Marguerite Owen ran TVA's Washington, D.C. office for more than 3 decades. Her boss called it “an extremely difficult job.” She called it “exhilarating.”
Imagine TVA in March 1944. It is the middle of World War II. The United States is three months away from the D-Day invasion in France. Our maps and survey unit is working around the clock to chart areas in Europe. Fontana Dam is getting its final touches, and Douglas Dam is generating electricity to power Oak Ridge. Amidst a million other things he has to do, our Chairman, David Lilienthal, sits down and pens a letter to Mr. Aneurin Owen, an employee’s DAD!
While sending Mr. Owen a copy of his book, Democracy on the March, Lilienthal wrote that it gave him “an opportunity to tell you what a great debt this enterprise owes to Marguerite. To put it simply: The TVA would not be what it is today, in important and vital ways, if it had not had the benefit of her wonderfully clear head and good judgment.”
He is referring to Marguerite Owen, one of the most influential women to ever work at the agency. Miss Owen, TVA’s Washington Representative from 1933 until she retired in 1966, was the agency's link to Congress and the White House. She was working as secretary to a senator from Colorado when she was hired by TVA. Lilienthal wrote to Board Chairman A. E. Morgan: "We have all felt for some time the need of someone in Washington who could ascertain what is going on, on Capitol Hill, as it affects the Authority . .. I believe I have found just the person we need for this extremely difficult job."
Earlier Miss Owen had worked as legislative secretary for the League of Women Voters, which supported Senator George Norris's Muscle Shoals legislation that was to create TVA. There she studied the issue closely and wrote an information ·pamphlet for the League on "Muscle Shoals and the Public Welfare." During her tenure, she helped TVA navigate events such as the divisive conflict within the original Board that led President Roosevelt to fire Chairman A. E. Morgan, the urgent assignments given to TVA in World War II, the Dixon-Yates contract and cutoff of TVA power construction funding during the Eisenhower years.
In 1973, the Praeger Press published her book The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provided an insider's look at TVA’s many challenges as well as its record of accomplishments during her time in Washington. In the book's preface, she wrote:
"There were times of anxiety and apprehension in the Washington Office of TVA . . . We were the first to know of dangers threatening in Congress, the first to be advised of data required, and the first to hear the result of votes. It was exhilarating to report good news. It was sobering, however, to advise the Board of Directors of problems and perils emerging.”
On learning of her death in 1983, retired TVA Chairman A. J. Wagner said: "Marguerite Owen was truly one of a kind. More than anyone else she was responsible for the many years of smooth working relationships between TVA and the Congress and the president. She understood precisely how TVA needed to work with politicians, without getting into politics. ''
In that 1944 letter to her father, David Lilienthal noted that Marguerite would “scornfully call [his letter] ‘a letter of recommendation to my own father,’ but we fathers have a right to hear some good things once in a while.”
After all these many years, there is much good to say about Marguerite Owen.