Women’s Clubs

The remoteness of a town like Yelm caused a need for the women to socialize with each other. The harsh lifestyle that they had to endure was too much without some kind of diversion from their work. Clubs provided the women in Yelm with a channel through which they could accomplish both these things.

Women desired to make lasting changes that they felt were necessary in society. They yearned to demonstrate their ability to be as effective and important as their male counterparts. The need to improve themselves was also a concern. The clubs that women organized often paid strict attention to parliamentary procedure. With parliamentary procedure they proved they were capable of being organized as well as executing programs and decisions with efficiency.

The main focus of the clubs was to better the community. Several clubs were founded solely upon the desire to improve Yelm while others were created to support an interest or hobby yet still held community service as important. The Garden Club, for example, participated in many floral competitions and shows but also took it upon themselves to make wreaths for each veteran’s grave and to landscape parts of the community. The Civic Club was the most service minded of the clubs in Yelm. Some of its activities were garbage disposal, making sidewalks and courtesy ramps, clean up days, erecting signs, playground improvement and landscaping. Another important service was provided by the Orthopedic Auxiliary. This Club provided care for the children in the community by treating them for their bone ailments, which often resulted in full recovery.

Patriotism was proudly displayed by the Navy Mothers of Yelm. These women volunteered countless hours at the recruiting booth, provided Christmas parties and meals for local troops and held bond drives. One of the most successful drives brought in six thousand dollars.

Women put a large amount of effort into each of the clubs that they founded or participated in. Women were effective in initiating and carrying out major civic programs in an organized manner. This was a quality of their work that proved they had the same business capabilities as men and were able to administer them. The good that resulted in the town of Yelm was a landmark to the women’s good character, hard working mentality and desire to give to society.

By Kara Lowe (2002)

(Source: The Story of Yelm: The Little Town With the Big History, 1848-1948)

History Of Church Activities In Yelm Dates Back To Days Of Civil War

By Edgar Prescott (The Sunday Olympian February 10, 1980)

The night of Dec. 29, 1979, the former Yelm Community Church was destroyed by fire. The Yelm Fire Department received the first call, the Nisqually Valley News reported, at 10:55 p.m. when flames broke through the roof of the ancient wooden structure which was constructed early in the century.

Even in early days, residents of Yelm prairie were sometimes allowed the privilege to attend church . Floss and Dick Loutzenhiser and Franklin King, in the booklet, “Stories of Yelm,” recount that on occasion’s ministers along with visitors, which at least once included Gov. Stevens and his family, rode out to Olympia to provide services. Such meetings were held in the Longmire home and were followed by dinner gatherings.

Earl Howell, in “Methodism in the Northwest,” records that Sunday school was organized on the prairie in the 1860’s in the home of James Longmire. Early Methodist ministers serving the area were John F DeVore, Ebenezer Hopkins, and B.F. Brooks. Beginning in 1899 classes also were held in the nearby Eureka church.

Cleora Paine was there. “It was 1889 when my father took out his homestead,” she remembers. “At that time the people in the community were building the Eureka school. It was on an acre of land donated by Mr. and Mrs. John Algyer, who had come originally from Eureka, Calif.

“The building served not only as a school. For 10 years we had church there and Sunday school. Then Mr. and Mrs. Algyer gave us another acre of land closer to their residence so that the community might have a separate church. It was six or seven miles from Yelm. It would be at the south end of the Beckman place.

“The church was completed in 1889. My two sisters and I were present at the dedication. Everybody was there: the Langdens, the Algyers, the Morrises, the Smiths, and the Ferbrashes. There were several families of each of them. Mr. and Mrs. True were there and Mrs. W.J. Inman and Miss Emma Cawdry. They were sisters of Mrs. Spencer.

“The Rev. A.J. Joselin preached the sermon that morning in the place of C.G. Morris who was our regular minister. Sermons were different, more punch, and they lasted for an hour or more instead of maybe 20 minutes the way they do now. People weren’t in such a hurry to get home to watch a football game. After services they went to each other’s houses for dinner.

