The “Great Depression” started in 1929 and slowly ending by the end of World War II. My Father was born in 1923 right before the Great Depression started therefore he was raised during this major event in American history. He was born and raised in Arkansas. He has some personal stories and facts that he has shared with me over the years, so I have written down a few of them.
The effects of the depression were felt by everyone, but not as much as it did the city people. The people in the cities that had money and then lost it all were the ones who had the hardest time feeding their families and providing basic needs. They often committed suicide by jumping off buildings.
In a rural area, everyone was mostly in the same boat and was poor. The country folk could get pelts to sell for extra money. There was always a way to get a little extra money back then by growing extra vegetables, selling eggs, and other things.
Feeding a Family
In the countryside of Arkansas, the people grew vegetables, and had fruit trees. Nevertheless, it was hard to buy seeds to plant. So part of every crop was dried to be used for the seeds for the next year.
There was also wild fruit and vegetables as well. My Grandmother canned and preserved both vegetables and fruit. Anything that spoiled or leftover food they gave to the pigs to eat. Nothing was wasted.
They also raised goats, cows, pigs, and chickens for eggs, milk, and meat. My Grandmother made her own butter and my Dad’s least favorite job was turning milk to make butter.
During the early spring, before the crops were ready to pick they picked what they called “Poke or Polk salad” greens. While cooking they placed a coin in the water and if it turned a certain color they could not eat the greens they were poisonous.
All of my Uncle’s, Great Uncle’s and Grandfather would go hunting and fishing to help keep meat on the table. Bullets were costly and hard to come by so the saying “one bullet, one shot, one rabbit” from my Grandfather.
They hunted birds, rabbit, frogs, opossum, and deer to name a few wild animals for meat.
However, my Grandmother often told my Dad that if he shot anything it had better be something they could eat and never for fun. He only did this one time and he got into a lot of trouble for it.
The only items that they bought at the store were corn meal, flour for biscuits, coffee, tea, and beans. Beans were a main source of food and protein to feed a family.
The people who lived in the cities were starving they had no way to grow or raise food and they stood in long lines for a cup of soup every day. In the countryside, they had it a little better they could raise and grow food or hunt.
Jobs & Work Programs
Jobs were hard to come by and my Grandfather walked 15 miles to and from work at one point so he could make .25-.50 cents a day while working at a job from one of these programs.
The only thing that saved most Americans at the time was the “Work Programs” that President Roosevelt developed to help the people. My Grandfather had at least one of these jobs. These are the names of these programs.
- 1. CWA Program-Civil Works Administration
- 2. PWA-Public Works Administration
- 3. CCC-Civilian Conservation Corps
- 4. WPA-Works Progress/Projects Administration
These programs helped to build the bridges, roads, public buildings, parks, airports to name a few. They also worked in the National Forest fighting fires and taking care of these parks. Artists were not left out they were asked to create murals and sculptures that are in and around our public buildings today.
Clothing & Shoes & Household Items
When my Dad’s shoe soles got holes in them, my Grandfather would take old tire tread and cut it to fit the shoe then he would sew and tack it to the shoe leather to make new soles. They got one pair of shoes for school, church and the winter months. During the summer, they were mostly barefoot.
My Grandmother made clothes, curtains, bedding, blankets and rugs. Pillows and mattresses made up of the feathers of birds, ducks and geese.
Quilt patches were from old material from old clothes, and any material that could be cut-up into squares for quilting.
Several members of a family wore the kid’s clothes from older/bigger to the younger/smaller ones.
Gasoline was plentiful back then if you lived around an oil field. It was the natural product from the oil wells and often piped out of the ground so you could fill containers with it and my Grandfather stored it underground. This was not legal but was a common practice.
They had country square dances or barn dances and all of the local folks would come and bring food to share, to dance, socialize and have fun. The kids would sometimes dance or play games with the other kids. My Grandfather called at some of the dances.
If Dad and his friends were lucky and could save up .25 cents, they would walk to the next town to buy a hamburger, a coke and see two movies. However, this was rare.
My Grandfather made his own beer and wine then would have his friends or workers over for beer and tell stories around the fire. When the men started to get rowdy my Grandmother would call all the kids inside and tell them “that they did not need to hear what they were talking about”. The men were getting drunk by this time.
Families would gather at homes lucky enough to have a radio to listen to programs, music and news.
Good times were hard to come by and entertainment was simple back then.
The Great Depression Facts: http://www.thegreatdepressionfacts.org/
U.S. History.com: http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1599.html
Job Programs of the Great Depression: http://www.law.umaryland.edu/marshall/crsreports/crsdocuments/R41017_01142010.pdf
American Experience: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/dustbowl-wpa/
Poke Salad Weed: http://www.pokesaladfestival.com/plant.htm