On This Day: Birth of Clifford Lee Harding and Aubrey Nichole Laney

Clifford Harding was born October 17, 1942, in Iola, Kansas, and resides in Lawrence, Kansas.

Aubrey Laney was born October 17, 1991, in Plano, Texas, and resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Clifford is my uncle. Aubrey is my niece.

Siblings Clifford and Sandra Laney in Iola, Kansas – September 1943

My Uncle Clifford and my mother, his older sister, Sandra Joyce Harding (b. 1938), grew up in a very small town in southeast Kansas: Iola, in Allen County.

He and his family moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in the late 1950s.

He took up farming with his father, and he eventually took over the Harding family farm and manages it to this day.

He has been married and divorced three times and has an adult daughter, Kathy Lee “Katy” Harding (b. 1987), from his third marriage.

Clifford continues to work the land, spend time with his beloved dogs, and follow KU Basketball.

Aubrey and Kevin Hammett – October 2017

Aubrey Laney is proud of her birthplace, especially because her husband has ties to Texas as well. However, she and the rest of my brother’s family did not remain in that state for long. They returned to Oklahoma where my brother and his wife began their married life together. Aubrey graduated from Owasso High School and earned a Bachelors degree from Oklahoma State University.

Members of the Laney Family in Texas: Standing, L-R Sandra Joyce Harding Laney (my mother); Garry Bruce Spector (my husband) and Susan Diane Laney Spector (me) pregnant with Melanie Beryl Spector. Seated, L-R: Chelsea Dyane Laney (my niece), Scott David Laney (my brother), David Arthur Laney (my father); and, on Scott’s lap: Aubrey Nichole Laney. Photo taken by Pamela Means Laney (my sister-in-law) in Texas in the summer of 1997.

She was married in Waimanalo, Hawaii, on May 29, 2018, to Kevin Hammett. They are expecting their first child—a boy—in December.

A family heirloom was recently passed along to Aubrey and Kevin: an infant coat and hat crocheted by her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Williamson Laney (1915-2005). The set had been made many years before to be given as a gift. It would appear to have been saved for the perfect recipients!

On This Day: Birth of Jean Linton

Jean Linton was born October 15, 1921, in Denison, Kansas. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Jean Linton is my 1st Cousin 1X removed.

Jean Linton Hemphill at a granddaughter’s wedding in 2012

Jean Linton and her younger sister Frances Linton (born in 1924 and also still living) were the children of William Roy Linton (1881-1964) and Vida Cathcart (1890-1994)—my great aunt.

Jean left the farm of her childhood to attend Geneva College in Pennsylvania. It was there that she met the man she would marry: Willard Edgar Hemphill (1915-2003.) Like so many of my ancestors, it was a shared membership with the Reformed Presbyterian Church—with which the college has an affiliation—that figures into the story of how they met.

Willard and Jean Linton Hemphill

On May 18, 1943, the couple made Geneva College history as the first married couple to graduate together.

Jean Linton Hemphill, surrounded by her husband and three sons

The couple raised three sons, all of whom attended Geneva College. One of their sons became a pastor and served Reformed Presbyterian congregations in Shawnee, Kansas; Selma, Alabama; Westminster, Colorado; and Laramie and Casper, Wyoming, before recently retiring.

Vida Cathcart (Jean’s mother) holds her young half-sister, Ina Vera Cathcart (my grandmother)

Unfortunately, my personal contact with Jean has been minimal, largely due to distance. However, following the completion of my Masters degree in 1987, my first professional job was a one-year post as interim oboist with the Con Spirito Woodwind Quintet, which was at that time an ensemble-in-residence at Duquesne University. During my year in the Pittsburgh area, my mother and maternal grandmother, Ina Cathcart Harding (1911-2002)—Jean’s aunt—came from the Midwest to visit me. The three of us visited Jean at the Reformed Presbyterian Home where she resides today.

Because of the Internet in general and social media in particular, I have been able to get vicarious glimpses of Jean in recent years through the social media posts of one of her granddaughters. And in the process of researching this post, I happened upon a gold mine of information about Jean’s life in this beautiful tribute to Jean’s late husband, written by another of her grandchildren.

(It would appear that the Hemphill DNA is associated with high academic scholarship and a talent for writing!)