“At first the church was only one room, but after the Ladies Aid started holding meetings there, the men in the community built a little kitchen in the back. We had dinners there and social gatherings. We didn’t mind that there were no separate rooms for Sunday school classes. The little ones had a corner, the intermediates, the young people, the adults; we each had a corner of our own.

In 1907 we installed our new bell. It was just before Christmas, the day Mr. Pollard died. We had his funeral the day after Christmas, and we tolled the bell 36 times, once for each of the years he had lived. Every Sunday they rang that bell, all the years I was home. We could hear it at our place a mile away just as loud and clear as if it had been next door.

“We walked to church in those days. [through] pastures and crawled over the fences. Most everybody walked except the Morrises. They had a team and a buggy. We didn’t drive, we girls. We were afraid of the horses. They were too lively. The folks didn’t go to church much. Father was too busy.”

“We had everything a church needed. We had an organ and a choir, and we had Dwight Wells. He had gone to the Eureka school and was a natural musician. He and his father and mother, his married sisters, Mrs. Thorn and Mrs. Smith, and a brother, Herb, were all wonderful singers. On special occasions they sang duet or quartet arrangements. We liked that. After Mrs. Thorn and her sister moved away, we young folks took over, my sisters and I and the Robinson girls and the Conine girls.”

Though both Rainier and McKenna Methodist churches were active at the turn of the century, “Methodism in the Northwest,” makes no mention of a Yelm Church prior to 1909. Floss Loutzenhiser, in her story of the Yelm Community Church, tells of a log school house built on the Yelm Prairie which was used as a community gathering place and also as a church whenever a minister was available. There is no record of the time of its demise.

Thirty-five years ago Dow Hughes, who had come to town in 1896, told of a frame building about a quarter of a mile east of town, which served as both church and school. “It was Presbyterian,” he said. “The preacher was a good man. He worked for me in the blacksmith shop. He conducted services every two weeks. Alternate Sundays he preached in Roy.”

Apparently Dow’s assistant was not the only minister to serve the community. Floss Loutzenhiser writes: “Church services were held whenever the presence of the Rev. Ebenezer Hopkins of Tumwater, the Rev. B.F. Brooks, presiding elder from Olympia, M.O.R. Thompson or the beloved Father Taylor made it possible.”

Floss also recounts that in later years the noise of Sunday baseball on the school grounds often competed with the sermon . . . [People eventually] considered that the building was too small, too dingy and uncomfortable.

James Mosman Sr., a resident of Yelm since 1892, complained bitterly that the community continued using the building long after it had become inadequate either as a school or church.

“I suppose we would still be using it if it hadn’t burned down,” he told me in 1946, a year or so after I had come to town to teach. He confessed that he had prayed for such a conflagration, but disclaimed any responsibility for starting it. “There were those who accused me,” he said.

A new school was built west of the tracks, and during the summer, meetings were held to promote the organization of a new church, which was to be strictly non-denominational.

Fortunately, most of the records of the period have been preserved. Among them is a half-sheet, a little brittle from age:


“The Ladies Aid of Yelm. Sale afternoon and evening of April 24th. Ice Cream and hot coffee from 11:30 A.M. Auction sale and short program in the evening to close with box lunch. Proceeds to pay for finishing church so it can be used. “All ladies please bring box lunch.”

This was one of the flyers announcing the “famous ice cream festival” which Floss told about: “It was held west of the track on the present site of the Shoe Repair and Fixit Shop, which at the time was open prairie. A truly remarkable setting was arranged by the committee which transplanted small fir trees to form a make-believe grove about the area where white covered tables were set up.”

A couple of months later, on July 13, 1908, the records reveal that the church building committee, selected at evening services the night previous, met at Mr. Hughes’ store and proceeded to organize the committee by the selection of a chairman and secretary-treasurer:

“On motion Mr. Murphy was chosen as chairman of the committee. “On motion Mr. James Mosman was selected as Secretary-Treasurer of the committee. “On motion the whole committee was authorized to solicit subscriptions. “Mr. Medley read his report as Treasurer: Money received at stand $40.80. Paid out for Ice Cream $15. Expense on Ice Cream $1.45. Paid to Mosman Bros. For groceries $.40. Total Paid out $16.85. Received on subscription $5. Total receipts $45.88. Total on hand $28.95.

