Title Reviewed:
A Good Day's Work: An Iowa Farm in the Great Depression

Author Reviewed:
Dwight W. Hoover

James Trulock


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 104, Issue 1, pp 105-106

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

A Good Day's Work
An Iowa Farm in the Great Depression

By Dwight W. Hoover
(Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2007. Pp. vii, 211. Illustrations, index. $26.00.)

In this richly detailed accounting of the ways of another time, Dwight Hoover shares with us his youthful experiences of life on an Iowa farm in the 1930s. The work was often difficult, even grueling, but for a bright and thoughtful boy it was the stuff of a strong foundation and, for us, a fine memoir.

The book is divided into the seasons of the year interspersed with chapters called respites, which add depth and context to the story. Few of us have had anything like the experiences of the author, and whatever our romanticized notions of the workings of a family farm may be, they are put to the test by this keen remembrance of both work and respite.

Although quite different in style and purpose, the book calls to mind Hamlin Garland's Middle Border stories of the late nineteenth century. But this work is written by one of the country's leading social historians about a time of great transition on the farm. It is, in a way, a memorial to a whole order of American experience. The changes in farming brought on by social and economic conditions and perhaps most of all by mechanization are laid out by one who grew up in the midst of them. Not always knowing how to cope with the often mind-boggling changes underway, shackled by mortgages, the family weathered on, and indeed persevered, by employing what Hoover declares to be, "A Good Day's Work."

What did that work entail? The plowing and disking of fields, the stages of cultivation of corn, haying from the planting to the loft, are all covered. Livestock care, management, and slaughter are vividly described, sometimes too much so for urban sensibilities. Ever wonder why there aren't as many barns in today's countryside? Read this book. It also provides an understanding of a farm boy's relationship to organizations that taught a life of agriculture. The author competitively raised and showed sheep while participating in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. His remembrances of these clubs indicates that they taught him valuable lessons.

After World War II and graduation from college, Hoover concluded that farming was not for him, and he gives a heartfelt description of this crucial choice. There are basic truths to Hoover's story beyond the life of an Iowa youth. What was true in Iowa was also true in Indiana and across the nation. Today we are experiencing transitional upheavals in agriculture that are just as revolutionary, and Dr. Hoover's story can still be instructive.

In 1927, Uncle Dave Macon recorded a song that included these lyrics: "The one room schoolhouse I've been told/Is raising quite an alarm/Cause you get a country boy educated/And he ain't gonna work at the farm." Dwight Hoover's choice was not as simple and direct, but he still chose not to work at the farm. He became a historian instead, and his boyhood experiences helped him to do so.

JAMES TRULOCK is a former president of the Indianapolis Civil War Round Table and appears on the History Channel's Civil War Journal series. He edited and wrote the introduction to a 1993 reprint of The History of the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment.

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.