Skip to main content

Unit 15 Plan: Forging a Modern Identity

Unit Summary

This unit explores how New Hampshire identity developed over the course of the 20th century, a period of profound changes in the economy, technology, and culture. “Yankee” values like thrift, independence, and self-sufficiency, along with the steady predictability of small-town life, came to define the Granite State. As the rest of the nation grappled with the pace of change, New Hampshire values came to define American values as well.

You're on page

The Big Picture

As you learn about the tumultuous changes in New Hampshire in the 20th century, keep in mind the following points:
  • The first Old Home Week was celebrated in 1899 to encourage former Granite Staters to reconnect with their communities and invest in their hometowns. Its focus on rural pride, natural beauty, and state patriotism was a recurring theme throughout the 20th century.
  • The collapse of the New England textile industry beginning in the early 1900s had disastrous consequences for New Hampshire’s economy, intensifying the effects of the Great Depression.
  • Granite Staters, both civilians and soldiers, made important contributions during both world wars. Wartime production also boosted the state’s economy, gains that were short-lived after World War I but more substantive after World War II.
  • Granite Staters continued to innovate. They embraced new technology and new industries, like electronic circuitry and computers, that continue to play important roles in the state’s economy today. This spirit of innovation also helped launch the age of home video gaming, which developed in Manchester.
  • The state’s tourism industry adapted to the changing times, particularly the advent of the automobile. Whereas summer tourism drove the industry in the 19th century, winter tourism became popular in the 20th century, spurred by the development of winter sports such as skiing and snowmobiling. Visitors became attracted to New Hampshire year-round. The state self-consciously used images of small-town life to promote New Hampshire as a place where tourists could experience an idealized rural past.
  • Notable authors, especially Robert Frost, also associated New Hampshire with rural life and natural beauty in their works.
  • A dedicated group of civil rights activists achieved some gains in issues of racial justice, but change was slow to come to the state.


The 20th century was a period of sweeping change, nationally and internationally. The United States fought in two world wars, exerted leadership on the world stage, and saw its industrial economy decline. At the same time, the rise of a consumer culture centered on mass popular entertainment, and a dizzying array of new products—from cars to refrigerators to radios—appeared to threaten the traditional Yankee values of thrift and independence.

New Hampshire increasingly found itself buffeted by outside forces. Granite Staters embraced change when it was beneficial, such as new high-tech industries and year-round recreational opportunities. But at mid-century, New Hampshire began to define itself by looking to an idealized vision of the past, as Yankee culture, complete with the quintessential New England town, became shorthand for “American values.”

New Hampshire at Home and Abroad in the Early 20th Century

How did New Hampshire cope with statewide and worldwide issues in the early 20th century?

Old Home Week. New Hampshire was a state in transition at the turn of the 20th century. Large numbers of native-born Granite Staters moved away to industrial cities like New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, or further west to California, to find new economic opportunities. New Hampshire’s rural economy had stagnated in the second half of the 19th century, and hundreds of farms had been abandoned in the state. At the same time, large numbers of immigrants were pouring in to work in the textile, lumber, and shoemaking industries.

Governor Frank West Rollins feared that the values and traditions of New Hampshire’s rural past were disappearing, along with the populations of small towns. He created Old Home Week in 1899 to reinvigorate the economy and celebrate local pride, state patriotism, and the beauty of the rural landscape. Old Home Week encouraged former Granite Staters to “come back” for a visit and invest in their hometown by repairing public buildings, planting trees, constructing parks, or even buying summer homes. Rollins hoped that these annual events would also boost tourism and instill a sense of pride of place in residents, discouraging further migration out of the state. Old Home celebrations, which could last anywhere from a day to a full week, featured the pleasures of a simple rural life, like parades, pie-eating contests, baseball games, picnics, and pageants. The practice proved so popular that it spread throughout New England and eastern Canada. Although dozens of New Hampshire towns adopted Old Home celebrations in the first decades of the 20th century, they fell out of fashion after World War I. It was not until the 1990s and early 2000s that many towns reinstituted them as Old Home Days, although at least ten towns, such as Lempster and Londonderry, have celebrated continuously since 1899.

