Rural Problems of Today
by Ernest R. Groves
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With the present movement of the population toward urban centers, and with the increasing ability of urban people through organization and modern forms of communication to impress their ideas upon men and women far and near, it is hardly strange that we should in our better moments recoil from a materialism which seems to be creeping everywhere into men's souls and producing interpretations of the purposes of life that are false, dangerous, and sordid.

The antidote is a larger contribution to national thought and policy from rural people. Talkers and men skilful in manipulating other men have been taken too seriously. The doer, especially he who has first-hand grapple with Nature in the contest she forever forces upon men, has a word that should be spoken, a word of sanity. City people are often too far distant from the realities of the primary struggle with natural law to be entrusted with all the thinking. A visit a few months ago to any city seed-store would have forced upon any critical observer how ignorant city people are of the effort required to produce even their most familiar foods.

Healthy national ideals require a contribution from both urban and rural experience. The first we have in quantity. It is the second we lack. It is the business of those who conserve social welfare to respect the conclusions of rural thinkers and to discover how rural experience may make its largest contribution to national policy and social opinion.




We had just finished eating lunch at one of the more quiet hotels of our greatest city. We lingered after the meal for a chat, this being one of the privileges of the place, untroubled by the type of waiter, hungry for tips, who so often at the metropolitan hotels conveys unmistakably the idea that one's departure is expected to follow directly the presentation of his bill. The host was a man of business, famed for his success and his interest in public affairs, and especially generous in giving of his money and time to further movements that attempt the betterment of rural life. He had spent his youth in the open country and had never lost any of the vividness of his first joys. It was this mutual interest in rural problems that had brought host and guest together for a quiet talk.

"Will you give me your deepest impression of the city as you came into it from the country?" asked the man of business of the student.

"I hardly can claim one impression, there are so many."

"But one must be deeper or at least more consciously so than the others. It is that I want. I'll tell you in return my strongest impression when recently I visited, for the first time in several years, the farm where I was born."

"I suppose the line of thought that captured my mind when I first came into the city tonight is what you want."


"I began to think not of your noise or your hurry, your poverty or your crowds, but of your atmosphere of what I call popular materialism. Do you understand what I mean?"

"Perhaps not."

"I mean I sensed everywhere the emphasis upon the power of money. I suppose it is an experience forced upon the consciousness of everyone who comes into the life of this great city from a small community. It seems as if the city was a monument to the idea that money can do everything, that the getting of money is the only satisfactory purpose of life."

"You must not forget the miser of the small village or the considerable number of city people who do not make business and money-making the chief object of their lives."

"Of course in justice I must remember what you say, for it is true. But you wanted my vivid impression and I give it to you as the feeling that in the city money seems all-powerful. With it you are able to get everything, to do everything. You can command other men and they obey you. You can reach over the ocean and draw luxuries of every kind to you for your pleasure and your comfort. Wherever you go you are invited to spend money. At least it is suggested to you how much you could have to satisfy your wildest dreams, had you only the necessary bank account.

"On the other hand, without money you are like a lost soul in the midst of Paradise. With a little money your life must be spent in miserable tenements, in a dirty, noisy, unsanitary quarter of the city. Your children, perchance, must become familiar with the neighboring prostitute. Disease dogs your steps. Pleasures are few. More income means not merely renting a better tenement, but also changing to a safer and more pleasant neighborhood. And always facing you at every turn, from every show window, even from the posters on the bill boards, are suggestions of what money could do for you if only you had it."

"I see your point, but not for many years have I felt the truth of what you say. I imagine I felt strongly the power of money when I first came to the city. Of late I have taken the matter for granted and thought little of it. Yet you must admit that money is power."

"Of course, but not to the degree the city deludes one into thinking. Even in the city there is much money cannot do. In the smaller places, especially in the country, one is impressed with the limitations of money. In normal ways it is not possible to spend great sums of money in the country. You do not find methods of getting rid of your money attracting your attention at every turn. If great wealth is spent, a plan must be worked out and some new enterprise undertaken—for example, a magnificent residence or a fancy farm. In the city no forethought is required to spend great wealth. The opportunity is ever at one's elbow. The difficulty is not to accept the importunate invitations."

"I assume you blame the cities for the widespread materialism which is charged up against modern life?"

"Not altogether. In the country, as you have suggested, we have lovers of money and we have sordid poverty. But I do think that urban life tends to emphasize money-getting and to keep it before the mind in a way that is not natural in the small community. Because of this I regard the cities as the natural strongholds of materialism and I see a danger in the urbanizing movement of modern civilization. I think, therefore, that men like yourself should do everything possible to keep in the public consciousness the splendid idealism that is in the city. I mean such kindly sacrifice as the settlement house. However, I have talked enough. What is your vivid impression as a result of your visit to the place of your boyhood?"

"Well, before I give you that, let me remind you that men like myself get our power to help what you call idealism largely because of our money. I suppose you hold, therefore, that even in our disinterested service we advertise the power of money?"

"Yes, I must confess that your influence is never divorced from your standing as one who has made good in the ways of trade. But what of your country impression?"

"There is no place that still seems so beautiful to me as the place of my childhood. I was born beside a splendid river; and not far from the house, separated from it by stretches of meadowland, was a thick and extensive forest. It seemed as if I had everything ideal for the play of childhood.

"Upon my recent visit I felt as never before the value of what I like to call the freedom of the spirit. It seems as if country environment generously provides what the healthy-minded child most needs—an opportunity for the free play of the fancy. I call it a spiritual preparation for life, but I assume that the scientist would describe it as an experience of the imagination. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, as far as you have gone. I covet, however, a clearer understanding of what you mean."

