Sam Smith’s Remembrances of the Depression

By  | 


Compiled by Shanda Smith Addison and Sylvia Kelly Smith
    This was taken from interview notes done by Sam’s granddaughter in order to prepare for a high school class assignment in the late1980's.  To get this much information, both the granddaughter and daughter-in-law furiously took notes as he talked.    Sam grew up in Baywood and graduated in the 1929 class.  His name was listed in the Baywood Commencement Program printed in Central Speaks recently.
    The Depression came upon the people suddenly!  Effects of the Depression weren’t such a shock to the poor people because they didn’t have anything anyway.  They already knew how to live off of the land.
    When you worked, if you could get ten cents an hour, you took it.  At LSU, Sam ran the clean-up system for lab supplies for the Botany Department.  Once he washed dishes for 18 hours without stopping.  
    To help create jobs for more people, President Roosevelt created the NRA (National Recovery Act).  Folks were not allowed to work but five days per two-week pay period.  Jobs were split to take care of two people.  Only one member of a household could take a job to help spread the jobs around to more people.
    The government bought agricultural products to try to help families out.  Programs were also started to help get small businesses re-established.  The Federal Housing Authority was formed 
    There was not much canned food in stores.  Most of the canning was done at home.  Homemaking was a full time job for the whole family.  Gardens, fields, canning – all this had to be done in order to eat.  Wood stoves were used for cooking.  Wealthier families might have gas stoves.  Wood had to be cut for the stove.  There was no running water.  
    Life in the country was hard.  Sam said that during gardening season, he had to go in and help his mother can and pick things from their family garden.
    There were no tractors.  Plowing was done with mules and horses, using an 8-foot plow, not a fourteen-foot one.  
    A lot of the traveling was done by horseback or buggy.  Just a few of the wealthier people had cars. There was no “running the roads” in the country.  There were no cars to speak of.  Their family’s first car was a used Model T Ford in 1928 or ‘29.  
    Every family member had chores that had to be done out of necessity.  Some of the chores done by Sam and the rest of the family included:
-milk by lantern because this was done before daylight;
-feed horses and pigs and chickens before daylight;
-be in the field by daylight and stay until night;
-milk and feed stock after sundown;
-cut and pack wood after sundown;
-cook three meals a day;
-wash clothes, etc. by scrub boards and tin tubs.  Wash pots were used to boil clothes.  Then the cleaned clothes had to be hung on the clothesline to dry.
    Folks didn’t have a lot of clothes.  Many clothes were made from feed sacks and flour sacks.  Feed for the animals came in sacks that could be used for clothes.
    Their family made about $400 per year by selling vegetables, watermelons, etc.  They took vegetables and syrup to Baton Rouge to grocery stores to trade or to sell.  This was usually taken in a carriage.  Sometimes a portion of the vegetables was traded for a meal at a restaurant while they were in Baton Rouge doing their selling and trading.  They couldn’t get cash.  They would get food that the family needed, maybe sugar and coffee, etc.  They would barter.
    Folks really were in need of food during the Depression.  In the cities, centers were set up to serve soup and bread to hungry people.  Sometimes these lines were several blocks long.  In the country, churches took care of people who needed food and other necessities.
    The banks were forced to close during the Depression.  Before they closed, some people were notified and were able to get their money out of the banks before they closed.  If they didn’t, some folks lost all the money they had, or were paid only a percentage of what they had in the banks.  Sometimes, it took years to get this money.  
    Lots of folks had to move out of their houses because they couldn’t afford to pay for their house or to pay rent.  Some of them moved into corncribs, old shops, hay barns, cotton houses, shacks, etc. and learned to grow their own foods.  Hunting for wild game was very important.
    Hotels wouldn’t rent rooms on the higher floors because of the high rate of suicide.  Folks were jumping out of windows.
    Sam remembered that the first time he heard a radio was when one was demonstrated at the high school.  The whole auditorium was filled up with people.  “Who could get music out of the air?”