“Committee asked to submit plans for new church. Mr. Murphy & Mr. Mixel submitted one plan each.

“Committee spent much time figuring on plans and estimating approximate cost of material and labor to erect new church. It was decided that at least three hundred and fifty dollars was needed to purchase the material.

“Motion was carried to adjourn until Tuesday night, July 14, 1908.” James L. Mosman “Secretary”

“A subscription paper was always in evidence at the Mosman Brothers Store,” Floss records. “Officials and workers at the McKenna Mill were petitioned. Dedicated women drove the length and breadth of the rutted, rock strewn prairie collecting donations.”

Among the preserved papers and documents is such a subscription paper; two sheets more than a foot log on lined paper with inch-and-a-half red margins at the left. It is dated July 1908: “We the undersigned agree to give the sum opposite our names for the building of a chapel for religious purposes in Yelm. Payment to be made on demand to James L. Mosman, Treasurer of the Building Committee.”

The subscription list starts boldly with $50 donations by James Mosman and Dow Hughes. There are a few $25 and $20 donations, one by the baseball team which, by the way, was never marked as paid; but the great majority of subscriptions range from $1 to $5.

On Aug. 15, 1908, another meeting of the building committee was held at which it was “moved and seconded that the committee accept the two front lots of donated by the McKenzie Brothers instead of one front and one back.”

There is a lapse of more than a month before the records indicate any

progress toward construction, a receipt dated Sept. 26,1908: “Received

from James L. Mosman Sect. & Treas. Of Yelm Church Building Committee the sum of two hundred & twenty nine and 34-100 dollars in payment in full for 16,916 ft. lumber.” The receipt was signed by George Lockead.

Most of the receipts, however, were for wages, paid mainly to C.H. Robbins and John Pohrman. The earliest I found was dated Jan. 29, 1909. It is signed by C.H. Robbins: “Received from D.R. Hughes $25 and from James Mosman $23.75, amount due me for labor on Yelm Church to date.”

The following month Robbins listed his hours of labor, day by day, Feb. 18-27, a total of 87 hours for which he assessed a charge of 34 ? cents per hour.

It is recorded in remarkably legible longhand in the old church record book that “funds and labor to the amount of about one thousand dollars were secured, and the building was enclosed.” A treasurer’s report scribbled in pencil on three torn-out pages of notebook paper shows that through Jan. 26, 1910, a total of $580.73 was paid in subscriptions. On the back of one of the pages is the account of expenditures of $509.92 through May 27, 1909.

Sometime in 1909 the building program slowed to a stop. “The money was exhausted and so were the laborers,” it was reported in “Methodism in the Northwest.”

“Neglected home duties claimed the workers,” Floss writes. “The little church sat forlornly by the side of the road. Not until a farmer offered to buy the building to be used as a barn was the committee stung into action.”

“We discovered that non-denominational ministers were hard to find,” James Mosman told me nearly 40 years later. “We advertised the church for sale to any denomination that would run it. The Methodists were the only ones interested.”

The building committee met in final session on Sept. 4, 1909.

“Motion made by C.A. Robbins and seconded by James Mosman to transfer Yelm church property to Methodist denomination under the following conditions: that said church pay the sum of two hundred dollars to pay off the debt and complete said church and also to build a parsonage on said property inside of six months from date or said transfer becomes null & void.

“In case the said conditions are not fulfilled the church shall revert to its present owners on condition that they pay back the amount the Methodists have put in.”

“Motion carried to transfer.”

“Motion made by C.A. Robbins and seconded by James Mosman to post three motions in conspicuous places, that anyone dissatisfied with transfer put in claim for the amount of subscription inside of fifteen days.”

“Motion carried.”

