Tuesday, November 5, 2013


While I never write about Louisiana politics in my blogs, I admit that I'm often tempted to express an opinion when I return to New Iberia, Louisiana following my sojourn in Sewanee, Tennessee. After all, several of our governors have been infamous figures in the State's history, and you can feel the heat of its politics when you cross the State line—a heat that is as steamy as the prevailing Louisiana weather. After riding on the well-kept highways in Tennessee, I couldn't help remarking about the present administration's lack of interest in the State's infrastructure when we bumped off I-10 onto the rutted roads leading into south Louisiana.
My political comment this morning is general in context, since I abhor political arguments of any kind: televised, radioed, or otherwise. I just have to say that the beliefs of the infamous populist governor, Huey Long, and benefits given to the impoverished in the State during his regime, seem to have totally disappeared. Also, as we traveled the corduroy roads into Acadiana, I thought about Long's vision concerning better roads for the State. Approximately 300 miles of paved roads existed when this controversial governor took office and when his term ended, 1,583 miles of paved road had been built. I won't belabor Long's ideal of "Share the Wealth," except to say that this little slogan has been completely lost, perhaps swept away and deposited in the Atchafalaya Basin. I hasten to add that I'm aware of the negative aspects of Long's regime and that he stands out as a prime example of the old maxim: "power tends to corrupt—absolute power corrupts absolutely." But enough said about someone who set out to serve the best interests of the state in which I was born and lost his way on the "Louisiana Hayride. " 
My thoughts about the latter figure in the State's political history caused me to dust off a few books in my Louisiana library where I found a volume published in 2000 about the first ladies of Louisiana. I was curious about Huey Long's first lady and wondered how she managed life with the "Kingfish."
First Ladies of Louisiana, presented by the Baton Rouge and River Parishes Committee of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Louisiana, contains a brief chapter on Rose McConnell Long. I didn't glean any information concerning Rose's methods of handling her bombastic husband, but after reading the chapter I envisioned her as a woman who embodied the old adage about "catching more flies with honey."
A native of Indiana, born to Peer McConnell, a church builder, and Sallie Billiu McConnell who had lived on Abbey Plantation in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, Rose met Huey Long in 1911 when he worked as a salesman, peddling Cottolene, a type of shortening used in cake baking. Huey judged a cake baking contest sponsored by his company and awarded Rose first place for her white layer cake in which she used part butter and part Cottolene shortening. Impressed by Huey's wit and mental acuity, Rose fell in love with him, and her feelings were reciprocated by the overwhelmed Huey. However, the couple courted two years before marrying in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1915, when Huey opened his first office in Winnfield, Louisiana, Rose became his secretary. Huey's first desk was a wooden crate which Rose covered with fabric, and when he ran for Railroad Commissioner three years later, Rose ran his campaign, using her mother's home in Shreveport as campaign headquarters. She hired children in the neighborhood to stuff envelopes and sent her brothers into rural Louisiana to set up campaign posters.
However, after starting a family, Rose became less active in Huey's campaigns because she felt that politics shouldn't interfere with her offspring's health and well-being. By contemporary standards, she'd be considered "square," as she taught her children to revere American history and old-fashioned ideals, including respect for their colorful father.
Rose often referred to Huey as "the smartest man I ever knew." An unassuming woman, she embraced domesticity and continued to bake the famous cake that first attracted her husband's interest. She also liked to fish with a cane pole and frequently pursued this outdoor hobby at her camp on Cross Lake.
Because her name was Rose and she had an affinity for the color, she often wore rose colored clothing and used the color when decorating or cooking. The seven-minute frosting for her famous white layer cake received a few drops of red food coloring to achieve a rose color, and the recipe for this cake and frosting is included in the vignette about this beloved First Lady of Louisiana.

The vignette about Rose Long is among the many stories about the wives of Louisiana governors and their roles in the State's history featured in First Ladies of Louisiana. The book concludes with a vignette about Alice Foster, wife of former Governor Murphy J. Foster II and a talented First Lady who took on projects dealing with Breast Cancer Awareness, Shots for Tots, Louisiana Chapter of the Leukemia Society, and the Governor's Litter Eradication Program. She also spearheaded the establishment of the Louisiana Governor's Mansion Foundation, serving as president of its executive board.

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