Stories and Reports

Colorado River
In Crisis

Stories and Reports

The Western
Energy Boom

Stories and Reports

Health Care in
the Rural West

Historical Background

The Country Life Commission

Data Visualization

Data Visualization: Journalism's Voyage West

This visualization plots over 140,000 newspapers published over three centuries in the United States. The data comes from the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" project, which maintains a regularly updated directory of newspapers. 

Last modified Tue, 26 Jun, 2012 at 15:02

The Contraction and Expansion of the Rural West

By Michael De Alessi

A jovial farmer boy I'll be
As free as birds that sing,
And carry forth my songs of glee,
Among the flowers of Spring.
No place for me - the crowded town,
With pavements hard and dry,
With lengthened streets of dusty brown,
And gloomy houses high.
I go and come a farmer boy,
From city trammels free,
I crack my whip and cry "Who hoy,"
A farmer boy I'll be.

- "The jovial farmer boy" words [1] and music by M. W. Cobb, 1885

Snapshot of 1910 vs. 2008 in population percent

Whether conjuring images of an opportunity to work the land, a close-knit community, or wide open spaces and fresh air, country life has long held a powerful sway over American hearts and minds.[2] The jovial farmer boy is just one example of the romantic allure of country life, but one that highlights the fact that this allure exists in contrast to city life, which has its own powerful economic, cultural, and social attractions.

Health Care in the Rural West: Persistent Problems, Glimmers of Hope

Giving a typhoid innoculation at a school in rural San Augustine County, Texas, 1943. (Photo: John Vachon via Library of Congress)

Giving a typhoid innoculation at a school in rural San Augustine County, Texas, 1943. (Photo: John Vachon via the Library of Congress)


By Michael De Alessi and Robin Pam

“In general, the rural population is less safe-guarded by boards of health than is the urban population. The physicians are farther apart and are called in later in case of sickness, and in some districts medical attendance is relatively more expensive. The necessity for disease prevention is therefore self-evident and a betterment of these conditions is a nation-wide obligation.”

– Report of the Country Life Commission [1]

Fearing a loss of agricultural productivity and rural community, Teddy Roosevelt formed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to investigate why the social and intellectual, as well as economic, aspects of country life were not keeping pace with city life.[2] Of the six “deficiencies of country life” highlighted by the commission, “health in the open country” featured prominently.[3]  The report emphasized issues such as differential access to doctors, numbers of physicians per capita, and costs of rural health care, and all remain contemporary concerns. The Commission’s call for “increasing the powers of the Federal Government in respect to the supervision and control of the public health”[4] could be pulled straight from today's health care debates.

In spite of a broad increase in the number of doctors per capita in the United States and in the American West over the past century, many rural areas in the West have seen little or no increase. This is a cause for grave concern. The fact that much of the rural West has seen little improvement in this basic measure of health care access is surprising, and it underscores the persistent remoteness of vast stretches of the rural West. But it also underscores the importance of improving physician access in the rural West. And the state of Utah shows a way forward.

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 6:12