Life on a Rural Iowa Family Farm during the Great Depression

Many farms went bankrupt. Those that survived did so by working hard and stretching every dollar.


Stress back then was having 20 acres of corn to be husked by hand before a blizzard set in, or 20 men to feed two meals a day until the harvesting was done, or six cows that had to be milked every morning and night for 365 days a year. Work on the farm had two purposes really: one to feed the family, the other to pay for the land.

Neil Harl: "My grandfather came very close to losing his. Literally, the daughters who were teaching school pooled their nickels and dimes to make those payments. So they came very close but they didn't lose it. I remember in the fall of 1947, My grandfather had a closing out sale. He was 71 then. He got up on the hayrack after the sale was over and said in a very emotional statement, he was free of debt for the first time since 1914 when he had bought some land."

Laverne Hult: "One thing I can always say is Dad never mortgaged his farm and they never lost that. That's where a lot of people lost their farms altogether. They expanded too much and couldn't make it." 

In 1933, 1 in every 12 Iowa farms was foreclosed. It would be the '40s before people would see a drastic decline in that number. There was plenty to worry about, but they were grown-up worries.  Shielded by protective parents, many who were children then describe their lives on the farm as happy, as normal. Leila Carlo certainly has a carefree look on her face as she watches her family's Saturday night checkers game.

Leila Carlo: "I don't know if I realized so much what the Depression really meant. I think my dad and mother managed things well enough that I don't really have much recollection or feeling of whether we had to try extra hard to get by or not. It seemed like we always had what we needed."

Excerpt from "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos," Iowa PBS, 2003


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