*** New Deal programs for rurl America

New Deal Programs to Assist Rural America (1933-41)

Figure 1.--The basic problem adversely affecting American farmers was that in a market economy. And it was worsened by the Dust Bowl. Solving the Dust Bowl with better farming prctices proved easier than solving the market issues. New Deal farm programs were controversial and may were of marginal utility. One very effective farm program was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Because of the cost of running lines into lightly populated rural areas, pribate electrical companies did not want to move much beyond urban areas. Notice the farm here in the 1920s without any electrical lines. The REA in only a decade succeeded in e;ectrifying much of rural america at very little cost and greatly improving farm efficency and life style. At the sametime. Stalin in the Soviet Union brutally collectivized Soviet agricultura,; resulting in some 5 million deaths and a precipitous declines in production. Even so, left-wing Americans described the failure of capitalism kin America and a peasant and worker paradise in the Soviet Union.

The New Deal was not only focused on industry and urban America. The Roosevely Administration launched major efforts to revive rural America and the farm economy. There were several programs to both assist rural Americans survive during the Depression as well as to try to correct the endemic farm problem. Some young men in rural America found government jobs building roads and bridges. Others found work with the CCC or WPA. The first major New Deal effort to assist rural America was the Agriculture Adjustment Act (1933) which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The Farm Security Administration (FSA) combined a range of disparate programs to assist farmers. Many of the AAA and FSA programs are controversial with economists still debating the impact. Some attempted to reform the market econmy. Other embraced collectivist approaches. New Deal efforts to improve farming methods also had an important impact, both in preventing another Dust Bowl and in increasing farm productivity. .Efforts to boost farm prices are especially controversial. One program which undeniably improved farm life and productivity was the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). It was not without it critics, but here the positive economic impact and limited cost is undeniable. This made farm life not only easier and safer, but American farmers became vastly more productive.

Country Life Movenent

The country life movement gained some credence in the early-20th century. It was somewhat related to the Progressive Movement, but was more of a social than a political movement. The idea was to improve the living conditions in rural America. The movement faced a basic quandry. How to preserve treasured traditional rural lifestyles while improving living conditions and addressing social issues in rural communities. This was not an entirely rural movement. Much of the support for chsnge came from urbanites seeking to bring technology to rural areas. A major issue was education. As secondary education began to expand in the cities, people in rural sreas were limited to basic primary educsation. To go on go secindary chool, rural children had to move in with city relatives if that was possibkle. For many if not most thst was not possible. The answe of coutrse was bussing and cinslidated scgools replaving the small one or two-room rural schools, but that would not be possibnle for several decades. Another issues became elrctricity. By the turn -of the 20th century, cities had become increasibky electrified. An we not only see lighting, but we begin to see the many appliances brcoming importnt. All of this was unavailsble to people in rural areas. WEhile the movement had liitle impact. America's dynamic capyatist economy certsinly did. Henry affirdable Ford's Model-T greatly increased access to towns and cities and eventually make school bussing possuible. The New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration would bring electricity to rural areas and increase priductivity in the process. The same wih telephione service. The movement by itself made little porogress in moderizing rural life styles. The movement duid make some progress in promotion extension programs.

Back to the Land Movement

Ameruca throughout the 20th century was a primarily rural country. Most of the population lived in rural areas. By the time of the Civil War (1861-65), the niorthern states had begun to industrialize and cities were griwing uin size. By the end of the 19th century, Ameica had become the greatest industrial oiowe in the sworkd, surpassing the indistrial prodction of both both Britain and Germany. back-to-the-land movement began tyo develop. Urban population woulf not cross the 50 pecebnt mark until 1920, but most urban resuidents still had rural origins and many found urban life disoruienting leading the back-to-the land movement. This was not uniqwue to Ameruca. We see similar trends in Eurpw which begab to industrialize befiore America. While first appearing in America dyuring the early-20th century, this agrarian movement would reappear at various times in the 20th century. In all its maifestations, there seems to have been a desire for people to take up a more simple life style, not so much to begin farming, but to acquire a smallholding and to grow part of their food themselves. This was fomented by food issues during World War I, the Depression, and World War II. There was a desire to become more self-sufficient. It was a retreat from the industrial life style. Many issues swirl ariund the movement, including social reform, land reform, civilian war efforts, an crime. Among iothers, political reformers, counterculture hippies, religious separatists, anti-giovernmrnt protestors, and domedday converts. An early profhet was Bolton Hall, who began farming a vacant lot in tyher middle of New York City. He began writing books ion the subject. Ralph Borsodi, a follower began practical experiments (1920s-30s). 【"Bolton Hall ...."】 During the Deoressiion, many loss faith in capitalism and some tried to find a Third Way between capitalism and socialism which meant Back to the Land. 【Letter, Joseph Nuttgens, London Review of Books, 13 May 2010 p 4 】[3]

