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The Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, 1929-1933

Lisa L. Ossian

Publication Year: 2012

To many rural Iowans, the stock market crash on New York’s Wall Street in October 1929 seemed an event far removed from their lives, even though the effects of the crash became all too real throughout the state. From 1929 to 1933, the enthusiastic faith that most Iowans had in Iowan President Herbert Hoover was transformed into bitter disappointment with the federal government. As a result, Iowans directly questioned their leadership at the state, county, and community levels with a renewed spirit to salvage family farms, demonstrating the uniqueness of Iowa’s rural life. 


Beginning with an overview of the state during 1929, Lisa L. Ossian describes Iowa’s particular rural dilemmas, evoking, through anecdotes and examples, the economic, nutritional, familial, cultural, industrial, criminal, legal, and political challenges that engaged the people of the state. The following chapters analyze life during the early Depression:  new prescriptions for children’s health, creative housekeeping to stretch resources, the use of farm “playlets” to communicate new information creatively and memorably, the demise of the soft coal mining industry, increased violence within the landscape, and the movement to end Prohibition.


The challenges faced in the early Great Depression years between 1929 and 1933 encouraged resourcefulness rather than passivity, creativity rather than resignation, and community rather than hopelessness. Of particular interest is the role of women within the rural landscape, as much of the increased daily work fell to farm women during this time. While the women addressed this work simply as “making do,” Ossian shows that their resourcefulness entailed complex planning essential for families’ emotional and physical health.


Ossian’s epilogue takes readers into the Iowa of today, dominated by industrial agriculture, and asks the reader to consider if this model that stemmed from Depression-era innovation is sustainable. Her rich rural history not only helps readers understand the particular forces at work that shaped the social and physical landscape of the past but also traces how these landscapes have continued in various forms for almost eighty years into this century.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. ix-ix

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Introduction: “Main Traveled Gravel Roads” : An Iowa Tour before the Fall, 1929

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pp. 1-20

The “Home Folks” from Iowa filled the fourteen special railroad cars as the delegation departed from the West Branch depot on the morning of March 2, 1929, to attend the inauguration of Iowa’s ...

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1. October 1929: The Stock Market Plummets: Echoes during the Fall Plowing: Iowa’s Reactions to the Wall Street Crash

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pp. 21-36

The Wolf of Wall Street played only for a Friday and Saturday night, October 11 and 12, at the Iowa Theatre on Winterset’s town square, but the movie certainly advertised itself well. “A story of terrific ...

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2. Welfare: Renewed Concerns, New Prescriptions: Politics of Farm Children’s Health

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pp. 37-58

Once an Iowa boy, President Herbert Hoover organized a Committee on Child Health and Protection in November 1930 that proclaimed a new health doctrine: the promoting and ...

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3. Domesticity: Making Do: Farm Women’s Coping through Creative Homemaking

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pp. 59-80

Make it over, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without.” With the motto of “making do” in mind, one could make Depression Pie by combining sugar, flour, broken-up bread, milk, eggs, and cinnamon; ...

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4. Art: An Athens of Sorts” : Poetry of Place and Farm Playlets

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pp. 81-98

American Gothic by Grant Wood surprised the art world and the general public in 1930 with his rather dour image of an Iowa farmer and his daughter posing with tools in hand before their farmhouse. The ...

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5. Industry: The Angry, Fading District Thirteen: The Demise of Soft-Coal Mining

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pp. 99-114

Under the Iowa cornfields near Madrid, over four hundred coal miners struggled to load the day’s tons. One of the miners, George Kruich, followed his miner’s lamp as he braced the tunnel roof ...

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6. Violence: Gangsters, Bandits, Mad Men, and Suicides: Fear, Anger, and Death within a Troubled Landscape

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pp. 115-134

With his rifle slung over his shoulder, John Kingrey, a 25-year-old several payments behind on his Model T, started to slowly walk one summer evening across the field from his father’s barn to ...

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7. Policy: Prohibition Possibly Prohibited: Voicing Temperance Concerns

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pp. 135-150

Mrs. Albert G. Ossian, president of a local Women’s Christian Temperance Union, delivered a short talk at the annual reception for the school faculty in Stanton on November 7, 1929. ...

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8. November 1932: The Presidential Farm Campaigns: Dealing Anew or Same Stacked Deck?

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pp. 151-170

The Great Depression did not start on Wall Street,” editor Deemer Lee firmly believed, but rather “it spawned in Emmet County, for one place, as farm deflation spread to the equipment industry, to ...

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Conclusion: The Depth Yet the Crest: Iowa’s Dilemmas by 1933

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pp. 171-180

In 1932 father suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away, leaving mother with two daughters and a pile of debts,” began Frances Geinzer’s story of her Iowa ...

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Epilogue: “Too Much” and “Too Little” : Rural Iowa after 1933

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pp. 181-197

Dairy families lived in this neighborhood thirty years ago,” explains David Faldet about the long-term consequences of New Deal government policies on Iowa’s farmers, “but the pattern and use has ...


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pp. 199-218


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pp. 219-228


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pp. 229-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272683
E-ISBN-10: 0826272681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219466
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219462

Page Count: 253
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1