Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Mr. Roosevelt's Cotton Mattress Program in Chariton

Kansas State Historical Society photograph

I had no idea until this week ---- when I happened upon an article headlined "Mattress Plan Started Again" on the front page of The Chariton Leader of Aug. 19, 1941 --- that rural Lucas County families then still living in relative poverty due to the Great Depression had manufactured more than 700 mattresses for themselves during that year.

The Cotton Mattress Program was one among many Depression-era federal strategies with multiple purposes --- to market and use surplus commodities, in this case cotton from the South; to benefit the rural poor; and to provide practical instruction in a skill, mattress making. Its sponsors were the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the Surplus Marketing Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Service acting through Iowa State University Extension administered at the time by local Farm Bureau councils and offices.

In Lucas County, publicity for the program commenced during December of 1940 and during the opening months of 1941, 216 participants produced 360 mattresses. Because of the popularity of the program, it resumed during August of 1941 and by the end of September an additional 363 mattresses had been produced. Here's the text of the Leader article announcing the second round of mattress making:


The cotton mattress program has been resumed in Lucas county.

The local AAA office has received 3,600 yards of ticking and 18,000 pounds of cotton to be used in making 360 mattresses. All families in Lucas county but outside of Chariton whose net income last year was $500 are eligible to participate.

Each family must make its own mattress since the program is educational as well as providing families with mattresses, leaders pointed out.

A few more applications are to be accepted at either the Farm Bureau or AAA offices, both located on the south side of the square. Cost of each mattress is $1 which pays for supervision, needles, thread and building. All other material is furnished free by the surplus marketing corporation.


The community work center where the mattresses were produced was described as "the old recreation hall" a block and a half northwest of the northwest corner of the Chariton square. John Shelton was work center supervisor and Wilma Werts, Farm Bureau office assistant, was in charge of collecting $1 per mattress from participating families. There were 12 work stations.

Representatives from participating families helped one another in actual construction of the mattresses --- as a rule two people from two families were divided into groups of four to produce each one. Eligible families received material to make one full-size double-bed mattress for each two persons in the family, but the total could not exceed three mattresses to a family.

The program was considered a success, but the United States was plunged into full-scale war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, so it was not resumed during 1942 or thereafter.

I found no photographs related to this footnote to Lucas County history, so borrowed this one from the Kansas State Historical Society. It depicts representatives of two families working on a mattress in Columbus, Kansas, under the program, also during 1941.

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