"I mean what I used to find in Wordsworth's poetry and in the work of our own Whittier. I never read them now, but years ago I did a little. You were country-born yourself, as I remember. Don't you recall how your imagination made rich with meaning the simple pleasures and sports of your early life? I can well remember hours of fishing at a dark curve in the river where the water was black even at noon-day because of the overhanging trees. I think I never caught a fish there, but there was always something about the place that made me think that some day a wonderful catch would be made there. It was a place that enlivened the fancy and it illustrates what I mean. There were many other such breeding-spots for fancy scattered along the miles of river and woodland which I grew to know so well."

"Don't you consider your play of fancy mentally dangerous?"

"No, not when it comes into the mind with the incoming tide of experience. There was plenty of reality. We had our discomforts and our disappointments. We were forced to take into account the causal order of things. But the mind had a chance to add its part to the fact of existence. And so it always needs to be. I have been successful as a man of business in part because of my early use of the gift of imagination. It is bad to have life all imagination, to carry into adult experiences the make-believe of childhood, but it is a miserable and destitute existence for any adult to bring to his work no imagination."

"And you regard your earlier use of imagination as a preparation for your later use?"

"Indeed I do. I also regard it as the best basis for a reasonable spiritual interpretation of life. In addition it furnished pleasures, the memories of which are sweet and wholesome to this day."

"Do city children have no similar opportunity for creating fancy?"

"Perhaps they do, but their imagination is too quickly forced into the hard forms of adult experience. They feel all too soon the meaning of wealth, the punishments of poverty. They dream of more of this or less of that. They covet possession of the things they see from the store windows or in the yards of more fortunate children. The shadow of the money-magic of which you spoke falls too soon for their later good across their path. With the country boy and girl this is not likely to happen. Their experiences are more buoyant, more interpretive, more exploring. Fancy creates and reveals; it does not largely furnish the false pleasures of fictitious possession. This is to me the difference. The city may be the richest environment for the adult. That is a matter of opinion. But I cannot see how anyone can think of it as the best place for the child. I cannot believe that I would have gotten nearly so much of good from my early experiences if I had lived in the city. If I am right, this is another element to add to the great urban problem. If the experience of the city child suffers spiritual privations from the limitations of his environment, must this not show itself in social tendencies? In any case I had a motive in what I have said. You are interested in movements that attempt to enrich the experiences of country boys and girls. That is good, but you must not occupy all of the child's time or interest. Give him freedom to discover his own inner resources, the spiritual union between his cravings and the richness of nature. Don't exile him from nature's paradise by too much adult supervision, organization, or influence. In my day we had too little adult assistance in our games and recreation. I can imagine a condition where the country childhood would suffer from too much."

It was this suggestion that I carried away with me from our conversation.




In discussing the mind of the farmer, the difficulty is to find the typical farmer's mind that north, south, east, and west will be accepted as standard. In our science there is perhaps at present no place where generalization needs to move with greater caution than in the statement of the farmer's psychic characteristics. It is human to crave simplicity, and we are never free from the danger of forcing concrete facts into general statements that do violence to the opposing obstacles.

The mind of the farmer is as varied as the members of the agricultural class are significantly different. And how great are these differences! The wheat farmer of Washington state who receives for his year's crop $106,000 has little understanding of the life outlook of the New Englander who cultivates his small, rocky, hillside farm. The difference is not merely that one does on a small scale what the other does in an immense way. He who knows both men will hardly question that the difference in quantity leads also to differences in quality, and in no respect are the two men more certainly distinguishable than in their mental characteristics.

It appears useless, therefore, to attempt to procure for dissection a typical farmer's mind. In this country at present there is no mind that can be fairly said to represent a group so lacking in substantial unity as the farming class, and any attempt to construct such a mind is bound to fail. This is less true when the class is separated into sections, for the differences between farmers are in no small measure geographical. Indeed, is it not a happy fact that the American farmer is not merely a farmer? Although it complicates a rural problem such as ours, it is fortunate that the individual farmer shares the larger social mind to such a degree as to diminish the intellectual influences born of his occupation.

The method of procedure that gives largest promise of substantial fact is to attempt to uncover some of the fundamental influences that operate upon the psychic life of the farmers of America and to notice, in so far as opportunity permits, what social elements modify the complete working of these influences.

One influence that shows itself in the thinking of farmers as of fundamental character is, of course, the occupation of farming itself. In primitive life we not only see the importance of agricultural work for social life but we discover also some of the mental elements involved that make this form of industry socially significant. From the first it called for an investment of self-control, a patience, that Nature might be coaxed to yield from her resources a reasonable harvest. We find therefore in primitive agriculture a hazardous undertaking which, nevertheless, lacked any large amount of dramatic appeal.

It is by no means otherwise today. The farmer has to be efficient in a peculiar kind of self-control. He needs to invest labor and foresight in an enterprise that affords to the usual person little of the opportunity for quick returns, the sense of personal achievement, or the satisfaction of the desire for competitive face-to-face association with other men which is offered in the city. Men who cultivate on a very large scale and men who enjoy unusual social insight as to the significance of their occupation are exceptions to the general run of farmers. In these days of accessible transportation we have a rapid and highly successful selection which largely eliminates from the farming class the type that does not naturally possess the power to be satisfied with the slowly acquired property, impersonal success, and non-dramatic activities of farming. This process which eliminates the more restless and commercially ambitious from the country has, of course, been at work for generations. It has tended, therefore, to a uniformity of mental characteristics, but it has by no means succeeded in procuring a homogeneous rural mind. The movement has been somewhat modified by the return of people to the country from the city and by the influence on the country mind of the more restless and adventurous rural people who, for one reason or another, have not migrated. In the far West especially, attention has been given to the rural hostility to, or at least the misunderstanding of, city movements which attempt ambitious social advances. It is safe to assume that this attitude of rural people is widespread and is noticeable far west merely because of a greater frankness. The easterner hides his attitude because he has become conscious that it opens him to criticism. This attitude of rural hostility is rooted in the fundamental differences between the thinking of country and of city people, due largely to the process of social selection. This mental difference gives constant opportunity for social friction. If the individuals who live most happily in the city and in the country are contrasted, there is reason to suppose that the mental opposition expresses nervous differences. In one we have the more rapid, more changeable, and more consuming thinker, while the thought of the other is slower, more persistent, and less wasteful of nervous energy.