The First World War. Despite the somewhat insular focus of Old Home celebrations, New Hampshire could not tune out developments in the rest of the world. In the summer of 1914, Europe plunged into a devastating and destructive war that became known as the “Great War,” or, as we know it today, World War I. Three years later, the United States joined the war, requiring a massive mobilization effort that touched almost every aspect of American life.

Granite Staters made important contributions to the war effort overseas and at home. Even before U.S. entry into the war in April 1917, hundreds of New Hampshire men volunteered to serve in the Allied armies of Great Britain, Canada, and France. Others, including New Hampshire women, volunteered overseas as relief workers, chaplains, or in medical corps.

In the months leading up to and just after the American declaration of war, young Granite State men flocked to enlist in the U.S. Army. New Hampshire volunteers tended to sign up with groups of friends, relatives, townsmen, or fellow workers. Large businesses like the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company saw entire companies of men organize themselves and volunteer together.

The 26th Infantry Division, known as the “Yankee Division,” had the greatest concentration of soldiers from New Hampshire. The men of the Yankee Division knew one another well—many of them were even related to one another. They were the first complete division of American armed forces to arrive in France, and they fought valiantly in some of the most brutal battles of the war’s final year.

Civilians also made important contributions to the war effort, particularly in food production. New Hampshire farmers pitched in to cultivate more land and try new techniques to boost crop yields. Housewives planted victory gardens, and families reduced their consumption of sugar, wheat, and meat, which were in short supply. In 1918 New Hampshire launched the Potato Drive. Too many potatoes had been produced, and wheat was needed to feed the soldiers overseas, so Granite Staters were encouraged to substitute potatoes for other ingredients in their recipes. All of these efforts allowed the United States to keep its soldiers and citizens fed while generating a surplus of food to ship to Europe, which was in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

The war had an economic impact on New Hampshire as well. Portsmouth, which has been a shipbuilding center since the 17th century, saw its shipyards take on a crucial role during the war.

Before the war, U.S. goods were carried across the Atlantic mostly by British-owned ships. With Britain occupied by the war effort, the United States had to build and maintain its own commercial fleet. The U.S. Navy also needed more ships as it mobilized for war. Portsmouth became a center of this shipbuilding frenzy. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard provided thousands of civilian jobs and focused on the important new task of submarine construction, launching the first submarine built by the U.S. Navy in 1917. In addition to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, two new private shipyards in Portsmouth received government contracts for commercial shipbuilding. These private shipyards folded after the war ended, but Portsmouth Naval Shipyard continued to specialize in submarine construction through the 1960s.

Economic Crises

How did New Hampshire deal with the economic challenges of the early 20th century?

The Decline of New Hampshire’s Textile Industry. The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company saw record profits during World War I thanks to wartime production, but these gains were fleeting. While the American textile industry overall grew in the first decades of the 20th century, most of those gains were in the South. New sources of energy, like petroleum and electricity, replaced water power and meant that cotton could be processed and woven where it grew instead of being transported north. Labor costs had already risen after New Hampshire passed a law in 1911 that prohibited children under 14 from working during the school year. Southern states paid lower wages and had lower fuel and power costs. New Hampshire’s textile manufacturers could not compete with these southern advantages and were further hampered by outdated machinery, overproduction, and a decline in labor relations.

The first long-term strike in the history of the Amoskeag Company began in February 1922 and was an important turning point for the company and its workers. An increase in working hours along with a 20 percent wage cut prompted the strike, which was led by the United Textile Workers (UTW) union. The strike forced management to close the mills until the summer, when a few reopened with the pre-strike wage scale. Workers were forced to return to work or starve, and by November, most mills were functioning with at least a partial labor force. On November 25, the UTW called off the strike without achieving its goals.

Amoskeag never really recovered from the strike, which severed the traditionally close bond between its employees and the company and left the workers demoralized. Similar situations occurred in textile companies in Nashua, Dover, Newmarket, and Somersworth.

