From the 'lost' to the 'greatest' generation : eastern Montana youth in the 1930s

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The Great Depression has been a widely researched a studied era in American history. One issue that gripped many government leaders and adults during the 1930s was the plight of youth. They feared the stressful economic conditions would produce a generation who did not understand a work ethic or would get in trouble by turning to radical groups such as fascism, socialism, and communism, a life of crime, or the social ills of society. In order to help the future leaders of America, something had to be done to restore and renew youth’s faith in democracy and capitalism. The national government established the Civilian Conservation Corp and the National Youth Administration to furnish youth with employment and education. In addition to work and school, adults needed to provide youth with wholesome, family-oriented recreation that would establish a better connection to their communities, the building blocks of democracy. Recreation, therefore, also became a weapon to keep youths out of trouble. Studying three communities in eastern Montana, Billings, Sidney, and Plentywood, shows how the national, state, and local governments as well as parents, teachers, and civic leaders fought to save the youth of the country. Newspapers and oral histories bring out the voices of the youth and adults of the day and how they viewed the efforts and programs. Government documents as well as studies by groups such as the American Youth Commission also provide insight on what many viewed as the problems facing youth and how to help them. Due to the extreme conditions of the years surrounding the Great Depression, writer Maxine Davis called this group of youth the “lost” generation in 1936. Today, reflecting on the accomplishments and humble nature those who grew up during the depression and fought in World War II, many call them the “greatest” generation.




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