Family Farms During the Depression

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Time Frame: 1929-1945

Families got through the Depression using thrifty measures and conserving resources of all kinds.
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Nothing was wasted-ever. When a chicken, or a cow, or a hog was butchered nearly every ounce was used. Meat from a hog was chopped and ground, odd pieces made into sausage, hams prepared for curing. The carcass also yielded pickled pigs feet, and also headcheese and rendered lard. At mealtime the children were taught only to take on their plates what could be eaten and anything left in the pans and bowls was stored for another meal. In those days, families couldn’t afford to turn up their noses at leftovers.

Phillip Ingrmson: In the Depression you knew the value of a dollar. If you had a dollar, boy, you had something you could buy a couple of meals with a dollar. You know, you could buy a sack of candy for five or ten cents. Money would buy a lot of things.

Wasting water was a sin too, especially during years of drought. A typical kitchen either had a small pump leading to a cistern or a water bucket with a dipper was brought to the house for drinking or cooking and for washing dishes. And considering the trouble it took to get water to the house, bath time only came around once a week, except in the hot, sticky summer.

Early Saturday nights before the family went to town to trade, water was heated for the baths, and the children went first, and then more hot water was added to the same bath water so mother could take her turn. And finally, since father was usually the dirtiest, he bathed last in the same water.

Patti Dook: We just kind of laugh and we always think of our parents and how gross it had to be for them, you know, and the older you got the worse it would be, you know, because there would be another person in front of you. But, you know, at the time it didn’t seem one bit unusual or strange.

Sharing bath water would be hard to swallow today, but once a family had experienced drought, water was not taken for granted. Perhaps that’s why so many persons raised in the ‘30s and ‘40s are still so careful to wonder if the food would last all winter or if the well would keep going all summer.

John Vermazen: It makes you thrifty. You’ve probably noticed that in people my age. They stop and think every time they let loose of a dime, you know. It’s not that they won’t spend money but they like to get their money’s worth and be sure there is a reason for buying stuff as compared to some of our offspring that figure that money’s going to corrode if it lays around it their billfold over a couple of days.

Laverne Hult: I know in our family we didn’t buy anything unless we knew where the money was coming from before we bought it.

Tough times taught depression era families to stretch the value of clothing too. A little girl’s first dress was likely made out of chicken feed sacks.

Leila Carlo: They were pretty. They were all cotton and they were so colorful. And you would always try to get three and maybe four of the same pattern when you went to town to buy the chicken feed. You would really look through to get the prettiest pattern.

Leonard White: We wore patched clothes, and I can remember this, patched overalls particularly. But you didn’t feel that you were out of place because all your friends wore it too. So I guess it was good and bad times.

Typically, children had one good pair of shoes for school and church and that would have to last the whole school year. During the summer they usually went barefoot.

Marie Johnson: Well mom wouldn’t have liked me to say this, but I don’t think we wanted to buy shoes in the summertime if you weren’t going to wear them much, you know, because they cost money. And it was fun going barefooted. You could just run outside without finding your shoes which was nice.

Herman Wolf: When we kids went to Sunday school, and I was always glad when we got home . You went barefooted all week, then you squeezed those shoes on and just about killed your feet. I was always glad to get home and take those shoes off.


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