Elmer Benson. Memories of Clarence Hathaway. Opinions of the A F of L leadership, 1930s. Differences between the labor movements in Minneapolis and St. Paul, 1930s. Assessment of Frank Starkey. Efforts to strengthen the Farmer-Labor Association clubs, 1930s; evaluations of F-LP platforms and positions; internal educational efforts. Gubernatorial campaign of 1938. Anti-Semitism in Minnesota, 1930s. Assessment of Roger Rutchick. Communist influence on the Farmer-Labor governors, and failures of the CP in the Browder period. Split in the Farmer-Labor Party. Description of F-LP ward club meetings, Minneapolis. Charges of corruption in F-LP administrations. Assessment of the merger of the F-LP and the Democratic Party. Blacklisting in the 1950s. Opinions of the Left in the 1970s. Impressions of Vincent, Grant, Miles, and William Dunne, and of the effectiveness of the Trotskyist parties, 1930s to 1970s. Impressions of Floyd Olson. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: The interview is quite focused and informative. A later interview with Mr. Olson by Carl Ross is also in the Minnesota Historical Society collection. The transcript has only been partially edited, so the spelling of many names is approximate. RESTRICTIONS ON USE: Interview cannot be quoted directly for publication.
2 hours sound cassette
27 pages transcript
Content Category: sound recordings
Content Category: text
02:00:01 running time
Interviewee: Olson, Orville E.
Interviewer: O'Connell, Tom
Interviewer: Trimble, Steve
Made in: Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, United States
|Holding Type||Oral History - Interview|
OH 30.51 (Library Call Number)
AV1990.228.72 (Accession Number)
MNHS Library Catalog
Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Twentieth Century Radicalism in Minnesota Oral History Project'