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As It Was: Rural Families Return to Pioneer Life During Great Depression

To make ends meet during the Great Depression of the 1930s, rural families often lived lives similar to their pioneer ancestors, cooking and heating with wood stoves, using kerosene lamps and hauling water.

Bertha Charley and her family, including 10 children, lived in Climax, Ore., between Lake Creek and Shale, east of Roxy Ann Butte. They kept chickens and milk cows and had a big garden. Everyone who could worked odd jobs.

Charley’s diary of November 1933 tells the story of getting by.  Here are some excerpts:

November 5. “Just a day, everything bum, nothing to eat.”

November 6. “Got flour, sugar, beans and baking powder from [sister-in-law] Pearl.”

November 7. “[Sons] Boyd and Clint hauling wood. Pa working at Arlin’s.”

November 9. “Lincoln got 85 cents for two skunks. Got a sack of flour for $1.70.”

Charley contributed income to the family, earning $20 a year as the school district clerk and by serving as the postmaster.  She received a percentage of stamp sales, which were scarce in Climax.

Life wasn’t just privation.  Charley filled her home with music, books borrowed from the library and photographs they took and developed themselves.

Source: Edwards, Patsy. Grandma Bertha. unpublished, pp. 4-7. Author’s collection.

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Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.