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Friday, April 10, 2009

More on Webb v. McGowin

Aaa_2 When lumberman James Greeley McGowin died in 1934, his heirs stopped payments that the old man had been making to Joe Webb.  The resulting case, as everyone who reads this blog knows, is Webb. v. McGowin.

Bbb_2 Two of the heirs who cut off the pension were Norman Floyd McGowin (left) and Earl Mason McGowin (right).  Floyd succeeded his father as the president of the W.T. Smith Lumber Co., while Earl (a Rhodes Scholar) was a long-time company vice president.  Both were Oxford graduates, Alabama state legislators, and prominent conservationists.  As it happens, the Forest History Foundation has some oral history interviews of Floyd and Earl.  They don't mention Webb, but they do give some sense of what things were like at the mill in the 1920s.  Turns out that walking around the plant to interact with the employees was one of old man McGowin's regular activities:

He was a man who would get up early every morning. He loved to walk all over the property. He would walk into each of the mills each morning and then come back home for breakfast. He made a habit of that. He could call the name of any employee there. Even to this day [1976] people all speak of him.

And in some respects Chapman, though completely owned by the lumber company (including the churches and schools) had some progressive ideas, including mandatory health insurance for the workers.

The [physician's] office and the equipment facilities were, of course, donated by the company. But there was a medical fee, as I remember, of about seventy-five cents a month for a single man and a dollar and a quarter a month for a married man and his family. That gave them full medical attention. There were no further costs except for medicine. The doctor was also available for house calls.

Incidentally, the McGowin family still seems to be flourishing in Chapman.  Maybe some of you folks in Alabama might want to investigate to see if there are any oral history memories of Webb around, hmm?

[Frank]

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