Father Charles Coughlin–Union of Social Justice–1930s

After Clabe and Leora Wilson left tenant farming and moved to the town of Dexter, Iowa, he was sure he could find work with area farmers, enough to be able to take care of his family of seven children.

He was wrong. Even before the stock market crash of 1929, farmers were feeling the pinch of a depression in prices. Where to focus blame? Banks and railroads? They’d been supporters of William Jennings Bryan decades earlier, so had populist leanings.

In 1934 through 1936, they began to listen to a Detroit radio priest, Father Charles Couglin, who–in an Irish brogue–warned against money changers, “subversive socialism,” and said that international bankers had ruined America. Each week he lectured from his Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oaks, Michigan. “The New Deal in Christ’s Deal,” he declared, endorsing Roosevelt. He announced the formation of the National Union for Social Justice. 


Father Coughlin didn’t want to oppose the president’s New Deal, he said. Just perfect it. He organized groups “To Keep America for America.” No politics, he stressed, just justice. Clabe and Leora were faithful listeners of this sermonizer from Royal Oak, Michigan.

In spite of having so little, they must have sent a small donation to the radio priest. Why else would there be a small crucifix and a Holy Ghost charm, souvenirs of the Shrine of the Little Flower, Royal Oak among their keepsakes decades later?

From Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression, to be published late winter 2021.



  1. Oh my. I feel bad that they fell for him. He was such an anti-Semite. I wonder if they ever realized how he was really using his bully pulpit.

  2. There seem to always be those who are looking for someone to blame for misfortune (not that there aren’t sometimes real culprits, but they seem to deflect any arrows flung their way). Charismatics generate a lot of attention, but not real solutions. Sigh.

    • I’m also working through trying to understand Clabe and Leora. She had a 8th grade education (her father wouldn’t allow his older kids to go on to night school) and I doubt that Clabe got that far. It won’t show up until the book about their early years what a challenging upbringing he had. I think some was his shy personality. Perhaps he admired someone who would stand up for something. Still mulling.

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