Rural Midwest Farm Life During the Great Depression and Early 20th Century

Expand/Collapse Rural Midwest Farm Life During the Great Depression and Early 20th Century


These segments from Iowa Public Television's documentary The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos feature original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

  • Life on a Rural Midwest Family Farm during the Great Depression

    Learn how life on a farm in the early twentieth century was challenging but families were very self-sufficient in this video from Iowa Public Television. Many farms went bankrupt. Those that survived did so by working hard and stretching every dollar. This video features original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Farmers Fear Bankruptcy During the Great Depression

    Learn about the thousands of family farms that were lost due to bankruptcy during the Great Depression in this video from Iowa Public Television. 

    During the Great Depression, thousands of family farms were lost due to bankruptcy. Farmers could not make payments on loans because the cost of production exceeded their profits. Those who were able to stay in business were in constant fear of losing their farm.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Taking Care of Farm and Family During the Great Depression

    Find out how the Great Depression made farm life even more difficult while many rural families found creative solutions to their problems in this video from Iowa Public Television. 

    As the Great Depression began, what was a challenging life on the farm became more difficult.  There was very little money on hand to keep the farm going from year to year and to purchase what they could not produce themselves. Many farm families found creative solutions to their problems. Communities came together to help one another whether it was to build a new barn, or bring in harvest.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

     

    Grades: 5-12
  • The Great Depression, the Family Farm and the New Deal

    Learn about how family farmers and agricultural workers were impacted by the Great Depression and the New Deal in this video from Iowa Public Television. 

    Although the Great Depression began in 1929, hard times had started about ten years earlier for many rural farmers. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created in 1933 to come to the aid of agricultural workers and family farmers.

    For most people in the United States, the start of the Great Depression was October 29, 1929. On that day, the value of stocks traded in the New York Stock Exchange dropped dramatically. Banks and investment companies that had put money in stocks lost fortunes. Factories began to close, laying off workers. Hard times were coming. However, hard times had started about ten years earlier for farmers in the Midwest.

    In 1933, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration undertook the most far-reaching land reform and planning program in modern American history. One of the new agencies was the FSA, the Farm Security Administration. The FSA's goal was to come to the aid of agricultural workers and family farmers.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century. 

    Grades: 5-12
  • Rural Midwest Farm Life in the Early 20th Century

    Learn about life on the farm in the early 20th century with this video from Iowa Public Television. This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary 

    In the early twentieth century, life on the farm was challenging but families were very self-sufficient.   Farmers were able to grow their own food including fruits, vegetables, eggs and meat.  Summer produce was canned in order to feed the family during the winter months. To round out their pantries, farm families purchased items they could not supply like flour, sugar and coffee.
     
    Modern conveniences and technology had not yet come to rural America. In the 1920s and '30s homes in a town might have had electricity but many of their counterparts on the farm would not.  Kerosene lamps were used to light the home and out buildings at night. There was no air conditioning or central heat. Homes were heated with wood, or coal if the family could afford the expense. Many rural homes did not yet have indoor plumbing. Regardless of the weather, going to the bathroom meant a trip outside to an outhouse. Families had to hand-carry water to the house for cooking and bathing.

    "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Electricity and Plumbing Change Rural Farm Life in the Early 20th Century

    Learn how the 1930s brought changes to work and life on the farm with increasing numbers of rural farm families with access to electricity and indoor plumbing in this video from Iowa Public Television. 

    Although nearly 90 percent of urban households had electricity by the 1930s, only 10 percent of rural households had access. The cost to bring power lines to remote farm homes was too expensive for private utility companies, so the government stepped in to help with creation of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935.

    As farmers gained access to electricity, they wanted more modern amenities such as indoor plumbing. But even in 1940, most Midwest farms did not yet have indoor toilets, showers and bathtubs. Once these amenities arrived, they dramatically changed work and life on the farm.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography, filmed recreations, and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Farm Life in the Early 20th Century: Avoiding Waste

    Learn how many rural families avoided waste and found ways to stretch every dollar during the Great Depression in this video from Iowa Public Television. 

    Although the Great Depression made farm life even more difficult, many rural families found creative solutions to their problems. When an animal was butchered every bit of it was used.  Chicken feed sacks were made into used to make dresses for the women and girls.  Water was used sparingly. For many, baths were once a week in the winter with family members sharing the same water to conserve. Many of those who lived during the Great Depression retained their thrifty ways as they grew older.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography, filmed recreations, and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Socializing, Traditions and Chores for Rural Farm Families in the 1940s

    Learn about the social traditions and hard work of rural American farm families in this video from Iowa Public Television. Original photography and first-person accounts tell the story of rural American farm families before many of the technological and cultural changes of the mid-twentieth century.

    The 1940s brought a lot of change to rural Midwest farm families. Electrification, indoor plumbing, transportation and media technologies altered work and culture. In this segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos," original photography and first-person accounts tell the story of the traditions and chores of farm life in rural America before many of the changes of the twentieth century emerged.

    Grades: 5-12
  • The Role of Women on the Farm in the Early 20th Century

    Learn how the line “a woman’s work is never done” certainly held true for farm women during the Great Depression and early twentieth century in this video from Iowa Public Television.  While men generally handled a majority of the fieldwork women traditionally kept the household going. Women raised the chickens and grew the gardens. They canned produce, baked bread, did the laundry and cared for the family and home.  

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography, filmed recreations, and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Threshing Machine: Farmers Working Together

    Learn about how during the early to mid-twentieth century, steam-powered threshing machines were widely used on farms in this video from Iowa Public Television.  Threshing, the process of removing the grain from the stalk on a plant such as oats or wheat, was a big event that drew friends and neighbors to local farms.  Prior to the steam engine, this work was laborious and all done by hand. Even with a steam engine to power the threshing machine, many hands were needed to help bring in a crop. Women were also extremely busy during the threshing. The threshing crew needed to be fed and all of the women came together to prepare food for the crew. 

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography, restored archival color film, filmed recreations, and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12
  • Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century

    Learn how the first half of the twentieth century was a time of transition on the family farm in this video from Iowa Public Television. As tractors began to replace horses, farm families witnessed the birth of mechanization on the farm.

    This segment from Iowa Public Television's documentary "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" features original photography, restored archival color film, filmed recreations, and first-person accounts of farm life in rural America during the Great Depression and early twentieth century.

    Grades: 5-12

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Contributor: Iowa Public Television
Funder: Support Provided by the Iowa Communications Network