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The Rural Midwest Since World War II

J. L. Anderson

Publication Year: 2014

J.L. Anderson seeks to change the belief that the Midwest lacks the kind of geographic coherence, historical issues, and cultural touchstones that have informed regional identity in the American South, West, and Northeast. The goal of this illuminating volume is to demonstrate uniqueness in a region that has always been amorphous and is increasingly so. Midwesterners are a dynamic people who shaped the physical and social landscapes of the great midsection of the nation, and they are presented as such in this volume that offers a general yet informed overview of the region after World War II.

The contributors—most of whom are Midwesterners by birth or residence—seek to better understand a particular piece of rural America, a place too often caricatured, misunderstood, and ignored. However, the rural landscape has experienced agricultural diversity and major shifts in land use. Farmers in the region have successfully raised new commodities from dairy and cherries to mint and sugar beets. The region has also been a place where community leaders fought to improve their economic and social well-being, women redefined their roles on the farm, and minorities asserted their own version of the American Dream.

The rural Midwest is a regional melting pot, and contributors to this volume do not set out to sing its praises or, by contrast, assume the position of Midwestern modesty and self-deprecation. The essays herein rewrite the narrative of rural decline and crisis, and show through solid research and impeccable scholarship that rural Midwesterners have confronted and created challenges uniquely their own.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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R. Douglas Hurt

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pp. ix-xii

The Midwest is an amorphous region. Neither scholars nor the public, including those who live in the region, agree on its boundaries or what is included. In some respects it is an imagined and sentimentally idealized region where rural people on farms, in small towns, and in the countryside have created an exceptional, culturally defining region that is morally and ethically superior to all other sections of the nation...


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pp. xiii-2

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J.L. Anderson

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pp. 3-11

“The American middle west produces more benefits for humanity today than any region on earth,” boasted Eugene Griffin of the Chicago Tribune in 1947. While Griffin made his claim on behalf of both urban and rural midwesterners, it was no exaggeration that the region’s rural contributions to humanity were significant...

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1. A Landscape Transformed: Ecosystems and Natural Resources in the Midwest

James A. Pritchard

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pp. 12-43

The Midwest comprises one of the most productive yet highly modified landscapes on Earth. The Mississippi River drains over a million square miles, approaching 40 percent of the land area of the continental United States. This basin lies at the heart of the Midwest, noted for blazing hot summers and bitterly cold winters. It is a land flown over and overlooked, yet the region produces a substantial percentage of the U.S. agricultural product and boasts industrial and urban areas as well...

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2. Ecology, Economy, Labor: The Midwestern Farm Landscape since 1945

Kendra Smith-Howard

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pp. 44-71

Ask most Americans to identify the nation’s agricultural heartland, the home to iconic white farmhouses and red barns, and they will likely point to the center of the map. License plate mottos, university mascots, official state imagery, and pop culture references underscore the region’s agricultural traditions. Wisconsin bills itself as “America’s Dairyland.”...

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3. Beyond the Rust BELT: The Neglected History of the Rural Midwest’s Industrialization after World War II

Wilson J. Warren

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pp. 72-102

The Rust Belt paradigm is commonly used to explain manufacturing’s erosion in the Northeast and Midwest after World War II. The rise and fall of America’s manufacturing history is seen as an urban phenomenon, with emphasis on Pittsburgh’s steel industry and Detroit’s auto industry. Commentators invoke “Rust Belt” in a way that suggests that when manufacturing left urban areas, it disappeared from the country for good. In fact, especially from the vantage point of the late 1960s, the early postwar period saw considerable manufacturing growth...

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4. Midwestern Rural Communities in the Post-WWII Era to 2000

Cornelia Butler Flora and Jan L. Flora

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pp. 103-125

The end of the Second World War resulted in an economic boom in midwestern rural communities. Local retailers satisfied pent-up demand for consumer goods. Farmers came to town to shop and visit on Saturday nights and all the stores were open late. New service clubs emerged, movie theaters expanded, and local baseball and basketball teams drew large crowds. Yet numerous changes were under way that undermined the economic and social viability of midwestern small towns...

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5. Uneasy Dependency: Rural and Farm Policy and the Midwest since 1945

J.L. Anderson

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pp. 126-159

In 1973 a chemical company had inadvertently delivered polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), a fire retardant, to a Michigan Farm Bureau livestock feed yard instead of magnesium oxide, a livestock feed additive. A worker at the feed yard mistook the fire retardant for the feed additive and subsequently mixed the PBB with livestock feed. The contaminated feed was sold and distributed to farms across the state...

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6. Farm women in the Midwest since 1945

Jenny Barker Devine

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pp. 160-182

In 1950, Clara Fenstermann of Delaware County, Iowa, penned a letter to the Iowa Bureau Farmer, a periodical of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, explaining the new responsibilities of farm women in the postwar economy. “The modern farm wife does not stay ‘cooped up’ in a house,” she asserted, “but is helping her husband decide which crop to plant, which heifers to keep… when to sell the hogs, and also what would be the best way to spend the money.”...

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7. Childhood in the Rural Midwest since 1945

Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

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pp. 183-203

Our understanding and expectations of midwestern rural childhood owe a great deal to both Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood. When we think about the contours of that way of life, we imagine blue skies and sunshine. We see apple-cheeked children studying in one-room schools, working side by side with mothers and fathers, and romping in lush woodlands and rolling hills...

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8. “The Whitest of Occupations”?-African Americans in the Rural Midwest, 1940–2010

Debra A. Reid

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pp. 204-254

Few African Americans called the rural Midwest home prior to World War II, and fewer still lived in the region after 1945, yet African Americans farmed in every midwestern state and lived in several persistent rural enclaves in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio. Certainly the number could not compare to the concentrated populations of African Americans in the rural South or in the industrial North...

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9. Hispanics in the Midwest Since World War II

Jim Norris

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pp. 255-275

In 1945, the 12 states that comprise the Midwest contained a very small percentage of the Hispanic people in the United States. In 2000, the region still was the home for the smallest total percentage of Hispanic residents in the nation. While those numbers suggest continuity, in this instance they mask the significant changes in how Hispanics live in the Midwest. In 1945, the majority of Hispanics who could be found in the rural Midwest worked there but did not live there...

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10. Internal Alternate: The Midwestern Amish since 1945

Steven D. Reschly

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pp. 276-295

A handwritten sign in a shop window in downtown Chicago boasts “Amish Chickens,” suggesting timeless family comfort amid the urban chaos. The explosion of Amish products such as Amish furniture, Amish cheese, Amish friendship bread, and Amish bacon creates the illusion of a brand identity in urban and suburban marketplaces. The descriptive term “Amish” conjures notions of authentic products and experiences...

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Conclusion: The Indistinct Distinctiveness of Rural Midwestern Culture

David Danbom

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pp. 296-306

One of the great iconic films conveying a picture of contemporary midwestern culture is the Coen Brothers’ black comedy Fargo. At its most positive, it portrays a Midwest—or at least an upper Midwest— of hockey, duck stamps, all-you-can-eat buffets, and guileless folks demonstrating “Minnesota Nice.”...


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pp. 307-310


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pp. 311-323

E-ISBN-13: 9781609090906
E-ISBN-10: 160909090X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875806945
Print-ISBN-10: 0875806945

Page Count: 337
Illustrations: 22 halftones, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 879551935
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Rural Midwest Since World War II

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Subject Headings

  • Sociology, Rural -- Middle West.
  • Agriculture -- Middle West -- History -- 20th century.
  • Middle West -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Middle West -- Economic conditions.
  • Middle West -- Rural conditions.
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