The work of the average farmer brings him into limited association with his fellows as compared with the city worker. This fact also operates upon him mentally. He has less sense of social variations and less realization of the need of group solidarity. This results in his having less social passion than his city brother, except when he is caught in a periodic outburst of economic discontent expressed in radical agitation, and also in his having a more feeble class-consciousness and a weaker basis for cooperation. This last limitation is one from which the farmer seriously suffers.

The farmer's lack of contact with antagonistic groups, because his work keeps him away from the centers where social discontent boils with passion and because it prevents his appreciating class differences, makes him a conservative element in our national life, but one always big with the danger of a blind servitude to traditions and archaic social judgments. The thinking of the farmer may be either substantial from his sense of personal sufficiency or backward from his lack of contact. The decision regarding his attitude is made by the influences that enter his life, in addition to those born of his occupation.

At this point, however, it would be serious to forget that some of the larger farming enterprises are carried on so differently that the manager and owner are more like the factory operator than the usual farmer. To them the problem is labor-saving machinery, efficient management, labor cost, marketing facilities, and competition. They are not especially influenced by the fact that they happen to handle land products rather than manufactured articles.

Much has been made of the farmer's hand-to-hand grapple with a capricious and at times frustrating Nature. This emphasis is deserved, for the farmer is out upon the frontier of human control of natural forces. Even modern science, great as is its service, cannot protect him from the unexpected and the disappointing. Insects and weather sport with his purposes and give his efforts the atmosphere of chance. It is not at all strange, therefore, that the farmer feels drawn to fatalistic interpretations of experience which he carries over to lines of thought other than those connected with his business.

A second important influence that has helped to make the mind of the farmer has been isolation. In times past, without doubt, this has been powerful in its effect upon the mind of the farmer. It is less so now because, as everyone knows, the farmer is protected from isolation by modern inventions. It is necessary to recall, however, that isolation is in relation to one's needs and that we too often neglect the fact that the very relief that has removed from country people the more apparent isolation of physical distance has often intensified the craving for closer and more frequent contact with persons than the country usually permits. Whether isolation as a psychic experience has decreased for many in the country is a matter of doubt. Certainly most minds need the stimulus of human association for both happiness and healthiness, and even yet the minds of farmers disclose the narrowness, suspiciousness, and discontent of place that isolation brings. It makes a difference in social attitude whether the telephone, automobile, and parcel post draw the people nearer together in a common community life or whether they bring the people under the magic of the city's quantitative life and in this way cause rural discontent.

The isolation from the great business centers which has kept farmers from having personally a wide experience with modern business explains in part the suspicious attitude rural people often take into their commercial relations. This has been expressed in a way one can hardly forget by Tolstoi in his "Resurrection," when his hero, from moral sympathy with land reform, undertakes to give his tenants land under conditions more to their advantage and, much to his surprise, finds them hostile to the plan. They had been too often tricked in the past and felt too little acquainted with business methods to have any confidence in the new plan which claimed benevolent motives. It is only fair to admit that the farmer differs from others of his social rank only in degree, and that his experiences in the past appear to him to justify his skeptical attitude. He has at times suffered exploitation; what he does not realize is that this has been made possible by his lack of knowledge of the ways of modern business and by his failure to organize. The farmer is beginning to appreciate the significance of marketing. Unfortunately, he too often carries his suspiciousness, which has resulted from business experiences, into many other lines of action and thinking, and thus robs himself of enthusiasm and social confidence.

A third important element in the making of the farmer's mind may be broadly designated as suggestion. The farmer is like other men in that his mental outlook is largely colored by the suggestions that enter his life.

It is this fact, perhaps, that explains why the farmer's mind does not express more clearly vocational character, for no other source of persistent suggestions has upon most men the influence of the newspaper, and each day, almost everywhere, the daily paper comes to the farmer with its appealing suggestions. Of course the paper represents the urban point of view rather than the rural, but in the deepest sense it may be said to look at life from the human outlook, the way the average man sees things. The newspaper, therefore, feeds the farmer's mind with suggestions and ideas that counteract the influences that specially emphasize the rural environment. It keeps him in contact with thinking and events that are world-wide, and unconsciously permeates his motives, at times giving him urban cravings that keep him from utilizing to the full his social resources in the country. Any attempt to understand rural life that minimizes the common human fellowship which the newspaper offers the farmer is certain to lead to unfortunate misinterpretation. Mentally the farmer is far from being isolated in his experiences, for he no longer is confined to the world of local ideas as he once was. This constant daily stimulation from the world of business, sports, and public affairs at times awakens his appetite for urban life and makes him restless, or encourages his removal to the city, or makes him demand as much as possible of the quantitative pleasures and recreations of city life. In a greater degree, however, the paper contents his mental need for contact with life in a more universal way than his particular community allows. The automobile and other modern inventions also serve the farmer, as does the newspaper, by providing mental suggestions from an extended environment.

A very important source of suggestion, as abnormal psychology so clearly demonstrates, at present, is the impressions of childhood. Rural life tends on the whole to intensify the significant events of early life, because of the limited amount of exciting experiences received as compared with city life. Parental influence is more important because it suffers less competition. This fact of the meaning of early suggestions appears, without doubt, in various ways and forbids the scientist's assuming that rural thinking is made uniform by universal and unvaried suggestions.

