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Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression

Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression
Materials from the Uys Family Collection


During the Great Depression, 1929-1939, over 250,000 young people left home in hope and desperation and began riding freight trains or hitchhiking across America.  Most of the them were between 16 and 25 years of age.  Thousands of businesses had failed, and scores of schools had been forced to close, making jobs scarce and advanced education unavailable.  Whether they were escaping wrenching poverty or abusive families, or were simply seeking adventure, for many teenagers, leaving home seemed like the best option.

An entire generation of adolescents spent time on the road and away from family and home.  Some followed the harvest seasons of various fruits and grains across the country and became temporary labor for farmers.  Others got meals and a free night's lodging from mission churches.  Most spent time in hobo camps, subsisting on stolen or begged food.   The lucky ones got temporary jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave them food and a place to live for six months or more.  This exhibition, with five sections, shows their struggle through photographs, books, oral histories and excerpts from letters of hoboes from the Uys Family Oral History Collection.  

Recording the Hoboes' Stories
Railroads During the Depression Era
Civilian Conservation Corps
Food and Shelter on the Road 
Art Related to Hobo Life


Suggested reading for Teenage Hoboes

Uys Family Website

Uys Family Collection of Teenage Hobo Papers

Recording the Hoboes' Stories

This intriguing but seldom-told story caught the attention of filmmaker Michael Uys and his wife Lexy Lovell, who began collecting original accounts of individual's stories.  In 1993, they advertised in Modern Maturity magazine, asking for stories from boxcar boys and girls.  The couple created a documentary film from the over 3,000 responses, questionnaires, and interviews.  Realizing that these oral histories were rich with stories important to Depression-era history, the Uys family donated their collection of letters, questionnaires and audio tapes to the Museum in 2004, to make the materials available to other researchers.

Letter to Michael Uys, 1992
Art Clarence Acuff (1915-2003)
Lacey, Washington