Quilt Guilds and Dust Storms and 8 cent bread …. oh my!

1934 was a busy year for Nellie Morris. Keeping three children fed and clothed, while trying not to lose the family farm in Athelstan, Iowa, kept her and her husband busy from sun up to sun down. As most families in small rural towns in these post depression years, they got by. Survival was mantra of the times.

DSC00226Athelstan’s quilt guild provided a welcome respite for the women folk of the town. The women in the guild came to Nellie’s aide when she got the idea of a friendship quilt for Doris’ Christmas present. Doris, age 7, was showing in interest in stitching and this would be a lovely present giving her memories to treasure for the rest of her life.

As Nellie’s friends and Doris’ young friends quietly pieced their Sunbonnet Sues and Overall Bills, the days rolled by approaching the new year of 1935.

When these quilt squares were made in 1934, here’s what a few typical items cost:

A gallon of gas, 10 cents to 19 cents
A loaf of bread, 8 cents
A pound of hamburger meat, 12 cents
A gallon of milk, 45 cents
A dozen eggs, 53 cents
Stamps, 3 cents each
Arrow Men’s Shirt, $2.50
Average wages per year, $1,500-$1,600
A car, $575
A Studebaker Truck, $625
Average cost for house rent, $20 per month
DOW Average, 104

In 1934, Iowa hit four record highs that stand to this day. In May and June, the state hit 111 degrees. In July it reached 118 degrees and in August it made it to 116 degrees.

Unemployment began a turn around from the Great Depression of 1929, decreasing to 22%.

In 1934, a new character entered the world of comic books: Donald Duck.

Shirley Temple’s popularity soared during 1934. In April 1934, Stand Up and Cheer became her breakthrough film. A June follow up of Little Miss Marker garnered more popularity for the little tyke. She finished up 1934 with the December 28th release of Bright Eyes. This was the first film crafted specifically for her and also the first where her name was raised above the title. Bright Eyes had one musical number, On the Good Ship Lollipop, the song that would become her signature song.

Dust storms continued through 1934. In May one of the worst dust storms hit the Great Plains lasting two days. The huge dust storm blew approximately 300 million tons of Kansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma topsoil into the Atlantic Ocean.

dust bowlBryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook reports.
“In May 1934, great dust storms began to spread out from the Dust Bowl area, spawning national headlines. The worst of these began May 9th in Montana and Wyoming. A strong storm system lifted an estimated 350 million tons of brown earth skyward, where it was captured by very strong, upper-level winds.

These winds swept the dust cloud eastward across the Dakotas, causing extensive damage and depositing soil dust over eastern regions of the two states. By late afternoon, the storm front had reached Dubuque, Iowa and Madison, Wisconsin, and was heading toward Chicago.

That evening, the black blizzard began depositing 12 million pounds of dust on Chicago — four pounds for each resident in the city.

At midday on May 10th, the storm had darkened the sky over Buffalo. And the front kept marching eastward, at close to 100 mph. By the following dawn, dust began settling over Boston, New York, Washington and Atlanta before moving out to sea, where it powdered ships 300 miles offshore.

United Press reported the gigantic dust cloud as 1,500 miles long, 900 miles across and two miles high; it had smothered nearly one-third of the nation. Approximately 35 million acres of land were essentially destroyed for crop production, and 100 million acres had lost all or most of their topsoil.”

The country survived the Great Depression, the droughts, the record high temperatures, and the massive dust storms, Donald Duck lives on, and Shirley Temple is remembered fondly. Gas is a little more than ten cents a gallon now and stamps are more than three cents. Fortunately, average wages now surpass the four digit numbers. The DOW typically rises and plummets more than 104 points each day. And, the Athelstan quilt squares live on, a lasting tribute, stitched in calico pieces on muslin as a remembrance of the women and young girls that lived in Athelstan Iowa in 1934.


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