Lori Brown: This is Lori Brown and I'm interviewing Jean Anna Hobson Meacham Rowley on her remembrances of the Great Depression. The date is December 4, 1997, and the place is her home in Richfield, Utah.
All right, first some background information. Where and when were you born?
Jean Rowley: I was born in Laramie, Wyoming on March the 27, of 1916.
Lori Brown: Tell a little about your family and circumstances of your early life.
Jean Rowley: Well, in my early life my father worked for the government. In fact, he was in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. They called him back to Washington D.C. to head the 4H club work. So we went back there when I was three. I had one other sister by that time. We had gone through the flu and seen a lot of people pass away because of that flu epidemic. And it hit our family so that my mother was bedfast with her baby. My father was down with the flu and the neighbors had to come in and fire the furnace for us and keep the furnace going so we'd have heat during the winter time. I don't remember too much about that. I remember my mother telling me about it.
Then we moved back to Washington D.C. My father was head of the 4H for about 5 years and he went into the boys and girls club work called Junior Achievement. I don't know if you've ever heard of that or not, but then he managed it. He was the one that really founded it, and started Junior Achievement. There were three men that owned it, Mr. Shirley, and I don't remember the others now. He loved boys and girls work and he was in that for about five years.
Then he went in as a stock broker. There were two other men and himself. Mr. Smith and Mr. McDonald and my father. He enjoyed that so much. We were living in Springfield, Massachusetts. through those years in Junior Achievement.
So, then we moved back to Washington D.C. My dad went down there for six months; and while he was there and was setting up his own brokerage, the crash came in '29. I was 12 and turned 13 after we moved down there. He struggled and tried to keep it going, but it just didn't work out. We lost everything we had. It was quite a drastic change.
We came back West and lived with my grandfather, my mother's folks, and lived in Ogden during the depression.
The stock market break took so many people by surprise. My father knew that the stock market would come back up, so he put everything up on margin and that's why we lost everything. Mr. Shirley jumped from a three story window and ended his life. Several of my father's friends, bankers, there were two of them that committed suicide, shot themselves. It was a very traumatic time. It was hard because everybody blamed my father because they had lost their money in the stock market. He had put it in the stocks for them. They came back on him and wanted their money back. Well, they were the ones who WANTED to make the money, but to lose it was a different thing. So he set up a fund for them and tried to put a little money in it. If they wanted to draw on that, they could. But it didn't work out. Later on he went into government again. We went back to D.C. again, but it didn't work out. We were back in Ogden, and my mother became very ill. He lived in Connecticut when my mother died. When she passed away we moved back to Washington D.C., but I didn't stay. I came back here and thought maybe I could do some genealogy at the library there in Salt Lake, which didn't work out. The rest of my family was still in D.C.
Lori Brown: How old were you during the depression?
Jean Rowley: Well, I turned thirteen when we lived down in D.C., that year in '29. All through school, high school, we came back to Ogden. I had one dress to my name, one pair of shoes, floppy soles. You were very lucky to have anything. High school days were very hard. My mother came from a wealthy family; all of those families are dead now.
Daddy sent us five or six dollars a month to live on. Of course, we lived with my grandpa and he kept us going. We lived in one of his homes. Otherwise, I don't know what we would have done. It was rough, psychologically (laughs).
Lori Brown: What do you remember about the stock market crash?
Jean Rowley: I remember losing everything we had, all our heirlooms. I remember my mother telling me they weren't important, we had one another. And we were happy, my family. If we had been alone in it, but we weren't there were so MANY, many people who were standing in line for food, and we didn't have to. My grandpa took care of that. It was hard enough on us, but we were a happy family, a close knit family. We learned to depend on one another that way. We learned to appreciate everything we had in life.
We were so grateful especially that we had the gospel. Well, it wasn't that important at that time. It wasn't until I went off to school that we all really became active. The Lord was just with us. When we had lived back East, we didn't have the church back there. We went to the Methodist Episcopal Church. That was a once-in-a- while thing. Mama felt that it was important that we get some religion, to get something. She taught us at home a lot about the gospel, but we never talked about being Mormons. We didn't say anything about that back there. People didn't know who Mormons were. They were people with horns. We were odd people, ya know.
The depression itself was hard on us physically, but we would still get along with little things. We didn't expect a lot. If the stock market should break now, I don't know what people would do, with all the things they have. We had one little tiny radio and we were happy. Of course, they didn't have TV in those days. Our values were different. We played games, and that was our entertainment. We would see a movie once in a while because our grandfather would send us to the movies. We just enjoyed one another. We knew one another in our family. And that was such a good part of the depression in that it kept us very close.
Lori Brown: What type of thing did you do to save money?
Jean Rowley: We didn't have any money. We couldn't even buy penny lolly pops. Once in a while we could get a sucker (laughs). In fact, they were two for a penny. We just were lucky. When we went back East again, I remember our Christmas there in Hartford. My mother had had surgery for cancer here, and then we went back. At Christmas, why, we got a bag of nuts. And that was our Christmas. Oh, each of us got a bag of nuts, and I got the Book of Mormon. There were tears; my mother cried because she couldn't do any more. We were very fortunate. We had five dollars to live on a month.
The girls started working. Hartford was an insurance city, and all three of us worked there. We gave our mother ten percent of what we earned for upkeep. She made us pay our tithing and kept the rest for our clothes. All the necessary things. I remember buying my mother a quilt for her bed, and pillows and blankets and things like that. We didn't have an opportunity to save money, but we did learn to be very frugal. I did know how to put money away when I came back here after my mother died. I always put some money away.
Lori Brown: What was your father doing, his job, at this time?
Jean Rowley: Well, he worked for the government. He lived such a long way from the family that we didn't see him very often, once in a while we stayed in Washington. I came back here and then my sisters came back and my brother went into the Marines when the war came, World War Two.