As textiles declined, the shoe industry filled in the gaps in New Hampshire’s industrial cities. Shoe manufacturing was dominated by big companies, sometimes connected to national operations. The W. H. McElwain Company opened the largest shoe factory in the nation in Manchester in 1912, and for a time Manchester was known as “Shoe City.” McElwain had several other factories in the state, including in Claremont, Newport, Nashua, and Dover. By 1930, the value of shoe manufacturing in New Hampshire exceeded the value of cotton cloth production.

The Great Depression. Thanks to the decline of the textile industry, New Hampshire had been in an economic slump for years before the Great Depression hit the rest of the country in 1929. While the national unemployment rate hit 16 percent in 1931, it was a staggering 33 percent in New Hampshire. Thousands were out of work and in need of food and other necessities, and agricultural prices were so low that half the state’s farms shut down. Those who still had jobs saw their wages slashed. To make matters worse, New Hampshire was beset by a number of devastating natural disasters in the 1930s. These included localized catastrophes, like a fire that destroyed an entire neighborhood in Nashua in 1930 and left more than 500 people homeless, as well as statewide disasters, like catastrophic flooding in 1936 and the hurricane of 1938.

New Hampshire’s governor John Winant was a reformer who favored implementing government programs to solve some of the problems created by the Great Depression. Under his leadership, the state government instituted programs such as a minimum wage for women and children, increased state aid to towns and cities, emergency relief for dependent mothers and children, and some regulation of the banking industry. Winant also enacted a state roadway construction program that employed 3,000 men. Other proposals, such as old age pensions, improved workers’ compensation, and a statewide teachers’ retirement system, failed to make it through the state legislature. Though a Republican, Winant supported Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. The New Deal worked to stimulate the economy and provide Americans with a financial safety net through federal programs.

Government Jobs Programs. One important piece of the New Deal was getting people back to work. The federal government created work-relief programs, using federal funds to pay American workers for all sorts of jobs. Thousands of New Hampshire men and women went to work for federal jobs programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), building parks, playgrounds, ski jumps, and golf courses, as well as building and widening roads, improving drainage and sewer systems, and clearing diseased trees from farmland.

The CCC was created in 1933 to put unemployed young men to work on conservation and infrastructure projects. Open only to men, run by the U.S. military, and segregated by race, the CCC employed over 20,000 Granite Staters, some as young as 17 years old, who lived and worked in camps that dotted every region of the state. Room, board, medical care, and some educational programs were provided in the camps, so most of the corpsmen’s wages were sent directly to their families, providing a crucial source of income during the Depression. New Hampshire also reaped economic and ecological benefits from the CCC. Before the program ended in 1942, CCC workers built or repaired dams, bridges, and roads, planted trees, constructed ski facilities including Cannon Mountain and Waterville Valley, marked hiking and bridle paths, and fought wildfires. Hundreds of campgrounds, hiking trails, and public parks in New Hampshire owe their existence to this program.

The WPA launched in 1935. Like the CCC, it supported public works projects like bridges, roads, airports, and sewer and water works. The WPA was open to both men and women, and thousands of New Hampshire women were hired for a variety of positions. They worked in clerical jobs, sewed clothing that was then distributed to needy families, or gardened and then canned the resulting produce. Women also participated in a branch of the WPA known as the Federal Arts Project, which employed artists to create art in multiple formats, including murals, paintings, watercolors, wood carving, statues, photography, theatrical productions, and music compositions and performances. The murals created under the auspices of the Federal Arts Project often adorned public buildings like schools, hospitals, libraries, and post offices. For example, Portsmouth resident Gladys Brannigan painted murals for Portsmouth Junior High School that depicted scenes from New Hampshire’s history, such as George Washington’s visit to Portsmouth in 1789. Unfortunately, little of her work has survived. Alice Cosgrove, who later became the state artist of New Hampshire, created frescoes and murals of Mother Goose characters for an elementary school in Claremont.

