The twenty-four Sevier County residents interviewed for this project were children or young adults during the 1930s, but their memories of the Great Depression are still vivid. While they recount hard times, they also recall the pleasures of small town and rural life in central Utah.
Many of those interviewed came from farming families. Farmers were especially hard-hit by the Depression. Between 1929 and 1933 Utah's gross farm income fell nearly 60 percent. Farm prices were so low yearly revenues often barely paid for operating costs. "Utah Poultry would buy the eggs from us, but when the depression hit so hard, then they had no money to buy the eggs," remembers Elva Davis. "Sometimes they'd give us fifteen cents and sometimes we would have to almost give 'em to 'em." Those lucky enough to have avoided mortgages or other debts were still cash poor. "It was awful hard times," Marvell Hunt recollects,
In the close-knit Mormon villages of Sevier County, struggling neighbors seldom went unnoticed. "In that day and age you were just supposed to help your neighbor. If he was having problems, you were supposed to be over there helping, take their horses and machinery and go and help them put in their crops or whatever needed to be done they did," Ruth Hansen remembers. "I know several times that we had friends that were really bare, and Leo would take a sack of oats or a sack of something and stand it down on the doorstep so it would help them out," reports Hazel Peterson. The local church also provided relief, raising money and distributing food and supplies to those in need, a practice institutionalized in 1936, when the Mormon Church established the Church Welfare Plan.
By 1933, with Utah's unemployment rate at 35.8 percent, the fourth highest in the nation, it was clear that mutual aid alone could not offset the effects of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt had received widespread support from Utahns, 70 percent of whom had voted for him in 1932. Utah ranked ninth among the forty-eight states in terms of per capita federal spending during those years. Between 1935 and 1942, 12,000 Utahns a year, on average, were employed by the Works Progress Administration.  Marie Ogden's father was a WPA worker, as was Lorna Jensen's first husband. Jean Rowley remembers the impact the WPA had on the community:
In addition to the WPA, Sevier County residents received help from other New Deal programs. After graduating from high school, Lynn Waters joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. Joe Gentry's National Youth Administration job enabled him to attend college at Brigham Young University.
Despite many hardships, those interviewed look back to the 1930s fondly. Young people entertained themselves with picnics, church socials, favorite radio programs, and the rare trip to the local movie theater. Luzon Peterson remembers ice skating on the Richfield Canal. "We would walk up there in the winter, and we would skate up to what we called the central square, where the old school-house was, and during the holidays we would build bon-fires and have little get togethers that way." Verla Breinholt's friends would dance on her porch to the music of the family's Victorola. The hard times of the depression later became favorite family stories. Tom Abbott still laughs when recalling a incident involving his father:
Much of America's history remains unrecorded, residing in the stories and memories of its people. The Sevier County Oral History project is just one effort underway to recover and share this history (see My History is America's History for more projects and ideas). In "bringing the past alive," these oral histories also instruct today's youth in the values of frugality, hard work, mutual aid, and humor in the face of adversity that allowed Sevier County residents to endure and persevere during the Great Depression.
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In addition to the twenty-four oral histories, which can be found in the Interviews section, this website includes an Essay section with historical essays by Richfield High School student Lisa Nielsen and teacher and project director Judy Busk, reflections from the students involved in this project, and advice from interviewees. The Photos section lists those photographs that were collected in the course of the project. More information on Utah during the Great Depression can be found on the Resources page, which contains a short bibliography and links to related websites. To find out more about this project, visit the Project Information page.