    For entertainment, a radio was played on a gravel boat every Saturday night.  Fifty or sixty people would sit around listening to the radio.  Every Friday night, a band played. There was a community dance or a dance in someone’s house.  Church socials and parties at houses down in the community took place regularly.  There were ball games.  Traveling shows came to town and had shows.  Folks showed up in buses or mule-drawn wagons.  
    Sometimes tents were put up, like a tent to have a skating rink.  Square dances were a favorite among the adults.
    Sam remembered that the first shoes he wore regularly were when he was in the eighth grade.  Rural boys also wore overalls.  
    Cities had electricity at this time.  There was no electricity at home because REA had not been established yet.  They finally got electricity at home in 1938.  By that time, Sam was married and had a child.
    Sam saw his first movie in 1929.  It was a silent movie starring the actress, Clara Bow.  A person could go to the picture show for ten cents in Kentwood in 1935.  (That’s about the time Sam and his wife, Juanita were living in Kentwood.)   Shirley Temple was in talking movies.  They didn’t get to see many movies.  
    It seems that the economy mostly improved in preparing for World War II.  Three- to four billion dollars was the national budget when Roosevelt went into office.  It was seven billion dollars after the first Congress initiated his programs.  Congress and everybody else thought he was crazy!!!  His presidential chats on the radio were an effort to give the country confidence to keep going.  He was trying to keep the country boosted up.
    Young people were inexperienced.  Older people were experienced, but had no jobs, so the Civilian Conservation Corps created camps all over the United States.  One was in Franklinton and one was in Kentwood.  Young people from families in need could sign up for these camps.  They could earn $29.00 per month. $22.00 of this went home to their families. $7.00 went for the young people’s spending money.  Their clothing, housing, feeding, and medical help were taken care of by the Army.  
    Their training was done by civilians.  Sam served as a farm planner in the camp in Kentwood, LA.  He was serving as superintendent of this camp when World War II broke out.  Some of the things he was in charge of in training these young boys included: preparing land and plant crops, clerical work, electrical work, tractor and truck driving, engineers, and surveyors.  
    Part of Sam’s job was to interview the new boys to place them where it seemed they would be best.  (One camp was made up of World War I veterans.)  (It also seems that Sam told us that he had a lot of young boys from New Jersey who were sent down to his camp.)
    Another program that was created was the WPA (the Works Progress Administration). This was created for adults to give them something useful to do.  Lots of these folks were used on public jobs of some type.  Some of them built courthouses (the one in Kentwood), roads, and bridges.  WPA added the first addition to the LSU stadium in Baton Rouge.  W.P.A. folks were paid $2.75 a day.  They were able to go to work immediately.
    Sam went to LSU in 1929 and stayed until he got his Bachelor of Science Degree.  Because of the Depression, he couldn’t get a job when he graduated, so he stayed and began work on his Master’s degree.  While he was working on his Master’s, the Soil Conservation Service was formed.  He was able to get a job with them.  Twenty-five per cent of the boys in the LSU School of Agriculture were offered a job; 75% were not.  
    Sam’s first job with the Soil Conservation Service was as technical foreman in a C.C.C. camp at Minden, LA.  In this capacity, it was his responsibility to train the foremen and C.C.C. enrollees to do Soil Conservation work.  (It was while he was in Minden that he met his bride-to-be, Juanita Lytle, on a blind date.  They were married in September of 1935.)   
    When they married in 1935, Sam said that their first refrigerator was $205; their first washing machine was $210; a recliner chair was $40.  Ford and Chevys were about $800.  A stripped down model was about $680.   Bacon was 35 cents a pound; bread was 9 or 10 cents a loaf; eggs were 35 cents a dozen.
    Juanita remembered that during the Depression, her mother rented out part of her house in Minden, LA.  She also washed clothes for school teachers; raised chickens and turkeys; and sold eggs to help keep their family fed.