Although not a federal program, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen originated during the Great Depression as a state-supported organization that provided New Hampshire residents, especially in small towns and rural areas, with the training needed to produce traditional handicrafts for sale. Led by upper- and middle-class women, the League enabled poor women to earn some income for their families by harnessing the talents and skills they already possessed, and helped preserve these traditional art forms. New Hampshire women produced items like rugs, quilts, baskets, and jams and jellies for sale. The League remains a highly respected arts organization and important economic force for the state today.

Demise of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. None of these recovery measures, however, could save the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Wages were cut to the bone, workers were laid off or fired without regard to seniority, and the workload was increased by faster machinery, all in the hopes of cutting costs. Violent strikes in 1933 and 1934 resulted in the intervention of the state militia, and in 1935 the company began laying off workers in huge numbers. Amoskeag had 11,000 employees in March 1935, a workforce that was cut back to 6,000 in June and to fewer than 1,000 in September. That month, the mills shut down. Although the company declared its intention to reopen, it filed for bankruptcy on Christmas Eve. A devastating flood of the Merrimack River in the spring of 1936 sealed its fate, and all assets were liquidated the following summer.

The Amoskeag shutdown was devastating for Manchester. The company had controlled the economic and political life of the city for over 100 years. Most large cotton mills in New England suffered the same fate as Amoskeag in the period before World War II, leaving in their wake depressed city centers and thousands of suffering people.

To save Manchester from ruin, local businessmen created Amoskeag Industries, Inc., in 1936 to buy the company’s properties and attract new companies to the Millyard. Some were successful small textile outfits, like Chicopee, which wove gauze, and Waumbec, which wove synthetic fibers. By the late 1930s Amoskeag Industries had diversified operations in the Millyard, drawing tenants that manufactured tires, motors, and beverages, as well as service industries like dry cleaning.

Wars and Technology

How did New Hampshire meet the demands of World War II and respond to postwar challenges?

World War II. Like the rest of the nation, New Hampshire’s economy largely recovered from the Depression with the onset of World War II. Factories whirred back to life producing military equipment and other war materiel. Shoe factories made boots for the military, cotton textile factories produced fabric for parachutes and uniforms, and granite quarries mined mica used to manufacture spark plugs for airplanes. Farmers benefited from increased demand for eggs, poultry, and dairy.

Because young men were needed to serve in the armed forces, wartime employment opened opportunities for women to shift from domestic service to industrial employment, or to enter the workforce altogether. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, for example, employed 25,000 civilians during the war, many of them women and Black people. The shipyard continued to specialize in submarine construction, building over 75 submarines during the course of the war and launching a record four submarines in a single day on January 27, 1944.

New Hampshire also played an important role in rebuilding the world’s banking and financial systems after the war. In the summer of 1944, the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods hosted the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference. The location was chosen to give delegates a distraction-free environment to work in and get them out of the heat and humidity of Washington, D.C. Representatives from the 44 Allied nations, including the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, met for three weeks and negotiated what became known as the Bretton Woods Agreements. The agreements created a system to rebuild the global economy, encourage economic development, and promote international cooperation.

The Cold War. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged from World War II as global superpowers, but these two former allies quickly became locked in a decades-long ideological struggle between capitalism and communism. The Cold War shaped American foreign policy and domestic politics until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. In New Hampshire, it brought about new economic opportunities, and Granite Staters continued to play a role in the scientific and recreational changes that impacted the entire nation.

Defense Industry. The years after World War II were a period of unprecedented economic growth in the United States. The defense industry adopted new technologies, like aircraft, electronic circuitry, computers, and satellite-based communications. The Granite State benefited from these boom times. Sanders Associates, which produced flexible circuitry for military and space programs as well as commercial uses, moved its facilities from Massachusetts to Nashua in 1952. It set up shop in an abandoned textile mill, employing local residents and contracting with local businesses for supplies. Its success encouraged more companies to move to New Hampshire, which helped facilitate the state’s economic recovery. Sanders continued to expand over the next decades, manufacturing computer terminals and electronic surveillance and intelligence systems.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Sanders Associates was absorbed into Lockheed Martin and eventually sold to BAE Systems. Even today, BAE’s Electronic Systems division is headquartered in Nashua, and it remains one of New Hampshire’s largest private employers.

