Roughing It: Migrant Camps in the 1930s

By: Roisin Dowling

Edited By: Tanya Flink


In the Frank Galati’s script, Ma muses, “I wonder – that is, if we all get jobs an’ all work – maybe we can get one of them little white houses.” Like Ma, many migrant families had dreams of beautiful orchards and quaint white picket fences; however, the vast majority of Dust Bowl migrants found themselves living in tents, irrigation ditches, and cramped temporary housing.  These camps were often created by the migrants themselves; they were crude constructions of  desperate necessity.  Commonly referred to as squatter camps or “Hoovervilles,” due to the rage and blame that most migrants had towards President Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression.  In the 1930s, hundreds of families lived in these crude towns along Route 66, which led into California.


The Hooverville camps were mostly stationed in desolate areas, outside of towns and cities, where the migrant workers could hear about work from employers coming into the camps.  However, the living conditions were terrible and eventually the government became involved.  Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, land was provided for permanent migrant camps.  One, in Arvin, California, was named “Weedpatch”, and became known for the safe and cleaner living facilities in 1935.  Families paid $1.00 per week to camp, and they were provided with bathrooms, showers, and laundry rooms.  Weedpatch was synonymous with home for a lot of families in the late 1930s and onwards.

These makeshift homes were responsible for the lives of thousands of people after the Dust Bowl; the camps allowed the unemployed to continue fighting and looking for work, and for families to stay together as long as possible.  At the same time, the Hooverville camps were unclean and only temporary.  The conditions improved slightly with Weedpatch, but it still cost money most did not have.  There was no easy solution for the problems caused by the Dust Bowl, but Weedpatch was a step in the right direction.


Crossen, Cynthia. “Americans Who Fled Drought in the 1930s found Little Sympathy.” Wall Street Journal: B.1. Sep 07 2005.OxResearch; ProQuest Central. Web. 7 Oct. 2012 .

Harvey, Steve. “THEN Hooverville-Refuge for L.A.’s Homeless in Depression Years.” Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext): 1. Jun 15 1987. OxResearch; ProQuest Central. Web. 7 Oct. 2012 .


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