In 1929, a the stock market crashed leaving “over 9,000 American banks either went bankrupt of closed their doors to avoid bankruptcy between 1930 and 1933. Depositors lost over $2.5 billion in deposits.” This left 25% of Americans without a job, and unemployment never went below 15 percent until World War II. Of those who did not lose their jobs, “one-third of the work force experienced cuts in wages and hours both.” Not only the city workers, but also the agricultural community felt the hit. “Farm income declined by go percent between 1929 and 1932. A third of all American farmers lost land.” The government realized this atrocity and began to help. “The West received more federal grants per capita through New Deal relief programs that any other region” (US). This meant a family of five received $53 per year, and a single person received $15 in 1933 (Washington’s Emergency Relief). With the end of the economic boom of the 1920s, Americans spending changed, changing the lives of people all over the country. This brought the people of America and Yelm closer to their family and made them more creative. Some of the luxuries they could enjoy during the twenties, such as leisure activities, were not the same.
The children were probably most creative of all; the innocence of their youth could not realize the weight of the period. The youngsters would ride their “’wheels’, (not bikes)” to Olympia for ice cream sodas at noon and home for supper (Yelm his). Roger Eide and wife Lila when asked to remember the fun of their childhood remember playing “kick the can,” “swimming, “ skating up and down the street,” and wagons.” A common meeting place was Patterson Lake, between Yelm and Lacey; there was a skating rink there. They also say “kids” would play a lot of pranks such as tipping outhouses, soaping windows on cars and business buildings. The children were probably the least affected mentally by the Great Depression. They continued to play and being inventive to occupy the time.
Group activities were very popular during the Depression. People could relax, and forget about the hard times, or they could talk about their difficulties. The most common group past time was probably Baseball. People all over America and in Yelm played baseball quite frequently. Every chance they got; they would get together to play. Games would start up within families at picnics, with friends at school, and there were small community leagues as well. Lila Eide recalls a Roy team and a Yelm team would play near Lawrence Lake. Another sport available was golf. There was a league at Lackamas (NVN). Other group activities for groups were ice cream socials, camping, fishing, hunting, and berry picking (Yelm his). And of course this would all lead to “lots of parties.” There were berry balls, street dances and carnivals to celebrate (Eide). Group activities were always available and were used to bring communities together.
Families were another important social structure. People would gather on Sundays or after work to relax and reflect. One home activity was reading. It became popular because the harshness of the Great Depression came through in the words. Roger Eide remembers doing a lot of “home things” including reading, and the radio. He believed that “people would sit and listen to the radio and the read probably more the average person” today. Radio provided Americans with their first direct access to important public events (us). Roger said his family listen to the “radio all the time” there were comedy programs, ball games, soap operas (which his mother listened to quite frequently), and music. Music consisted of “bands playing, horns and pianos, Lawrence Welk, and occasionally classical.” Radio plays were among the “most popular entertainments of the 1930s” (us). People would sit together on their front porches, and sit, talk, and dance. It seems like a solitary experience, but it turned into a community activity. The radio was an important part of American culture throughout the Depression.
Another experience all Yelmites could enjoy was going to the movies. Movies were one of the least expensive forms of entertainment, and with sound and soon color become very popular very quickly (us). Movies could be seen for 10 cents and the high school. And a man opened a theater on southwest corner of First Street and Yelm Avenue, the Eides remember. They said it was “some old garage” but then moved to where the bowling alley now is. It soon gave way to the more popular, future drive-ins and TV. Yelmites went to the theater to escape their everyday lives, and found themselves connecting to the rest of the nation.
Even though money was scarce, Yelmites and Americans in general found economic ways to entertain themselves.
By Mary Asher
- “Washington’s Emergency Relief Administration, Director’s Files, Plans & Reports, 1993”
- Robert Wolf interview
- Roger and Lila Eide interview
- Nisqually Valley News, May 22, 1935
- The Story of Yelm 1848-1948