1933 – Dexter, Iowa

When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the German Reich in January 1933, few people in Iowa took note. But world history was beginning to church, which would involve the whole nation within less than a decade. 

Although a lot of people were out of work in 1933, Clabe Wilson still had a job at the Redfield Brick and Tileworks.



On March 4, the last time a presidential inauguration was held in March, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President of the United States, delivering the famous line, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

Most people in Dexter, Iowa, who had a radio probably heard that speech. They probably also voted for Roosevelt, who had pledged a “New Deal” for the American people, after their disappointment with Iowa’s Herbert Hoover.

An old Atwater-Kent radio. 

The next day FDR called the U.S. Congress into extra session, to be held in May. A day later he declared a Bank Holiday, suspending bank transactions for four days. He presented Congress with an Emergency Banking Act, empowering him, through the Treasury Department, to reopen any that were deemed solvent and give aid to others.

His first “fireside chat” was held March 12, during which Americans across the land again gathered around their radios to hear their new president speak. Roosevelt sat at his desk as he spoke, even though a station manager coined the phrase “fireside chat,” which sounded folksier than giving a speech in his office.

I was surprised to learn that while the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression, the Iowa General Assembly was busy on March 22 in naming an official state bird–the Eastern Goldfinch.

The next day in Germany, Adolf Hitler was granted absolute power.

Bob Feller

Dexter High School’s baseball team was about to play Van Meter’s. Coach Zigler told the boys that Van Meter had a terrific pitcher named Bob Feller, and called for extra practices. Delbert Wilson remembered that Dexter got very few hits, and Van Meter beat them badly. But not too many people can say they ever played against Bob Feller, who went on the play for the Cleveland Indians and was named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Delbert says that Ronald “Dutch” Reagan covered that game between Dexter and Van Meter. Reagan had gotten a job with WOC in Davenport the year before. WOC was connected with WHO in Des Moines, and earlier in 1933 Reagan was transferred to Des Moines in time for the Drake Relays the end of April. If he did indeed cover that Dexter-Van Meter game, it was because Bob Feller was pitching.

Four days after FDR gave his May 7 fireside chat, Delbert and Donald Wilson graduated with their class in the Dexter Community Building, commonly called the Roundhouse, built in 1918. 

1933 graduates of Dexter, Iowa–Delbert and Donald Wilson

Their junior-senior banquet had been held in Des Moines at Grace Ransom’s Tearoom on the second floor above the Walgreen Drug Store at 7th and Locust, considered a high-class place to eat in in Des Moines.  

Roosevelt gave another fireside chat on July 24. The same month the Nazi party was declared the only legal political party in Germany. A day later a pact was signed by Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, pledging to maintain peace in Europe.

Doctors Chapler and Osborn

Dr. Keith M. Chapler had graduated medical school and moved to Dexter that summer. Classmate Dr. Robert Osborn moved to Menlo, but often worked with Dr. Chapler in Dexter. The two doctors were doing a tonsillectomy that July when two of the Barrow Gang (also known as Bonnie and Clyde) were brought in to town after a shootout in Dexfield Park.

After Germany pulled out of the League of Nations that October, President Roosevelt gave another fireside chat.

Wilson’s celebrated Thanksgiving with Pick and Pat, their pet ducks that had become a nuisance. Leora’s birthday was celebrated with a nice fat roast raccoon. The next day, Prohibition ended. FDR urged temperance.

President Roosevelt did indeed deliver on his promise of a New Deal for the American people. Looking back, though, the year 1933 for the Wilsons of Dexter teetered between the excitement of graduation and Grace Ransom’s Tearoom, and the capture of part of a gang of robbers, with a sinister undercurrent across the ocean that would eventually draw the residents of small towns in Iowa into another world war.


  1. Something that has always amazed me. The teens of that era, look more mature in their photos than the 30 year olds of today. I am sure why, but I would guess that maturity was valued then, whereas youth is valued now.

    • Maybe because they don’t dress up anymore? A year later, their dad was “on the dole” and these two were in the Navy, to help their parents pay for school books and clothes for the five kids still at home. I guess they had to be more mature!

    • I have them listed in a notebook, but was surprised at how it came together for that one year. A year later, Delbert and Donald are in the Navy to get enough to eat and to be able to send a little money to their parents for the five kids still at home.

  2. Happy Good Friday. Easter is on it’s way. Joy, it seems like a busy year when I read about it but, I am sure it went by a day at a time. So many things happening that took this country into WWII.

    • I was surprised when I learned the drumbeat of history during that time in the Wilson family’s personal struggles. Delbert and Donald were in the Navy the next January.

  3. Great read. And there’s always history surrounding us. All we have to do is look. I recall my father telling me about how they found out about the bombing of Peral Harbor. They didn’t own a radio, and my uncle came over and told them. They had a vague idea of where Hawaii was, and nothing of the base itself. He said he remembers the world got very big, very quickly!

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