Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Jennings mss., 1924-1956, are the papers of John Kaley Jennings, 1883-1972, Indiana WPA administrator. Career: Born November 24, 1883 in Rich Hill, Missouri; son of John and Elizabeth (Kaley) Jennings. His first positions were: 1903, clerk, Western Mining Company, Yale, Kansas; 1904, assistant cashier, Consolidated Coal Company, Staunton, Ill.; 1906, transferred to company's Kansas City office as bookkeeper. In 1907, he came to Evansville, Ind. as a bookkeeper with the Crescent Coal Company. His other careers in Evansville include: 1908, vice-president and sales manager, Sunny Side Coal Company; 1912, president, Independent Hay and Grain Company; 1921, organized Diamond Mills; 1927, added Rosedale Theater to his Evansville business interests. In 1927, he went on an extensive tour of Europe to study European municipal governments.

In November 1931 Jennings organized and became Chairman of the Unemployment Relief Agency, one of the first work relief programs in the nation. From them on he began his long career in the public service. He also was an unsuccessful democratic candidate for Mayor of Evansville against Herbert Males during the height of Klan movement in 1926, and against William H. Dress in 1934. In 1932, he was named Chairman of the Tax Adjustment Board. In July 1935, he was appointed WPA District Director for ten southwestern Indiana counties and 1937-1946, he was State Director of the War Manpower Commission. Other positions held were District Director, Department of Commerce; State Director, U.S. Employment Service; Chairman, Governor's Commission on Unemployment Relief; Chairman, State Housing Commission; Director, Commercial Indemnity Insurance Company, Indianapolis. On May 25, 1909, he married Lillian Helfrich of Evansville and there are two children from this marriage: William and Mrs. Marie (Jennings) Kollker.

The mss. consist of letters from and to prominent political figures, friends, business letters, speeches, and official documents during his period as a public administrator. The bulk of the material covers his public service period.

Some of the more important subjects include politics in Indiana, 1921-1929; his political campaign as a democratic candidate for Mayor of Evansville, Spring 1934; memos, orders, messages, and other material issued in connection with the Ohio River flood disaster in Evansville, Ind., January and February 1937; reports of the Indiana National Guard and the assistance they rendered at the time of the flood, 1937; coal dealers' meeting, January 1937; material from his activities as a WPA administrator, 1935-43; Senate investigation findings and evidence of material of the WPA political activities and conditions in Indiana, compiled by Senator Raymond E. Willis, 1939; extensive correspondence on his poker playing and difficulties with the authorities, 1944; tax board investigation of Evansville and Vanderburgh County, 1932; correspondence on Evansville Gridiron Club, 1955-1956; financial statements and reports of 1953, 1954, 1955, when he served as treasurer of the Indiana Democratic State Central Committee.

Among the correspondents in the collection are Paul Mulholland Butler, Samuel Hugh Dillin, Charles Bates Enlow, George Hansen Field, Philip Bracken Fleming, Everett L. Gardner, Robert Clifford Goodwin, Harry Lloyd Hopkins, William Albert Kunkel, Louis Leon Ludlow, Carleton Buel McCulloch, Paul Vories McNutt, Ray John Madden, Henry Wright Marshall, Carl Henry Mullen, Louis Ruthenburg, M. Clifford Townsend, Frederick Van Nuys, F. Harold Van Orman, and Matthew Empson Welsh.

The collection also includes his printed platform as candidate for Mayor; pamphlets and leaflets of interest to him; eight scrapbooks, 1924-1941, on politics, work relief, tax adjustment, and WPA; newspaper clippings about him and the WPA activities, 1925-1963; photographs of Jennings; two photograph albums of WPA projects; and fourteen films dealing with WPA projects, flood, etc.

Collection size: 300 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.