By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Author, Activity Professional
Valley Press Books

Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State.  She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of

Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care.  She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials.  Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
To Order Books by Marge Knoth
Building Residents’ Self-Esteem
by Discovering Their World
by Marge Knoth

We, for the most part, know what is going on in the world.  We read newspapers,
magazines, watch the news, and talk to people daily.  Names like Barack Obama,
Nancy Pelosi, Glen Beck are household words.  The budget, healthcare reform, tort
reform, and political correctness are everyday topics.  But what about our residents?  
When they overhear staff freely talking about computer programs, networks, twitter, I-
pods, palm pilots and compact discs, do they feel left behind?   Is it all foreign language
to them?  Do they feel like uneducated, uninformed citizens?  Is there any way we can
help them to restore their sense of intellectual self-worth?

There really is, but maybe not in the way you would think.  So much has happened
since their prime years that they may be unable to catch up.  So the next best thing is to
go back, all the way back to where they left off, back to people and places and subjects
they know well, subjects which were household talk in their prime years.  We are, no
doubt, as ignorant of the people and times they know as they are of our current
knowledge.  We should educate ourselves on their subjects so they can feel more
intellectually worthwhile as they freely discuss with u, matters of significance to them.  
There will be no shortage of conversation, and we will have a handy fill-in (a lively
reminiscence group), should our planned entertainment fall through.  Probably most
residents, depending on their age, will best remember the twenties, thirties or forties,
so let’s take a look at them.

THE TWENTIES:   They were a high time.  Four presidents spanned the decade:   
Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.  In 1919,  ladies had finally won the right to
vote.  World War I was over and now the nation wanted to have some fun.  Money was
flowing freely.  Stock prices tripled between 1925 and 1929.  Henry Ford’s assembly
line made it possible for the average man to afford an automobile.  The new radio and
modern appliances like refrigerators and gas stoves were becoming household items.

In this seemingly emancipated generation, people did crazy things like flag pole-sitting,
stunt- flying, and wing-walking.  They loved sports, taking pictures, Mahjongg, contact
bridge, and working the brand new crossword puzzle.  Dance marathons were the
rage.  The timely corset was being retired and women were trading their beautiful long
hair for short bobs.  Some indulged  in permanent waves at beauty shops by letting
themselves be attached to a monstrous machine with electric wires protruding from
each curl on their head.  In spite of the prosperous, free-for-all attitude exhibited by
many, prohibition began in 1920.  This cause the rise of the speakeasy, an illegal
underground bar.  Two million rural Americans joined the Ku Klux Klan.

But the playful era soon changed.  With a 40% drop in farm prices,  farmers were
unable to repay loans to banks.  Subsequently, in one year, 500 banks failed. The stock
market crashed in 1929 and $4 billion in paper values were lost in a day.  Wages fell

Famous 1920s People:   In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, a shy and private young person, a
former stunt-flyer and wing-walker,  became an instant hero when he completed his
historical solo flight across the Atlantic.  That year only 8,861 people in the United states
had flown.  One year later, the figure rose to 47,000.

The motion picture industry was booming with stars like Clara Bow, the “it” girl, who
sported about Hollywood in her red convertible, with seven red chow dogs.  In 1926,
silent film star, Rudolph Valentino, “the great lover” died prematurely, and women
everywhere wept hysterically.  Florenz Ziegfield hosted the Ziegfield Follies with long
lines of beautiful dancing girls and other entertainment.  Knute Rockne and his
“Horsemen Four” made football news;  Jack Dempsey, prize fighting; and Gertrude
Eberle became the first woman to swim the English Channel.

THE THIRTIES:  This decade’s presidents were Herbert Hoover and Franklin D.
Roosevelt.  The stock market crash of 1929 thrust the nation into the Great Depression.  
Millions were unemployed.  Thousands had mortgages foreclosed.  Banks, by the
thousands, went bankrupt.  On March 6, 1933, Roosevelt declared a “bank holiday” and
closed all U.S. banks until they could be inspected for soundness.  One week later, the
stable ones reopened.

