Legacy of the Dust
By Linda C. Joseph Columbus Public Schools
Library of Congress
note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the
Three little words, achingly familiar
on a Western farmer's tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent — "if it rains." Robert Geiger, 1935
As the billowing black clouds of dust rolled and swirled
across the plains in the 1930s, the American landscape
was drastically changed. With their crops destroyed,
a steady stream of humanity trekked westward to the
promised land of California. John Steinbeck wrote vividly
about the migrant camps in The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea
Lange documented the harsh conditions with compelling
photographs, and Woody Guthrie, a refugee himself, sang
Dust Bowl ballads. The stark reality of the Depression
era contrasts sharply with the decades before and after
it. Let's travel down the highway of time and view firsthand
eyewitness accounts, pictures, and music archived on
a variety of Web sites.
Dust Bowl During the Depression
This page is an excellent starting point for information
about the Dust Bowl era. A concise overview is presented
with photograph collages of migrant camps, the aftermath
of dust storms, and life along the road. In addition,
questions are posed to help students think about song
lyrics describing the plight of the migrant workers.
National Historic Route 66
Drive off the beaten path and experience the sights
of a bygone era. Lots of unique photographs and postcards
dot the roadway from the Coral Court Motel to the round
barn to the U-Drop-Inn. A short history about Route
66 from its heyday to its replacement by four-lane highways
is an interesting side trip for the traveler. John Steinbeck
proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the "Mother Road."
New Deal Network
Study the Great Depression using the New Deal Network
as an educational guide. Documents, photos, letters,
and lesson plans for teachers are included in this extensive
site sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
Institute and the Institute for Learning Technologies
at Columbia University. Read letters written to Mrs.
Roosevelt, recollections of Utah residents growing up
in the 1930s, or view a photo-documentary of the impact
of the Great Depression on Carbon Hill, Alabama.
Surviving the Dust Bowl
At this PBS site, read poignant eyewitness accounts
that express the despair as crops withered and the dust
turned into fiery storms. Listen to personal accounts
and historical perspectives in extended interviews on
topics such as homesteading, Black Sunday, and the environment.
Rounding out the site is a map of the Dust Bowl, timeline,
and teacher's guide to use with the documentary film,
Surviving the Dust Bowl.
America from the Great Depression to World War
II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945
Photographs from the Farm Security Administration
(FSA) and Office of War Information (OWI) form an extensive
pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1945.
Roy E. Stryker headed the U.S. government photography
project at The Library of Congress. The collection contains
approximately 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints,
164,000 black-and-white film negatives, and 1,610 color
transparencies. It is the only collection where you
can view film sequences by looking at sprocket numbers.
Using these "phonyfiche," you can piece together pictures
like a photographic contact sheet. This is useful in
finding related photographs that were not titled.
The job of the photographers hired by the FSA was
to inform the public about the poverty in this country
and the increased need to help people. Walker Evans
was the first photographer, followed by Dorothea Lange,
who had been doing the same kind of work in California.
There were 98 photographers over the course of the project.
Documenting America provides insight into these powerful
illustrations that depict the hard life of the 1930s.
This online exhibit is a small sampling from the book,
Documenting America edited by Carl Fleischhauer and
Beverly Brannan, University of California Press, 1988.
A New Deal for the Arts
During the Great Depression, the federal government
created a program that employed artists, musicians,
writers, actors, photographers, and dancers. In this
online exhibit, there are wonderful examples of paintings,
posters, playbills, and other artifacts that represent
the creativity and diverse styles of thousands of artists.
Don't miss "Years of Dust," a resettlement poster by
Ben Shahn or the "Jane Adams Memorial" paining by Mitchell
The Great Depression and Children's Books
Carol Hurst has compiled an annotated list of picture
books and novels about the Great Depression that can
be integrated into the language arts and social studies
curriculum. Some of the titles are Year Down Under by
Richard Peck, What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan
and illustrated by Barry Moser, and The Gardener by
Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. There
are also links to related Web sites and suggested activities.
Bound for Glory: A tribute to Woody Guthrie
Wow! This virtual showstopper is a must for all Woody
Guthrie fans. Guthrie's story is told through a series
of documents, quotations, photographs, letters, sheet
music, and songs. Listen to him play the "Railroad Blues"
on the harmonica, learn about his political activism,
and his generosity for sharing music. For more information
about the legendary figure, visit the Woody Guthrie
and the Archive of American Folk Song [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wwghtml/wwghome.html].
