Who Lived in York County in 1930?
Every 10 years, this country counts its population and collects other facts about its people. In 1930, forms were mailed out to all addresses. After they were filled out and returned, numbers were written down in large bound books. Census workers visited those who didn’t fill out the forms. They recorded names, addresses, relationships, whether they owned or rented their dwelling, the value or rent, whether they had a radio, if they lived in town or on a farm, race, age, marital condition, education, place of birth, the language spoken in the household, immigration status, occupation and whether they were employed. That’s a wealth of information.
Studying the census can provide background on several of the major stories of the decade – migration out of and into rural areas of the country, relations between the majority and minority populations, and the seeds of decline in rural communities. (The 1930 census records for Nebraska are now available from the Nebraska State Historical Society in Lincoln.)
In many ways, York County, Nebraska, was a typical rural county in 1930.
- The county has 576 square miles, or 368,640 acres of land in its borders.
- In 1930, there were 17,239 people living in the county. Population density was low compared to cities, but not as low as counties in the western cattle ranching areas where cows still outnumber people.
- Between 1930 and 1940, the overall population in the county declined from 17,239 to 14,874. During the Depression, 2,365 people – 14 percent of the population – left York County. That’s a huge loss.
- In 1930, there were 26 minority people who chose to live in York County – less than one-percent of the population. All of them lived in the city of York. Three of the 26 were students at York College who were identified as Mexican descent. All of the rest were identified as Negro. All of the African-Americans had relatively low-paying jobs, like “laundress, porter, servant, janitor and plasterer.” Only two African-American families owned their own homes. One was worth $1,800 and the other was worth $3,000. Rents ran from $5 to $18 a month.
- York County also houses the Women’s Correctional Facility for the state. In 1930, there were 43 prisoners in the facility. Of those women, nine were minorities. There were six Native Americans, two Hispanics, and one 14-year-old Negro girl (who must have committed a terrible crime to be locked up as an adult).
- York County also had an orphanage called “The Mothers’ Jewels Home.” Of their 122 “inmates,” four were Native Americans from Alaska. Three of the four listed fathers of other nationalities, Russia and Austria.
- While many migrated from York County during the Depression, there were still others who immigrated into the county. The census is full of immigrants, primarily from Germany, Ireland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and the Scandinavian countries. Most seemed to learn English quickly.
- Several towns on the map in 1930 disappeared from it later – Arborville, Blue Vale, Charleston, Darling School, Houston, and Red Lion.
- These are the York County towns that survived the Depression – Benedict, Bradshaw, Gresham, Henderson, Lushton, McCool Junction, Thayer, Waco, and York, the county seat.
From this starting point, York County and other rural communities saw many changes in the next decade and those that followed. The Great Depression was a time of huge migrations. People were moving around – mostly out of rural communities, but a few moving in even from across the seas.
The 1930s also saw a continuation of the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. This migration had begun during World War I, continued in the 1930s and picked up again in World War II. While most blacks headed to urban areas, some began farming.
All of this movement created strains in society. New immigrants brought with them their languages and cultures. Desperate people moving in looking for work competed with natives already in an area. Hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, saw a resurgence in interest and activity.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.