Lori Brown: How did the depression affect the area at the time?
Jean Rowley: Roosevelt was our president at the time, well, Hoover was in and he lost in the campaign and Roosevelt came in. It was depressed. There were long lines, food lines. Like I say we were fortunate to have a grandpa that kept us going. So we didn't have to stand in line for food. Many, many families stood in line for food. It was welfare.
The government started building roads and improving them. That's when we started getting our good roads. And cars were, ya know, 30 mph was quite a deal in those days. Roosevelt put crews of men out to build roads. That was a life saver when they started building those roads up into the mountains and forming camps. The best thing that could have happened. Then we got back on our feet little by little. It was a marvelous, rapid growth we've had here in America in the last century, the last fifty years. I can't believe it.
I think of when the boy that flew over to Europe, he flew over our home, in those first airplanes. The improvements they've had, and then cars.
We had one of the first cars. My mother took it into town when we lived down in Maryland, Daddy had purchased a farm. My uncle grew watermelons and pumpkins out there, and my dad was working for the government in D.C. But we needed some groceries, my mom and Aunt Alta didn't know how to drive, so mama said I'll drive. She drove into Washington and she didn't know how to stop the car (laughs). She got it going as slow as possible, and Alta jumped off and went in and got the groceries and brought them back and mama had gone around and around and around. Finally ran out of gas. Alta got back in and we had to go find a telephone someplace and call my dad to come. I think of that first car that had the flaps on the sides. The flaps could come off and you'd have the open air. I'd get car sick. They've improved the cars now.
Lori Brown: What impact did living during this time have on you?
Jean Rowley: It taught me to be very careful. In fact, I was pretty frugal for a long time. It was good when we were first married because the war was on and there was a lot of things we couldn't have. You couldn't drive your cars, but when you had to, you had to use gasoline stamps. The government gave you stamps and when they were gone that was all you got for the month. You learned to be very, very careful with what you had, and appreciate what you had. We did a lot of walking in those days, it was good for us. I look at the parking lot over at the school now (shakes head), easy come, easy go.
Lori Brown: How have your attitudes changed because of the depression?
Jean Rowley: I appreciate life, I guess. Life can be wonderful. You make it what it is. Don't expect somebody else to do it for you. You have to do it yourself. I love life, I'm grateful for my family. I think you have to have hardships to appreciate the good. I think if we hadn't had that, you don't appreciate it, unless you had something to work for. We had to work for it all our lives, I had to work for it all my married life. Things didn't come easy. I appreciate what I have, it's taken years and years. I have now what my children had not long after they were married they have everything I have, and it's taken me years, but I appreciate what I have. I think it was good for us.
It frightens me now when I see the conditions we're in 'cause I think we're ready for another crash. I don't know whether we'll be able to handle it or not, there is so much drug usage now; we didn't have all those things then. We had drinking, and tobacco. We didn't have cocaine like China had, ya know those countries. Things are so bad and the diseases because of all this. And our ideals are going down the drain, and our morals are going, even among our Latter- day Saints.
Lori Brown: What advice would you give to young people if they were to face a depression?
Jean Rowley: Stay close to the Lord. I don't know what we'd have done if we didn't have the church. To know what it is to kneel and pray. That's what gets you through. Just stay close to the Lord.
Work! Don't be afraid of work. Don't expect somebody else to do it for you. Get out and do it yourself. Don't be afraid of it. It will make you. If you know how to work, you'll be all right. Stay close to your parents. They're wise, they know.
(Talks about the church and being LDS)
Lori Brown: Is there anything I haven't asked that you'd like to add?
Jean Rowley: We didn't have the clothes they have now-a-days. Like I said, I had one dress, and a pair of shoes. I had one pair of socks and I mended them every other day. They didn't have nylon, we had cotton socks. We had a pair of silk stockings for Sunday, maybe, if we were lucky. We didn't have a Sunday dress. Some did, but a lot of people didn't.
A lot of people lived on the streets. They were hard, hard times, people were hungry. They took care of themselves. They didn't depend on the government. Now the government takes care of us a lot. In those days we took care of ourselves, and if we didn't . . . . I think of those people out in Nebraska and out there, starved. We are very, very fortunate to have a government that takes care of us. We have to remember what the government gives us, we're giving to the government, in the long run, and not to expect the government to do everything for us. We need to depend on ourselves more.
Lori Brown: Were you ever without food?
Jean Rowley:Our family was not because we had a grandpa. It came around Grandpa was really keeping us because Daddy was sending us maybe five or six dollars. He tried for a long time to keep his business going, and it didn't work. That's when he finally went back to the government again. But Grandpa was keeping us in food. We didn't know until years later that he was writing to a couple of his sons and asking for some money so that he could buy groceries for us. We didn't realize that he was down to his last penny because he had three homes.
We were living in one of the apartments. My mom got to make apartments of two homes. It actually had been one big home with his family living in it, and then they split it and had two homes. Then later on when we moved back, we lived in a home to the back. He had two homes, one to his nephew, and our family lived in the other home. Nice little home. Mama got him to remodel those two homes out front and make two section of both of them so he would have four apartments, which was wise, ya know, cause he wasn't getting anything out of those little homes. So he had two families coming over. Guess we figured he had the money we didn't. The idea that Grandpa was keeping us, but what were we going to do. My dad was back in D.C. He got the money from my mama's brothers, couple of the boys. My mother was the only girl. There were nine boys, six that lived, and one girl. They sent the money each month to keep us in groceries.
(discusses more about her grandfather)
Lori Brown: I think you've covered it really well, and thank you. Jean Rowley: I hope I brought out points that would help you. Lori Brown: Yes, thank you for doing this.