By Myra Lee Adams Goff
The fall and failure of the Stock Market in 1929 was the beginning of an era in American history called the Great Depression. The statistics of this period are staggering. Almost half of the people in the United States had no jobs, homes or food.
Leading up to this period after WWI was a time of tremendous social change and all the turmoil that accompanies change. It was the 1920s. Women were demanding voting rights and ethnic groups were demanding equal rights.
Then the banks failed, the Stock Market fell and those who had saved or borrowed money, lost everything. Big cities seemed to be hit the hardest for that was where the factories were.
By 1931, the Great Depression was in full swing. Texas governor Ross Sterling declared a “Smile Day” in November of that year supporting the American Legion’s effort to alleviate the suffering that first winter. As if smiling could solve all the problems!
Records show that locally there were approximately 400 people affected known to be unemployed and in desperate condition. Jobs were mainly for men so there were many more people affected.
An organization calling itself the Associated Charities Group was organized to help those in need. This organization included a group of organizations that could easily be applied to today’s world, for these civic-minded groups have always been active: American Legion and Auxiliary, Concordia Singing Society, First Protestant Church and Sunday School, Jacob Schmidt Store, Women’s Civic Improvement Club, Comal County, Christian Science Church, Masonic Lodge A.F.A.M., St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Business and Professional Women’s Club, NB Fire Department, A.J. Rabe, Child Welfare Club, Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Eastern Star, First Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Retail Merchants Association, and Lions Club. During that first year, 45 families were regularly helped.
Clothing drives were instigated by the Associated Christian Charities of America. Well known humorist Will Rogers performed in San Antonio and the proceeds were shared locally.
The local Lions Club was particularly busy. They distributed 1,400 pounds of beans that they had raised on their own experimental farm at the Comal County Fair Grounds. In addition, the club pledged a minimum of six full grown and fattened hogs a month. These hogs would be slaughtered and ready to be delivered to needy families.
Individuals and businesses had their own ways of helping out. For example, Kneuper Bros. Music Store next to the old Post Office did not repossess merchandise but allowed customers to pay what and when they could, sometimes as little as 25 cents a week. The brothers had added appliances to their merchandise so it was very important that customers could retain stoves, ice boxes and washers.
By the way, the Kneuper Bros. Store was the first business in town to have a television set in the early ‘50s. At night people would sit in front of the store window and watch the test pattern and a 5 minute film over and over.
Back to the 1930s. In my dad’s family there was a Depression story. Louis Adams, my grandfather, owned a butcher shop. During this terrible financial time, people would come in to buy meat without money. My grandfather told them that he would just write it on a slip of paper and they could pay when they could. I think he was able to do this because his source of meat was from his brother Bill Adams and the Adams Ranch. The Adams family helped a lot of people that way.
In 1931 Louis Adams died suddenly. My dad, who was left with the care of his mother plus his own family, was left penniless. Before Louis Adams died he had bought a three bedroom house on Comal St. which my grandmother then turned into a boarding house, mostly for her nieces. Their country school did not have a complete high school education, so they had to come to New Braunfels to finish school. The parents of these nieces brought ample produce from the farm to feed everyone at the house. Like my grandmother used to say, “You do what you have to do”. During this terrible time, President Herbert Hoover kept a message of resourcefulness as a way to solve problems. I think my family did that, but it wasn’t that easy for everyone.
One group of people that were affected were the farmers. Those who relied on crops and livestock were dealt another blow, the Dust Bowl and the boll weevil. The Dust Bowl was preceded by a long-lasting drought. Pictures of areas affected by this dust are hard to comprehend with clouds of dust moving across the land, pulling up plants by the roots leaving nothing but scorched earth.
Many of these farmers who had lost everything attempted to move towards the cities where they thought they had an opportunity to work and feed their families. When they got to the cities, there was no work and no transportation to return home. They survived on bread and soup lines supplied by various organizations, mainly the Red Cross. At the first opportunity they hopped on open train cars and moved from one place to another. These Hobos set up camps along the tracks, built fires to keep warm or cook whatever they were handed out in the cities.
Every big city had make-shift communities right outside of the city limits. They were called Hoovervilles because most Americans blamed the whole Great Depression on Pres. Herbert Hoover.
Here in New Braunfels, much of what we knew about the Depression came from newspapers and movies. Subtle little hints of the times can be found if you look hard enough at photographs of NB children at school during the 30s. No “store bought” clothes but dresses made of material from flour sacks. NB was fortunate to have the textile mill and Dittlinger Roller Mills. My generation even today sometimes suffer from what we call “Depression thinking”. We spent a long time appreciating handmade clothing articles. There’s a long way in between Homemade and Handmade.
Boys were lucky if they had cut-off pants from an older brother. None of the boys wore shoes and the girls went barefooted in the summer. I always wondered why, when we were constantly stepping on glass, sticker beds and rusty nails. We could have solved that problem by wearing shoes.
At the end of the 1930s the Great Depression was over, but taking its place in history was a period of much more magnitude when the US entered WWII.