The Great Depression Years – Jim Evans


I was born in 1932 so the great depression had already started before I arrived. In 1938 I lived on Wells Street (in the heart of Powell Station as it was called then).

The most vivid thing about the Great Depression that I remember was that there was such a little money to be had. Farmers would go to the grocery store and swap produce such as green beans, tomatoes, potatoes and etc. to pay for their own grocery needs. Every household had a savings bank or “cash jar” with some coins in. it being saved for some special need. Many repairs to houses and cars were put off because there just was no funds. My own mother went and cleaned the house of my kindergarten teacher to pay my way. Most children never got to go to kindergarten. Back then it was not required by the school system.

Every household saved everything because it might be needed. We kept paper bags, tinfoil, string, buttons, and any kind of fabric. Event and old dress or pair of pants was cut into cloths and saved because they might be needed.

Although we never owned a house that we lived in white I was growing up, we were able to farm to help survive. My mother and dad purchased a cow and rented a spot to keep it in the neighbor’s barn and pasture. Mom walked about a block every morning and afternoon to milk the cow. We now had fresh milk at every meal. And she also could have buttermilk and butter.

We raised a hog every year. And, in the fall, we killed it for meat for the winter. We raised chickens both for the eggs that they produced and for the meat they provided. And then there was the garden. which provided tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce radishes, greens, peanuts strawberries and etc. I have carried my lunch to school when there was not a single thing in it that had been purchased from a store.

The most difficult thing that the depression caused our family probably was the lack of good job for my father. Therefore we were always short of money to live on.

The positive things that the depression created was closeness to family and friends. Families clung together and looked out for each other’s needs. ln some cases families moved in together, for example married children moved back home and lived in the same house with their parents and grandparents. Since you could not afford to go anywhere, you sat on the front porch and talked to family members on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Neighbors helped each other more than before. Probably the most profound positive effect the depression left was the appreciation for the better times that followed. When the depression. was finally over we could finally have so much that we had done without. For example, when we bought our first electric cook-stove we admired it for days feeling we were finally moving up.

I personally don’t think the depression had much of an effect on the things kids did for fun in high school. The things kids did then was attend movies at school. We had a school wide carnival once a year. High school sports were in their infancy but did exist. Locally a man brought movies to a building in Powell Station and we had shows one night a week and twice a week in the Summer months. Our only real connection with the outside world was our radios.

We started early in the evening listening to radio programs. After dinner the whole family gathered around the radio and listened to mostly family programs. We knew what was coming on and when it would be on.

During the depression my parents lost their first house because they could not get jobs that would let them keep the payments up. I heard stories that banks would foreclose on nice pieces of farm property when the payment was just a few days late but, I did not personally know anyone that this happened to.

I have no opinion about how education was affected by the depression.
Herbert Hoover was president when the depression turned really sour. According to history he proposed legislative bills to try to correct the economy but a Democrat congress would not vote many of them into effect. When Franklin D. Roosevelt came into power he was a Democrat and some “Hoover” bills were then passed. They did help the long range economic picture

I do not recall anything about FDR’s death except that he was a very loved president. This was a time in history when our main concern had been about the war going on overseas. Our most important issue at that time was ending the war. I do recall that in August of that year the war ended just after the two atom bombs were dropped by U.S. planes.
I would not attempt to rate presidents according to their importance in American history. But they all are faced with different issues and different moods of the citizens and the politicians. Legislature is quite often enacted simply because of the current mind set of the people. As was the case in Lincoln’s and FDR’s times.

“Powell Station” was very rural area in the 1930’s and 1940’s. During the depression rural America generally fared better than the people in the cities. Although the country people were usually poorer when the depression began they were able to use the land to survive. For example, they often heated and cooked with wood. And in these areas there was always plenty of trees available for them. These rural people farmed and gardened so they could harvest their own food. They canned fruits and vegetables and could eat these things through the winter. If they needed something quite often a neighbor would have it and would sell or trade to help them out.

My brother and I set rabbit traps. Therefore we had to get up before school and go check our traps. We ate the rabbits we caught quite often and then we sold some rabbits for money.

Rural America knew how to improvise better than those people in the cities, and Powell Station probably was a typical rural community.

The banking industry was ruined by the great depression. Most banks failed and people got little or none of their life savings back. People ran in droves to the banks to withdraw their funds only to find the doors of the banks locked. The banks were unable to pay all of the people at one time. Many people who thought they were pretty well off found that actually they were broke due to the failure of the banks. Many new laws affecting the banking industry have come about because of those bank failures. Now the Federal government insures every account in most banks up to a certain amount.

I remember that during the FDR years the WPA was formed to provide jobs for the unemployed. The WPA paid a very small amount of wages but it furnished jobs for the least educated and unskilled. These workers worked on our roads and built bridges and etc.

Another program that I was familiar with was the CCC program that provided training and jobs For the very young men. One of the camps was located right where our high school is now situated here in Powell. remember a house caught Fire in Powell and the CCC boys came and helped to fight this fire. These were worthwhile programs as were many programs started by FDR. No doubt the programs started in his administration helped to get America back on its feet.

In the time of the Great Depression the automobile industry was just getting started so cars were out of the reach financially for most Americans. We did not have toasters, mixers, microwave ovens, TVs VCR’s or hardly anything electronic. Those things had not yet been invented. We had radios, cameras, record players, and bicycles. But we seldom had the money to buy these things. And if they malfunctioned, we did not have the funds to get them repaired.

FDR suffered from infantile paralysis which affected his ability to stand and walk correctly.

Many times he sat when giving a speech or stood behind a high table or rostrum that hid most of his body.

One effect the great depression had was to shatter the since of security of the people. During the depression they had gone to bed at night and awakened each morning with a deep dread and a deep fear of the uncertainties that lay ahead for their selves and their loved ones. Once people had suffered without food, clothing, proper housing and everything else that money buys, they never wanted to be poor again. Those of this generation who are still alive are now in their eighties. When the depression was finally over and that took many years, this generation did not fully trust banks again. Many of them kept large amounts of cash hidden in their homes. They were very careful to read every sentence of every legal document that they had to sign. These people were tight with their money. Money meant security and they needed security.

Many of this generation could never fully enjoy the fruits of their success, because they were afraid the money they might spend on a nicer home or spend for vacations and recreation they might someday need. They also were reluctant to go in debt after the depression even if their income was excellent. If they paid cash, it was theirs and there was no fear that someone would come and take it back.

There is a certainty sadness about the way the depression warped this generation. They had a since of insecurity even years later in times of prosperity. They seemed to feel that the good times would run out and we would again be in. poverty. The next generation shared some of those fears.

It is very difficult to distinguish between the effects of the depression and the overall state of our economic situation in the 1930’s and 1940’s. For example during the depression Few people bad automobiles. My dad had one and hauled a car load of passengers to Knoxville each day. Of course they paid him a little something to help with the car expense. But remember, few people had cars because they had only been producing them a Few years in the late 1930’s. The same goes for electric cook stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances. They were all new gadgets and few people could afford these before or during the depression. For the average person., the ability to buy had always been very limited. It was during these depression years and shortly thereafter that many new things came into being. And consequentially, the great economic boom began after the war ended in 1945.

This paper was written. in 2004 at the request of my grandson Travis Evans. His history teacher gave him an assignment which was to have one of his grandparents to answer questions and give opinions about the Great Depression and the presidency of FDR


Jim Evans

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