Yelm and the New Deal

The sudden depression that followed the “Roaring Twenties” sent the United States spiraling in to a state of complete uncertainty. Instead of the average citizen having more time and money than they knew how to spend, they now had almost no money and spent their time looking for whatever available jobs they could find. Because of these unexpected and horrific circumstances, the government was in need of some adequate solutions, and fast. The result was the launching of the New Deal by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This program dealt with many of the problems facing the nation on both an agricultural and industrial level. Thanks to the New Deal, the nation was soon well on it’s way back to the comfortable lifestyle that it once knew. Surprising as it may be, our little town of Yelm did not escape joining the nation in this particular crisis, nor was it left out of the programs that helped this nation recover.

Yelm experienced all the mainstream problems that plagued the nation during the depression. Unemployment was obviously high, and even those who were employed made very meager amounts to live on. Bob Wolf’s family owned the local grocery store and he said that they extended enormous amounts of credit as well as being involved in “…bartering and exchanging food, but not a lot of cash was involved.” His mother wrote in his baby book, “The banks have crashed. We’ve lost everything that we had in the banks…we’ll never get that back.” It was a time of despair for the entire country and the situation was no different in the prairie town of Yelm.

The economy of Yelm during the depression was certainly reflective of the country as a whole. The decline in gross returns of the prominent berry industry that was a major economic influence in the district is evidence of the crisis as it occurred in Yelm. Despite the fact that in 1931 the district was estimated to have produced twice as many berries as in 1928, the gross return in ‘31 was notably less than the $35,000 revenue from ’28, as it produced a mere $30,000. Furthermore, property tax rates reflect the declining Yelm economy as well. The following chart shows the funds received by Yelm High School from levies on property taxes from the beginning of the depression to the very height of it.

1929 $22,875
1930 $25,225
1931 $20,145
1932 $21,354
1933 $21,170
1934 $15,480
1935 $16,769
1936 $14,536

As you can see the funding dropped dramatically over the first few years of the decade. That decline compounded with the fact that the needed funds for the year 1936 were approximately $15,605, and the district actually received $14,536 led to the demands of the superintendent for a new levy in ‘37. In all actuality, the fact was that property values had severely declined as a result of the national depression and there simply was no money for the schools, or for anything else.

The New Deal brought a new sense of hope for many Americans. Early New Deal developments included the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933. This set new standards for labor such as a minimum wage of $.30-$.40/hour, a standard work week set at 35-40 hours/week, and laws prohibiting child labor. This was great news for those who were fortunate enough to be employed. The Public Works Administration monitored and stabilized government spending. This was a helpful development considering that many theories contribute the unstable spending of the government to the numerous causes of the depression. The Glass-Steagal Act set up the FDIC and guaranteed up to $2500 of money invested in banks, which would prevent many tragic cases like that of the Wolf family in the future. All of these developments were fundamental in restoring faith in the government in its future endeavors. However, the people realized that, while in the future these developments would be incredibly stabilizing, the problem remained that people were poor, starving and in need of help right now.

The result was the series of work relief programs that would follow during the larger part of the 1930’s. Many of the programs implemented were focused on the immediate recovery of the economy. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a program that focused on re-growing and preserving the forest and was geared toward young men in somewhat urbanized areas. The CCC was present in Yelm in the form of a camp on the outskirts of Rainier. This site was funded by the government and employed a number of men from the area. In 1936 the farmers in the Yelm area were offered a chance for rehabilitation. Farmers were allowed to apply to the County Relief Agency for “temporary subsistence grants” until they could get their farms back at a profitable level. Also offered was a way to stabilize their farms and make them profitable by adjusting their debts and giving them loans for the goods needed to do it. Another program that was implemented in the early 30’s was the National Youth Administration (NYA) whose primary concern was the education of the youth of America. They sought to provide the necessary funds for students to continue the pursuit of their education. In Yelm the NYA presented many opportunities for the small farm town where children were needed to maintain the crops during this time of crisis. In fact, in 1935 the Nisqually Valley News reported that the government would be providing Yelm High School with $100 a month which would be given out to students whom the district felt were worthy and in need of it. Any student over the age of 16 was able to receive up to $6 per month and were required to do some type of designated job in order to earn the much needed money. Many students were able to remain in school because of this program in Yelm. Other types of relief programs available in Yelm and the rest of the nation included Mother’s Pensions and welfare programs with very specific income requirements. These programs helped tremendously in the area of Yelm; however, the biggest aid during the depression came from the many government-funded jobs that were implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The WPA was a larger version of the preceding Civil Works Administration (CWA). The CWA was a government-funded program that provided civilians with employment on government projects such as roads, bridges, dams, etc. The much broader WPA was apparent in many cases in Yelm. The government-funded Yelm Irrigation project, which focused on increasing the capacity of the main canal, was estimated to have employed around 25 men for 10 months in 1935. In November of that same year the government provided necessary funds for the $16,500 Yelm creek project. The goal of this project was to decrease the amount of flooding that was prevalent during the winter as well as providing work for 20-40 men over a period of 6 months. The $9,350 Yelm city streets project was commenced closed to the same time. This project was designed to employ 12 men to finish making concrete sidewalks on Yelm’s main avenue and to improve the gravel sidewalks on the side streets of Yelm. All of these programs were essential in the recovery of the Yelm economy and the national crisis as a whole.

