A memoir from a schoolteacher of growing up in the heart of the Midwest during the Great Depression describes her close family life on an Iowa farm during a time of endless work and resourcefulness, with no tolerance for idleness or waste.
I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone. For many years I have had the urge to describe that treasure trove, lest it vanish forever. So, partly in response to the basic human instinct to share feelings and experiences, and partly for the sheer joy and excitement of it all, I report on my early life. It was quite a romp. So begins Mildred Kalish’s story of growing up on her grandparents’ Iowa farm during the depths of the Great Depression. With her father banished from the household for mysterious transgressions, five-year-old Mildred and her family could easily have been overwhelmed by the challenge of simply trying to survive. This, however, is not a tale of suffering. Kalish counts herself among the lucky of that era. She had caring grandparents who possessed—and valiantly tried to impose—all the pioneer virtues of their forebears, teachers who inspired and befriended her, and a barnyard full of animals ready to be tamed and loved. She and her siblings and their cousins from the farm across the way played as hard as they worked, running barefoot through the fields, as free and wild as they dared. Filled with recipes and how-tos for everything from catching and skinning a rabbit to preparing homemade skin and hair beautifiers, apple cream pie, and the world’s best head cheese (start by scrubbing the head of the pig until it is pink and clean), Little Heathens portrays a world of hardship and hard work tempered by simple rewards. There was the unsurpassed flavor of tender new dandelion greens harvested as soon as the snow melted; the taste of crystal clear marble-sized balls of honey robbed from a bumblebee nest; the sweet smell from the body of a lamb sleeping on sun-warmed grass; and the magical quality of oat shocking under the light of a full harvest moon. Little Heathens offers a loving but realistic portrait of a “hearty-handshake Methodist” family that gave its members a remarkable legacy of kinship, kindness, and remembered pleasures. Recounted in a luminous narrative filled with tenderness and humor, Kalish’s memoir of her childhood shows how the right stuff can make even the bleakest of times seem like “quite a romp.” From the Hardcover edition.
Author: Dwight W. Hoover
Publisher: Ivan R Dee
Release Date: 2007
Genre: Biography & Autobiography
A Depression-era farmer recounts four seasons worth of daily life on his childhood family's farm, a period marked by rural hardships, the transition from horse labor to tractors, and the approach of World War II.
Author: Doug Hoverson
Publisher: U of Minnesota Press
Release Date: 2007
A visual history of MInnesota beers and breweries traces the evolution of the state's beer industry, from the 1849 construction of the first brewery to the growth of small-town enterprises that gave way to large companies of regional and national prominence, offering a comprehensive list of Minnesota breweries as well as more than three hundred illustrations of beer and breweriana.
Author: Carol Bodensteiner
Release Date: 2008
Genre: Country life
In Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, Carol Bodensteiner tells the stories of a happy childhood growing up on a family-owned dairy farm in the middle of America in the 1950s, a time when a family could make a good living on 180 acres.
Author: Donald C. Elder, III
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Release Date: 1998-05-01
William Henry Harrison Clayton was one of nearly 75,000 soldiers from Iowa to join the Union ranks during the Civil War. Possessing a high school education and superior penmanship, Clayton served as a company clerk in the 19th Infantry, witnessing battles in the Trans-Mississippi theater. His diary and his correspondence with his family in Van Buren County form a unique narrative of the day-to-day soldier life as well as an eyewitness account of critical battles and a prisoner-of-war camp. Clayton participated in the siege of Vicksburg and took part in operations against Mobile, but his writings are unique for the descriptions he gives of lesser-known but pivotal battles of the Civil War in the West. Fighting in the Battle of Prairie Grove, the 19th Infantry sustained the highest casualties of any federal regiment on the field. Clayton survived that battle with only minor injuries, but he was later captured at the Battle of Stirling's Plantation and served a period of ten months in captivity at Camp Ford, Texas. Clayton's writing reveals the complicated sympathies and prejudices prevalent among Union soldiers and civilians of that period in the country's history. He observes with great sadness the brutal effects of war on the South, sympathizing with the plight of refugees and lamenting the destruction of property. He excoriates draft evaders and Copperheads back home, conveying the intra-sectional acrimony wrought by civil war. Finally, his racist views toward blacks demonstrate a common but ironic attitude among Union soldiers whose efforts helped lead to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Author: Evelyn Birkby