By all accounts, she is in good health and good spirits as she celebrates her ninety-eighth birthday!

On This Day: Birth of Robert Beattie Cathcart

Robert Beattie Cathcart was born on October 2, 1820, in Rocky Creek, South Carolina.

He was my great great grandfather.

Robert Beattie Cathcart was one of nine children born to John Cathcart (1789-1864) and Mary Harper (1789-1873), who were each born and raised in County Antrim, Ireland. The couple and their two small children immigrated to Chester County, South Carolina, in 1816. Robert was one of the couple’s seven children born in America.

Upon coming to America, the Cathcart family was welcomed into a growing community of Covenanter immigrants who had settled in South Carolina. These Scots-Irish believers and their ancestors had escaped religious persecution in the United Kingdom. They found religious freedom in the New World, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, the young country was becoming more and more polarized with regard to the practice of slavery. Many Covenanters found it increasingly difficult to reconcile their church’s and their own personal opposition to slavery with residing in communities where many others did not share nor appreciate their abolitionist beliefs and for whom the practice of slavery was considered essential to their existing way of life.

I have written previously about other members of my family who were Covenanters who elected to relocate to Bloomington, Indiana, another Covenanter enclave.

Suffice to say, my numerous Covenanter ancestors faced difficult choices as the country moved ever closer to civil war.

The very first generation of my Cathcart family to have emigrated from Ireland had been Robert’s grandfather, James Cathcart, Sr. (1763-1861) and his wife Nancy Jane Beattie Cathcart (1765-1845)–my 4X great grandparents. They left County Antrim, Ireland in 1816, accompanied by their eight children, the oldest of whom was John Cathcart–Robert’s father. John and Mary Harper had been married several years and had two small children at the time that they immigrated. Robert and his other siblings were born after the family’s arrival in America.

South Carolina Flag of 1861

It is possible that James Cathcart, Sr.’s brother, John Cathcart, Jr., immigrated to South Carolina as well; we know that his children did so. James’ brother Samuel Cathcart, Sr. (1778-1861) remained in County Antrim, but several of Samuel’s sons–James’ nephews– immigrated and remained in South Carolina.

Sons of Samuel Cathcart, Sr.--nephews of James Cathcart, Sr.-- who stayed in South Carolina as did their descendants.  The brothers were born in Bushmills, County Antrim and died in Columbia, South Carolina.

Pictured, left to right:
Robert Cathcart: 1811-1865;
George Hume Cathcart, Sr.: 1813-1859;
John Huey Cathcart, Sr. (in Citadel uniform): 1826-1908

James Cathcart, Sr., and Nancy Beattie Cathcart and seven of their children chose to remain in South Carolina. The eldest–Robert’s father John–did not.

In 1847, several years after his mother’s death, John, along with his wife Mary Harper Cathcart (my 3X great grandparents) and their nine children (including Robert) moved to Randolph County, Illinois, joining a burgeoning Covenanter community there.

Jannet White Mathews and Robert Beattie Cathcart on their Wedding Day – 23 Jan 1851 – Chester, Illinois
The original Bethel church, erected in 1834, where the Cathcart and Mathews families worshipped.

Robert was a young man by now, and it was here that he met a young Irish immigrant: Jannet White Mathews. Both the Cathcart and Mathews families descended from Scottish Covenanters, and both families were members of the Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church in Eden, Illinois. Robert and Jannet were married in 1851.

As I detailed in a previous post, the Cathcarts’ life in Illinois was marked by tragedy with the couple having to bury five of their children there. Partly in the interests of removing his despondent wife from a place associated with such loss and grief, Robert and Jannet and their five surviving children relocated to eastern Kansas, settling on a farm near Winchester.

The family’s faith and the church community had been the center of their lives in Illinois, and Robert wasted no time becoming an integral part of efforts to organize and expand the Reformed Presbyterian congregation in their new home. Shortly after the family’s arrival, Robert was chosen for the office of ruling elder. He served the congregation in that capacity for more than thirty-two years.

Robert Beattie and Jannet Mathews Cathcart and their adult Children. Winchester, Kansas, ca. 1895.
The Winchester Star – Winchester, Kansas – 16 Feb 1900 (Note the advertisement for corsets in this photocopy of the print edition!)
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Winchester, as it looks today.

