Great Books of the Great PlainsTM


Study Guide for Growing Up with the Town, by Dorothy Schwieder


The Author

Dorothy Hubbard Schwieder, professor emeritus from Iowa State University, is a specialist in the state history of Iowa. She has penned such titles as Iowa: The Middle Land and Black Diamonds. Growing Up With the Town is part scholarship, part self-ascribed personal indulgence, and a relatively new way of examining rural life on the Plains.

The Book

Growing Up With the Town is Hubbard’s examination of her girlhood home of Presho, South Dakota, located in the harsh West River country of that state. It is a blending of personal narrative and history based on family records and recollections, local newspapers, and oral histories. Using such research, Hubbard has re-created the life of Presho to show that people and the environment interacted to create “Preshoite” culture via a form of familial history. This focus on prairie town life is a relatively new approach to historical writing with few practitioners aside from Paula Nelson (also discussing the West River country in books like After the West Was Won and The Prairie Winnows out its Own) and John C. Hudson (author of Plains Country, Towns). While works dealing with rural farm and ranch life abound, books dealing town life on the plains are rare.

Some Questions

What type of role did the Milwaukee Railroad play in the settlement of Presho? How did this affect the social and economic patterns of the town? Were such small rural towns, as Schwieder remembers her girlhood, sleepy, sedentary places or highly mobile hubs of commerce?


What are the differences between 1st generation international immigrants settling in eastern North Dakota and 2nd generation American born immigrants settling farther west? How did towns form, and what part did factors  like chain migration and churches play in town development?


What role did the federal government play in settling areas like Presho? How did this role evolve during the depression? What social ramifications did this have on the people, including children, of Presho?


What role did “work” play in Presho? Is Hubbard’s interpretation of this accurate concerning the creation of work ethic? What did people do for recreation? What are the differences between rural farm life, rural town life, and metro city life concerning the role of work during the Hubbards’ childhoods? How has this changed when compared to modern life in small-town America?


Can Growing Up With the Town be considered a formal work of history? Would it have been considered such fifty years ago? How does this type of approach represent the “democratization of history,” and why is this important?


         Review of Growing Up with the Town by Tom Isern

         Dorothy Hubbard Schwieder Papers at ISU

         “Talking History” Interview with Schwieder

         Growing Up with the Town at Iowa State University Press


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