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Release Date: 2012-09-15
In 1949, Iowa farm wife Evelyn Birkby began to write a weekly column entitled “Up a Country Lane” for the Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, now called the Valley News. Sixty-three years, one Royal typewriter, and five computers later, she is still creating a weekly record of the lives and interests of her family, friends, and neighbors. Her perceptive, closely observed columns provide a multigenerational biography of rural and small-town life in the Midwest over decades of change. Now she has sifted through thousands of columns to give us her favorites, guaranteed to delight her many longtime and newfound fans. Evelyn begins with her very first column, whose focus on the Christmas box prepared by a companionable group of farm wives, the constant hard work of farming, and an encounter with an elderly stranger over a yard of red gingham sets the tone for future columns. Optimistic even in the wake of sorrow, generous-spirited but not smug, humorous but not folksy, wise but not preachy, Evelyn welcomes the adventures and connections that each new day brings, and she masterfully shares them with her readers. Tales of separating cream on the back porch at Cottonwood Farm, raising a teddy bear of a puppy in addition to a menagerie of other animals, surviving an endless procession of Cub and Boy Scouts, appreciating a little boy’s need to take his toy tractor to church, blowing out eggs to make an Easter egg tree, shopping for bargains on the day before Christmas, camping in a converted Model T “house car,” and adjusting to the fact of one’s tenth decade of existence all merge to form a world composed of kindness and wisdom with just enough humor to keep it grounded. Recipes for such fare as Evelyn’s signature Hay Hand Rolls prove that the young woman who was daunted by her editor’s advice to “put in a recipe every week” became a talented cook. Each of the more than eighty columns in this warmhearted collection celebrates not a bygone era tinged with sentimentality but a continuing tradition of neighborliness, Midwest-nice and Midwest-sensible.
Author Delores Mixer was ten years old when her father came home one day and announced he'd lost his job. It had taken a few years since the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, before the Great Depression came to Saint Paul, Minnesota. In this collection of uplifting short stories, Delores describes the period when her family lived in a house on Glendale Street, in the Midway District, as the "We Can Make It" time, as they go on to face the challenges of trying times together. A testament to the all-American optimism and "can-do" spirit our country was built upon, Growing Up in the Great Depression shows what is possible when a family pulls together, engages their resourcefulness to support themselves-even having some fun along the way. Original poems, both haiku and free verse, as well as lyrics to several popular songs from the era are included to help convey the sentiments of the day. While providing intriguing historical context, this book is all about ingenuity and enjoying life's simple pleasures, such as a little red wagon-which, as the lapel pin worn by Colin Powell symbolizes, can carry a child's dreams.
Author: Tom Lutz
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: 2006-05-16
From the author of Crying, a witty, wide-ranging cultural history of our attitudes toward work—and getting out of it Couch potatoes, goof-offs, freeloaders, good-for-nothings, loafers, and loungers: ever since the Industrial Revolution, when the work ethic as we know it was formed, there has been a chorus of slackers ridiculing and lampooning the pretensions of hardworking respectability. Reviled by many, heroes to others, these layabouts stretch and yawn while the rest of society worries and sweats. Whenever the world of labor changes in significant ways, the pulpits, politicians, and pedagogues ring with exhortations of the value of work, and the slackers answer with a strenuous call of their own: "To do nothing," as Oscar Wilde said, "is the most difficult thing in the world." From Benjamin Franklin's "air baths" to Jack Kerouac's "dharma bums," Generation-X slackers, and beyond, anti-work-ethic proponents have held a central place in modern culture. Moving with verve and wit through a series of fascinating case studies that illuminate the changing place of leisure in the American republic, Doing Nothing revises the way we understand slackers and work itself.
