Big Spring Autumn

Truman State Univ Press

The spectacular natural wonder called Big Spring near the Current River is hidden away in Missouri's Ozarks Hills. Hired to do a historical study of the state park at Big Spring, Bonnie Stepenoff also kept a personal journal and created an engaging narrative about hills, hillbillies, poverty, and the landscape making people what they are. She weaves the local and natural history of the area into her own story of growing up in the hills of north-eastern Pennsylvania, where there was also great beauty and great poverty. With little sentimentality, Stepenoff pays attention to the parallels in the nature and culture of the Ozarks with her past. She makes a case for preserving this natural beauty and the culture surrounding it for the lessons we can learn.
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About the author

Bonnie Stepenoff is professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University. She is the author of three books, including From French Community to Missouri Town: Ste. Genevieve in the Nineteenth Century (2006), Thad Snow: A Life of Social Reform in the Missouri Bootheel (2003), and Their Fathers' Daughters: Silk Mill Workers in Northeastern Pennsylvania (1999).

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Additional Information

Publisher
Truman State Univ Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2008
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Pages
160
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ISBN
9781931112864
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Collections / American / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Bonnie Stepenoff
Joe Garagiola remembers playing baseball with stolen balls and bats while growing up on the Hill. Chuck Berry had run-ins with police before channeling his energy into rock and roll. But not all the boys growing up on the rough streets of St. Louis had loving families or managed to find success. This book reviews a century of history to tell the story of the “lost” boys who struggled to survive on the city’s streets as it evolved from a booming late-nineteenth-century industrial center to a troubled mid-twentieth-century metropolis. To the eyes of impressionable boys without parents to shield them, St. Louis presented an ever-changing spectacle of violence. Small, loosely organized bands from the tenement districts wandered the city looking for trouble, and they often found it. The geology of St. Louis also provided for unique accommodations—sometimes gangs of boys found shelter in the extensive system of interconnected caves underneath the city. Boys could hide in these secret lairs for weeks or even months at a stretch. Bonnie Stepenoff gives voice to the harrowing experiences of destitute and homeless boys and young men who struggled to grow up, with little or no adult supervision, on streets filled with excitement but also teeming with sharpsters ready to teach these youngsters things they would never learn in school. Well-intentioned efforts of private philanthropists and public officials sometimes went cruelly astray, and sometimes were ineffective, but sometimes had positive effects on young lives. Stepenoff traces the history of several efforts aimed at assisting the city’s homeless boys. She discusses the prison-like St. Louis House of Refuge, where more than 80 percent of the resident children were boys, and Father Dunne's News Boys' Home and Protectorate, which stressed education and training for more than a century after its founding. She charts the growth of Skid Row and details how historical events such as industrialization, economic depression, and wars affected this vulnerable urban population. Most of these boys grew up and lived decent, unheralded lives, but that doesn’t mean that their childhood experiences left them unscathed. Their lives offer a compelling glimpse into old St. Louis while reinforcing the idea that society has an obligation to create cities that will nurture and not endanger the young.
Bonnie Stepenoff
Thad Snow (1881-1955) was an eccentric farmer and writer who was best known for his involvement in Missouri's 1939 Sharecropper Protest--a mass highway demonstration in which approximately eleven hundred demonstrators marched to two federal highways to illustrate the plight of the cotton laborers. Snow struggled to make sense of the changing world, and his answers to questions regarding race, social justice, the environment, and international war placed him at odds with many. In Thad Snow, Bonnie Stepenoff explores the world of Snow, providing a full portrait of him. Snow settled in the Missouri Bootheel in 1910--"Swampeast Missouri," as he called it--when it was still largely an undeveloped region of hardwood and cypress swamps. He cleared and drained a thousand acres and became a prominent landowner, highway booster, and promoter of economic development--though he later questioned the wisdom of developing wild land. In the early 1920s, "cotton fever" came to the region, and Snow started producing cotton in the rich southeast Missouri soil. Although he employed sharecroppers, he became a bitter critic of the system that exploited labor and fostered racism. In the 1930s, when a massive flood and the Great Depression heaped misery on the farmworkers, he rallied to their cause. Defying the conventions of his class, he invited the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU) to organize workers on his land. He became a friend and colleague of Owen Whitfield, an African American minister, who led the Sharecroppers' Roadside Strike of 1939. The successes of this great demonstration convinced Snow that mankind could fight injustice by peaceful means. While America mobilized for World War II, he denounced all war as evil, remaining a committed pacifist until his death in 1955. Shortly before he died, Snow published an autobiographical memoir, From Missouri, in which he affirmed his optimistic belief that people could peacefully change the world. This biography places Snow in the context of his place and time, revealing a unique individual who agonized over racial and economic oppression and environmental degradation. Snow lived, worked, and pondered the connections among these issues in a small rural corner of Missouri, but he thought in global terms. Well-crafted and highly readable, Thad Snow provides an astounding assessment of an agricultural entrepreneur transformed into a social critic and an activist.
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