Rural Rehabilitation in the New Deal:
The Ropesville Project
WILLIAM R. JOHNSON*
HE GREAT DEPRESSION OF THE 1930S BROUGHT A HEAVY BURDEN OF
hard times to both urban and rural areas of the United States. By the
end of 1932 agricultural prices had declined to record lows and did not
produce sufficient income to pay the cost of production. The problem of
farm tenancy, increasing from I900 on, worsened dramatically. From 1930
through 1935 some 40,o0oo farmers were added to the tenancy lists each
year. Many farmers despaired of farming and sought work in cities. Some
became permanent urban residents; others later returned to rural areas,
unwilling to give up farming. Newly married farm couples, who lacked the
resources with which to establish themselves on farms, faced a bleak future
indeed. By 1935 roughly 2,500,000 rural families were receiving relief.
Soon after coming to office the Roosevelt Administration initiated various
attempts to cure this malady. Measures directed especially toward farmers
included the agricultural adjustment program, credit aids, and rural relief.'
The Federal Emergency Relief Administration, headed by Harry
Hopkins, was the federal government's chief relief agency during the early
New Deal. The FERA placed federal funds at the disposal of states, which
in turn carried out various relief programs. As it gained experience the
FERA decided that its rural relief activities should seek to encourage the
development of self-sustaining farm families.2 One of the programs it
recommended to state relief agencies involved the construction of rural
rehabilitation communities. Such communities were subsequently planned
and built in several parts of the United States. One was established at
Ropesville, Texas, a small community located in Hockley County, on the
South Plains near Lubbock. The Ropesville project proved one of the
more successful attempts at rural resettlement. Its history offers an exami-
*William R. Johnson is associate professor of history and interim vice president for
academic affairs at Texas Tech University.
'David Conrad, The Forgotten Farmers: The Story of Sharecroppers in the New Deal
(Urbana, 1965), 2; United States Department of Agriculture, The Yearbook of Agri-
culture: Farmers in a Changing World (Washington, D.C., 1940), 871, 888-889;
Broadus Mitchell, Depression Decade (New York, 1947), 185-217.
2Sidney Baldwin, Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security
Administration (Chapel Hill, I968), 62-63; Lawrence Westbrook, "The Program of
Rural Rehabilitation of the FERA," Journal of Farm Economics, XVII (January, 1935),
89; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Coming of the New Deal (Cambridge, 1958), 264-271.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 79, July 1975 - April, 1976. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101203/. Accessed May 5, 2015.