Video Games. Postwar scientific advances weren’t limited to the defense industry. Ralph Baer, who was an engineer at Sanders Associates and lived in Manchester, is known as the “father of video games.” In the late 1960s, Baer began tinkering with the idea of playing games on a television set. He came up with the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. The Brown Box ultimately became the Magnavox Odyssey, the product that launched the video game revolution.

The Odyssey was released in 1972 as a “TV game,” because no one had yet thought to invent the term “video game.” It included a console that connected to a TV set and two controllers, along with 12 different program cards for users to play sports games like tennis or hockey, kids’ games like Simon Says, games of chance like roulette, and even a math game called Analogic. The graphics were so rudimentary that the Odyssey came with transparent overlays to place on the screen for each game. Although the Odyssey seems primitive in comparison to the iPhones and Xboxes of today, the idea of interacting with technology on a television, right in your living room, was profoundly revolutionary.

The Space Race. The Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was not confined to Earth. Both sides poured money and scientific energy into developing new weapons technology. Scientists and politicians realized that if a rocket could carry a bomb across the globe, it could also launch machines and humans, not to mention weapons, into space. A “space race” was soon on.

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel to outer space, orbiting Earth once in April 1961. The first American in space followed less than a month later, and he hailed originally from New Hampshire. East Derry native Alan Shepard piloted the tiny Freedom 7 capsule over 115 miles into the sky during a 15 ½ minute spaceflight on May 5, 1961. His successful flight was celebrated across the United States, and Derry became known as “Spacetown, U.S.A.” In 1969, the United States launched the first moon landing, a feat the Soviets never accomplished. Two years later, Shepard traveled to space again on Apollo 14, the third successful moon landing. He was the only one of the original group of astronauts to walk on the moon.

After the Apollo program ended, public interest in the space program waned, and Congress reduced NASA’s funding. To revive lagging enthusiasm, especially among young people, NASA created the Teachers in Space program. After a nationwide competition, Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord High School, was chosen to join the crew of the shuttle Challenger, making her the first private citizen to travel to space. McAuliffe’s magnetic personality and numerous media appearances in the months leading up to the launch generated enormous public interest in the mission, especially among students and educators. Tragically, McAuliffe and the six other members of the crew were killed when the Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986.

Creating a Yankee Identity

How was New Hampshire’s cultural identity shaped in the 20th century?

As Americans grappled with the rapid pace of change of the 20th century, they looked to New England as a symbol of American values, especially the quintessential New England town. New Hampshire was able to capitalize on this growing association between American identity and the idealized New England town, complete with traditional Yankee values like thrift, hard work, and independence.

New England “wholesomeness” became one of New Hampshire’s main selling points in the postwar years. Granite Staters had acknowledged the importance of tourism since the mid-19th century, but during the 1950s the state launched a coordinated, nationwide campaign to promote New Hampshire sites and products. These efforts sought to utilize the state’s natural advantages, such as improved highways, proximity to Boston and other northeastern cities, low taxes, scenic beauty, and numerous year-round recreational opportunities, to attract visitors—as well as businesses and year-round residents—to the state.

Yankee Magazine. This family-owned magazine has operated out of the same barn-red building in Dublin, New Hampshire, since it launched in 1935. Founder Robb Sagendorph believed that New England needed a publication “for Yankee readers, by Yankee writers, and about Yankeedom.” Its “destiny” would be “the expression and perhaps, indirectly, the preservation of that great culture.” Foregoing topics like politics and sports, Yankee focused on the qualities and values that make New England unique—self-sufficiency, community spirit, and independence. It shares timeless New England stories, recipes, and tips for the best places to view the fall foliage. Sagendorph’s wife, Beatrix Thorne Sagendorph, was an accomplished artist who contributed illustrations and cover art to the magazine.

