Monday, May 20, 2013
Havel: Effects on Children during the Dust Bowl
Effects on Children during the Dust Bowl
Most literature about the Dust Bowl focuses on how the Depression era affected the lives of adults. Children, however, were tremendously affected during the Dust Bowl era and migration as well. When the middle of America began suffering from drought, land dispossession, and poverty, families struggled economically, financially, politically, and emotionally. Some children had to witness and experience their families breaking up either before or during their westward migration. The children had no control over this and it affected their lives greatly. Examining the history of the Dust Bowlers through the eyes of children is important to working class history because it shows how younger members of this class had to confront and survive this economic issue.
In The 1930s Decade in Photos Depression & Hope, Penn State Graduate and author of children’s and adult’s books Jim Corrigan states that “Today we know the actions that can harm our environment. In the 1930’s that fact was clearly not understood.” 1 Farmer’s in the U.S. Midwest removed grass on the land so they could grow crops. While they did this, they did not realize that the soil was then exposed to dangerous winds. After this, droughts occurred in the states of Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. These states in particular were known as danger zones because the windstorms disrupted the dry soil and created dust storms. After this devastating event, a lot of individuals and their families decided to migrate from the Western U.S to states such as California. Families were in search of farm jobs and realized they might not find a job if they did not migrate. Some people decided to stay, but they had to learn new ways to take care of the soil to decrease the winds that could develop. 2
Okies were the migrants from the Dust Bowl that were from states that were considered danger zones such as Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. The migrants from the Dust Bowl lived in scarcity for a very long time, and endured very long travels west. They also learned that there were new targets for hostility. In Oklahoma Celebrate the States, the authors Guy Baldwin and Joyce Hart stated that, “The migrants learned that the word Okie meant poor, stupid, dirty, and desperate.”3 This was a downgrading term and a very hurtful term. Furthermore, families struggled with finding work, adequate healthcare, and sufficient income for themselves and their families, and they had trouble finding a safe place to live. 4
Families who survived the Dust Bowl faced many challenges. Along their westward route, there were many obstacles and harsh times the individuals and families had to face.5 In A Cultural History of the United States through the Decades The 1930s, the author recalls a young man’s trip west to California. The author states, “Ed Holderby recalls his family trip west. I recall quite vividly living in a tent in Fort Hall Idaho eating only potatoes, scrubs, and scraps for 24 straight days. On the 24th day my brother Jim worked from 7am to noon loading stacks of potatoes into box cars which only earned him 10 cents with which he purchased a loaf of bread”. 6 The families traveling on the road had it hard. The adults and the children traveling on the road were struggling each and every day to get by and make sure that they had food. They had to live every day in fear.
The children during the Dust Bowl era had to encounter and experience terrifying situations while at home with the family. According to the website article, “Children’s Life during the Dust Bowl” it is explained how children during the Dust Bowl had suffered extreme poverty and went to bed starving almost every single night.7 The families didn’t make enough money to put food on the table for themselves and especially for their children. This affected children psychologically, mentally, and emotionally. The children during the Dust Bowl had to witness their parents not making enough money, not having enough food and water to provide for them, and go through the unrelenting times of not being able to find a decent paying job. Since times were sparse and these children didn’t have adequate housing they all had to use streams, rivers, and ponds that were close by to bathe, wash clothes, and use for the bathroom. The children tried to drink out of these rivers, but they would frequently develop diseases because the water was unsanitary. The children during the Dust Bowl had various chores and responsibilities to assist their parents and families.8
The struggles children faced did not only occur at home, struggles were present at school too. Schools in the Dust Bowl states suffered from extreme wind and dust, making it problematic for children to travel to and from school. In school, children had a tremendous problem with their books, as they were faded and filled with dust inside them. When it came to recreation, recess for the children was not very pleasurable because of dust storms and a lack of toys. For Dust Bowl children, 8th grade was usually the last year they attended school because after this they would stop school to go and work on the family farms. 9
In her Dust Bowl-era diary, Ann Marie Low explained that as a child, there was not much to do in the way of leisure. She talked about how there wasn’t much for the children to do in their own towns for fun and entertainment. She wrote, “If there was a quarter to spare, one could go to the movies on Saturday night. Everyone went to church on Sunday mornings. People spent their spare time playing cards and doing needlework.” 10 Both children and adults were limited on the entertainment they could enjoy during an economically depressed period and a relatively isolated part of the country.11
The fear that children faced during this historic era can be well depicted through Dorothea Lange’s photography. Lange is an American photographer famous for her Depression-era work. One of her photos in particular portrays the way children felt and what they were experiencing during the Dust Bowl era. The photograph of “The Migrant Mother” shows a mother with her two children. The mother is leaning on her hand and is looking away from the camera with a worried look on her face. Her two children are on each side of her in which they are leaning on her and facing the opposite way of the camera. The children appear to be frightened. The children don’t want to face the conflicts in front of them so they are hiding behind their mother. The mother and her children look exhausted, hungry, terrified, and worried. This is a great
photograph to show how the youth felt about the obstacles they were going through during the Dust Bowl era. 12
The Migrant Mother, 1936. Dorothea Lange.
Children during the Dust Bowl era suffered a series of several struggles that made every day living a challenging task. History through the eyes of children is eye opening and important to working class history for many reasons. It is important because it shows us how different ages of the working class cope with an era that has changed history. The ways in which these children during the Dust Bowl era survived and confronted their conflict of the Dust Bowl is a significant example to how the younger working class dealt with crisis. Depression eras in literature are often not explained through the eyes and experiences of children, but it is important to understand the hardships they had to face, in order to add their perspective to U.S. working class history.
1 Corrigan, Jim. "Devastation and the Dust Bowl." In The 1930's Decade in Photos Depression and Hope, 30-31. Devastation of the Dust Bowl 30. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc, 2010.
2 Corrigan, “Devastation,” 31.
3 Baldwin, Guy, and Joyce Hart. "Depression, Drought, and The Dust Bowl." In Oklahoma Celebrate The States, 46-53. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2010.
4 Ibid., 48
5 Press, Petra. "Blowin' Down The Road." In A Cultural History of the United States Through The Decades The 1930s, 30-45. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books Inc., 1999.
6 Press, "Blowin' Down The Road," 30-45.
7 "Children's Life During the Dust Bowl." ORACLE Think Quest Education Foundation. Accessed April 23, 2013. http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312210/childrenslife.html.
8 "Children's Life During the Dust Bowl." ORACLE Think Quest Education Foundation. Accessed April 23, 2013. http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312210/childrenslife.html.
9 Children's Life During the Dust Bowl." ORACLE Think Quest Education Foundation. Accessed April 23, 2013. http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0312210/childrenslife.html.
10 Low, Ann Marie. Dust Bowl Diary. N.p.: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.
11 Low, “Dust Bowl Diary,” 18.
12 Lange, Dorothea. The Migrant Mother. Photograph. 1936. Accessed May 5, 2013.