An inspiring account of America at its worst-and Americans at their best-woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author's generous and secretive grandfather. Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to 75 families in distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author's grandfather Sam Stone was inspired to place this ad and assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever witness. Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase 75 years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has re-created the impact that Mr B. Virdot's gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal, or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items-a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As Gup's investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people's lives around- even to save them. But as he uncovered the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable- retiree persona he'd always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam's life-from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from U.S. officials-that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need. Drawing on his unique find and his award-winning reportorial gifts, Ted Gup solves a singular family mystery even while he pulls away the veil of eight decades that separate us from the hardships that united America during the Depression. In A Secret Gift, he weaves these revelations seamlessly into a tapestry of Depression-era America, which will fascinate and inspire in equal measure. Watch a Video
Author: John R. Stilgoe
Publisher: University of Virginia Press
Release Date: 2014-03-04
Glamour subverts convention. Models, images, and even landscapes can skew ordinary ways of seeing when viewed through the lens of photography, suggesting new worlds imbued with fantasy, mystery, sexuality, and tension. In Old Fields, John Stilgoe—one of the most original observers of his time—offers a poetic and controversial exploration of the generations-long effort to portray glamour. Fusing three forces in contemporary American culture—amateur photography after 1880; the rise of glamour and fantasy; and the often-mysterious quality of landscape photographs—Stilgoe provides a wide-ranging yet concentrated take on the cultural legacy of our photographic history. Through the medium of "shop theory"—the techniques, tools, and purpose-made equipment a maker uses to realize intent—Stilgoe looks at the role of Eastman Kodak in shaping the ways photographers purchased cameras and films, while also mapping the divisions that were created by European-made cameras. He then goes on to argue that with the proliferation of digital cameras, smart phones, and Instagram, young people’s lack of knowledge about photographic technique is in direct correlation to their lack of knowledge of the history of glamour photography. In his exploration of the rise of glamour and fantasy in contemporary American culture, Stilgoe offers a provocative and very personal look into his enduring fascination with, and the possibilities inherent in, creating one’s own images.
Release Date: 2008
In 1939, just before graduating from high school in the small town of Ridgeway in northeast Iowa, Everett Kuntz spent his entire savings of $12.50 on a 35mm Argus AF camera. He made a camera case from a worn-out boot, scraps from a tin can, and a clasp from his mother’s purse. For the next several years, especially during the summers when he worked on his parents’ dairy farm, he clicked the shutter of his trusty Argus all around the quiet town. Everett bought movie reel film in bulk from a mail-order house, rolled his own film, and developed it in a closet at home, but he never had the money to print his photographs. More than two thousand negatives stayed in a box while he married, raised a family, and worked as an electrical engineer in the Twin Cities. When he became ill with cancer in the fall of 2002—sixty years after he had developed the last of his bulk film—Everett opened his time capsule and printed the images from his youth. He died in 2003, having brought his childhood town back to life just as he was leaving it. A sense of peace radiates from these images. Whether skinny-dipping in the Turkey River, wheelbarrow-racing, threshing oats, milking cows, visiting with relatives after church, or hanging out at the drugstore or the movies, Ridgeway’s hardworking citizens are modest and trusting and luminous in their graceful harmony and their unguarded affection for each other. Visiting the town in 2006 as he was writing the text to accompany these photographs, Jim Heynen crafted vignettes that perfectly complement these rediscovered images by blending fact and fiction to give context and voice to Ridgeway’s citizens.
Author: Melita M. Garza
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Release Date: 2018-01-31
Genre: Social Science
As the Great Depression gripped the United States in the early 1930s, the Hoover administration sought to preserve jobs for Anglo-Americans by targeting Mexicans, including long-time residents and even US citizens, for deportation. Mexicans comprised more than 46 percent of all people deported between 1930 and 1939, despite being only 1 percent of the US population. In all, about half a million people of Mexican descent were deported to Mexico, a "homeland" many of them had never seen, or returned voluntarily in fear of deportation. They Came to Toil investigates how the news reporting of this episode in immigration history created frames for representing Mexicans and immigrants that persist to the present. Melita M. Garza sets the story in San Antonio, a city central to the formation of Mexican American identity, and contrasts how the city's three daily newspapers covered the forced deportations of Mexicans. She shows that the Spanish-language La Prensa not surprisingly provided the fullest and most sympathetic coverage of immigration issues, while the locally owned San Antonio Express and the Hearst chain-owned San Antonio Light varied between supporting Mexican labor and demonizing it. Garza analyzes how these media narratives, particularly in the English-language press, contributed to the racial "othering" of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Adding an important new chapter to the history of the Long Civil Rights Movement, They Came to Toil brings needed historical context to immigration issues that dominate today's headlines.