Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Jeannine Breton Baden: Depression Era Mother

The children of Minnesotans who grew up during the Great Depression have been indirectly impacted by their parents' experiences during that time of economic hardship. Jeannine Breton Baden, youngest daughter of Mary Joy Dean Breton, shared some of the ways in which her mother's childhood has affected her life.

Having one parent who was directly affected by the Depression did indeed have an impact on me. Here are a few examples:

For one, my mother was adept at crafts. Watching her sewing and making beautiful things from ordinary items found around the house and garden was a regular part of my daily life as a child. For instance, she had made a gorgeous braided rug from old woolen clothes, and she created a beautiful log-cabin quilt for my bunk bed from fabric scraps left over from clothes she had stitched up for my grandmother and for my two sisters and me. She made a Nativity Creche and cradle from corn stalks and wheat straws she gathered in the nearby fields. She fashioned Mary, Joseph, the Kings and Shepherds out of cardboard cones, using acorns for their heads and pipe cleaners for arms. She dyed corn husks various colors to create their robes. I always loved having this Creche under our Christmas tree during the holidays.

My mother also made wonderful scalloped potatoes. I knew potatoes were a staple for many families during the Depression and I always loved her scalloped potatoes. She told me my grandmother made other "scalloped" dishes such as salmon or tomatoes to stretch food during the Depression.

I guess one of the main things that impressed me about observing the behavior of my mother, a Depression survivor, was her suppression of her own wants, feelings, needs. My mother had just become used to stuffing them all her life, whatever they might be, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I sometimes noticed an expression of self-control on her face - especially around her mouth, which assumed a tight straight line - saying nothing and pretending to be happy even if she was not.

Finally, after forty years of marriage that had become more and more unhappy, she had the courage to seek a divorce. I was proud of her for finally learning how to be more assertive and doing what she wanted and needed, but doing so in a way that maintained a friendship with my father.

All of this has been interesting for me to observe - and very helpful in dealing with my own issues, for sure!


Breton, Mary Joy, Part XV: Remembrances in a Rug Minnesota Historical Society: Share Your Story, 2008.

Breton, Mary Joy, Depression Dessert. Minnesota Historical Society: Share Your Story, 2008.