By 1933, unemployment peaked at 13 million.  Farmers were hit hard by the
Depression.  It cost more to produce crops and livestock than their selling price.  Wheat
fell from $1 a bushel to 25 cents.  Corn sold for 15 cents a bushel, and pork for eight-
cents a pound.  There were severe droughts in the West.  Rainfall between 1932 and
1936 averaged only about 11 inches a year.  Good top soil literally blew away.  Killer
dust storms caused homeowners to flee their farms and head further west to
California.  The North East saw horrible floods.  Government programs like the Works
Projects Administration (WPA), put unemployed people to work.  It employed 8.5 million
people total.  The thirties saw soup kitchens, sandwich lines, cardboard covering holes
in shoes, and homeless children roaming the big city streets.  Birth control received its
first recognition from the American Medical Association.  The giant dirigible,
Hindenburg, burst into flames and crashed at Lakehurst, New York.  Still, there were
bright spots in the thirties.

New novels were Gone with the Wind and Grapes of Wrath.  Folks entertained
themselves with free activities: radio-listening, stamp-collecting, bridge, scrapbooks,
and horseshoe.  In the mid-thirties, miniature golf became a passion, and 35,000 new
courses were built.  One year later, they set idle as the phase burned itself out. The ten-
cent chain letter caused a nationwide ruckus.  By investing a dime and not breaking the
chain, one was to receive back $1,562.50.  The Empire State building formally opened
in 1931.  Admiral Byrd was hailed a hero by the American people and by President
Hoover for his Antarctica expedition where he claimed unexplored lands for his country.  
He added 125,000 square miles to the map of the world and added to the world’s
knowledge of biological, geological, and meteorological conditions at the bottom of the

FAMOUS 1930s  PEOPLE:    President Roosevelt presented radio “fireside chats”.  
Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly the Pacific Ocean.  Then she attempted
her famous around-the-world flight.  In 40 days she had completed 22,000 of the
27,000 miles when her plane mysteriously disappeared.

The Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934 in Ontario Canada, before fertility drugs, were the
most publicized birth of the century.  Their names, Emile, Cecile, Annette, Marie, and
Yvonne, were household words.  Each birthday, new pictures appeared on calendars.  
Their pictures were rampant in magazines, newspapers, on postcards, dishes, and
even lamps.  Their names were used to promote many products.  The quints appeared
on the news reels at the movie theater, and  made their first movie in 1935.  Five-million
people, in two years, time traveled to Canada to view them at play in their yard.

Will Rogers, a home-spun rope-twirling humorist jokingly attacked politicians, the rich,
and the famous in his columns and speeches.  He starred in many movies.  This
humble humanitarian was loved the world over.  He died in an Alaskan plane crash
along with aviation  pioneer, Wiley Post who was the first aviator to circle the globe solo.

Charles Lindbergh’s baby was kidnapped and murdered.  Bruno Hampton, who
maintained his innocence to the end, was tried and found guilty on circumstantial
evidence alone.  The trial became circus-like.  Sheriffs sold tickets for seats in the
courtroom.  Souvenirs were sold, and the jury were each offered $500 a week to go on
stage.  Dice games took place in the judge’s chambers (without his knowledge), and
spectators ate, sang, and joked in the court room.  

Bank robbers like John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, Al (Scarface) Capone,
Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd, in a weird sort of way, became heroes of the
time.  Thomas Edison, among other things, invented the incandescent lamp and the
cylinder phonograph.  He died in 1931 at age 84.  President Howard Taft died in 1930.

Some movies of the 1930s were Gone with the Wind (Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable),
Grand Hotel (Greta Garbo and John Barrymore), Tarzan and the Ape Man (Johnny
Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan),  Mutiny on the Bounty (Clark Gable),  Annie
Oakley (Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Forster), Captain Blood (Errol Flynn), King Kong
(Faye Wray),  Mammy (Al Jolson), and The Wizard of Oz (Judy Garland).

Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter lifted spirits with their music.  Clark Gable and
William Powell popularized the skinny moustache.  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
entertained with glamorous dancing.  Shirley Temple stole hearts and helped take
minds off the Depression.  She earned a $300,000 yearly salary, plus royalties from the
Shirley Temple doll of which six-million were sold.  Babe Ruth and Lou Gerig were
heroes in the sports world.

