The Dust Bowl, an Overview (Download Included)

Dust Bowl main

If you’re looking for a brief (650ish words) summary on a topic in history you’re in the right place! You can find reading passages for U.S. History and World History topics and can download a PDF copy for yourself. If you need a digital copy there is a Google link provided as well.

This is an ongoing project, so stop back frequently and see what we’ve added. When I say “we” I mean my  brother and I. I have been teaching social studies for 19 years and my brother, Joe, is an historian. Between the 2 of us we create these reading passages. 


Below is a picture of each page. Click on the link to download your PDF copy.

If you’re interested in some close read lesson ideas for teaching with this resource this article will help.


John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath, a classic American novel, about a migrant (going place to place, especially to find work) family during the Dust Bowl.  The Dust Bowl was a national environmental and economic catastrophe during the 1930s.  


During the 1930s, multiple years of severe drought (shortage of rain) led to large areas of soil in the Midwest to change to dust.  High winds blew the dust to form great dust storms, from Texas to Nebraska (dust even showing up in the East Coast), millions of acres of topsoil blown away. The region affected as well as the  period itself became known as “The Dust Bowl.”  

Various agricultural policies of the time had led to overuse of the land, including pulling up grasses that helped to hold down the soil.  Homestead acts also opened up the land, often to inexperienced farmers, at a low price in return for the promise to farm the plots.  Rising wheat prices during World War I and the 1920s led to increased cultivation as farmers tried to profit from the demand. Oversupply led to lower prices, and farmers continued to work the tired soil as they tried to break even.  Often the land was already in arid (dry) areas.  


Life in the Dust Bowl became more and more impossible to survive.  Crops and livestock died, leading to not only poverty but also  malnutrition.  On April 14, 1935 alone, the worst dust storm (Black Sunday) resulted in as much as three million tons of topsoil to blowing off the Great Plains.  The dust itself caused great suffering, including many deaths from pneumonia and other ailments.  

The Dust Bowl led to two and half million to leave their homes, searching for a better life.  Since so many came from Oklahoma, these people were nicknamed “Okies.” They often travelled as far as California looking for work, and was often suffered discrimination, including attempts to keep them out as undesirables. 

New Deal Policies 

Various efforts, including national in scope, were made to help those harmed by the Dust Bowl and address its environmental effects.  

The New Deal overall had expanded the reach of the federal government, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a government relief work effort that in part involved efforts to plant trees to protect the soil.  Various soil conservation methods were also promoted and relief efforts provided to help those suffering from the Dust Bowl.  It was part of an overall expansion of the federal government’s role in agricultural policy, traditionally seen as more of a local effort.   

Image result for dust bowl
Family heading to California


Government policies helped to lead to recovery of much of the affected land by the 1940s. Key to the end of the Dust Bowl was the end of the drought. The migration of the people helped to increase the population and development of California.  It also showed the importance of environmental security.  

Symbolic of the changing nature of the nation as whole was a Supreme Court ruling (Edwards v. California), which struck down an anti-Okie law in California, which tried to block migration of poor people into the state.  The Supreme Court held this was an unconstitutional restraint of interstate commerce and that the “needy has become the common responsibility and concern of the whole nation.”

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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