Robert Beattie Cathcart, along with many other members of my family, is buried in the cemetery alongside the church he helped to organize. I have numerous living cousins who worship in this very church to this day.

On This Day: Birth of Omar Weldon Laney

Omar Laney was born October 1, 1911, in Joplin, Missouri.

He was my paternal grandfather.

Omar Laney was the only child of Ernest Arthur Laney and Norma Ethel Lewis, both natives of Missouri.

He attended Joplin High School, where he was a member of the ROTC.

He was married for a few years to Juanita Calhoun with whom he had a son, Billy Gene Laney. The marriage ended in divorce.

On September 6, 1936, Omar married Elizabeth Ann Williamson, my grandmother, in Joplin.

My father was born in June of the following year.

Omar Laney and infant son David (my Daddy) ca. 1938

The time the young family would have together was relatively short. When the U.S. entered World War II, Omar joined the Merchant Marines, spending long periods of time away at sea. He travelled all over the world, as you can see from the various ship manifests below.

I’ve always loved this photo of my Dad and his mother and her mother-in-law. This photo was taken on the streets of New York sometime during the war. I’m guessing that the three family members pictured here had travelled from Joplin, Missouri, and met my grandfather’s ship upon its arrival and were sight-seeing during his short leave. A camera buff, Omar probably took this photo.

I love how the photo captures the determined look on my grandmother’s face as she clutches my father tightly to her body. I read her expression as (1) a protective mother, perhaps fearful of dangers that might befall her child in bustling New York City, and perhaps (2) an anxious mother and spouse, knowing that her time with my grandfather was going to go by far too quickly and that all too soon he would be shipping out again. It’s also interesting for me to note how very young she appears in this photo.

Jayhawk Ordnance Works, built during World War II, was a large ordnance plant producing ammonium nitrate. From the story at left originally printed in an employee publication, it appears that Omar worked at Jayhawk prior to his military service and that he returned to visit while on furlough.

After the war, the former military chemical plant was privatized, and at one point it was the world’s largest producer of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the world.

From a timeline of the history of MRIGlobal

After the war, my grandfather returned to Joplin where he lived all of his life except for a period of ten years when he and my grandmother resided in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was employed as an engineer for Cooperative Chemical Association.

My grandfather passed away in 1985 at the age of seventh-three, just before I graduated with my undergraduate degree

He lived to see the first member of his family—his son—graduate from college. And he lived to see my brother and me grow to adulthood.

My granddad and me, ca. 1963

I never thought about it before writing this post, but maybe my granddad’s vehicles—of which he was very proud—had something to do with my favorite color being red…??

My grandfather and me ca. 1964

I will always remember those times that I made him laugh and just how how subtle that hard-earned chuckle was—just like my Dad’s laugh. And, like my Dad, he had a little twinkle in his eye when he smiled or when he was thinking of playing a prank. He had many interests and had many dreams and aspirations that were sadly just out of reach for him, mostly for health reasons.

I will treasure always my memories of my grandfather, particularly at those holiday gatherings that I know he loved so much. I will also treasure the memory of the special effort that he and my grandmother made to attend the recital I gave as a senior in high school.

And just maybe I will think of him the next time I’m in need of a new vehicle and debating about a color choice!

On This Day: Marriage of David Williamson and Anna Young

David Williamson and Anna Young were married on September 26, 1872, in Perthshire, Scotland

David and Anna Young Williamson were my great great grandparents.

Scotland as it would have looked at the time of my great great grandparents’ births.
Map of Scotland – Tallis, John & Frederick (fl. ca. 1846-1850); drawn & engraved by J. Rapkin

David Williamson was born June 27, 1846, in Crawford, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was one of seven children. He and at least one of his brothers were coal miners. His brother William Williamson, who attended University of Edinburgh, reportedly managed a coal mine for Queen Victoria!

Anna M. Young was born April 11, 1851, in Cargill, Perthshire, Scotland. She was one of eleven children. She married David Williamson in Perthshire.

Post card of mining site – Galena, Cherokee County, Kansas (ca. 1890-1910)

The couple and their five children immigrated to Crawford County, Kansas, in 1887. Their sixth child, my great grandfather, was born shortly after the family’s arrival. David’s brother William immigrated at about the same time. The two brothers worked in the mines of Southeast Kansas.

