Country schools went through hard times in the 1930s. The value of farm land plummeted, and that meant that property taxes that supported schools fell as well. During the Great Depression, some school districts couldn’t pay their teachers.
One-room grade schools were still common in York County, Nebraska, and other Great Plains states. Children from several grades sat in one room, often led by a teacher not much older than the students.
The dust and heat or snow and cold sometimes made it hard for children to learn and for teachers to teach. Teenagers sometimes had to quit school to work full time on the family farm. Sometimes young people left home in search of jobs off the farm.
Like many farm children, Herman Goertzen rode his horse to grade school. When he got to school, he slapped the horse on the rump, and the horse trotted back to the farm. After school, Herman walked home, about a mile and a half.
Mildred Opitz used to go to the barn early in the morning before school and harness the horses. She drove a buggy to school.
But not everyone made it to school every day. Cliff Peterson found a way to play hooky – which was great – until his parents found out. Then he was in trouble.
One of the main goals of education, of course, was and is to teach students to read, and the 1930s was a vibrant time for literature for both young people and adults.
- Millions of children learned to read using the famous Dick and Jane books, introduced in 1931.
- The first Dr. Seuss rhyming book was published: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
- Girls started reading Nancy Drew mysteries.
- During the 1930s, outstanding fiction and poetry was produced by American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Raymond Chandler, John Dos Passos, Carl Sandburg, Ogden Nash and Wallace Stevens.
- People read the mysteries of Agatha Christie and detective stories by Dashiell Hammett.
- African-American writer Richard Wright described the racial prejudice in his native South.
- Sinclair Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature.
- John Steinbeck’s Dust Bowl epic The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939. The novel had a Nebraska connection when Hollywood made it into a movie staring Nebraska native Henry Fonda in 1941.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.