Chippa Granite. The State Planning and Development Commission hired artist Alice Cosgrove to design promotional materials for the state. Around 1952, Cosgrove created a poster to promote winter sports that starred a charming, freckle-faced, bright-eyed young boy wearing a blue snowsuit. He was relatable as well as adorable, sending the message that winter sports were for the whole family, not just experts and daredevils. The figure was so popular that the state ran a contest for children to choose his name, and New Hampshire’s kids came up with “Chippa Granite.”

Chippa Granite soon appeared on posters, brochures, pictorial maps, booklets, and even in papier mâché form, representing New Hampshire in publications and at travel and sports shows all over the country. Whether skiing, drinking milk, or visiting a farm, Chippa quickly became a friendly symbol of New Hampshire tourism and agriculture. For a period of time, he was just as recognizable as the Old Man of the Mountain.

Chippa Granite’s wholesome image not only boosted New Hampshire’s tourism industry, but it also associated the state with simple, rural pleasures, not unlike those celebrated in the earliest Old Home Weeks.

Popular Culture and Literature. An idealized version of New England life was reinforced through popular culture like literature, movies, and television shows, many of which highlighted New Hampshire specifically. The poetry of Robert Frost, for example, was closely associated with New England. Frost, who won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes in 1924 for New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes, often explored themes such as rural farm life, everyday dilemmas, and the natural world.

Other New Hampshire authors who engaged similar themes include Donald Hall, author of many books, including the beloved children’s classic Ox-Cart Man, and author-illustrator Tasha Tudor. Tudor illustrated original creations as well as classics like nursery rhymes and fairy tales. She often depicted New England scenes and elements that hearkened back to the 1800s, including wildflowers, gardens and fields, and farming families. In her classic Corgiville Fair, the village of Corgiville is based on New Hampshire’s own Harrisville.

Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, and popular fiction writer John Irving also used bucolic New Hampshire settings, but they exposed the darker side of small towns. Metalious’s lightly fictionalized New Hampshire town masked a seedy underbelly of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Irving’s novels like A Prayer for Owen Meany and Hotel New Hampshire also point to the more complex reality of small-town life.

On Golden Pond, the popular, award-winning 1981 movie starring Hollywood luminaries Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda, was set and filmed on Squam Lake. Its success brought widespread attention to the Lakes Region, encouraged tourism, and cemented the image of New Hampshire as a place of pastoral beauty in the popular imagination.

Politics and Taxes. During the post-World War II era, New Hampshire became known nationally for two additional reasons—the first-in-the-nation presidential primary and taxes.

The first modern presidential primary was held in 1952. Although states had been holding presidential primaries in one form or another since the early years of the 20th century, the New Hampshire presidential primary of 1952 is considered the first modern presidential primary. Held earlier in the calendar year than primaries in other states, the New Hampshire primary garnered a tremendous amount of national attention in March 1952, and the results surprised everyone. The election upended the race’s frontrunners, prompting the sitting President Harry Truman to withdraw from the contest altogether, and illustrated the importance of the state’s involved and informed voters in shaping the national political field. The 1952 primary changed the course of American history and established New Hampshire as an important political battleground for those seeking to be president. (For more information, see Unit 16: New Hampshire Primary.)

New Hampshire also became known for its steadfast opposition to a statewide sales or income tax. Candidates for governor and other top political offices in the state are expected to publicly pledge that they will oppose the creation of these taxes. “The Pledge,” as this has become known, originated in 1972. (For more on “the Pledge” and taxation, see Unit 17: New Hampshire Today.)

Social Movements in Modern New Hampshire

In what ways did the people of New Hampshire adapt to the major movements of social justice that characterized the 20th century?

Civil Rights. The modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought important changes to the country, although much remains unfinished. Some Granite Staters traveled south to work with civil rights organizations to desegregate public facilities like buses, participate in voter registration drives, or to join marches, demonstrations, and boycotts. Jonathan Daniels, a white Keene native, Virginia Military Institute graduate, and Episcopal seminary student, volunteered in Alabama. He worked alongside Black activists to organize protests, register Black voters, and integrate local churches. In August 1965, Daniels was shot to death by a white supremacist. Daniels was the only person from New England to be killed while participating in the civil rights movement. His murderer was acquitted by an all-white jury.