Anna Young Williamson, surrounded by her children and family dog. Photo taken shortly after the birth of my great grandfather in 1888. He is the toddler, clutching his mother’s skirt.
The Pittsburg Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 12 May 1892

Family lore has it that David had some issues with alcohol (and perhaps owned a saloon at one time?) Local newspaper accounts of the time paint a picture of an immigrant who had money troubles and who ran afoul of the law, serving time in Girard, Kansas, as well as in Leavenworth. It appears he abandoned his home and family on several occasions.

His oldest son appears to have been involved with his father in a scheme of cashing out their business, skipping town, and leaving their creditors in the lurch.

The Leavenworth Times – Leavenworth, Kansas – 22 Jan 1898

At some point, David ended up living with this son and his family in Witt, Montgomery County, Illinois.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 1 Sep 1893

Besides David’s own misfortunes, the brother that had journeyed with him from Scotland to America—William—was tragically killed in a mining accident in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas, seven years after the brothers’ arrival in America.

David Williamson died in Illinois in 1908 at the age of sixty-two.

Anna Young Williamson passed away in 1934 at the age of eighth-three.

Whatever unhappiness Anna experienced in her married life, she seems to have been blessed with loving and devoted children who, along with their own children and grandchildren, spent many happy moments with Anna.

Four Generations: Anna Young Williamson, her daughter, Jean Williamson Oliver, her granddaughter Anna Oliver Russell, and her great grandson William Oliver “Bill” Russell

David and Anna Young Williamson are buried in Olivet Cemetery in Pittsburg, Kansas.

On This Day: Birth of Matilda Small Russell

Matilda Small Russell was born September 13, 1846, in Bloomington, Indiana.

She was my great great grandmother.

Matilda Russell, like many members of the maternal line of my family, was a descendant of Scottish Covenanters.

For several centuries, this sect of Scottish Presbyterians fought for the right to uphold their own church government and practices rather than those imposed upon them by the Commonwealth of England and the Anglican Church. Many Covenanters were persecuted and even martyred for continuing to practice their faith. For that reason, many Covenanters chose to immigrate to America in the 18th century. Communities were born around such congregations, and one of those enclaves was in Bloomington, Indiana. Matilda and her family were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bloomington.

The Covenanters, a group of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina, had settled just outside Bloomington by 1821.  Believing that slavery was a moral evil, the Covenanters acted on their principles and during the Civil War provided a way station for escaped slaves traveling north on the Underground Railroad.

From the website VisitBloomington.com

Each of Matilda’s parents had emigrated from Ireland directly to Bloomington. Her father, John Alexander Russell, married Margaret Fullerton in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1843. Matilda was one of five children that lived to adulthood.

Because of the church’s abolitionist views, many of the early Covenanter immigrants who had originally settled in South Carolina began to question the wisdom of staying in the south. Most of the South Carolina Covenanters in my family chose to relocate to other areas, primarily Indiana and Illinois.

James Faris Curry (1842-1921), who would marry Matilda Russell, came from just such a family.

His great grandparents on his father’s side—Samuel Curry (1752-1811) and Margaret Erwin (1750-1831)—had emigrated from County Antrim in part of the first generation of Covenanter immigrants, settling in Chester County, South Carolina. His great grandparents on his mother’s side—John Smith (1730-1784) and Agnes Faris (1743-1838)—had followed the same path. These four ancestors are my 5th great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Some of the Curry children remained in South Carolina, others went North. The same was true of the Smith family.

One of those Curry children, William Curry (1772-1847) married Margaret Harbison (1773-1845) in Chester County, South Carolina and moved to Bloomington. And one of those Smith children, David M. Smith (1771-1841) married Sarah Neil (1780-1861) in Chester County, South Carolina, and moved to Bloomington. These four ancestors were my 4th great grandparents.

Samuel T. Curry and Sarah “Sally” Smith Curry—my 3rd great grandparents and James Faris Curry’s parents.

And, finally, we get to James Faris Curry’s parents. They were Samuel T. Curry (1810-1882)—a son of William Curry and Margaret Harbison Curry—and Sarah “Sally” Smith (1811-1888)—a daughter of David M. Smith and Sarah Neil Smith.

James Faris Curry in Union Army uniform

James served the Union Army with Company L of the 4th Indiana Cavalry and Company E of the 145th Indiana Infantry. At the end of the war, James Curry returned to Bloomington, and in March of 1867, he and Matilda Russell were married in Bloomington.