The impact of the depression on the economy of the United States is undeniable. The vast decline in employment, income, and the standard of living portrayed the immense crisis that plagued the nation and that certainly did not exclude Yelm. The New Deal programs implemented by Roosevelt were incredibly helpful in directing the nation toward recovery. In Yelm, programs such as the CCC, the NYA, and the many opportunities for welfare assistance were particularly helpful. Overall, though, the WPA was absolutely imparative in sending the city of Yelm back toward recovery. The experiences of Yelm with the depression and the New Deal were certainly reflective of the experiences of the nation as a whole.

Arthur R. Sheckler’s Letters McKenna

Introduction: The following are excerpts from letters written by Arthur Sheckler while he worked at the McKenna Mill during the 1920s.

Will send cards and books of Yellowstone soon by parcel post. Must draw some money first.

McKenna Wash
Sept 3.23


Dear Mother:
Well I am sleeping on a bed again after 20 days on the hard ground altho I could sleep there and feel fine in the morning. I am also eating good grub again.

I am straightening the boards after they come from the saws that is, after the boards and timbers are sawed they fall on a slow moving table and if they don’t fall straight I straighten them up.

I don’t have to touch very many of them and half the time I sit around doing nothing. We work eight hours and get four dollars. Chuck is piling lumber in the yard and works hard and is sort of pieved over my good luck.

We have a room with two single beds and have electric lights and there is toilets, wash room with hot and cold water, shower baths and free laundry. We have a Japanese lady that makes the beds and sweeps every day and talk about grub. They feed the very best of grub. Several different kinds of meat, potatoes, cookies, cakes, pie, several kind of fruit, lots of milk, different kinds of sauce, soup, and lots of other things. They don’t come out and say “what will you have for supper” like in a resturant but set out big dishes full of every thing and as soon as a dish is empty they fill it up again and when you start to get up they tell you to set down and finish your meal.

Their idea is to eat all you want of everything there is to eat. Don’t let any body tell you that life in a lumber camp is hard, dirty, roughneck life. We have iron beds with white sheets and pillow cases and everything is as clean as can be and every day is quiet and orderly and friendly except the Wobblies go bugs every once in a while.

They gamble all their wages night after pay day and as soon as they are broke they spend their evenings sitting on the porch kicking about the poor grub, poor beds and knocking everything in general but the one great union (I.W.W.)

They called a strike yesterday and then kept on working as if nothing had happened. They didn’t even strike a minute, they are all bluff and talk and don’t do anything else. They are nothing but a disgusting joke.

We have a big city here, a company store, a movie house, a mess hall, a bunk house, a big mill and a few shacks. Our board costs us $1.20 a day and I don’t see how they do it for that with some of those big Swede lumber jacks that eat enough for a family of six.

The way I happened to get this job was that Denzil was working on the night shift from six to three at night and getting up before daylight and then sleeping days as he only has to appear once a day at sunset.

He lost his job because they couldn’t get enough men to run nights even though they had the entire 6th engineers band except their leader, even the corporal and sergeant worked.