The discontent of rural parents with reference to their environment or occupation, due to their natural urban tendencies, or to their failure to succeed, or to the hard conditions of their farm life, has some influence in sending rural youth to the city. Accidental or incidental suggestion often repeated is especially penetrating in childhood, and no one who knows rural people can fail to notice parents who are prone to such suggestions expressing rural discontent. In the same way, suspiciousness or jealousy with reference to particular neighbors or associates leads, when it is often expressed before children, to general suspiciousness or trivial sensitiveness. The emotional obstacles to the get-together spirit—obstacles which vex the rural worker—in no small degree have their origin in suggestion given in childhood.

The country is concerned with another source of suggestion which has more to do with the efficiency of the rural mind than its content, and that is the matter of sex. Students of rural life apparently give this element less attention than it deserves. As Professor Ross has pointed out in "South of Panama," for example, the precocious development of sex tends to enfeeble the intellect and to prevent the largest kind of mental capacity. It is unsafe at present to generalize regarding the differences between country and city life in matters of sex, but it is certainly true, when rural life is empty of commanding interests and when it is coarsened by low traditions and the presence of defective persons, that there is a precocious emphasis of sex. This is expressed both by early marrying and by loose sex relations. It is doubtful whether the commercializing of sex attraction in the city has equal mental significance, for certainly science clearly shows that it is the precocious expression of sex that has largest psychic dangers. In so far as the environment of a rural community tends to bring the sexual life to early expression, we have every reason to suppose that at this point at least the influence of the community is such as to tend toward a comparative mental arrest or a limiting of mental ability, for which the country later suffers socially. Each student of rural life must, from experience and observation, evaluate for himself the significance of this sex precociousness. When sex interests become epidemic and the general tendency is toward precocious sex maturity, the country community is producing for itself men and women of inferior resources as compared with their natural possibilities. Even the supposed social wholesomeness of earlier marrying in the country must be scrutinized with the value of sex sublimation during the formative years clearly in mind.




In modern civilization the increasing attractiveness of the city is one of the apparent social facts.[6] Social psychology may reasonably be expected to throw light upon the causes of this movement of population from rural to urban conditions of life. Striking illustrations of individual preference for city life, even in opposition to the person's economic interests, suggest that this problem of social behavior so characteristic of our time contains important mental factors.

Since sensations give the mind its raw material,[7] the mind may be said to crave stimulation. "In the most general way of viewing the matter, beings that seem to us to possess minds show in their physical life what we may call a great and discriminating sensitiveness to what goes on at any present time in their environment."[8] This interest of the mind in the receiving of stimulation for its own activity is an essential element in any social problem. The individual reacts socially "with a great and discriminating sensitiveness" to his environment, just as he reacts physically to his stimuli to conserve pleasure and avoid pain.

The fundamental sources of stimuli are, of course, common to all forms of social grouping, but one difference between rural and urban life expresses itself in the greater difficulty of obtaining under rural conditions certain definite stimulations from the environment. This fact is assumed both by those who hold the popular belief that most great men are country-born and by those who accept the thesis of Ward that "fecundity in eminent persons seems then to be intimately connected with cities."[9] The city may be called an environment of greater quantitative stimulations than the country. The city furnishes forceful, varied, and artificial stimuli; the country affords an environment of stimuli in comparison less strong and more uniform. Minds that crave external, quantitative stimuli for pleasing experiences are naturally attracted by the city and repelled by the monotony of the country. On the other hand, those who find their supreme mental satisfactions in their interpretation or appreciation of the significant expression of the beauty and lawfulness of nature discover what may be called an environment of qualitative stimulations. The city appeals, therefore, to those who with passive attitude need quantitative, external experiences; the country is a splendid opportunity for those who are fitted to create their mental satisfactions from the active working over of stimuli that appear commonplace to the uninterpreting mind. If Coney Island, with its noise and manufactured stimulations, is representative of the city, White's "Natural History of Selborne" is a characteristic product of the wealth of the country to the mind gifted with penetrating skill.

Doubtless this difference between rural and urban is nothing new, and from the beginning of civilization there have been the country-minded and the city-minded. In our modern life, however, there is much that increases the difference and much that stimulates the movement of the city-minded from the country. Present-day life with its complexity and its rapidity of change makes it difficult for one to get time to develop the active mind that makes appreciation possible. Our children precociously obtain adult experiences of quantitative character in an age of the automobile and moving pictures, and an unnatural craving is created for an environment of excitement, a life reveling in noise and change. Business, eager for gain, exploits this demand for stimulation, and social contagion spreads the restlessness of our population. The urban possibilities for stimulation are advertised as never before in the country by the press with its city point of view, by summer visitors, and by the reports of the successes of the most fortunate of those who have removed to the cities. In an age restless and mobile, with family traditions less strong, and transportation exceedingly cheap and inviting, it is hardly strange that so many of the young people are eager to leave the country, which they pronounce dead—as it literally is to them—for the lively town or city. It is by no means true that this removal always means financial betterment or that such is its motive. It is very significant to find so many farmers who have made their wealth in the country, or who are living on their rents, moving to town to enjoy life. May it not be that a new condition has come about in our day by the possibility that there are more who exhaust their environment in the country before habit with its conservative tendency is able to hold them on the farm? One who knows the discontent of urban-minded people who have continued to live in the country can hardly doubt that habit has tended to conserve the rural population in a way that it does not now. And one must not forget the pressure of the discontent of these urban-minded country parents upon their children. The faculty of any agricultural college is familiar with the farmer's son who has been taught never to return to the farm after graduation from college. That the city-minded preacher and teacher add their contribution to rural restlessness is common thought.