The couple and their two young children left Indiana for Jefferson County, Kansas, about 1871. Matilda left behind both of her parents and her three surviving siblings. James’s parents and his six siblings accompanied them to Kansas. James’s brother John Haxton Curry returned to Indiana, staying only one year in Kansas.

Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church. This particular building was erected in 1877 by the congregation of which Matilda and James had been members.

The young couple’s shared faith and the connection of “sister” Covenanter communities in America were surely responsible for giving them the courage to pick up and move West to Kansas. They would have known that a supportive pastor and congregation would be there to welcome them to Winchester—another Covenanter community.

Rachel Agnes Curry Cathcart (1875-1957)

James and Matilda Curry had seven more children after arriving in Kansas, four of them reaching adulthood. Their second oldest daughter, Rachel Agnes Curry, was my great grandmother.

Their other children were Ollie Henry (1870-1958); Vera Addie (1879-1966); James “Cam” Cameron (1881-1950); and John Thomas (1884-1976).

Matilda Russell Curry is buried with her husband and most of her children in the Reformed Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Winchester.

On This Day: Birth of John “Jack” McKeney Taylor, Jr.

Street Scene – Junction City, Kansas – 1874

Born September 10, 1854, in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Jack Taylor was my great great grandfather.

Jack Taylor was born on this day in 1854 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. His parents, John McKeney Taylor, Sr. and Jane White Taylor, had married in their twenties and emigrated from Ireland in 1835. Both John Taylor, Jr., and his brother Samuel were born in Massachusetts in 1854 and 1853, respectively.

Junction City Weekly Union – 17 Mar 1921

I hope to someday determine how it came to pass that this family then came to Geary County, Kansas. From documents I have found, it would appear that the family remained in Massachusetts about fifteen years.

In 1869, both sons and their parents moved to Kansas Falls, located several miles outside of Junction City.


On December 1, 1878, Jack Taylor married Meta Christina Asmussen, aged twenty. She had arrived in Junction City at about the same time as Jack. She and her family had emigrated from Germany.

The Junction City Tribune – 19 Dec 1878

Meta Asmussen Taylor in the early 1940s

The couple had ten children, eight of those children surviving to adulthood. One of their children was my great grandmother Jennie Taylor Harding.

Junction Weekly Union – 23 Oct 1915

Jack was a farmer, corn being at least one of his crops. He also had livestock and made his son a co-owner of the farm.

Junction City Weekly Union – 12 Sep 1891 

Apparently Jack—and, later, two of his sons—enjoyed local celebrity status for the spoils of their fishing expeditions.

Junction City Daily Union – 27 May 1918

Jack and Meta Taylor lived out their lives in Junction City and are buried there in Highland Cemetery.

On This Day: Birth of Jennie “Jen” Nell Taylor

Jennie and younger sister Violet Mae Taylor

Born August 30, 1886, in Kansas City, Kansas 

Jennie Taylor Harding was my great grandmother.

Jennie Taylor Harding was one of nine children born to John McKeney Taylor, Sr., born in Massachusetts, and Meta Christina Asmussen Taylor who was born in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Meta immigrated to Kansas with her family around 1870.

The Junction City Weekly Union – April 12, 1907

On January 1, 1907, Jennie married Reginald Harding in Junction City, Kansas. The couple spent their early years of marriage touring with various musical and theatrical troups, and in fact their first child, Gladys, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, during a tour of the Western states.

Pencil drawing of Jenny Taylor Harding as drawn by her daughter Maxine.

Jennie and Reginald had three children–two daughters and a son: my grandfather, Clifford Lorraine Harding.

Jennie and Reginald had seven grandchildren, four of whom can be seen to the left.

BACK ROW, l-r: Jennie Taylor Harding holding my mother, Sandra Joyce Harding; Reginald Harding holding Barbara Reid;

FRONT ROW, l-r: Bill Deppish and sister Donna Deppish.