THE FORTIES: Upon Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman became president.  
Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 and the U.S. became involved in World War II.  War
raged in Europe and in the Pacific.  The government spent over $44 billion producing
301,378 planes for the war.

On the home front, 3.5 million women worked in armament plants making planes,
ships, tanks, guns, and shells.  A total of 18 million women left their homes to fill jobs
left by servicemen.  They worked in factories, businesses, and on the farm.  Girl Scouts
helped care for kids in day care centers.  Children collected scrap iron and metal to
help the war effort.  Homes of servicemen bore stars in their windows.  Someone
remembers a blue star represented in boy in the service, a silver star meant a soldier
was missing, and a gold star announced their soldier had been killed.  Many common
items like food, tires, and fabric were rationed.  Ration stamps were needed to
purchase many items.  Miniature “victory gardens” were planted wherever a speck of
tillable land could be found.  President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb
on Japan causing the Japanese surrender.  And estimated 20 million died in World
War II.  Many post war problems arose:  scarcity of housing, lack of many consumer
products, inflation, and steel, coal, and railroad strikes.  

The medium income in 1946 was $2,800. Only 12.5% of college-age kids went to
college.  The average prescription cost $4-$5.  Nylon hose appeared on the market in
1940, and manufacturers could not keep up with the demand.  Juke boxes brought in
five-million nickels annually.  A favored dance was the Fast Lindy. Only 8000 homes
had televisions.  Dates often involved roller skating, drive-in movies, and bowling.  
Teens sipped Royal Crown or Coca Cola from the  bottle.  Teenage girls wore rolled-up
jeans, Dad’s white shirts, and black and white saddle shoes or loafers.

FAMOUS 1940s  PEOPLE: In the 1948 presidential election, the Chicago Tribune
mistakenly declared Thomas Dewey president rather than Harry Truman.  Ernie Pyle, a
World War II correspondent who followed and wrote about the foot soldier, won a
Pulitzer prize for distinguished correspondence.  He was killed in combat by Japanese
machine gun fire  just before the war’s end in 1945.

Two favorite movie stars were Doris Day, and Elizabeth Taylor who at age 13 starred in
National Velvet.  Some radio stars were Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Fibber McGee
and Molly.  Bing Crosby, Harry James, and the Dorsey Brothers provided music.  Frank
Sinatra, after singing with Tommy Dorsey’s band, set out on his own in 1942.

SO MUCH HAPPENED IN THESE THREE DECADES that we could go on and on.  But
this is enough information to stimulate residents’ memories, to get them actively
sharing about people and times they knew.  I would encourage you to keep a pencil and
paper handy when residents begin to talk.  These notes come in handy for future
reminiscent groups, and they can add zest to your newsletter.  As you try these topics on
them, you will probably find even non- communicative residents wanting to contribute to
the conversation, and you may well see their self-esteem increasing, too.

But don’t learn about times past just for your residents alone; do it for yourself.  Studying
the 20s, 30s, and 40s is so interesting, no doubt, you will find yourself hooked.  
Reminiscence groups, for you, may well take on a new meaning.

So why not gather your residents together, open this column, and give residents a topic
to discuss?  Then grab yourself a cup of coffee, fasten your seat belt, and let yourself be
mentally transported  back to a really fascinating era.  For one hour, it will seem as
though you are the one being entertained, and your residents will be the stars–because
this is their life!   So relax and enjoy it.  You’ve earned a break!

The End

We are offering a 25% discount to readers of this column on the following books until
December 31, 2009 with payment.  Just mention the column when you send in your
order and payment.

Helpful tools for reminiscence by Marge Knoth

  • Mystery Person of the Week, Who am I?            Reg.  $24.99          Special $18.74
  • Newsletters Simplified (full of reminiscence material)  $23.99     Special $17.99
  • Remembering the Good Old Days                                 $14.99         Special $11.24
  • Looking Back                                                                       $10.99          Special $8.24

Shipping: Add $4.99 shipping though post office.

Ask about other specials.

Valley Press
P.O. Box 14134
Bradenton, Florida 34280