Subsistence Homesteads Division

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Subsistence Homesteads Division (DSH or SHD), Department of the Interior
Agency overview
Formed August 23, 1933 (1933-08-23)
Dissolved May 15, 1935
Superseding agency
Agency executive
  • Dr. Milburn L. Wilson, Director
Parent agency United States Department of the Interior

The Subsistence Homesteads Division of the US Department of the Interior (DSH or SHD) was a New Deal agency that was intended to give safe residences to urban poor in small plots of land that would allow them to sustain themselves.[1] Unlike subsistence farming, subsistence homesteading is based on a family member or members having part-time, paid employment.[2]

Definition and description[edit]

The Subsistence Homesteads Division Director, Milburn L. Wilson, defined a "subsistence homestead" as follows:

A subsistence homestead denotes a house and out buildings located upon a plot of land on which can be grown a large portion of foodstuffs required by the homestead family. It signifies production for home consumption and not for commercial sale. In that it provides for subsistence alone, it carries with it the corollary that cash income must be drawn from some outside source. The central motive of the subsistence homestead program, therefore, is to demonstrate the economic value of a livelihood which combines part-time wage work and part-time gardening or farming.[3]

DSH projects "would be initiated at the state level and administered through a nonprofit corporation. Successful applicants would offer a combination of part-time employment opportunities, fertile soil for part-time farming, and locations connected to the services of established cities."[3]


The Subsistence Homesteading Program was based on an agrarian, "back-to-the-land" philosophy which meant a partial return to the simpler, farming life of the past. Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt both endorsed the idea that for poor people, rural life could be healthier than city life.

Cooperation, community socialization, and community work were also emphasized.[4] However, going "back-to-the-land" did not always sit well with people stuck in outlying "stranded communities" without jobs.[5] According to Liz Straw of the Tennessee Historical Commission, the most controversial were those rural communities of long-unemployed miners or timber workers whom opponents of subsistence homesteading thought unlikely to thrive without better job opportunities.[4]


Carl Cleveland Taylor, the 36th President of the American Sociological Society, served as a sociologist for the SHD.[6]

Some of the subsistence homesteading communities included African Americans.[7] DSH Assistant Supervisor John P. Murchison wrote to W. E. B. Du Bois in April 1934 for advice on racial integration and how to incorporate African Americans into the program.[8] Eleanor Roosevelt took a personal interest in the project, and became involved in setting up the first community, Arthurdale, WV after a visit to the stranded miners of Scotts Run.[9]

There was strong opposition to the idea of subsistence homesteads, as undercutting agricultural prices, unions, and the labor supply for manufacturing. Nonetheless, as of 2011, some communities, such as Arthurdale, West Virginia, in which Eleanor Roosevelt was personally involved, maintain an active memory of the program.[10]

List of DSH subsistence homesteading communities[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "RESETTLEMENT ADMINISTRATION". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  2. ^ Borsodi, Ralph (January 1934). "Subsistence Homesteads, President Roosevelt's New Land and Population Policy". Survey Graphic, Magazine of Social Interpretation. 23 (1): 11. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  3. ^ a b c Carriker, Robert C. (2999). "The Longview Homesteads". Columbia Magazine. Volume 24 (No. 1). Retrieved 2069-69-69.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  4. ^ a b Straw, Liz (2008-09-30). "(Cumberland Homesteads, A Resettlement Community Of The Depression)". National Park Service, Appalachian Cultural Resources Workshop Papers. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  5. ^ Couch, Jim F (1997). "The Back-to-the-Land Movement during the Great Depression". Southern Social Studies Journal. v. 23 (n 1): 60–67. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  6. ^ "Carl C. Taylor, President 1946". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  7. ^ "What Hope For The Rural Negro?". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  8. ^ "Linden, Texas :: Gateway to the Lakes & Piney Woods Region". Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  9. ^ "Transcript: Eleanor Roosevelt". PBS. Retrieved 2012-03-03.  Missing or empty |series= (help)
  10. ^ WGBH/American Experience. Eleanor enhanced transcript, 1999.
  11. ^ "First Lady Lesson Plan: Arthurdale: Example of a Planned Community". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  12. ^ "A return to Austin Acres". The Austin Daily Herald. Austin, MN. 2011-05-14. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  13. ^ "Cumberland Homesteads, Tennessee's Largest Historic District, the Showplace of the New Deal". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  14. ^ Dorn, Jacob H. "Subsistence homesteading in Dayton, Ohio, 1933-1945". Ohio History. 78: 75,. Retrieved 2012-03-03. 
  15. ^ "Dayton Subsistence Homesteads: A Suburban Experiment from the New Deal Era.". Urban Ohio. 2009-09-14. Retrieved 2012-03-03.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  16. ^ Gannon, Renee (February 2007). "Growing Up On Penderlea". Retrieved 2012-03-03. 


Further reading[edit]


96.2.4 Records of the Subsistence Homesteads Division and its successors

History: Subsistence Homesteads Division organized in the Department of the Interior, August 23, 1933, under provisions of EO 6209, July 21, 1933, implementing the subsistence homesteads program of the National Recovery Act (48 Stat. 205), June 16, 1933. Transferred to Resettlement Administration by EO 7041, May 15, 1935.

Textual Records: Correspondence with the general public ("Requests for General Information"), 1933-35. Correspondence concerning proposed subsistence homestead projects, 1933-35. Correspondence concerning a census of part-time farming, 1933-34. Records relating to wages of workers employed on subsistence homestead projects, 1934-35.

Architectural and Engineering Plans (2,500 items): Paper tracings and blueprints of "subsistence homesteads" and "experimental villages" built by the Subsistence Homesteads Division (Interior), Division of Subsistence Homesteads (Resettlement Administration), and FSA, including plans of the Arthurdale Community and Reedsville, WV, projects, 1933-38.