This paper was written by Leroy Stretch in 1976 as an assignment for a social studies class for Barbara Foley, the teacher. Roy Herbert McLey (1889-1976) and Cora Mae Saul (1905-1978) married just as the Great Depression hit the nation. They were the grandparents of Leroy Stretch. The following story is an account of the depression of the 1930s as told by Leroy’s grandmother, Cora McLey.
In 1933, the people of Daviess County and many surrounding counties experienced a rather dry year. But what was worse than the drought was the fact of a chinch bug plague. They were so bad that they ruined most of the corn crops. They caused the feed to be of very poor quality and very scarce that winter.
The year of 1934 brought no better luck for the people. The summer had been so terribly hot and dry. Cora and Roy McLey were married on Sunday, Aug. 19, 1934. On the night before they were married it came a good rain. Sunday was a beautiful day. On Monday some of the neighbors started helping Grandpa cut corn. It clouded up and came a good rain. The men were so wet and so cold that Grandpa started a fire in the cookstove so they could warm up. From then on they had plenty of rain that fall.
The tomatoes started growing and setting on little tomatoes. They had an early frost so the ground under the plants was covered with green tomatoes. They had very few garden vegetables to can for the family’s winter food supply.
They had a very hard winter with a lot of snow and cold. There was a severe blizzard just before Christmas that blocked roads and tore down telephone lines. A repair crew got as far as Grandpa’s house but could go no further without the help of horses. They hired Grandpa with his horses to pull them through the drifts so they could repair the lines. He was with them two days. They gave him his dinner, feed for his horses, and paid him $16 for the two days. The first thing Grandpa bought with the money was two pairs of long underwear which cost him 75 cents a pair. He spent the rest of the money for groceries. That $16 sure was a big Christmas present, although Grandpa got awfully cold wearing it when he had such few clothes.
The little one room school was a gathering place for most all community entertainment.
The community where my grandparents lived would meet together twice a month and everyone had a very good time together. There were only four students enrolled in the school, one of which was my aunt who was a first grader. The little town of Farmersville was close by. In the summer, a community talent show was held on Saturday night on the porch of the grocery store for everyone to enjoy.
Grandma’s parents gave them a Hampshire gilt for a wedding present. They bought another one for $2. The gilts were six months old. Great Grandpa Saul sold the remaining 27 head of hogs on the market. They sold for enough money to pay the trucking bill and bought 25 pounds of lard. After Grandma and Grandpa were married, the feed grain was so scarce that the first hogs they butchered were not fat at all. The animals were so poor that Grandpa didn’t even cut the sides and ribs apart. They just cut the meat in chunks and boiled it because they couldn’t have chewed it if it was fried.
In the thirties, $25 would go farther than it will today. People who had two pairs of shoes were very lucky. The clothes were worn out before they were disposed of. They never heard of such a thing as a garage sale.
A new Maytag washing machine was bought for $50 and paid in installment of $5 per month. Before Grandma was married, she worked for several people in their homes. She was paid from $3 to $5 a week and they thought they were getting rich! Farm help could be hired for $1 a day and men were just glad to find a job. Grandpa’s had plenty of milk to use and some cream to sell. But the hens refused to lay because of the kind of feed they could afford to give them. They were without eggs many a day.
Grandma’s wedding dress cost $3. Her rayon hose were 18 cents and her oxfords cost $2. Many kinds of material sold from 10 cents to 25 cents a yard. Flour and sugar were bought in 25 to 50 pound white cloth sacks. Many women used these sacks to make undergarments. It was a good quality of material. Grandpa bought a good work horse for $15 and a young Guernsey bull for $25.
In the year of 1935, there was more rain than in the previous year. Crops were looking pretty good and people were becoming more encouraged. Then they realized that things weren’t going so well after all. A great mass of grasshoppers began to move in and stripped the corn crops. They didn’t seem to bother the milo and beans as bad as the corn. There was more feed for the livestock that winter than the winter before.
The year of 1936 was more promising to everyone. There were better crops and better gardens. This helped a lot. Grandma had a peach tree that had a lot of nice peaches on it — the first in several years. The peaches were about ready to pick. Grandpa and Grandma went to town one Saturday evening. When they returned home they discovered that someone had picked all of their lovely peaches. You can imagine the disappointment they experienced! Someone else must have been hungry for peaches, too!
Not only were the prices of everyday items low, but land prices also hit rock bottom. Many people lost their land and homes because they just didn’t have the money to make the payments. In 1942, my grandparents were able to buy an 80 acre farm for $37.50 an acre. They sold it in 1965 for $150 an acre. This is an example of how prices have climbed and are still climbing today.
As we hear about these situations that people experienced during the depression years, we realize that the people had to depend on each other and work together. They had to …there was no other way.
— written as a class paper by Leroy Stretch, Gallatin R-5 School, 1976