Denzil is the same as ever and hasn’t grown a bit. He has taken up an I.C.S. Mechanical Drawing course now and bought a good set of tools.

I can see Mt. Rainier from here nearly every day and a river runs right by our window in our room from the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier. The water is a milky color from the mud in the glacier.

Washington is not a built up country. Some of it is clear and fruit and garden stuff are raised by irrigation altho the eastern edge raises nice wheat, the best wheat we saw on our trip, without irrigation but all the rest is irrigation or forest, and it is real forest, no few stick of sapling pine like Michigan but real pine from six to twenty ft across the stumps. There is one tree north of us that you can drive a load of hay through and it isn’t redwood either.

Machine shops are scarce and dry gardening and farming don’t pay. Saw mills and lumbering is begging for men and the mines are asking for men but are having labor troubles.

The apples out here are big and pretty but the eastern apples have got them beat for flavor as these are flat or sour. I raided a nice tree of bright blue plums and tied my face in a knot as those ripe plums were green prunes. The darn things look like ripe plums before they ever begin to get ripe and are darn good after they ripen.

There are lots of bear and deer out here and the other day a couple of kids chased one of those so called dangerous mountain lions off the road and run it way back into the woods before they lost it.

They have a funny way of paying the men here. You get a slip from your foreman and that lets you into the boarding house and pay day they take it out of your pay and if you ask for it you can have a one two or five dollar check book for the store that they also collect from your pay. They pay once a month on the tenth and then the 25th is draw day when you can draw all but three dollars and you can draw less than five dollars any time between until you overdraw your wages.

The store and post office are in the same building and you can get anything from a stamp to a suit of clothes or a Ford.

I don’t think I will get over to Camp Lewis soon but tell Aunt Hattie I have talked Denzil out of the Alaska idea this winter and he has half promised to start home for Christmas and I will have his promise the next time I see him. He says there is only one thing he has got against this country and this is, it isn’t home and the only thing he cares about the east is his home.

I haven’t seen much of the coast yet and I have only tasted salt water a couple of times but I like the east best so far. Well write and let me know how everything is and tell Roy to write and you tell me how his kids are.

General delivery. McKenna. Wash

* * * *

Tell Roy to write me and Denzil, he thinks Roy is sore at him

McKenna, Wn
Sep. 27, <no year>

Dear Mother:
I just got a letter from Grandpa today.

 I didn’t get to see Denzil but sent your letter over. The fellow he was going to come to work with got fired and so he lost out of his night job.

Today was clear and Mt. Ranier looked to be only four or five miles away and like a big dish of ice cream.

You can’t see the foothills on account of the big forest here but could only see the peak over the tree tops and it is a pretty sight, all covered with snow except in a few spots and the sun was shining bright on it today.

We had a small island appear in a lake here right after the Jap earthquake altho we didn’t feel anything and scientists say it is not of volcanic origin but can’t explain it.

Caught a big three foot salmon last night but it was so bruised from the rocks that it was no good. The salmon here are just the carp at home, just stick their backs and tails out of the water, only they are in the swift shallow water.

We put out from 17,500 to 20,000 ft of finished lumber a day here and this is only a small mill compared to some of them. We turn out everything from lath to 4 ft square timbers.

You ought to see the dahlias that they raise out here. As big as those small pie plates of yours and are the prettiest things you every saw. They have big farms and dahlia gardens here

(Source: Washington State Historical Society)

Yelm’s Agrarian Past

Field of blackcap raspberries (Courtesy Yelm Historical Society)

The steadily growing town of Yelm.

  The Yelm prairie, as James Longmire recalled, was “covered with grass that was belly high to the horse.” When he arrived in the mid 1800’s the prairie was dominated with fescue grasses that were a native species to the area and would later be harvested for by farmers. The farmers used the grass to feed their livestock and to sell to other livestock producers for a profit.  Access to the land was helped by federal government policies which made land relatively easy to obtain. The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 and, later, the Homestead Act of 1863, placed land ownership within the reach of many with cheap prices and minimum residency requirements.  Yelm is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for people who work outside the town.  Few people know that Yelm once prided itself on being the “Berry Capital of Washington”. Yelm, originally was a farming community.  In fact, before there was a town, there were scattered farms on the prairie and surrounding hills.   Beginning with small subsistence operations, agriculture in Yelm developed into a more market oriented operation by the twentieth century. 

