Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Dirty 30s: The Dust Bowl - an Environmental Disaster in America's Heartland

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
California State Univerity, East Bay - Concord Campus

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Stoneridge Creek - 3300 Stoneridge Creek Way, Pleasanton, CA

Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM
CSU-East Bay, Concord, Campus - 4700 Ignacio Valley Road, Concord, CA

America's Gilded Age (1870-1900) was a time of enormous growth made possible by the nation's vast natural resources and post Civil War industrialization.  The U.S. rapidly expanded its economy into new areas (especially heavy industries like railroads, factories and mining) which attracted 10 million immigrants from Europe - creating a huge demand for food and other resources as the population of towns and cities exploded.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th and Teddy Roosevelt was preaching conservation from the White House, farmers on America's Great Plains were transforming one of the world's largest ecosystems into the world's most productive farmland.  But as American busness and cities industrialized, so did the farmers in America's mid-section - and the Great Plow-up created the environmental disaster known as the Great American Dust Bowl which gave the 1930s the nickname "The Dirty 30s."

100 million acres of U.S. farmland became useless.  Immense dust storms called "black blizzards" and "black rollers" bured Chicago, halted traffic in New York City, deposited dust on the President's deck in Washington, and even blanketed ships in the mid-Atlantic.  By the mid-1930s, dust pneumonia was rampant.  Doctors found their patients literally stuffed with dirt.  The Red Cross declared a medical crisis in 1935 and opened 6 emergency hospitals in Colorado, Texas and Kansas, some in school gyms that had to be specially sealed to protect patients from incoming dust storms.

Over a million people fled, becoming environmental refugees.  Many headed to California with its promise of good weather and work.  Overall 25% of the population of the area designated as the Dust Bowl abandoned their homes.  Some counties lost as much as 50% of their population.   Approximately 15% of the population of Oklahoma migrated to California - accompanied by many others from neighboring states as well as people from further east seeking relief from the Great Depression.

Lecture Topics

  • Driven West:  Manifest Destiny and Settling the Great Plains
  • The Progressive Era:  From Gilded Age Industrialization to Conservation
  • The Great Plow-up:  The Economic and Environmental Crisis
  • Okie Migration:  Environmental Refugees of the Great Depression

Food for Thought

  • The Worst Hard Time:  The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Timothy Egan)
  • The Big Burn:  Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (Timothy Egan)
  • The Dust Bowl:  An Illustrated History (Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns)
  • The Dust Bowl Through the Lens:  How Photography Revealed and Helped Remedy a National Disaster (Martin W. Sandler)
Migrant Mother
by Dorothea Lange
Related Novels
  • The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
  • Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
  • Cimarron (Edna Ferber - the 1889 and 1893 Oklahoma Land Runs)
  • Mary Coin (Marisa Silver - inspired by Dorothea Lange's iconic photo Migrant Mother)
  • Whose Names are Unknown (Sanora Babb)
  • The Dust Bowl (Ken Burns)
  • Surviving the Dust Bowl (American Experience:  The 1930s, Episode 4)
  • Cimarron (1931 and 1960 adaptions of Ferber's novel)
  • Far and Away (directed by Ron Howard, portrays the Cherokee Strip Land Run of 1893)
  • The National Parks:  America's Best Idea (Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan)

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