In the city the sharp contrast between labor and recreation increases without doubt the appeal of the city to many. The factory system not only satisfies the gregarious instinct, it also gives an absolute break between the working time and the period of freedom. In so far as labor represents monotony, it emphasizes the value of the hours free from toil. This contrast is often in the city the difference between very great monotony and excessive excitement after working hours. It has been pointed out often that city recreation shows the demand for great contrast between it and the fatigue of monotonous labor. So great a contrast between work and play—monotony and freedom—is not possible in the country environment. In the midst of country recreations there are likely to be suggestions of the preceding work or the work that is to follow. It is as if the city recreations were held in factories. Country places of play are usually in close contact with fields of labor. Often indeed the country town provides the worker with very little opportunity for recreation in any form. In rural places recreation cannot be had at stated periods. Weather or market conditions must have precedence over the holiday. Recreation, therefore, cannot be shared as a common experience to such an extent by country workers as is possible in the city. Since the rural population is very largely interested in the same farming problems, even conversation after the work of the day is less free from business concerns than is usually that of city people.

The difficulty of obtaining sharp contrast between work and play in the country no doubt is one reason for the ever-present danger of recourse to the sex instinct for stimulation. One source of excitement is always present ready to give temporary relief to the barren life of young people. Not only of the girl entering prostitution may it be said that with her the sex instinct is less likely "to be reduced in comparative urgency by the volume and abundance of other satisfactions."[10] The barrenness of country life to the girl growing into womanhood, hungry for amusement, is one large reason why the country furnishes so large a proportion of prostitutes to the city. "This civilizational factor of prostitution, the influence of luxury and excitement and refinement in attracting the girl of the people, as the flame attracts the moth, is indicated by the fact that it is the country dwellers who chiefly succumb to the fascination. The girls whose adolescent explosive and orgiastic impulses, sometimes increased by a slight congenital lack of nervous balance, have been latent in the dull monotony of country life and heightened by the spectacle of luxury acting on the unrelieved drudgery of town life, find at last their complete gratification in the career of a prostitute."[11]

Consideration of the part played in the rural exodus by the nature of the stimuli demanded by the individual for satisfaction or the hope of satisfaction in life suggests that the school is the most efficient instrument for rural betterment. The country environment contains sources of inexhaustible satisfaction for those who have the power to appreciate them. Farming cannot be monotonous to the trained agriculturist. It is full of dramatic and stimulating interests. Toil is colored by investigation and experiment. The by-products of labor are constant and prized beyond measure by the student and lover of nature. Even the struggle with opposing forces lends zest to the educated farmer's work. This does not mean that such a farmer runs a poet's farm, as did Burns, with its inevitable financial failure, but rather that the farmer is a skilled workman with an understanding and interpreting mind. If the farming industry, under proper conditions, could offer no satisfaction to great human instincts, it would be strange indeed when one remembers the long period that man has spent in the agricultural stage of culture. City dwellers in their hunt for stimulation are likely to face either the breakdown of physical vitality or the blunting of their sensibilities. Country joys, on the other hand, cost less in the nervous capital expended to obtain them. The urban worker, in thinking of his hours of freedom in sharp contrast with the time spent at his machine, forgets his constant temptation to use most of his surplus income in the satisfying of an unnatural craving for stimulation created by the conditions of his environment. This need not be true of the rural laborer and usually is not.

It is useless to deny the important and wholesome part that the urban life and the city-minded man play in the great social complex which we call modern civilization, but he who would advance country welfare may wisely agitate for country schools fitted to adjust the majority of country children to their environment, that they may as adults live in the country successful and contented lives. We need never fear having too few of the urban-minded or the able exploiters of talent who require the city as their field of activity. The present tendency makes necessary the development of country schools able to change the apparent emptiness of rural environment and the excessive appeal of urban excitement into a clear recognition on the part of a greater number of country people of the satisfying joys of rural stimulations.


[6] Gillette, "Constructive Rural Sociology," p. 42.

[7] Parmelee, "The Science of Human Behavior," p. 290.

[8] Royce, "Outlines of Psychology," p. 21.

[9] Ward, "Applied Sociology," pp. 169-98.

[10] Flexner, "Prostitution in Europe," p. 72.

[11] Ellis, "Studies in the Psychology of Sex," VI, 293.




The individualism of rural thinking has been universally recognized. It is this attitude of mind that has produced much of the strength of rural character and much of the weakness of rural society. That the closer contact of town and country and the rapidly developing urban mind require more social thinking upon the part of country people few can doubt. There are some people, however, who fear this socializing influence of urban thought in the country, because they believe that it will antagonize rural individualism in such a way as to destroy the fundamental distinction between rural and urban ethics.

As a matter of fact, however, people in these days obtain their sense of personal responsibility from their confidence in their social function, and this confidence is not developed by an excessive individualism. The farmer, like men in other occupations, needs to make realization of his social service the corner stone of his moral life. This world war has made every thinking person realize the unrivaled function that the farmer performs socially, and it is fortunate for the future of rural welfare that what has always been true is at last finding adequate appreciation. It is the farmer himself who has most suffered in the recent past from not realizing the value of his social contribution. The widespread thoughtless indifference to his social service has, at least in the oldest portions of the nation, given him an irritating social skepticism and driven him into a dissatisfying industrial isolation. We naturally antagonize what we do not share and the farmer when he has thought himself little recognized as a social agent has had his doubts about the justice and sanity of public opinion.

It was doubly unfortunate that this situation developed at a time when religion was called upon to make heroic changes in order to adapt itself to the needs of modern life. Formerly religion gave rural thinking a larger outlook than individual experience by providing an outstretching theological environment. Rather lately this environment has ceased to satisfy the needs of rural people. Religion has in the city become social in a way of which our fathers did not dream, and in the country it must find its vigor also by introducing the believer to his social environment in such a way as to emphasize social function, as much as personal inward obligations formerly were emphasized by theology.

