“Prosperity Far Distant is a small gem of a book. Charles Wiltse’s journal of life on his parents’ Ohio farm in 1933 and 1934 describes farming’s unrelenting physical toil, the grim fight to stave off ruin, the anger of Depression-era farmers, and the pleasures of rural life. Having just earned a doctorate in history and political philosophy, Wiltse was an unusual farm diarist, and his journal is also the story of a young scholar’s quest to make sense of a badly disrupted world.”
David E. Hamilton, University of Kentucky
“This book is a pleasant surprise…. Wiltse paints a highly articulate and engaging picture of the frustrations of attempting to make a living farming when the agricultural economy was imploding all around…(The) book is a thought-provoking page-turner.”
The Annals of Iowa
“In addition to contributing to the relatively small number of firsthand accounts of northeastern (sic) farming during the Depression, the diary offers a unique perspective from the viewpoint of an extremely educated and articulate observer…. Recommended.”
“This is (Wiltse‘s) journal of the problems and rewards, humorous moments, and financial difficulties of a man of letters on a hardscrabble farm.”
Fresh from receiving a doctorate from Cornell University in 1933, but unable to find work, Charles M. Wiltse joined his parents on the small farm they had recently purchased in southern Ohio. There, the Wiltses scratched out a living selling eggs, corn, and other farm goods at prices that were barely enough to keep the farm intact.
In wry and often affecting prose, Wiltse recorded a year in the life of this quintessentially American place during the Great Depression. He describes the family’s daily routine, occasional light moments, and their ongoing frustrations, small and large—from a neighbor’s hog that continually broke into the cornfields to the ongoing struggle with their finances. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had little to offer small farmers, and despite repeated requests, the family could not secure loans from local banks to help them through the hard economic times. Wiltse spoke the bitter truth when he told his diary, “We are not a lucky family.” In this he represented millions of others caught in the maw of a national disaster.
The diary is introduced and edited by Michael J. Birkner, Wiltse’s former colleague at the Papers of Daniel Webster Project at Dartmouth College, and coeditor, with Wiltse, of the final volume of Webster’s correspondence.
Charles M. Wiltse was a professor of history at Dartmouth College and the general editor of the fifteen-volume The Papers of Daniel Webster. He was also the author of many other books, including a three-volume biography of John C. Calhoun and The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy. More info →
Michael J. Birkner is a professor of history and Benjamin Franklin Professor of Liberal Arts at Gettysburg College, where he has taught since 1989. He is the author or editor of twelve books, including the forthcoming James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War. More info →
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“Nan turned to see Ben’s face turn as hard and white as a sauerkraut crock. When he did not respond, Nan figured that he was just going to back off as he usually did, the shy and retiring husbandman. She did not know her history. She did not know that shy and retiring husbandmen have been known to revolt against oppression with pitchforks drawn.”
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