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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

An Iowa Christmas During the Depression

Updated: May 10, 2023

This Christmas Eve, it's worth remembering the hardships our forebears endured in past Christmases to better appreciate our blessings today. Wishing you all a joy-filled Christmas Eve.


In the fall of 1936, during the Great Depression, the photographer, Russell Lee was hired for the federally sponsored Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographic documentation project of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. He joined a team of the nation’s premier photographers, including Dorothea LangeArthur Rothstein and Walker Evans. During the winter of 1936, Lee traveled across the Midwest to document the impact of the Great Depression on farm families.


During one of his stops in rural Iowa, he met a tenant farmer named Earl Pauley who rented a 185-acre farm near Smithfield, Iowa, in Woodbury County in the western part of the state. Earl Pauley invited Lee to visit their home on Christmas Day. Here, Lee captured some of his most famous pictures of the face of poverty during the Depression.

The Pauley family Christmas dinner consisted of boiled potatoes and cabbage.

A special treat just for Christmas: apple pie. Father helps the kids peel apples for Momma’s apple pie. Christmas 1936.

Earl Pauley built this dugout shanty into the side of a hill after the first family home burned down.

Two of the little Pauley girls look out the window. The Pauley home was

constructed with leftover wood and cardboard for insulation.

Mrs. Pauley with her two little girls. She made their dresses out of patterned flour sacks.

The Pauley baby was the fourth child in a farm family that could barely feed their existing children.

Frank Moody, his wife and seven children lived in this dugout they built on their 80-acre tenant farm, also in Woodbury County, near Miller township, Christmas 1936.

Mrs. Frank Moody with three of her seven children on their eighty acre farm Woodbury County, Iowa, Christmas 1936.

Skeleton of horse on the William Butler farm near Anthon, Iowa, in Woodbury County, that died of starvation and poor feed. December 1936.

Makeshift livestock shelter on the Charles Banta farm in Woodbury County, Iowa. Note the terrible soil erosion. December 1936.

Man reading to fellow inmates at the homeless men’s bureau in Sioux City, Iowa, Woodbury County, Christmas 1936.

Outhouse on the William McDermott farm in Woodbury County. December 1936.

Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Ostermeyer were original homesteaders in Woodbury County. Andrew, age 81 and his wife, 76, lost their farm to a loan company during the Depression. December 1936.


© 2022 NOTES FROM THE FRONTIER

"An Iowa Christmas During the Depression" was first posted on Facebook December 24, 2019 / 115,485 views / 2,743 likes / 1,823 shares

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8 comentários


Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
24 de dez. de 2020

Thank you, Joy. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Curtir

Joy Neal Kidney
Joy Neal Kidney
24 de dez. de 2020

I just shared this excellent post on the Depression Era Iowa (1920s and 1930s) Facebook page. Thank you for this!

Curtir

Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
24 de dez. de 2020

Enviro Geologist—I agree with you completely. Poverty in our country is a crime. Especially during this pandemic, poverty and food deprivation is even more invisible. And the poverty on reservations is unimaginable. I’ve done a number of posts about Native American poverty. They are suffering far greater mortality from Covid than any other group in our country, for example. Thank you for your post.

Curtir

Enviro Geologist
Enviro Geologist
24 de dez. de 2020

In my work, I travel the USA by car and spend time in countless impoverished and distressed communities. Poverty is far more common and intense than most Americans realize. The poor are in fact, invisible to most of us, yet they are near most of us lucky enough to live in comfortable situations.


However, there is no poverty, like that on the reservations. Parts of Pine Ridge are as bad as the Great Depression. Its inexcusable in a country like ours. Such disparity in wealth is unAmerican -and morally wrong.

Curtir

Notes From The Frontier
Notes From The Frontier
25 de dez. de 2019

Kayaaa, Thank you for your comment. I’m sure there are many invisible poor today, just like the Woodbury County farm families shown in the post. I grew up in Iowa and come from long lines of farm families on both sides of my family. I was shocked at the pictures. Wishing you and your family a blessed Christmas free of want.

Curtir

Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook

 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  

 

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com, Facebook, and Instagram.

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