We need, therefore, for the best interests of the country that the native sense of personal importance characteristic of rural thinking should be brought into contact with social need, so that it may function socially. Out of this movement will issue most happily a great social optimism in the country and individualism will lose nothing by being adjusted to modern social needs. The chief agencies that socialize rural thinking are the church, the school, the press, secret societies and clubs, and the industry of farming itself.

The effective rural church as a socializing agency has a commanding position. Even the inefficient church has more social influence than appears on the surface. In a considerable part of the area of social inspiration the Church has an absolute monopoly. The rural church, however, has been until recently too well content with an individual ethics that modern life has made obsolete. In our day healthy-minded religion is forcing men and women to see their duties in social forms. It is becoming clear that one cannot save his own soul in full degree if attention is concentrated upon personal salvation. The country ministry is beginning to feel the changing order of things and there is an increasing attempt to build up a socializing institution in the Church. Such a radical readjustment is not easily made, nor can we expect it to be a complete success. Ministers are puzzled how to work out the new program; they even at times become discouraged as a result of disappointments. Impatience may be made the cause of defeat in such a reform. It is much to ask of our generation that it turn about face morally. Yet the dangerous thing is sure to happen when no effort is made to influence the Church to assume a moral social function in the country. We think as a people in social terms and the church that remains backward in assuming social duties is bound to be repudiated by the program of vital Christianity. The church that is struggling to maintain the old-time individualism is driven first to isolation and later to social hostility and moral stagnation. The rural church will move on more smoothly if it can obtain better-trained leadership. The minister is not yet given an adequate social view in some of our theological seminaries, great as have been the changes in theological preparation during the last twenty years. It is natural enough that the more socially minded of our preachers should rapidly drift cityward, for in the urban centers they can obtain the sympathy and opportunities that they crave.

Sectarianism narrows the social viewpoint. It is true that it brings one church into fellowship with outside churches of the same denomination, but it makes for moral division rather than unity and magnifies differences rather than similarities in the community life. Sectarianism is very largely maintained by churches in small places. Where church competition is severe, and especially when church support is dwindling, the Church advertises its distinctiveness and enters upon a life-and-death grapple with its neighbor institutions. Of course this develops sectarianism and forbids the wide outlook in its teaching that is required of a successful socializing agency.

There is positive need of church federation if the rural church is to do its social service properly. The resources of a country community cannot be scattered if social enterprises are to be successfully carried on. These undertakings are of necessity expensive in proportion to community resources, both in equipment and leadership. Therefore, the religious work must be hampered in its social contribution unless there shall be a greater concentration of religious resources. This fact appears clearly with reference to work carried on by the rural church by means of a community-center or parish house. No form of service promises more for country welfare, but seldom can it be continued successfully year after year in a rural town or small village unless there is a concentration of the religious resources of the community.

Fortunately we have seen of late a vigorous effort to improve the rural schools and to make them more modern. The endeavor has been made to bring the schools more intimately into contact with their environment. This movement naturally tends to increase the effectiveness of the schools as a socializing agency because the viewpoint that guides the effort is one that brings into prominence the social relations of the schools. This progress is hampered here and there by a considerable inertia for which individualistic thinking is largely responsible. There are also positive limitations imposed upon the expansion of the school's social service due to the physical environment. Distance, the scattering of homes, and the small populations restrict the work of the most efficient consolidated school at some points where it tries to perform the largest possible social service.

As a matter of fact, however, the urban school is far less social than it wishes to be. Under the spell of our own recent educational experience it is difficult for us, who have to do with educating institutions, to see the radical changes that modern life demands of the schools and colleges. We add socializing efforts without removing the individual viewpoint that has gotten into school studies and professional habits. The failures of the city schools are less apparent because the atmosphere of urban life is itself socializing. The walk or ride to the city school is likely to make some contribution of socializing character even to the unobservant child. It is still true that the education outside of the schools, the spontaneous instruction provided by the children themselves in addition to the publicly constructed school, impresses itself most upon the childish mind. The urban school is greatly strengthened in its social function by this by-product of school attendance. It is aided also by the fact that the public is more critical respecting its service. In the country we find the reverse. The by-products of education deepen character, but on the whole tend toward individualism. The community also is not asking for a large social contribution from the schools, and this loss of public pressure toward social effort is in the country very serious.

The consolidated school, modern in equipment and in spirit, adds greatly to the effectiveness of rural education as a socializing agency. In spite of limitations inherent in rural environment, the consolidated school is by instinct social, and its community service is therefore being enriched by its successful experience. It will increasingly relate its work to the needs of the community and to the demands of the home and will add to its socializing function by assuming new lines of service. Large as is its present contribution, in the near future it will be much greater. The consolidated school has enabled rural education to assume new undertakings and this is most fortunate, for the old type of rural school has about reached the limit of its social service.

It is safe to assume that neither in the city nor country are we likely to overestimate the influence of the press. The daily and weekly paper have a wide circulation among rural people and furnish a source of penetrating and persistent social influence all the more significant because the readers are little conscious of what they receive from their reading. Into the most remote places the paper goes and is received with avidity. The appeal is to human interest and is based upon the entire hierarchy of instincts. No agency more successfully socializes. It affords a mental connection with distant places that is a good antidote for the physical loneliness in the country, which many living there experience. It prevents the stagnation that comes from concentration upon the interests of the day and neighborhood, for it draws the attention of the reader out into the world of business and affairs. It keeps country people from a too great class character by charging the rural mind with the effects of modern civilization and of necessity brings rural and urban people into a more sympathetic relation. If it invites some to the city—as it certainly does—it also makes the country a more satisfying and safer environment for those who remain. Fortunately the papers are themselves sensitive to modern thought and therefore attempt propaganda of a constructive social character. If the appeal to human interests causes these educational efforts to err respecting scientific accuracy, it is nevertheless true that in spite of this fault the articles have a beneficent effect in protecting the country from the excessive conservatism that isolation tends to bring. The newspaper is the great gregarious meeting place of the minds of men and therefore it serves to develop mental association in a most intense manner. The weekly paper also serves a large constituency in the country and on the whole probably socializes in a more profound degree than the daily. The weekly permits the rural reader to associate with the leaders of popular thought and builds up that enthusiastic conviction which leadership always obtains. The leaders of the country districts in this manner come into fellowship with the thinking of urban men of influence. The farm paper is not to be overlooked in a survey of the influence of the press upon country life. Its little value as a professional journal because of its unscientific character is in many instances a great handicap upon the progress of agriculture, but even when these papers fail in having real worth for the industry of farming they do extend professional fellowship by encouraging harmony and enthusiasm. And as a whole the value of these papers, aside from their socializing influence, is increasing as they are more and more influenced by scientific investigation.