Jennie Taylor Harding with granddaughter Sandra Joyce Harding–my mother


FOUR GENERATIONS: Seated is Meta Asmussen Taylor; standing to her left is her daughter, Jennie Taylor Harding; daughter Jennie’s son Clifford Lorraine Harding stands on Meta’s other side; Clifford Harding’s daughter, Sandra Joyce Harding–my mother–stands in front of Clifford.
Siblings Sandra Joyce Harding and Clifford Lee Harding with both their paternal grandparents–Reginald and Jennie Taylor Harding–and their maternal grandparents–Tom and Agnes Curry Cathcart.

Jennie Taylor Harding passed away on March 2, 1953, in Junction City, Kansas. She is buried in Highland Park Cemetery in Junction City, Kansas.

On This Day: Birth of Reginald Harding

Born August 29, 1886, in England

Reginald Harding was my great grandfather.

Reginald Harding and his siblings and parents emigrated from England to Kansas when Reginald was about three years old.

The Harding family’s arrival in Junction City, Kansas, made quite the big splash, even warranting a write-up in the social pages.

A pencil sketch of Reginald Harding drawn by his youngest daughter, Maxine.

Reginald Harding grew up in Junction City, Kansas, and married Kansas native Jennie Taylor on January 1, 1907.

The couple had three children–two daughters and a son: my grandfather, Clifford Lorraine Harding.

It seems that Reginald led an interesting life, finding work in various unrelated ways.

He raised poultry.

He worked in a cigar store in Topeka.

He was a performing artist.

His singing and acting talents were utilized in performances and tours in which Jennie was also involved. In fact, their oldest daughter, Gladys, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, during one of the couples’ tours.

He was employed by and later owned and managed a Standard Oil gasoline station in Wakefield, Kansas.

The Junction City Weekly Union – August 19, 1915
The Junction City Daily Union – February 16, 1915
BACK ROW, l-r: Jennie Taylor Harding, holding my mother, Sandra Joyce Harding ; Reginald Harding, holding Barbara Reid; FRONT ROW, l-r: Bill Deppish and sister Donna Deppish.

Reginald Harding passed away on January 2, 1956, at the age of 70. He was predeceased by Jennie.

Surviving were his three children and seven grandchildren, four of whom are pictured here.

Reginald Harding is buried in Highland Cemetery in Junction City, Kansas.

Newspaper clippings from The Junction City Daily Union and The Junction City Weekly Union.

The Farmer and the Cowman–and the Government–Should Be Friends

My grandfather as a high school senior.

My maternal grandfather, Clifford Lorraine Harding, was born on this day in 1909 in Junction City, Kansas. He was a successful farmer in Northeastern Kansas. I fondly remember visiting my grandparents at their home in Lawrence, and I particularly enjoyed going there in the summertime. While my granddad had a large commercial farm outside of town, he also had a farm on my grandparents’ very large personal property. Granddad’s backyard garden stretched at least seventy-five yards out from my grandparents’ storm porch. Whenever our visits included staying for dinner during the summer months, my brother and I got to go with Granddad to his garden to pick vegetables for supper.

My grandfather taught my brother and me how to distinguish when ears of sweet corn were ripe: when the color of their silks had turned brown but their husks were still green and the kernels were still “milky”. We also had to make sure that no worms had made their way inside the husks and eaten from the cob. We also learned how to tell when his large heirloom tomatoes–red, orange, and yellow–were ripe, and we were then allowed to pick what was needed from the vines. We also pulled radishes out of the ground. I have never acquired a taste for them, however.

We also picked pea pods. Although this was perhaps the most labor intensive task of all, I always loved the “plink, plink” sound of the individual peas hitting the bottom of the aluminum pail, after I had pried open their hulls.

Besides tending his own crops, my grandfather also helped other less fortunate farmers. My grandfather was a local agent for the Resettlement Administration as well as the federal program’s successors: the Farm Security Administration and the Farmers Home Administration. The RA, FSA, and FHA were New Deal initiatives, designed to assist those in need of assistance due to the effects of the Dust Bowl and the Depression. These initiatives followed passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938– “An Act to provide for the conservation of national soil resources and to provide an adequate and balanced flow of agricultural commodities in interstate and domestic commerce and for other purposes“–essentially a modification of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933.

