Josephine Roche

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Josephine A. Roche
Josephine Roche.jpg
United States Assistant Secretary of the Treasury
In office
1934–1937
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Personal details
Born (1886-12-28)December 28, 1886
Neligh, Nebraska
Died July 1, 1976(1976-07-01) (aged 89)
Political party Colorado Progressive Party
Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Edward Hale Bierstadt
Alma mater Vassar College; Columbia University

Josephine Aspinwall Roche (December 2, 1886 – July 1976) was a Colorado humanitarian, industrialist, Progressive Era activist, and politician. As a New Deal official she helped shape the modern American welfare state

Life[edit]

She was born in Neligh, Nebraska, and raised in Omaha, attending private girls' schools there before matriculating at Vassar College in 1904.[1] There she double-majored in economics and classics, and participated in basketball and track clubs. After graduating in 1908, Roche earned a master's degree in social work in 1910 from Columbia University.[1]

In 1906 her parents, John and Ella Roche, moved to Denver, where much of her life's work would be centered.[2] Roche volunteered for social causes in both New York City and Denver, studied cost of living issues,[3] and in 1912 returned to Denver full-time to become that city's first female police officer. However, her tenure there was short-lived, as her zealous prosecution of sumptuary laws and prostitution caused the city's more lenient law enforcement community to force her resignation.[2]

Over the following decade, Roche held a number of jobs in Denver and Washington, D.C., including serving as chair of the Colorado Progressive Party and campaigning against child labor in the sugar beet industry. While in Washington, she was briefly married to author Edward Hale Bierstadt, a colleague at the Foreign Language Information Service, of which she was the director; the marriage lasted from 1920 to 1922 and ended in divorce.[1] In 1925, she returned to Colorado due to her father's failing health, and in 1927 inherited his holdings in the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, a coal mining company which he had founded.[2] By 1929, she had purchased a majority interest in the company and become president. She then proceeded to enact a variety of pro-labor policies, including an invitation for the United Mine Workers of America to return to Colorado and unionize her mines, 15 years after her father and other coal mine owners had broken the unions in the aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre of 1914.[3]

Roche left Rocky Mountain Fuel in 1934 to run for Governor of Colorado. After being defeated in the Democratic Party primary[1] by Edwin C. Johnson, president Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. She held that post from 1934 until 1937, when she resigned to return to Colorado and run Rocky Mountain Fuel following the death of its president. However, the company was too much impacted by a variety of economic forces, and declared bankruptcy in 1944.[2] The company was ordered by bankruptcy court to liquidate assets and all mines ceased operation but the liquidation was not completed. Roche continued in control of the defunct company and the remaining assets and moved to Washington, D.C. Roche became president of Rocky Mountain Fuel Company in 1950 and maintained control of the company's non-liquidated assets until her death in 1976.[4]

Beginning in 1948, Roche served as one of three directors of the United Mine Workers' welfare and retirement fund.[2] In 1968, the union and its leadership were sued for mismanagement of the fund. The mismanagement charge was eventually proven in court, forcing Roche to step down in 1971.[1]

Over the course of her life, Roche was honored by a number of business and civic organizations, and received honorary degrees from Smith College, Oglethorpe University, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Colorado.[1]

Welfare reform[edit]

Roche was a leader in health care reform, but organized efforts to launch national health insurance in failed repeatedly--most notably in 1916, 1938-40, and 1943. Roche headed the New Deal insurance campaign in 1938-40, which had the best chance of success. From her position as Roosevelt's assistant secretary of the treasury, Roche led an interdepartmental study team and convened a 1938 conference to address national health. However after the conference, Roosevelt withdrew his support. The major legislation proposed by the liberal leader in the Senate, Robert F. Wagner, died in 1940 in the face of opposition from the Conservative coalition. Opposition from the American Medical Association and private insurance companies was intense. Historian C. Richard Mulcahy argues that Roche herself was responsible for the 1938-40 failure. She did not try to develop a national support base and she did not provide a rationale for establishing health care as a national right.[5]

Reformers hoped Roche would become the administrator of the new Federal Security Agency in 1939, but President Franklin Roosevelt passed her over. Her poor performance in building support for national health insurance annoyed FDR. She had wide contacts but they worked at cross purposes and there was no self-contained and unified female network.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Josephine Roche". Vassar Encyclopedia. 2004. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Tillie Fong (July 13, 1999). "Capitalist and Humanitarian". Rocky Mountain News. 
  3. ^ a b "Rocky Mountain Gesture". Time. September 7, 1931. 
  4. ^ Conarroe, Carolyn (2001). Coal Mining in Colorado's Northern Field. Louisville, Colo. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0-9711073-1-9. 
  5. ^ C. Richard Mulcahy, "Working Against The Odds: Josephine Roche, the New Deal, and the Drive for National Health Insurance." Maryland Historian (1994) 25#2 pp 1-21
  6. ^ Robyn Muncy, "Women, Gender, and Politics in the New Deal Government: Josephine Roche and the Federal Security Agency." Journal of Women's History (2009) 21#3 pp 60-83.

Further reading[edit]

  • McGinn, Elinor. "A Wide-Awake Woman Josephine Roche in the Age of Reform." Colorado History (March 2002). pp 1-194
  • Mulcahy, C. Richard. "Working Against The Odds: Josephine Roche, the New Deal, and the Drive for National Health Insurance." Maryland Historian (1994) 25#2 pp 1-21.
  • Muncy, Robyn. "Women, Gender, and Politics in the New Deal Government: Josephine Roche and the Federal Security Agency." Journal of Women's History (2009) 21#3 pp 60-83.
  • Muncy, Robyn. Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.

External links[edit]