Agricultural Bust (1920s)

American farmers continued to feed Europe in the early-1920s. American food not only saved defeated Germans from starving, but people in most other European countries. This included the new Soviet Union. As Europe recovered from the Great War, agricultural production throughout the Continent gradually recovered and returned to more normal levels. In fact because of the World War I food crisis, many Governments wanted to promote added agricultural output in case of any future emergency. This left American farmers who had so significantly expanded production without the markets needed for their significantly expanded output. Farm prices thus declined precipitously. The U.S. Government which encouraged farmers to expand production did not plan how to help farmers adjust to a more normal demand structure. There was simply no need for the huge harvests that American farmers were now producing. Thus the American farmer came on hard times almost a decade before before the Wall street crash (1929). As urban Americans reveled in the Roaring Twenties, an unprecedented economic expansion occurred creating unrivaled prosperity. American farmers experienced, however, an economic decline which reached depression levels. The reluctance of power companies to run lines into rural areas impeded needed efforts to modernize farm life and operations. Congress passed the Capper-Volstead Act which gave cooperatives legal standing (1922). The abundance of land gave many American farmers that they could practice destructive farm practices and just move on. The impact of plowing up the Great Planes was given little thought. The 1920s was an era of abundant rainfall. At the end of the decade, as drought descended on on the Great Plains, the environmental impact of poor farming practices would result in an environmental nightmare. American farms even before Henry Ford's Model-T Tin Lizzy were the most mechanized farms in the world. The internal combustion engine would only expand that mechanization. The Model-T helped helped connect farms to the the urban society. And soon tractors would begin to increase farm productivity. Tractors appeared in the 19th century with steam engines, but they made no real impact until the perfection of the internal combustion engine. Companies began making tractors powered by the internal combustion engine after the turn of the century, but for a time the horse was more practical. This began to change in the 1910s as various companies began making tractors. John Deere had created the first steel plow (1837) and was a leader in farm equipment. They produced the first combine (1927). The first General Purpose Tractor was introduced (1928).

Soviet Collectives

Wiyh the onset of the Depression, Farmers suffered even more than they had during the 1920s. Now the markets for their produce declined as personal income plummted. And then the basnls began to fail meaning that there would be no flexibility in mortgages. Syddemly to some the Siovier Uniin and their their aradise of happy workers and farmers began to appeal to some. Of course this was the Sovier Union was bry good and hiding what was giing on in the counry. And this was during collectivization and the murder of millions of Ukranian peasabnts who resisted collerctivization and the seizxure of their land.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl was the worst manpmade ecological disater in American history. The term 'Dust Bowl' was a term coined by the people who lived in the drought-stricken siuthern Great Plains during the Great Depression. The Great Plains were opened to farming by new devices such as the steel plow. The advent of tractors enabled even more intense farming. World War I in particulsr incouraged farmers to increase production. Afer the War there was a depression in rural areas even duyring the Roaring 20s. Farmers did not, however employ needed soil conservation measures. Vast areas of land had been converted to farm land on the Great Plains. This had removed the natural vegetsation which held the top soil in place. A range of farming practives thus made farms on the plains vulnerable. This and adverse weather conditions, extended drought, resulted in the catasrophy of the Dust Bowl. The already declining markets were exacebated by the Dust Bowl. Farmers literaly watched their farms, the precious top soil blow away. Robert Geiger, an AP correspondent in Guymon, Oaklahoma first used the term in a dispatch. It was quickly picked up by other journalists and became part of the American vernacular. The Dust Bowl was felt all over the Great Plains, but was most severe in the southern area. The most severely affected area was southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. It was the culmination of decades of abuse of the land and a drought. Tons of topsoil were swept off barren fields and and into storm clouds for hundreds of miles. The affects of the dust storms eventually affected the entire country. There were small storms earlier in the early 1930s: 1932 (14 dust storms) and 1933 (38 storms). One source estimated that by 1934 that 100 million acres of farmland had been stripped of their top soil. There were weeks of dust storms when Spring reached the southern plains. It was Black Sunday (April 14, 1935) that caught the nation's attention.


Overall New Deal Efforts

People in rural America benefitted in various ways from the different overall New Del programs. Some young men in rural America found government jobs building roads and bridges. Others found work with the CCC or WPA.

