Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains

Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains

Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains

Main Street in Crisis: The Great Depression and the Old Middle Class on the Northern Plains

Synopsis

This study of class during the Great Depression is the first to examine a relatively neglected geographical area, the northern plains states of North and South Dakota, from a social and cultural perspective. Surveying the values and ideals of the old middle class--independent shopkeepers, artisans, professionals, and farmers--Catherine Stock presents a picture of Dakotans' cultural life in the 1920s and 1930s and tells of their efforts to come to terms with the enormous social change brought about by the New Deal. According to Stock, the depression not only destroyed Dakotans' economic foundations but also bankrupted their community organizations and undermined their social relations. She shows that Dakotans' social values, characterized by notions of neighborliness, loyalty, hard work, upright character and individual enterprise, were threatened first by devastating drought and subsequent collapse and then by massive relief efforts and governmental intervention on an unprecedented scale. By 1940, one-third,of all farmers who owned their land had lost it to foreclosure, and the federal government had spent nearly half a billion dollars to aid the region. Stock argues that to Dakotans, the New Deal offered a trade-off between autonomy, community, and local control, on the one hand, and survival itself on the other. Dakotans, ambivalent toward "progress", feared not only for their land, their businesses, their families, and their communities; they feared for the survival of a way of life. They responded, says Stock, by working to make sense of the new world and find renewed meaning in the old. Consulting varied sources such as diaries, autobiographies, oral histories, and newspaperaccounts, Stock includes women's voices as well as men's. She integrates female perspectives on farm life and old-middle-class community into the narrative as a whole and devotes a separate chapter to women's experiences of the up

Excerpt

In a recently republished collection of short stories, Lois Phillips Hudson recalled a humiliating experience from her childhood near Eldredge, North Dakota, in the 1930s. One day at school, two of Lois's friends noticed that she did not have anything to eat for lunch. When they asked her why her family did not go on relief, however, Lois would not reply. She knew that her father, a merchant whose store had failed, had been told to lie about his income, "to say we were even poorer than we were," to qualify for government assistance. He had refused and said that he "would rather starve." Like her father, Lois was "really proud" that she had no lunch pail, even if it meant pretending to her friends that she was not hungry. This book examines the basis of Lois's pretension: the moral economy of the old middle class on the northern plains during the Great Depression.

The story of America's "hard times" has been told again and again, but never quite this way. In the 1930s an ecological disaster on the Great Plains accompanied the economic upheavals of the Great Depression. Throughout the nation's vast midsection, drought and dust ruined the land and drove thousands of families from their homes. Since then, historians have traveled to the southern plains to examine the ecological and social effects of the Dust Bowl. Few have ventured to the equally devastated sections of the northern plains. There, however, a drama unfolded that went well beyond economics and demographics and that more completely involved those who stayed behind than the better-known migrants who headed West. In North and South Dakota, farmers, shopkeepers, artisans . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.