Nebraska: Twentieth-Century Changes

Twentieth-Century Changes

Improved conditions in the early 1900s caused Populism to decline in the state, and the return of prosperous days was marked by progressive legislation, the building of highways, and conservation measures. The flush of prosperity, largely caused by the demand for foodstuffs during World War I, was almost feverish. Overexpansion of credits and overconfidence made the depression of the 1920s and 30s all the more disastrous (see Great Depression). Many farmers were left destitute, and many others were able to survive only because of the moratorium on farm debts in 1932. They received federal aid in the desperate years of drought in the 1930s.

Better weather and the huge food demands of World War II renewed prosperity in Nebraska. After the war, efforts continued to make the best use of the water supply, notably in such federal plans as the Missouri River basin project, a vast dam and water-diversion scheme. Attempts to diversify Nebraska's economic base to reduce dependence on meat processing and agriculture have made Lincoln, where state government and the Univ. of Nebraska generate many jobs, a business center, along with Omaha.

In 1986, Nebraska's Kay A. Orr became the first Republican woman to be elected governor of a state. E. Benjamin Nelson (1991-1999), the last Democrat to date to hold the governor's seat, was succeeded by Mike Johanns (1998-2002). Johanns resigned during his second term in 2005 to become U.S. secretary of education, and was succeeded by fellow Republican Dave Heineman (2005-11). Pete Ricketts won the office in 2014 and 2018. He vetoed many of the legislature's initiatives, including a bill that ended the death penalty in the state; although the legislature successfully overode his veto, Ricketts led a campaign for a ballot initiative that passed reinstating it. He has also been a vocal proponent of COVID-19 restrictions.

Among noted Nebraskans have been the pioneer and historian Julius Sterling Morton , who originated Arbor Day, and authors Willa Cather , Mari Sandoz, John G. Neihardt, Loren Eiseley , and Wright Morris, all of whom have vividly described the state.

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