Rexford G. Tugwell (1891-1979)

Rex Tugwell was born in upstate New York (1891). He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania (1922). He began teaching at Columbia University (1923). He was impressed with Franlin Roosevelt and played an inportant role in his 1932 presidential campaign. He served as his economic policy advisor and became a member of the President's Brain Trust which helped formulate the New Deal. President Roosevelt appointed him assistant secretary of agriculture (1933) and promoted him to undersecretary (1934). He then appointed him to direct the the Resettlement Administration (RA) (1935). Tugwell had a major hand in drafting both the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Industrial Recovery Act. He took an interest the RA's greenbelt communities. This was a rather utopian urban development project. It was an effort to build new self-sufficient towns. As the RA Administrator, Tugwell had authority over the greentown community of Arthurdale. Mrs. Roosevelt took a special interest Arthurdale and she and Tugwell did not always agree on policies and funding. Residents often attempted to get Mrs. Roosevelt to nterceed on their behalf. and her frequent attempts to intercede with Tugwell on their behalf. After FDR's first term, Tugwell left Federal service. This means that he did not work with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), although because te RA was its administrative core, he clearly left his imprint on the FSA. He subsequently chaired the New York City Planning Commission (1938-40). President Roosevelt appointed him governor of Puerto Rico (1941). After World War II, Tugwell resigned as governor and retired to resume his academic career. He published several books about the New Deal and lectured. He died (1979).

Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA)

President Roosevely within days of his inauguration (March 1933) called the new Congress into special session and introduced a stunning 15 major pieces of legislation. Just ine of these would have been considered a major program by precious administrations. This was called the First Hundred Days. The measures in mny cases were major departures in government policy. They were passed with little amendment or debate by Congress. Agriculture had been in Depression a decade before the Great Depression. The Depression only exacerbated the farm problem which was further impaited by the Dust Bowl storms. The new Administration was thus anxious to address the farm problem. Farming was still a substantial sector in the United States. One of the first New Deal measure to be introduced and enacted by Congress was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). It was one of the greatest departures from American free market policies. Congress declared that is was now 'the policy of Congress' to balance supply and demand for farm commodities so that prices would support a decent purchasing power for farmers. This established the policy of 'parity'. The AAA attempted to control the supply of seven 'basic crops' (corn, cotton, milk, peanuts, rice, and wheat. The AAA offered payments to farmers (meaning land owners) if they would take some of their land out of production. Some farmers refused to particioate in the AAA program, but most appeared to have particvipated. Even many who participated did not like the Government controling their operatrions, but given the condituions they had little choice. There were unintended consequences of the AAA farm support payments. Many farmers, especially in the South, turned some oor most of their land over to tennant farmers and share croppers. Thus these farmers when they cut back production forced tennants and share croppers off their land. The AAA at a time of high unemployment added to the unemployment roles. Farmers also modernized their operations (mechnization, insceticides, herbicides, fertilizer, ect.). Here the farmers were assisted by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) which brought electricity from the cities into rural areas. The AAA program did not succeed in increasing farm prices significantly because the improving yield because of increasing effivcency meant larger crops, albeit land was taken out of pfoduction. Tthe Supreme Court ruled that the AAA was unconstitutional (1937). This was one of the rulings which set the President on his court packing effot. The idea of farm supports and parity were subsequently reenacyed by CVongress and remained the foundation of Federal farm policy for decades. The AAA did suceed in ending farm tenency and sharecropping in America. This may not be considered a bad thing, but it created a good deal of pain for the individual displaced because there were no jobs available for them in other sectors. As a result, another New Deal agency was created, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in part to deal with the thousands of individuals duispossed by the AAA.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

President Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act (1933). The Tenessee Valley Authority sought to remake the physical and social envirmoent of an entire area. TVA was tasked with address the Valley's most important issues in energy, environmental stewardship and economic development. It was the New Deal's only major regional program. And it was set in one of the poorest regions of the country and which was hard-hit by the Depression. TVA began to work on the major issues of the Tennessee Valley, especially electrical power production, flood control and reforestation.

Farm Security Administration (FSA)

The FSA was designed to assist rural Amwericans adversely impacted by the Depression and Dust Bowl and although not often statesd, the AAA policies of taking land out of poroduction. The FSA's programs, included rural rehabilitation, farm loan, and subsistence homestead programs. Many of these were projects begun by the Resettlement Administration (RA). Others were inherited from other agencies. The FA had begun to make loans to farmers for purchases of land, equipment, seed,and livestock. The FSA initiated a health care plan for participating farm families and promoted a range of educational and training programs. The FSA encouraged more attention to sanitation and worked with other New Deal agencies such as the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to help fsrmers build privies and dig wells. They also worked to improve sanitary facilities and mosquito control for migratory labor camps and for the FSA recreational areas and land utilization projects. Certainly the loan program was the cpre of the FSA. Because if the farmers could get bavk on their feet, other assisance became less important. A small FSA effort was to document Americans living in poverty in rural areas by creating a photographic record. The result is a remarkable set of photigraphs of great historical significance. These images appeared in magazines and newspapers as Americans debated the Depression and how to address it. The program drew the ire of Congrsssional Republicans who attempted to restrict the finding and eventually kill the program. This became a real problem after the Congressional by-election in 1938 returned many Republicans and conservative Democrats to Congress.