Secret societies and benevolent orders have a large following among rural and village people. They are popular because they perform a very valuable social service. No institution carries on its social function with greater success, and for this reason it is rather strange that rural sociology has not studied these organizations more seriously. Because they afford fellowship, recreation, and comradeship, their appeal is very great indeed to those who feel the hardships of physical isolation. These societies do not limit their usefulness to community welfare in a narrow sense, for they tie their following to similar organizations in other localities and make possible an exchange of interests that socializes in a marked degree. It is true that each serves a limited number of people in the community, but the cleavage is along natural lines and does not provoke feuds or neighborhood hostility.

The one great danger that they create in some small places is the fact that there are so many of them that they capture nearly every evening of the week and make it difficult for any community-wide enterprise to obtain a free evening to bring all the people together. It is also true that some of them fail to take a serious interest in the community welfare, being content merely to enjoy the fellowship that they make possible.

This latter criticism cannot be justly made respecting the rural society strongest in the eastern section of the country—the Patrons of Husbandry. This society, popularly known as the Grange, affords contact with outside organizations, but it also takes a very practical and sane interest in its own community. No movement has done more to conserve the best of country life; no organization has in the country maintained so sincere a democracy. Unlike most secret societies, it has made a family appeal and has interested husband, wife, and children. It has taken a constructive attitude toward legislation of importance to farmers, and rural life has certainly become greatly indebted to its efficient socializing efforts.

The enterprise most successfully socializing country life is the business of farming itself. The farmer, who once maintained so large a degree of economic independence, has of necessity become a man of commerce, as seriously concerned and nearly as consciously interested in business conditions as the city merchant. This situation is one of the burdens of farming. The farmer must both produce and sell his crop. Lack of skill in either undertaking may mean failure.

Economic pressure forces attention. The pain penalty, the product of bad adjustment to the demands of the occasion, commands respect. The farmer feels this pressure of economic conditions just as any other man of business. He is not free to isolate himself and enjoy the economic security of fifty years ago. Any indifference that he may assume toward the business world is likely to bring him economic punishment which will teach him his economic dependence as no argument could. It follows that the farmer's attention is driven from family and neighborhood affairs out into the modern world with all its complexities. He thinks in social terms, because from experience he has learned his social dependence in matters that concern the pocketbook. With painful evidences of his economic interrelations in mind, he tends to become tolerant regarding movements that attempt to socialize his community life. He realizes that the independence of his fathers has gone not to return and that his happiness as well as his prosperity depend upon his opportunity to become well established in social relations.

No experience in the business of farming is so impressive as that of membership in a cooperative enterprise. Whether the undertaking fails or succeeds, it certainly teaches the member the meaning of social interrelations. Often it fails because the mental and moral preparation for successful working together is lacking. This is not strange, for rural life in the past has done little to build up a social viewpoint and the strain placed upon individual purposes in any cooperative effort is necessarily great. Cooperation is never so easy as it sounds in theory, but economic conditions are making it necessary in many rural localities if farming is to continue a profitable industry. Under pressure the farmers will develop the ability to cooperate. In this they are like other people, for cooperation seldom comes until circumstances press hard upon people who hopelessly try to meet individually conditions that can be successfully coped with only by a cooperative attack. We therefore must not pass hasty judgment upon the failures in cooperative efforts among country people. All such experiences have some part in the better socializing of rural thinking.

Without opposition to those who are placing emphasis upon other lines of rural advance, as social workers, we must keep ever before rural leadership the enormous importance that social conditions have for the prosperity, wholesomeness, sanity, and happiness of rural life. Every agency that has social value for country life must realize to the fullest degree possible its socializing functions if it covets for itself fundamental social service.




What will be the influence of this world war upon rural life? This question is constantly before the mind of thoughtful people who are lovers of country life and interested in rural prosperity. Of course it is much too soon to answer this question in detail or with certainty. It is true, nevertheless, that already we can see evidences of the influence the present war is having upon the conditions of country life. It is also possible, perhaps, to discover the direction in which other influences, born of the war, are likely to have significance for rural welfare. It is certainly most unreasonable for anyone to suppose that this terrible war of the nations will not greatly influence country conditions and country people.

One result is not a matter for argument. The great war has forced public attention upon the problems of food production, and, as a consequence, the social importance of the work of country people has been finally revealed, so that even the least thoughtful has some realization of the indispensable industrial contribution rendered to society by those who till the soil.

Has this nation ever before had such a serious realization of the social importance of the agricultural industry? The prosperity of agriculture has become the nation's concern, because these war days are revealing how certainly farming is the basic enterprise of industry. And our experiences are those of the entire civilized world. It is not at all strange, therefore, that thoughtful students and public administrators the world over are earnestly studying how to foster the farming interests, not only during the war but also after it is over.

