Lesson Plan

Alaska’s Matanuska Colony

a dozen kids and a dog posed in front of wall tents

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Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Subject:
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.3, 11-12.RH.6, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.8
Additional Standards:
US History Era 8
Standard 1: The causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society
Standard 2: How the New Deal addressed the Great Depression, transformed American federalism, and initiated the welfare state
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

What did the New Deal Resettlement Program Mean for Alaska?

How did the New Deal change the relationship between the federal government and U.S. citizens?

Objective

1. To understand the effects of the Great Depression and drought of the early 20th Century
2. To describe the New Deal resettlement program
3. To explain the challenges of establishing a New Deal colony in Alaska
4. To plan and conduct a local history project related to a historic site
5. To plan and conduct a history project related to a New Deal Resettlement community
6. To explain how changes in the use of a historic building over time relate to changes in the community where it is located.

Background

This lesson can be in U.S. history, social studies, and other curricula that examine The Great Depression and New Deal.

Preparation

This lesson is based primarily on Matanuska Colony Historic District National Register Nomination, the Settlement and Economic Development of Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley Multiple Property Nomination, and primary sources detailing the New Deal in Alaska. It was completed by National Park Service Historian Darrell Lewis and edited by the Teaching with Historic Places staff. Other lessons related to the Matanuska Colony include “Mat-Su Colonists Unit Lesson Plan: Understanding by Design,” a lesson plan for fourth graders designed by Anchorage, Alaska teacher Carla Goldberg, that is available online.

Materials for Students
The materials listed below can either be used directly on the computer or can be printed, photocopied, and distributed to students.

  1. Two maps showing the Matanuska Colony in Palmer, Alaska;
  2. Two readings about the Matanuska Colony;
  3. Three historic photographs and two modern photographs showing various scenes of the Matanuska Colony.

Visiting the Site
The Matanuska Colony Community Center and Colony House Museum are located in Palmer, Alaska. Located at 316 East Elmwood Avenue in Palmer, the Colony House Museum is an original colony farm house and has great information about the Matanuska Colony.  While a few original farms remain, they are privately owned and not open for tours.

Materials

Maps, photos, and reading assignments, as well as student worksheets.

Download Matanuska Colony Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan Materials

Lesson Hook/Preview

Two hundred struggling Midwestern families made the long journey from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan to southcentral Alaska’s Matanuska Valley to start a new life in 1935.  Many had little time to prepare for the two-week trip to the northern territory. Alaska’s mystique and the long distance that the Matanuska colonists had to travel captivated the nation.  During the difficult years of the Great Depression the nation was hungry for encouraging and inspiring news and the story of the Matanuska colonists was an uplifting adventure for a struggling nation.  

Like the gold seekers at the turn of earlier years the colonists were regarded as pioneers on their way to a distant and mysterious land to carve a new life “out of the wilderness.” Newspapers called them “Alaskan Pioneers” and “New Pioneers,” referred to their journey north as the “new American pioneer pilgrimage,” and to the Matanuska Colony as the “pioneer colony.”

The Matanuska Colony was one of nearly 100 resettlement communities constructed by the federal government as part of the New Deal.  It was established to give displaced Midwestern farmers and their families a new start in Alaska. The resettlement community brought large scale farming to Alaska for the first time. Today, the historic community center and a number of scattered farms remain as testaments to the desperate measures taken during the Great Depression to relieve poverty.  

This lesson emphasizes the challenges of establishing a New Deal resettlement community in the Territory of Alaska in 1935, and looks at its successes and challenges. Historic places like the Matanuska Colony Community Center provide evidence of the New Deal resettlement program, a program designed to move farmers off of sub-marginal farmland and onto productive farmland. The materials here introduce students to these topics through examination of primary sources and skill-building activities.

Procedure

Print or digitally share the lesson materials, and have your students proceed through the associated worksheets.

Additional Resources

Related Lesson Plans

Other lesson plans related to the New Deal theme include:

 

The Great Depression and World War II, 1929 – 1945: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1933-1945

This Library of Congress websit for teachers uses primary sources to help students learn about the New Deal.

 

The Matanuska Colony: Alaska’s New Deal

The story of the Matanuska Colony (10 minute video), using archival photographs. Produced by Gabe Bailey, a teacher in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.

 

Official Photographic Album: Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corp. ~ Matanuska Colonization

A photo album on Alaska's Digital Archives website includes over 900 images documenting the establishment of the Matanuska Colony.  The original photographs were taken by Willis T. Geisman, official photographer, Alaska Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, Palmer, Alaska, 1935.

 

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection

The photographs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. This project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). In total, the collection consists of more than 175,000 black-and-white and color film negatives were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time. The collection is held by the Library of Congress.

