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Living Mutual amid the flood waters: 1936

Allen Wastler

Posted on March 10, 2023

Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Two Springfield, Massachusetts firefighters rowing a boat down a city street after a 1936 flood
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Review the history of Great New England Flood of 1936.

Detail the steps MassMutual took to alleviate some of the damage and help refugees.

Note some of the other heroics that took place around the community as the flood took its toll.

Floods can threaten the worst for people. But these disasters can also bring out the best, inspiring the Live Mutual ethos that makes us all stronger through our support for one another.

Take the Great New England Flood of 1936.

On March 11 of that year, it started raining. It was the first of three successive major storms that hit the Northeast in a two-week period. Coming in the wake of a very cold and snowy winter, the rain washed heavy loads of ice into the river systems. The resulting ice jams and blockages led to overflowing rivers and busted dams from Maine to as far down as Maryland.

“The 1936 flood burst dams, wiped out roads, ruined businesses, and washed away homes,” said the New England Historical Society in its examination of the disaster.

Over 200 people are believed to have died as a result of the flooding. And tens of thousands were displaced or left homeless.

Flooding in the Springfield, Massachusetts, area alone ― where MassMutual is headquartered ― is believed to have displaced as many as 50,000 people, according to Springfield Museums.

MassMutual used the facilities and equipment at its company headquarters in the city to establish a feeding center for refugees. The company, working with the Red Cross through the crisis, served between 1,100 and 1,300 meals a day, according to a company history, well beyond the 500 meals a day it originally planned for.1

bridge icedPhotos courtesy of Wood Museum Archives, Springfield Museums

In addition:

  • Massachusetts College (later to become UMass) and Amherst College also opened their doors to refugees from nearby towns, with language students acting as interpreters for large immigrant contingents.
  • Hospital surgeons in Hartford, Connecticut, worked by battery-operated searchlights on victims of the flood’s destruction.
  • Zoo workers and volunteers in New Hampshire relocated animals at the Manchester Zoo to higher ground. (Moving the bears and leopards was especially challenging.)
  • Boat rescuers worked throughout the two-week deluge to rescue people stranded by overflowing rivers and flood waters (including the village of Satan’s Kingdom, which became totally isolated when a Hartford-area dam holding back 8 million gallons of water collapsed).

Of course, this same Live Mutual spirit appears in the present day. Like the time when teens and sportsmen who used their fishing boats to rescue people after Hurricane Harvey. Or in 2011, when a tornado ripped through the Springfield area on June 1, leaving three dead and at least 200 people injured. In that event MassMutual donated $1.6 million to rebuilding efforts and employees participated in various restoration projects.

These events, past and present, stand out. And we applaud them as part of our Live Mutual identity, because MassMutual believes that helping one another should be appreciated, honored, and celebrated, both in history and in the present day.

Learn more from MassMutual …

A long history of Living Mutual

Creating Kindness Day

MassMutual's sufferage pioneer


Richard Hooker, “A Century of Service: The Massachusetts Mutual Story,” 1951.

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