Resettlement Administration (RA)

President Roosevelt created the Resettlement Administration (RA) (May 1, 1935). Unlike most other New Deal Agencies, he created ot by executive action (Execurive Order 7027) and not by Act of Congress. This suggestshe understood from the beginning that it would extremely controiversial. It was formed from the Subsistence Homesteads Division (DSH/SHD) in the Interior Department. The President chose New Deal Braintruster Rexford G. Tugwell to head the new agency. Tugwell and the RA sought to relocate dislocated urban and rural families to new communities planned by the Federal government. He used his relationship with the President to get approval for the agency. Tugwell, an economics professor at New York's Columbia University who became an important advisor to Governor Roosevelt during the 1932 presidential election campaign. After his election victory, the President The President appointed Tugwell to positions in the Agriculture Department involved in efforts to alleviate the Depression. Efforts to assist the dispossed were especially important to Tugwell and thus he had great plans for the new agency and the President with overwealming Congressional majorities was willing to back him. Mrs. Roosevelt took an interest in the RA. The Agency administered various programs under four divisions: Rural Rehabilitation, Rural Resettlement, Land Utilization, and Suburban Resettlement. 【Sternsher, pp. 262-65.】 Tugwell had expansive plans for his new agency. He hoped to move some 650,000 people from 100 million acres (400,000 km2) of agriculturally exhausted, worn-out land, meaning many sharecroppers. This elicited intense criticism from Congress including Democrats, especially southern Democrats. Many Congressmen saw it as socialistic, seeming similar to Soviet collectivuztion. Others, especially southern Democrats, objected to relocating farm laborors including share croppers which they thought would weaken the rural economy. While the President could create the Agency, Congessional support was needed for funding. And Congress refused the massive outlays that Tugwell needed for his resettlement efforts. The RA was only given limited funding for relocating only a few thousand individuals from 9 million acres (36,000 km2), less than 10 percent of Tugwell's goal. Several greenbelt cities were built which received some positive commentary. The cooperative future that Tugwell envisioned, however, was never accomplished. A major weakness of Tugwell's plan was the failure to understand the importance of the private sector and the need for productive employment. The Government could build planned communities, but without jobs, the new communities wre still born and required on-going Federal financing. The FA was disolved even before the Republican and conservative victories undercut New Deal programs (1938). The main focus of the RA thus became the building of relief camps in California for migratory workers, something that was badly needed.

Rural Electrification Administration (REA)

One program which undeniably improved farm life and productivity was the Rural Elecrification Administration (REA). This made farm life not only easier and safer, but American farmers vastly more productive. Utilities becuse of the small number of customers per mile of line were unwilling to run lines into rural areas. REA helped finance cooperatives organized by the farmers. The result was the electrifiction of rural areas. Which revolutionized rural life. By the time of World War II, electrical lines were snakeing out through rural America. This not only brought city amenities into rural homes, it increased the productivity of the American farmer who was already the most productive in the world. And that profuctivity was needed, as in World War I to porevent starvation in war-torn countries. REA was one of the least-publicized New Deal agencies, but was probably more significant than all the other New Deal efforts to aid farmers--except perhaps crop supports. And in this case it was not a grant, but loans that got paid back to the Federal Treasury, unlike most New Deal programs There was criticsm promoted by the utilities that cooperatives were not as American as corporations. They had a Soviet sound to them. Of course volutary cooperatives were far different thn the mandatory collectives forced upon Soviet farmers after the land owned by the peasantry was seized. The issues became less clear cut after World War II when the suburbs began expanding into rural areas and from use of electricity increased to the point that utilities became more inteesested in serving rural areas.


Nowell, R.I. "Experience of Resettlement Administration Program in Lake States," Journal of Farm Economics Vol. 19, No. 1, (February 1937), pp. 206-220. Published by: Agricultural & Applied Economics Association.

Nuttgens, Joseph. Letter London Review of Books (May 13, 2010 ), p. 4.

Sternsher, Bernard. Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal (Rutgers University Press, 1964).

"Bolton Hall, 84, Single Taxer, Dies," New York Times (December 11, 1938).


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