 

African-American Resettlement Communities—Supplementary Resources

In 1930, two-thirds of all African-American farmers were either sharecroppers or day laborers, and 77% did not own their own land.  Initially, the New Deal hurt African-American Farmers. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration’s policy of paying land owners to plow up cotton fields or leave them fallow caused about 200,000 African-American owners, sharecroppers, and workers to be displaced.  When this became apparent some of these policies were reversed and others implemented to help relieve poverty among African-American farmers. One of these was the resettlement program, which resettled approximately 2,000 African-American families into about 20 resettlement communities, during it’s nearly ten years in existence.  The sources listed below, while not exhaustive, provide some background on this part of the New Deal.

 

The History House Museum

The History House Museum, located in Tillery, North Carolina, is a former resettlement home of the Tillery Resettlement Farm.  Established in 1935, on former plantation land, Tillery Resettlement Farm was one of the largest resettlement projects in North Carolina and one of 20 African-American resettlement projects.  At its peak Tillery Resettlement Farm provided homes to approximately 150 African American families.

 

Alabama Pioneers

Alabama Pioneers is a website dedicated to the history of the state of Alabama.  The website has a number of pages dedicated to Gee's Bend African American resettlement community established in 1937.

 

The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program

Holley, Donald. "The Negro in the New Deal Resettlement Program." Agricultural History 45, no. 3 (1971): 179-93.

Pictures: Remembering "Moving In" day on Nov. 1, 1937 at historic Aberdeen Gardens

Aberdeen Gardens was established near Newport News, Virginia in 1934 for 158 low income African American families. A Daily Press pictorial article includes dozens of photos documenting the development of the community.

 

Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection

The photographs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1944. It includes a large collection of photos of African-American resettlement communities such as Gee’s Bend, Flint River Farms, Pembroke Farms, and others.  This project was headed for most of its existence by Roy E. Stryker, who guided the effort in a succession of government agencies: the Resettlement Administration (1935-1937), the Farm Security Administration (1937-1942), and the Office of War Information (1942-1944). In total, the collection of more than 175,000 black-and-white and color film negatives were printed for FSA-OWI use and those that were not printed at the time. The collection is held by the Library of Congress.
 

Related Lessons or Education Materials

Putting It All Together: Activities

Post-Lesson Activity 1: Group Research Report on New Deal Resettlement Community


Ask students to select a community from the list of places on the National New Deal Preservation Association website Note that resettlement communities were not established in every state and some states had more than one. Divide the class into teams of three to five students. Each team should select one community, conduct research into its history, and prepare a report on the site. The format of the final report may be a written essay, an oral presentation, a poster or computer slideshow. If students are unsure about where to start their research, here are some possibilities:
 
  • Go to the public library and check out the history and genealogical resources there, as well as vertical files, periodicals that may be on microfilm or microfiche, and Internet sources about the community.
  • Contact the historical society, historical preservation commission, and state historic preservation office in the state or community for information about the site.
  • Determine if a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places exists for your site. For more information, visit the National Register of Historic Places.

When finished with their research, students may offer to make a presentation of their findings to the historical society or local historic preservation group. They might want to send copies of their reports to interested groups, especially if there is an ongoing effort to nominate the site to the National Register.

 

Post-Lesson Activity 2: Group Research Report on Local Historic Place


Ask students to investigate the area in which they live and compile a list of historic places.  Divide the class into teams of three to five students. Each team should select one place, conduct research into its history, and prepare a presentation on the site.  The format of the final report may be an oral presentation, a poster or computer slideshow. If students are unsure about where to start their research, here are some possibilities:
 
  • Contact the local historical society and/or historic preservation commission in your community for information about the site.
  • Find out if the site is open to the public and plan a visit.
  • Go to your local public library and check out the history and genealogical resources there, as well as vertical files, local periodicals that may be on microfilm or microfiche, and Internet sources about the site.
  • Determine if a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places exists for your site. For more information, visit the National Register of Historic Places.
 

Post-Lesson Activity 3: Understanding Local History through Historic Buildings


Identify buildings in your community that are used in a way that is different from their original purpose. Have each student create a display using historical and current photographs of a local building. Students should provide captions for the photos, explain how the building has changed over time, and how the building is being used today. Students should present their display in class and give an explanation of what the building tells them about their community's past. Have students respond to the following questions.

Do you think it is important to preserve historic places? Why or why not? How would you decide which buildings to preserve in your community? Contact the current owner of the building or business in that building and coordinate with them to display the students’ projects or offer the exhibits for display at the local library, museum, or historical society.
 

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Last updated: April 2, 2019