Edith Nourse Rogers & Child Refugees

The news about Gov. Deval Patrick seeking ways to aid children caught in a crisis situation along the southern border of the U.S. reminded me of an example of a member of Congress from Lowell trying to help children in distress during WWII. This is an excerpt from my essay “Cut From American Cloth,” previously published in sections on this blog and in full in The Offering, UMass Lowell’s literary magazine, and in the regional anthology River Muse: Tales of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley (2012)—PM


. . . In the Rogers School lobby, students with newcomer DNA could read about Edith Nourse Rogers, who still holds the record as the woman who served longest without interruption in the U.S. House of Representatives (1925–1960). The Great Recession of 2008-09 claimed the Rogers as City Hall budget cuts led to its closing—despite the “Rogers School Rocks” protest signs waved by kids and their parents.

“Congresswoman Rogers was a liberal and an internationalist,” writes Mary H. Blewett, longtime professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, “typical of successful Republicans of the northeast. She voted for most of the key New Deal programs of the thirties—the Wagner Act which protected union organization, the Social Security Act of 1935, and the minimum wage law of 1938—in line with the needs of her Lowell constituents, if not with the Republican leadership.”

A Mainer by birth, Rogers married into a wealthy textile-industry family in Lowell, where she had studied in a private girls school. She succeeded her husband, Congressman John Rogers, when he died in office. “Mrs. Rogers,” became the veterans’ best friend, her experience with the military having begun with agencies serving the wounded in France during World War I. In 1939, moved by reports of abuse of German Jews, especially the brutality of Kristallnacht, she and Sen. Robert F. Wagner of New York filed a refugee aid bill that would have allowed 20,000 German refugee children into the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt withheld his support, and despite lobbying by children’s advocates across America, the bill was defeated at the committee level. . . .”