As an experienced farmer and a person familiar with the needs of the agricultural community, my grandfather was hired by the government to serve as an intermediary between local sharecroppers, tenants, and landowning farmers and the governmental agencies set up to assist them. From what I understand, his work was diverse. He served as an educator, advising farmers on the latest scientific discoveries related to agriculture, innovations in industrial equipment and farming practices, as well as on the governmental assistance available to them. He made suggestions regarding selection and rotation of crops, rotation of crops with livestock, and on matters such as irrigation and soil conservation. My grandfather counseled struggling farmers and made applications on their behalf in order to avoid foreclosure on their farms. In some cases, based upon his expertise and recommendation, the government chose to purchase sub-marginal land and to resettle farmers and their families on government-owned group farms. (See article above.)

Here are a handful of local newspaper clippings, dating from 1940 to 1968, that mention my grandfather’s activities on behalf of the farmers of Jefferson, Allen, and Douglas Counties:

There were conflicting opinions on the advisability of the government taking on this level of responsibility, just as public sentiment today varies on matters of federal assistance. A Supreme Court case and subsequent legislation necessitated changes to the structure and financing of the initial agency: the Resettlement Administration. In 1937, the program was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and became the Farm Security Administration. For various reasons, the FSA’s role was later reduced, and in 1944, the agency’s responsibilities were then transferred to the Office of War Information.

A highly detailed piece on the impact of World War II upon farmers with regard to the government’s needs, crop yields and types of crops or livestock, and price fixing is available here.

Migrant Woman-Dorothea Lange ©1936. Lange’s iconic photo is probably the most well known of the work of the FSA photographers.

The establishment of programs to aid farmers was merely one of President Roosevelt’s many New Deal initiatives, of course.

Hired to document the initial work of the Resettlement Administration was a staff photographer named Roy Stryker. Stryker then stayed on with the subsequent agency, the FSA, leading its Information Division. In that capacity, he and his staff were responsible for a body of work that served as a testament to the plight of those living in poverty as well as evidence of the need for and the success of the New Deal initiatives. Stryker enlisted an entire team of photographers and writers, instructing them to document–in their own views and words–the conditions of poverty they encountered in both rural and inner-city America.

The stated goal of these FSA artists was “introducing America to Americans,” via a focus on photography and written narratives.

One of Stryker’s hand-picked photographers was a man by the name of Arthur Rothstein. Rothstein captured images of poverty from Alabama to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to Nevada, to Oregon. And it was Rothstein who captured these two images of my grandfather meeting with clients in Northeastern Kansas.

County Supervisor for Resettlement Administration with Farm Rehabilitation Client ©Arthur Rothenstein, May 1936
Two Men Discussing Farm Problems with County Supervisor, Jefferson County, Kansas, USA, ©Arthur Rothstein for Farm Security Administration (FSA), May 1936
The same photograph used in an FSA promotional advertisement.

I was thinking recently of my grandfather’s work as well as of President Roosevelt’s interest in and efforts toward fostering a better understanding between those in need, the government, and the rest of America. This was prompted by my having read an Opinion piece in the New York Times.

The co-authors are advocates for re-examining federal aid to farmers, moving away from existing federal subsidies toward a system in which financial rewards would be given to those farmers who take on the additional cost and effort involved in adopting more ecological farming methods. Doing so, the writers argued, would simultaneously assist the agricultural community and enlist them in a tactical strategy for addressing climate change. They write,

Government programs like the current farm bill pit production against conservation, and doing the right thing for the environment is a considerable drain on a farmer’s bank account, especially when so many of them are losing money to low commodity prices and President Trump’s tariffs.

My grandfather passed away in 1976. He never heard the expression “global warming”. I’m not even sure that evidence of the phenomenon existed in the scientific community at that time. However, the first Earth Day had occurred in 1970, and he lived to see a handful more in his lifetime. Concern for the environment was at least in its infancy.

The Ecology Flag, popularized in the 1970s by environmentalists.

I do know how much my grandfather cared for the earth and its inhabitants as well as for those who work the earth. I also know that he believed in the government’s responsibility to address the sustainability of the soil, water sources, and the country’s natural resources in general. And I know that he knew first-hand how challenging the farming life is and how critical it is–for farmers, for our nation, and for our nation’s food supply–that our government is directly involved with the farming community.

Knowing all of the above, I am proud to think that, were he alive today, my grandfather would probably share the concerns of these two Iowa writers and others currently working to address issues pertaining to the farming industry and to the environment. I’m quite confident that he would be at the forefront of efforts to put farmers on the front lines of the war on climate change.