Stories from the Great Depression in Johnson County, Part 4

Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry is a national traveling exhibition and program about the causes and aftermath of the Dust Bowl.  The exhibit and programs will be held at the Central Resource Library, 9875 W. 87th Street, Overland Park, Kansas, 66212 from July 2-August 16.

During the difficult years of the Great Depression, American citizens from coast to coast required assistance from federal and local agencies.  Johnson County was no exception.  Needy citizens in Johnson County’s towns received relief in many different forms during the 1930s.

In May 1934, the Johnson County Democrat newspaper reported that 450 “relief gardens” had been planted in the county.  The gardens were planted by Johnson Countians who owned land but could not afford seed to grow crops such as tomatoes and cabbage.  The Kansas Emergency Relief Committee furnished the seed to allow the gardens to move forward.  The Relief Committee operated from 1932 until 1937 and administered relief programs throughout the state of Kansas.

By 1935, some of the relief efforts in Johnson County were home-grown.  According to Johnson County Poor Commissioner X.O. Meyer, the first six months of 1935 saw a large output of locally produced and distributed goods go to the needy.  During this six-month period, the following items were produced and distributed in Johnson County:

* $9,000 worth of food (milk, apples, beef, potatoes)

* $1,700 worth of household goods (mattresses, sheets, towels)

* 541 garments (dresses, nightgowns, pants, overalls)

Another sign of the economic instability in Johnson County during the Depression years came in the form of public transportation.  The Strang Line Interurban Railway ran from Kansas City to Olathe and serviced towns in Johnson County in between.  In October 1932, Strang Line Vice President Thomas Riley announced a round trip ride on the railway would be reduced to 65 cents for the remainder of the year.  The Strang Line’s ridership had decreased because of the country’s economic situation. Strang Line employees also took a 25% pay cut in 1932, and company officers took a 30% pay cut.

Thomas Riley, President of the Strang Line Interurban Railway.

Thomas Riley, President of the Strang Line Interurban Railway.

The Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry exhibition was organized by the American Library Association Public Programs Office, the Oklahoma State University Library and the Mount Holyoke College Library.  It was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

Cosponsored by the Johnson County Library and the Johnson County Museum.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum


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