The work that followed, turning prairie into productive farm land, wasn’t intended for the weak of heart.  Many became self-sufficient and grew enough to keep their family needs satisfied. The main reason for the isolation of many farmers was that the 160 acre or 320 acres sections that were claimed were so big that the closest neighbor would be quite a ways away. The reason for the limited expansion of agriculture at this time was simply there wasn’t a large enough work force to create an agricultural based community, however that would soon change. According to the 1870 U.S. Census every able bodied male in the Yelm area was either listed as a farmer or as a farm laborer.  Subsequent census data shows that while the population on the prairie increased, the percentage of total workers gainfully employed in agriculture would decline.   

 With the arrival of the railroad in 1873 and the actual formation of the town of Yelm work was found off the farm.  More importantly, as the timber industry took off in the last decade of the 19th century, jobs were increasingly found in the mills and timber camps surrounding the prairie.  In fact, as this trend continued, Yelm’s inhabitants were arriving in increasing numbers from former timber states like Minnesota and Wisconsin and less from farm belt states like Indiana or Iowa. Those that lost out became laborers on other farms. By 1920, only half of working men and women considered themselves to be farmers.  Those farmers that could survive bought the land from those that couldn’t.  Increasingly farmers focused their attention on berries and dairy products.   

The produce of choice in Yelm during the early 1900’s had become cane berries; blackcap raspberries, blackberries, and raspberries. These berries were native to the land and thrived in the area. The production of the berries, during the peak year of 1929,  exceeded 800 tons of berries on 485 acres. The gross return for that year was $128,000 at 8 cents a pound.  Agricultural prices for many products, however, were declining during the twenties.  The American economy, as a whole, began reflecting signs of the Great Depression at this time with higher unemployment and decreased prices.  The depression wasn’t the only reason that berries in Yelm would soon  lose their pre-eminence and make way for an expanded dairy and egg industry. The mosaic plant disease spread through Yelm crippling many berry farmers and killing 79% of the berry crops in Yelm and the surrounding areas. Farms that depended on berries for their major source of income were lost and forced to sell to dairy farmers. After this disaster many farmers turned to government aid programs of the depression. Close to $70,000 dollars was given to the farmers of Yelm to assist them with funds that had been lost by their diminished harvests.    The dairy industry in Yelm at the time had consumed a large part of the land in the area after the mosaic disease hit the berry industry. The dairy farmers in the area, because of there need for many other materials, just didn’t milk cows they, also grew silage and corn for their own livestock. This was a major reason that the dairy industry owned so much land in the Yelm area. The dairy industry appeared to be much more successful than the berry industry in 1939. The profit was a 29% return for the dairy industry compared to the 15% that berry growers obtained.  

Though at this point in time, dairy farming seemed to be an unstoppable juggernaut, it too would soon take a fall and slowly fade from the scene in the Yelm area.  The problem was jobs.  With World War II looming and industries around the Puget Sound area gearing up production, finding workers was a more and more vexing problem for farmers.  Besides this, farmers merely went elsewhere to work themselves. Farming in Yelm had been one of the major incomes for the area early on in its history. The small, changing scene of Yelm has seen many faces.  From the days of subsistence farming to the heyday of the berry and dairy industry, agriculture was always one of the mainstays of the Yelm economy.  These endeavors gave the little town character and  that has been somewhat forgotten, but will always be a part of its history.     

Yelm in the 1920s


The Roaring 20s was a very interesting time for all.  The Great War was over; the country was experiencing unprecedented prosperity as well as some new and exciting developments. This decade also had its shares of downfalls.  During this decade the small town of Yelm was experiencing on a smaller scale the same new things and emotions as the rest of the nation.  The 1920s offered tragedy, new developments and fun and leisure activities for America as well as Yelm.           

