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Historical Background

The Country Life Commission

Dear Visitor: This site preserves the legacy publications of the Rural West Initiative from 2009-2014. 
For more recent information on our conference and publications, please go to

Country Life Commission

“Two Sides of the Same Policy”: Rural Improvement and Resource Conservation in the Progressive Era

By Travis Koch

Therefore, friends, the conservation and rural life policies are really two sides of the same policy; and down at bottom this policy rests upon the fundamental law that neither man nor nation can prosper unless, in dealing with the present, he steadily take thought for the future.2

– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

Was ever a sillier movement than this, which ranks with Roosevelt’s attempt to revise spelling, and like it, is doomed to oblivion? … The rural American needs no patronizing solicitude from the Roosevelt commission or any other self-appointed coterie of busybodies.3

– Butte Intermountain, 1910

When President Theodore Roosevelt announced in August 1908 that he had appointed a Commission on Country Life to investigate rural conditions and make recommendations for how to improve country life, American farmers were immediately suspicious.  Many saw the Commission as nothing more than a pathetic bid for votes, and farm papers across the nation ridiculed “Teddy the Meddler” in cartoon and parody.4  What did farmers really need?  “More rain,” stated one paper, and “less fool questions by fool commissions about fool things.”5   “If Teddy can show me how to pitch manure except with a fork, or do the milking without using my hands, I’ll give in,” a farmer wrote.6

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 7:06

Time to Revisit the Rural West

By David M. Kennedy, Faculty Co-Director, The Bill Lane Center for the American West

A century has passed since the scholars assembled by President Theodore Roosevelt issued the landmark Report of the Country Life Commission. Prompted in part by the agrarian upheavals that had convulsed the American countryside in the preceding decade, the 1909 Report confirmed the Populists’ complaints about the strikingly diverging ways of life in urban and rural America. It highlighted several  “deficiencies” that afflicted rural communities, including a gathering flight to the cities, economic insecurity, inadequate health care, poor schools, rutted roads, cultural torpor, and the near-total absence of increasingly common urban amenities like electricity, indoor plumbing, and telephones.