During the spring of 1939, John and Ruby Lomax traveled
the southern highways in search of songs. Many of their
stops were at prisons, places they deemed rich in blues,
gospel, and ballads. Within this collection are recordings
that represent the regional culture of nine states and
a variety of genres. Listen to the lilting call of the
"Hiding-Seek Song" by Vera Hall, the foot-tapping fiddle
tune "Turkey in the Straw," or the unusual lyrics of
"Ring Around the Rosy" by a group of school children.
The wealth of field notes and photographs enhance the
material by providing details about the locations and
individuals that help complete the story. In a footnote
to the collection, it was at Angola Prison Louisiana
that John Lomax and his son, Alan, discovered Huddie
Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly.
Voices from the Dust Bowl
A kaleidoscope of folk culture is preserved in this
collection of square dance calls, traditional ballads,
cowboy songs, and storytelling. Jack Bryant wrote and
sang "Sunny Cal," a reflection of the Dust Bowl experience,
at the Firebaugh Camp in 1940. Another notable feature
not to be missed is the Collection Connection [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/collections/vdb/history.html],
rich with supplemental materials and suggestions for
analysis, interpretation, and comprehension of the subject
You've all heard the story
Of old Sunny Cal
The place where it never rains
They say it don't know how.
They say, "Come on, you Okies,
Work is easy found
Bring along your cotton pack
You can pick the whole year round.
"Get your money ever' night
Spread your blanket on the ground
It' s always bright and warm
You can sleep right on the ground."
But listen to me Okies
I came out here one day
Spent all my money getting here
Now I can't get away.
Great Depression Recipes
Have a feast in your classroom using recipes handed
down from mother. Your menu might consist of Perfection
Salad, Swiss Loaf, Poor Man's Bread, and for dessert,
snow ice cream. This would make a wonderful culminating
Dust Bowl Days
The National Endowment for the Humanities and MarcoPolo
present a comprehensive unit on the Dust Bowl. Since
there are ready-made materials for teaching the lessons,
links to supporting resources, and organized activities,
teachers will find that preparing for this unit is more
fun than work. Most of the lessons are based on primary
sources such as contemporary song lyrics, photographs,
and sound recordings of the 1930s.
Migrant Workers Through the Lens of Dorothea Lange
This lesson is targeted to grades 5-8, spotlighting
the series of photographs taken by Dorothea Lange and
collectively titled "Migrant Mother." Using Web resources,
students study the prints and events from the 1930s
that supply context to the work.
Out of the Dust WebQuest
In this WebQuest based on the book Out of the Dust
by Karen Hesse, fifth grade language arts and social
studies students select a journal entry and use it to
create a newspaper about the Depression. Students research
the Dust Bowl, and then write human-interest stories,
editorials, and other news of the day illustrated with
vintage 1930s photographs.
Then and Now Prices
Compare prices during the Great Depression to prices
today. This is a great economics and math lesson for
your students. Prices for the 1930s are provided, so
you do not have to search for that information. Fill
in a table with current prices for a variety of items
such as clothes, toys, and wages. Then, answer questions
like how many weeks it would take to buy each of the
items on the table of prices. Download classroom worksheets
for easy printing.
Visions in the Dust
American Memory Fellows Jan King and Rena Nisbet have
created a lesson that helps students gain an understanding
of Dust Bowl history through the eyes of a child. Activities
include Images of the Depression that focuses on how
to interpret a photograph, keeping a journal while reading
Out of the Dust, exploring images from the Farm Security
Administration, and using selected images to create
Out of the Dust and into the Light
Although the Great Depression was a time of hardship,
it was also a wellspring of creativity, leaving us a
legacy of unprecedented artistry, from music to photographs.
Think about how you can use these resources with your
students when teaching a novel like The Grapes of Wrath
or a picture book like The Gardener by Sarah Stewart.
Putting the setting in context can give students even
Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools home page
with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned
in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee [http://www.cyberbee.com]
for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities
to use with your students and staff.
Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator's Guide
to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous
awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library
of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications
to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson
Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; firstname.lastname@example.org.