I didn’t get paid to do it. I didn’t even receive academic credit. I did it because I love the idea of education outside of the classroom. This was a subject I was largely unfamiliar with, but was a lot of fun to put together from the research involved, to the writing, even the editing. Below I am posting the final copy of what he panel will have on it as far as my contributions. I haven’t yet heard when the panel will be created, though from what I understand it will take a while for the graphic designer to get some ideas together. In the mean time, I’m happy and proud of what I did and hope that this helps me in the future.
America is Challenged in the 1930’s
In the 1930s, a combination of environmental and man-made problems caused the United States to nearly spiral out of control. As the stock market crash of 1929 produced a financial meltdown, over-farming started to take its toll on the land and, along with population growth and drought, created what is known as the Dust Bowl in the Great Plains.
By 1918, American troops were engaged in battle in World War I. As one of the few foods the United States could successfully ship to troops across the Atlantic Ocean, the government encouraged farmers to grow wheat under the slogan, “Wheat can win the war.”
The United States Food Administration created “Wheat-less Wednesdays” to keep shipments flowing to Europe. The price of wheat rose and farmers plowed 11 million acres of virgin grasslands across the mid-west, twice the size of NJ. This time period is often referred to as the Great Plow Up.
After World War I, Americans continued to move west. As the 1920s wore on, problems arose for farmers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Southeast Colorado.
Plowing removed large stretches of the previously undisturbed native grasses and, without grass, the soil became dry and exposed and was picked up by the wind, which created dust storms.
Along with over-farming, four distinct periods of increased drought: 1930–31, 1934, 1936, and 1939–40, made the land unable to recover.
By late 1935, an estimated 850 million tons of topsoil had blown away in dust storms. By 1940, close to 2.5 million people left the affected states and headed further west towards places like California. Though from various states, these travelers were collectively known as “Okies” after Oklahoma.
Dust storms caused health issues for many people. Respiratory and eye infections were common and many wore masks made of gauze and cheesecloth to protect themselves. Windows and doors were sealed in order to keep dust out of homes. The most famous dust storm occurred on April 14th, 1935, known as “Black Sunday.” Shortly after, the term “Dust Bowl” would be used for the first time in a newspaper article.
By the mid-1930s, the U.S. government was actively involved in trying to reverse and prevent these conditions. In April 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Soil and Conservation Act, giving farmers money to plant native grasses and vegetation to stop erosion.
People learned to deal with dust storms in different ways. Jokes and story-telling helped take people’s mind away from their harsh surroundings and resilience and ingenuity were necessary survival skills.
Along with the environmental disaster, an economic disaster was also underway. The 1929 stock market crash caused many Americans to lose their jobs. The price of goods plummeted and some farmers had little choice but to abandon their land.
As unemployment rose from 3% in 1929 to 25% by 1933, President Roosevelt began creating social programs called the New Deal. Roosevelt’s vision started with the employment of artists. Artists promoted the program’s ideals and gained support. They also played an important role in documenting the effects of the Dust Bowl.
In 1936, funded by the U.S. Resettlement Administration, Pare Lorentz, produced a film on the Dust Bowl entitled, The Plow That Broke the Plains. The film was intended to educate the public on the need to reform farming practices and the delicacy of the land.
Meanwhile, still photographers, sponsored by the U.S. Farm Security Administration (FSA), traveled to the heart of the Dust Bowl and beyond, including Oswego County, documenting local citizens, locations and events during the period.
Without jobs, many Americans couldn’t afford to feed their families. Until 1932, local charities, mainly churches, were responsible for provisional food and financial assistance.
With the creation of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation (FSRC) in October, 1933, the government was able to purchase, store, and process surplus agricultural products to relieve the hardship and suffering caused by unemployment.
To receive surplus food, many individuals and families stood in line at food banks, which were sometimes miles away. In cities like Baltimore, Maryland, people were given a weekly allotment of 80¢ worth of products. Bread, sugar, and milk (when it was available) were distributed while supplies lasted.
In 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created. The CCC employed youths, between the ages of 18-24, to perform conservation work such as planting trees, digging new irrigation ditches, etc. Still valued today, the drought in the Great Plains gave the United States government a new perspective on conservation.
In the late 1930’s, weather patterns changed and brought rain to drought-affected areas. The U.S. economy finally began to recover in late 1941 as the country entered into World War II.