The Psychological Affects of the Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl was an added devastation accompanying the Great Depression. It lasted from 1930 to 1939 and is sometimes referred to as the “Dirty Thirties”. (Bonnifield) Lack of crop rotation and a heavy drought caused this trying time in American history. Over one third of the United States was swallowed up by dust storms with the concentration of storms being located in northern Texas, the panhandle of Oklahoma, the entire western half of Kansas, south east Colorado, and north east New Mexico. (Gazit) One psychological affect experienced as a result of this great historic disaster must have been depression.
With over a decade of soil misuse and a severe drought that started in 1930 the top soil virtually turned to dust and blew away with the wind. This catastrophe could have been adverted with the practice of crop rotation. Crop rotation is a technique that has been traced back to Roman times. This method prevents the
buildup of pests and/or pathogens. A known occurrence when the same crop is used season after season. Specifically the rotation of deep rooted and shallow rooted crops would have helped to prevent this era in American history. This grave agricultural mistake served to devastate a large population of people.
Because of the lack of top soil crops could not grow therefore farmers and their families became stricken with poverty. Soon after the dust started blowing away it created dust storms which their most fierce covered the sky and there was little to no visibility on the ground, even worse than a blizzard of today the storms were given the name “Black Blizzard” (Gazit). Entire farm machinery virtually disappeared under a blanket of dust deposits left behind by these storms. Even with the aid of relief programs from the federal government entire families still had to pick up and leave behind their land, homes, and way of life. Most of these families were referred to as “Okies” because the majority came from Oklahoma and nearly all headed west to California to escape the storms. (Ganzel)
Meeting basic human needs was a day to day struggle. Because the vast majority of the families were poor they had little to no money for food often fought over food that they may have shared with others just years earlier. Another health concern during this time was the onset of dust pneumonia which is the disproportionate exposure to dust where as dust literally fills the lungs. (Cook) The condition was so common that several musicians wrote song with the most famous being Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Pneumonia Blues”.
Lack of employment was another common trauma that could easily lead to depression. Having previously been able to provide food and a place of warmth and wellbeing was no longer possible for males and single mothers of the day. The conditions were so extreme families were sometimes encouraged to give their children to government agencies so they could be better cared for.
Not only did the Dust Bowl affect farmers but also white collar and professional workers who now had to fend for themselves in conditions and livelihoods they were not accustomed to.
J.D. Bilbro, a child of the Dust Bowl recalls being trapped within a dust storm during a day known as “Black Sunday”. He talks about how he, a friend, and their two sisters ran through the storm and it was “black as midnight, rolling and boiling along the earth like a runaway tidal wave”. (Westbrook) The Grapes of Wrath written in 1939 by John Steinbeck and published by The Viking Press is a fictional story about a family traveling across the country to California during the Dust Bowl just in hope to find jobs as fruit pickers. In preparation for writing the book Mr. Steinbeck traveled as a migrant worker for two years so that he could get a feel and understanding for how the people of this era felt and survived. (Bio) In the PBS history series...
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