Montana Historical Society

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 18 - The Great Depression Transforms Montana, 1929-1941

Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from J. E. Finch to Governor John Erickson, from Sumatra, MT, July 16, 1931, excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 182.

Context for J. E. Finch's Letter:

Following the stock market crash in 1929, the Depression rapidly spread throughout the country, drastically altering the conditions of life for everyone. Major institutions in which the society had steadfastly believed during earlier decades failed, taking with them the opportunity, options, and the illusions of a generation. For the destitute, whether they lived on a farm or in the city, the possibility of government intervention became the only source of hope. J. E. Finch's plea to Democratic governor John Erickson typified the growing despair as the Depression deepened.

About Primary Sources:

Letters, diary entries, census records, newspapers, and photographs are all examples of "primary sources," material created at a particular moment in the past that has survived into the present. Primary sources can provide clues to the past. They are our windows into an earlier time. The Montana Historical Society contains thousands of primary sources. In the 1970s, archivists collected just a few snippets into a book, which they called Not in Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana. That book is now on the web in its entirety. The above sample from that book relates directly to this chapter.

Salvation Army in Butte
Salvation Army, Butte, 1935, photo by L. H. Jorud, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives PAc 74-37
Mrs. Ballinger
Mrs. Ballinger, Flathead Valley, photo by John Vachon, 1942, courtesy Library of Congress LC-USF34-065186-D