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


Learning From Historical Documents


All letters are from Montana Governors Records 1889-1962, MC 35, Box 40, Folder 8, Montana Historical Society Archives, posted on the Montana Memory Project.


Context for Letters from Drought-Stricken Areas:

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 society had steadfastly believed during earlier decades failed, taking with them the opportunity, options, and the illusions of a generation. For farmers, drought and insects exacerbated the economic downturn. Whether they lived on a farm or in the city, the destitute increasingly looked to the government for hope amidst disaster. The letters below to Democratic governor John Erickson typify the growing despair as the Depression deepened.

  1. Letter from Mrs. H. Fredrickson to Governor Erickson, from Opheim, MT, August 2, 1930, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, August 25, 1930.

  2. Letter from J. Calvin Funk to Governor Erickson, from Santa Maria, CA, August 1, 2931, and the secretary to the governor’s return letter, from Helena, MT, August 4, 1931.

  3. Letter from Mrs. L.R. Lang, manager of the Women’s Exchange, to Governor Erickson, from Wolf Point, MT, August 8, 1931, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, August 22, 1931.

  4. Letter from Jim Kelsey to Governor Erickson, from Kirby,MT, September 2, 1931, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, September 17, 1931.

  5. Letter from John Hague to Governor Erickson, from Paradise,MT, November 18, 1931, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, November 19, 1931.

  6. Letter from John Hague to Governor Erickson, from Paradise,MT, November 19, 1931, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, November 21, 1931.

  7. Letter from W.H. Hoover, attorney, to Governor Erickson, from Great Falls , MT, August 2, 1932, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, August 9, 1932.

  8. Letter from Ernest Morgan to Governor Erickson, from Ovando , MT, November 15, 1932, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, November 18, 1932.

  9. Letter from D.G. (Gay) Stivers, Secretary for American National Red Cross, Butte Chapter, to Governor Erickson, from Butte , MT, August 13, 1932.

  10. Letter from John Glancey to Governor Erickson, from Roundup, MT, August 3, 1932, and Governor Erickson’s return letter, from Helena, MT, August 12, 1932.

  11. Letter from M.L. Wilson, head of Department of Agricultural Economics at Montana State College, Bozeman, to Governor Erickson, from Bozeman, MT, August 25, 1932.

  12. Letter from Steve and Louisa Watts to Governor Erickson, from Scobey, MT, October 14, 1932, and the Secretary of the Governor’s return letter, from Helena, MT, October 31, 1932.


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 addition to the above letters.


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