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Pathways Through Our Past

Programs from yesteryear

I was so surprised to read about a program that took place in the early 1940s. It was mattress making for low-income families and was to make use of excess cotton from some of the southern states. This program not only helped our local people but the southern cotton farmers who found themselves with out a market for their cotton.

For many families, this was the first real mattress they had. Most families used fresh straw set aside each fall when the grain was harvested. The clean new straw was sewn into a large cotton or canvas bag. This program was directed by the county extension office.

For Beltrami County alone, supplies needed for making mattress was a carload of cotton and mattress ticking. This was enough material to make approximately 2,050 mattresses.

Small communities in the area put together the following numbers: Bemidji, 713; Kelliher, 413; Nebish, 201; Blackduck, 369 and Pinewood, 254.

At the completion of the mattress making, the families were entitled to receive the material needed to assemble a comforter.

When the Depression hit and food rationing went into effect, those living in the cities found what early farmers had been experiencing for many years -- hard times.

Sending cattle to market with the hopes of making a profit usually only brought in a check which hardly covered the shipping. Everything grown on the farm had to preserved, either by canning or placed in a root cellar or, in the case of meats such as hams and bacon, cured.

I have visited with several folks who lived through the Depression and those who lived on the farm said they never went hungry. Sometimes the meals were the same for weeks on end but it was better than those who lived in town.

Some farm families shared their milk with families who had small children -- neighbor helping neighbor.

In 1928, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a young lawyer and distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, was elected governor of New York. He brought tax relief to that state farmers and advocated cheap electric power. His constituents found him to be a progressive governor.

After the stock market crashed and the Depression worsened, he became a strong advocate of government intervention. He established relief programs for people out of work including a program that put 10,000 men to work in New York's state forests and parks planting trees, building roads and park buildings and working to prevent erosion.

As the Depression continued, President Herbert Hoover had not managed to provide hope to the American people that things would change. Roosevelt promised that he would find a way to get the people back to work and re-establish the economy.

Within 100 days, he had Congress pass the Emergency Banking Relief Act, which stabilized the nation's ailing banks and depositors. They also passed Federal Emergency Relief Administration, National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration.

Being a believer in the premise that a work program was better than relief, Roosevelt took into consideration, the idea his Secretary of Labor and the first woman cabinet member Frances Perkins suggested. She suggested that he establish a work program for the thousands of young men who were out of work and another program for the older men.

The CCC program was established for the young men and the WPA for the older men. As you travel the tree lined road ways of the United States those trees were probably planted by the CCC workers. Many of the roads were built by them as well. Sidewalks, bridges and camp grounds, some of our older federal and state buildings were built by the WPA.

In 1935, Congress passed the Social Security Act, one of the most important pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. There were other bills passed were to help bring an end to the Depression.

Programs are still in effect today such as the Social Security Act and some others. The CCC program ended officially in 1942, but while the program was at it's peak in September of 1935, the CCC mustered 502,000 members in 2,514 camps. Overall, 2.9 million served in the nine years the program ran.

In 1941, the United States entered the war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In 1942, because many people on the West Coast were panicky about possible Japanese subversion or invasion, FDR signed an executive order authorizing the internment of Japanese living on the West Coast, many of whom were American citizens.

In 1944, FDR signed an executive order establishing the War Refugee Board which aided in the rescuing of Jews and other refugees during the rest of the war.