Before August, 1914, there were few people who realized that, under the conditions of modern welfare, one question of greatest national importance is how nearly the nation at conflict can produce the food necessary for its existence. It is unlikely that the nations will soon forget this lesson that they have been taught by the ordeals of this world war. Agricultural dependence is for any nation a very serious military weakness.

Nations that cannot feed themselves must first of all use their military power to make it possible to import the needed food. This, of course, is a military handicap, for it removes military resources from the strategic points for defence or attack, that lines of communication with other nations that are furnishing food may be kept open. The more nearly nations are able to obtain from their own cultivated land sufficient food stuff, the more effectively they can use their army and navy in strategic military service.

It does not seem possible that this great lesson can be forgotten by our generation. Perhaps this is the largest result that the war will yield within the field of rural interests. National leaders as never before will consider every possible method by which farming can be made profitable, satisfying, and socially appreciated. This policy will be undertaken not merely for the sake of the farmer, but also as a means of providing national safety.

The war already has disclosed the tendency of national policy to regard the uses made of farming land as a matter for social concern. In England, France, and Germany especially we have had, as a result of war conditions, public control exercised regarding the uses made of private land. Certain crops have been outlawed. Others have been stimulated and encouraged by the action of the government. It has proved wise to establish this control over the uses made of productive land. Of course, war has furnished the motive and made possible the success of this practical public control of land resources. Indeed, before the war, no one could have imagined that England, for example, could have been led to so great a public control of the uses of productive land as has already resulted from the war.

Already we find some people advocating that the government continue after the war to exercise a degree of such control over the uses made of private lands and it attempt to conserve national safety by stimulating the production of staple crops. At least for a time it will be difficult to win converts to the proposition that the public has no interest in what people who own productive land may do with their property. By education, if not by legislation, the wiser nations are likely to attempt consciously to direct production for social welfare. Probably some nations will not hesitate to subsidize the cultivation of certain crops in order to keep agriculture in a condition of preparedness for the trials of war.

Whenever the war ceases, one of the problems that will immediately face all the warring nations will be how best to get great numbers of soldiers and sailors back into productive industry. The task will be the largest of its kind in all human history. We find in Europe those who advocate that the government should place many of the soldiers and sailors back upon the land by making practicable a system of small farms. To some this appears the wise way to help the partially disabled soldiers and sailors. The problem of men suffering from nervous instability deserves special attention. Many who have seen service will return with slight nervous difficulties that will handicap them in certain forms of urban industry. Their best protection from serious disorders will be in many cases opportunity to engage in agriculture. At this point the question of competition with experienced farmers who suffer from no disability naturally arises. Experience may prove that the government can wisely give financial assistance to those placed on the land, by government aid in one form or another, to protect them in their undertakings.

It has been pointed out by European students that the small farm is not likely to increase much the production of the staple crops, since in Europe garden truck is more easily handled by those who cultivate small farms. Because of this fact, the effort of the government to encourage the growing of staple crops for purposes of national safety is likely to be independent of the movement to place soldiers and sailors on the land. In Europe the success of the small farms appears to be conditioned largely by the ability of the land owners to cooperate. Stress will have to be placed upon the development of the spirit of cooperation, and this, fortunately, will have a social influence in addition to its economic advantages. How much governments may do to encourage the building up of efficient cooperative enterprises is more or less problematical, but the experience of Denmark teaches that more can be done than has been done by most governments.

It is interesting to notice how the war has stimulated cooperation in Europe. None of the countries illustrates this more than Russia. January 1, 1914, there were about 10,000,000 members of cooperative societies or about 5.8 per cent of the total population. In 1916 this membership had increased to 15,000,000. Counting in the families of the cooperators, it is estimated that 67,500,000 people in Russia are interested in cooperative enterprises, or about 39 per cent of the population. We find that development of cooperation in consumption has been in Russia directly related to the pressure for food due to war conditions. The large majority of Russian cooperative societies are rural.[12] Other countries, notably England and France, have also felt the influence of the war in increasing the development of cooperation.

In America we are still too distant from the bitter consequences of war to feel the need of planning for the care of the crippled and nervously injured soldiers. Imagination will not allow us to picture the returning of the soldiers as a problem. Our remarkable success in getting the soldiers back into industry after the Civil War gives us a strong sense of security when we do consider the matter. Probably if the war continues for several years our problem after this war will be more serious than it was in 1865. In any case we shall have a considerable number of those who, because of physical or nervous injuries, will require public assistance of a constructive character. If such men can be made fully or even partly self-supporting by being placed on land it will help both them and the food productiveness of the nation. Of course, this form of public aid, like every other method of giving assistance, has its political and economic dangers. The prosperity of other farmers must not be disturbed. So many interests are involved that the entire problem demands time for serious discussion, so that we may not be troubled by hasty, half-baked legislation.

Anyone who has visited an army cantonment has felt the gregarious atmosphere of army service. For a few men this is the most trying experience connected with the service. Others find in it the supreme satisfaction. Every soldier is influenced by it more or less. What will it mean to the soldier who has come into the army from the small country place? We know, as a result of what social workers among the soldiers tell us, that the country boy is often very sensitive to this enormous change from an isolated rural neighborhood to the closest contact possible in a community which is literally a great city. By necessity the recruits from the country are forced into the conditions of city life, into an environment that is more gregarious than any normal urban center experiences. What result is this likely to have upon the future social needs of the men from rural districts? It is to be expected that many of them will not be content again in the country. They will have developed cravings that the country-life environment cannot satisfy. For this reason it is not likely that the placing of former soldiers and sailors on the land will have in any country all the success desired. Much will depend upon who are selected to go into the country. On the other hand, it is safe to predict that this war will add momentum to the city-drift of our population and increase the number of those who form the mobile class of rural laborers.


[12] International Review of Agricultural Economics, August, 1917.


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