Dust, Drought, and Depression #2
This young lady, Lois Adolf, is #004 in the series Eyes of the Great Depression
In 1939, Lois Adolf’s family was “on relief.” Her father had borrowed money from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) for rural rehabilitation, “$2,138. 80 acres of Indian land, on three year lease.” In August, a photographer from FSA doing documentary work visited. That photographer was Dorothea Lange.
“One of Chris Adolph’s younger children. Farm Security Administration Rehabilitation clients. Came to the Yakima Valley in 1937 from Bethune, Kit Carson County, Colorado. He owned his own farm there and he had lived there all his life. Drought forced him out with his wife and 8 children. His wife had been a school teacher …. ‘I’ve broke thousands of acres of sod. The dust got so bad that we had to sleep with wet cloths over our faces.’” 1
Besides the photo that became one of the iconic images of the Great Depression, Lois appears in several other photos Lange took on her brief visit with the Adolfs.
Bill Ganzel located Lois in 1979 and interviewed her for “Dust Bowl Descent,” a grant project administered by the Nebraska State Historical Society.
“Lois didn’t remember the photograph being taken, let alone why she might have felt sad. She remembered being close to her mother. But she also remembered how terrible the dust storms in Colorado were. She remembered how hard it was to make a living. That was why they left the plains for Washington. She loved Washington and never wanted to move back.”2
Lois’s father, Chris Adolf, told Ms. Lange, “My father made me work. That was his mistake, he made me work too hard. I learned about farming but nothing out of the books.” 3
[Question:] “Tell me about what was it like in Colorado?”
[Lois Adolf Houle:] “It was terrible. [Laughs.] We had dust storms and droughts. We survived back there as long as we possibly could. I can remember one dust storm back there. We were coming from my grandparents’ in Straton. And as we got closer to home, you could see this big gray matter up in the air. And the minute we got home, we had a storm cellar built with things to eat and everything else in it. We were all taken to the storm cellar right away, and they went in and closed the house all up good. And we stayed down there until the storm was over. It just came to the point where we couldn’t live any more back there. And we had relatives out here already.”
[Question:] “Did they write back or anything?”
“Oh, yes! Oh, yeah! Everything was ‘beautiful’ out here. [Laughs.] This was the land of milk and honey out here.”4
1 Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon, W. W. Norton & Company, Oct 11, 201, Plate 16.
2 Bill Ganzel
3 Library of Congress
4 Oral history excerpt, Lois Adolf Houle, Living History Farm, York, Nebraska