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Collection Calvin Coolidge Papers

Poverty in the 1920s

Some groups did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably both African American and white farmers and immigrants. While one-fifth of the American population made their living on the land, rural poverty was widespread. Despite agricultural overproduction and successive attempts in Congress to provide relief, the agricultural economy of the 1920s experienced an ongoing depression. Large surpluses were accompanied by falling prices at a time when American farmers were burdened by heavy debt. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms was sold to meet financial obligations and many farmers migrated to urban areas.

Restrictive immigration laws, aided by a resurgence of nativism in America in the 1920s, contributed to an atmosphere hostile to immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The National Origins Act of 1924 completely excluded Japanese and other Asian immigrants and further reduced those admitted from southern and eastern Europe.

Additional Resources

For books on African American farmers and immigrants, see Extension Work Among Negroes Conducted by Negro Agents (1923) and Americanization through Homemaking, by Pearl Idelia Ellis (1929).

For related entries on agriculture in the Guide to People, Organizations, and Topics in Prosperity and Thrift, see Agricultural Credits Act of 1923 and McNary-Haugen Farm Legislation.