The Farm Letters: A Depression Era Family Chronicle

In her 80s, Martha Linsley bought a small typewriter from Montgomery Ward, taught herself to type, and transcribed the hundreds of letters she and her husband and their two children wrote to one another. Their correspondence may very well comprise the most extensive written insight into the day-to-day lives of a family dealing with the challenges of the Great Depression.  After decades of a 5-generation family effort, the first phase of the letters, daughter Ruth’s memoire of their adventure, the children’s drawings, photos, the family cookbook, and books they read, are posted on DearDaddy.com.

They were the victims of a mortgage scam and greedy lenders, the nation’s crops were failing in record-setting heat, unemployment was soaring, the economy was in free-fall – the lame duck president was overwhelmed, but a newly-elected president was promising change. It was the early 1930s.

Despite the national crisis, James and Martha Linsley planned their strategy for financial independence and a farm of their own. After “qualifying” for a shady mortgage deal on a 160 acre parcel, they were encouraged to hear about a new government loan program available to assist farmers. They decided that James would stay in Minneapolis and continue working his ten-year job as a streetcar conductor, while Martha and the children,  Ruth (9) and John (7) would move to their “farm” near Park Rapids, Minnesota, about 160 miles north. Martha and the kids could live inexpensively, and they were sure that, with a federal loan to get them started, they would soon be full-time farmers.

The “farmhouse” turned out to be a 15 foot square dilapidated cabin with no running water or electricity. Through two brutal Minnesota winters while temperatures dipped near 40 below zero, they lived this arrangement from the summer of 1932 until the fall of 1934, writing letters to each other almost daily.

Feisty Martha Linsley was a city girl, raised in a Minneapolis orphanage, where talking at the dinner table was prohibited. She was a high school physics and math teacher, a University of Minnesota graduate, with Masters level education in Greek and Latin. James was a country boy who left school after eighth grade. A devoted husband and father, he was a life-long voracious reader, and had a passion for horses, farming, and carpentry. Daughter Ruth had a vivid imagination and gift for expression. Her father was fond of saying “The only time Ruth is quiet is when she’s eating cherry sauce – with pits.” John was a creative gifted student who continually challenged his one-room rural school teachers, was kicked out of school numerous times – and was later nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physics.

Their dream of farming was never realized, but they were all transformed by the experience. And over 75 years later, there is an odd resonance to their struggles and concerns, and possibly a lesson in the way they often found comfort and entertainment in the simplest of things.


Lucy Jeanne is Ruth Linsley Forman’s daughter. She is full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six. For the past year, she has worked with four generations of family members to complete the website DearDaddy.com. Her website chronicles the daily life of her grandparents, mother and uncle during two years of the Great Depression, told in letters, her mother’s journal, photos, drawings, recipes and books they read to each other.

Lucy Jeanne is a full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six. After decades in Marketing, Sales and Special Event Planning, she has been working with a four-generation family team for the last year to complete their website, DearDaddy.com. The website chronicles the daily life of her grandparents, mother and uncle during two years of the Great Depression. Their story is told in letters, her mother’s journal, photos, drawings, recipes and books they read to each other.
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Lucy Jeanne
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Lucy Jeanne is a full-time writer, mother of two, grandmother of six. After decades in Marketing, Sales and Special Event Planning, she has been working with a four-generation family team for the last year to complete their website, DearDaddy.com. The website chronicles the daily life of her grandparents, mother and uncle during two years of the Great Depression. Their story is told in letters, her mother’s journal, photos, drawings, recipes and books they read to each other.

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