Whither the Rural? The Debate over Rural America’s Future, 1945-1980

Nov 19, 2018 | by
  • Description

            Following World War II, rural America experienced a number of interconnected transformations that raised the question of what its future might look like, or whether or not it even had one. My project examines the response of policymakers, rural people, and social scientists to the problems these changes created, which I am calling the "rural crisis." More specifically, my dissertation examines how rural problems were understood by these groups, and the various ways they sought to build a new, more prosperous rural America and redefine the meaning of rural in the process. My research tracks the debates and implementation of public policies across distinct rural settings in California, Missouri, and Georgia.

The records at the Rockefeller Archive Center contain significant insights into the broader debate that occurred in postwar America about how rural areas might be revitalized. The records of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, Mitchell Sviridoff, Bernard McDonald, and Winthrop Rockefeller demonstrate that many Americans did not want to abandon rural places or encourage rural people to migrate. Instead, a variety of groups, from low-income black farmers in the South to foundation officials in New York grappled with the best way to revive declining rural communities. The Archive Center provides some documentation for "nonfarm" development programs that aimed to create a new economic base for rural America outside farming. More significantly, the Center's records provide extensive evidence for a vision of farm reform rooted in economic and racial justice that commanded significant attention in the postwar period.