 Those that lived in America during the twenties can recall real tragedy.  President Warren G. Harding died quickly and mysteriously.  Because of post-war nationalism the Ku Klux Klan was at the peak of its power and the entire nation experienced a series of mild recessions.  Yelm may have had a more turbulent decade.  In 1924, in the last of a series of three huge fires, Yelm almost completely burned down.  The origin of the fire is debated but most say it started on the porch of the Wilson Hotel.  The fire started sometime in the seven p.m. hour and spread quickly.  Because of strong winds and most structures being constructed of wood, the fire was able to consume most of the town in a short amount of time. 


 Yelm was without a fire department at the time so a bucket brigade was formed.  This valiant effort did little to stop or contain the fire and by Sunday morning, the entire town was charred.  The destroyed buildings included Patterson’s Drug Store, Yelm Post Office, Drew’s Confectionery, transformer house, the telephone office, Yelm Cash Mercantile Company, Yelm Hotel, Wilson Hotel, New Method Repair Shop, Fashion Barber Shop, Pastime Confectionery, Yelm Meat Market, Yelm Barber Shop, Yelm Realty, H. L. Wolf & Company, William H. Keller, Nisqually Valley News, Thurston County Utilities Company, U. S. Post Office and a county storehouse.  The total monetary loss was estimated at $125,000.             

  While a time of tragedy, the 20s in mostly remembered as a decade of exciting new developments.  The first nationwide commercial radio station was broadcasted as KDKA out of Pittsburgh.  Important literary works such as Reader’s Digest and TIME magazine were founded.  The Jazz Singer was released as the first feature length motion picture with sound.  New developments in Yelm contributed to making the town what it is today.  F. E. Grant and E. K. Fristoe founded the Nisqually Valley News in February of 1922.  Yelm finally established a fire department in 1927 after three tragic fires.  It was a meager fire department at first, but over the years, it has been built up.  A number of social groups and organizations founded by women worked to incorporate Yelm.  Such things as public waste baskets, road signs, a water pump and a library were added to the town.             

  The “Roaring 20s” were named so because of the endless amount of fun and leisure people experienced.  There was a renewed interest in motion pictures because of the addition of sound.  The new concept of “adolescence” enabled young people to have fun with less restriction.  Dancing gave way to the “Swinger” era.  Prohibition inspired “speak easies” led to a new fascination and a subsequent increase in moonshine production.  Yelm was also a hopping’ place in the 20s.  The annual community fair offered a wide range of categories to enter in to, so many in fact that every family member could have come home with a blue ribbon.  Community dances brought in people of all ages from surrounding areas to dance to the latest music.  Yelm was a center for running moonshine.  Because of it close location to Puget Sound, many members of the Yelm community were involved in illegal alcohol production.  Of course the most important leisure activity in Yelm was sitting on the front porch and having a conversation any person who just walked by.            

Just like every other part of America, Yelm had a variety of experiences in the 1920s.  Disasters like the tragic fire in 1924 led to the development of the Yelm Fire Department three years later.  Leisure was an important aspect of 1920s as life in Yelm.  Events in the 1920s contributed to make Yelm what it is today.

Teachers: Up Close and Personal

Most of us can remember educators who made a difference, delivered meaningful lessons, or related fascinating stories from their lives. We don’t know much about the teaching techniques or curriculum of Yelm’s 19th century teachers, but we have been able to find out some interesting information about the lives of a number of those instructors. In this section we will look at some of Yelm’s fascinating instructors.

First, however, an overview of teaching in the late 19th century.

Pioneer Teachers

Dillis B. Ward

J.C. Conine

Ada Woodruff Anderson

Fay Fuller

Edith Corbett

Amelia Dittman

The Thirties – Yelm Schools During the Great Depression

The Thirties: Yelm Schools During the Great Depression

Introduction: The story of Yelm schools in this era is revealed though the school board minutes of the early part of the decade as well as selections from the annuals of the time.

Yelm Schools in the Thirties: The Depression and a Fire

School Budgets of County Are Markedly Lower (1932)

Teacher Salaries in Yelm, 1930-1932

1930’s – Yelm Football Records

1932 Annual

1933 Annual

1935 Annual

1937 Annual

1938 Annual

1939 Annual