Important civil rights work took place in New Hampshire too. The Seacoast chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in Portsmouth in 1958 and celebrated its establishment with a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Two of the earliest members were Hazel and Clayton Sinclair, who operated a guesthouse called Rock Rest in Kittery, Maine. Rock Rest catered to Black clientele who wanted to enjoy a seacoast vacation but were excluded from local hotels and restaurants because of their race.

Just as civil rights activists used nonviolent direct action to integrate lunch counters, buses, and restaurants throughout the American South, activists integrated New Hampshire facilities that were segregated by custom or policy if not law.

On July 4, 1964, Jane and Emerson Reed, a Black couple who were active in the Seacoast NAACP chapter, attempted to join their fellow NAACP members and friends Jean and Hugh Potter for dinner at the Wentworth-by-the-Sea in Newcastle. The Potters, who were white, were seated without incident. But on their arrival, the Reeds were told that the hotel didn’t seat people of color—nor did it serve or employ Jews, Greeks, or other minorities—in defiance of the new federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations. After two hours of discussion between Emerson Reed, Hugh Potter, and the hotel’s owner James Barker Smith, both couples were finally allowed to sit and eat.

This carefully planned event, the brainchild of Seacoast NAACP president Thomas Cobbs, led to New Hampshire’s 1965 law against discrimination and the creation of a state commission on human rights. Members of the Seacoast NAACP and the Seacoast Council on Race and Religion (SCORR) took similar action to call into account other local businesses, like barber shops, who refused to serve Black customers. These groups also raised funds for voter registration drives, gave talks on racial inequality, kept pressure on the state government to take action on civil rights issues, and worked with local churches on racial justice.

New Hampshire lagged behind the rest of the nation in recognizing Martin Luther King Jr. The state legislature rejected multiple proposals to make King’s birthday a state holiday between 1979 and 1989. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a law making it a federal holiday. While most states quickly followed suit, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Hampshire were holdouts. As a compromise, the state enacted Civil Rights Day in 1991, to be observed on the third Monday in January. Finally, in 2000, state lawmakers passed legislation officially marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Women’s Rights. Another important reform movement during the second half of the 20th century centered around women’s rights. New Hampshire’ state legislature created the state Commission on the Status of Women in 1969. Members were appointed by the governor, and its purpose was to advocate on behalf of women in legislative and public policy issues. It worked to improve employment and educational opportunities for New Hampshire women. Along with several other partner organizations, it became a part of the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation in 2014.

New Hampshire was the second state to ratify the proposed Equal Rights Amendment when it was placed before state legislatures in 1972. The ERA was designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. A constitutional amendment requires three-fourths of the states to ratify it before it becomes law, however, and the ERA never passed that threshold.

Environmentalism. The Granite State was at the center of another important social movement in the 1970s, the environmental movement. The state’s historic commitment to conservation continued throughout the 20th century but shifted focus with the rise of new technologies, such as nuclear power. (For more on the environmental movement in New Hampshire in the 20th century, see Unit 14: Preserving New Hampshire’s Natural Landscape.)

Conclusion: Perseverance and Economic Recovery

As another new century dawned, New Hampshire was poised to reinvent itself once again. By the 1980s, the Granite State’s population and economy were growing, and unemployment was low. High-tech industry was making its way to New Hampshire, while the agricultural sector began to see a resurgence in the late 1990s. Low taxes encouraged new businesses and new residents, especially in the southern tier of the state closest to Boston. But because government revenue is based on property taxes, towns that could afford to provide the best services, like schools and roads, could attract more residents and thus more property tax revenue. So wealthier towns maintained and increased their wealth while poor towns got poorer.

While there is a persistent wealth gap for New Hampshire’s towns, New Hampshire’s residents generally did not face the extremes of income inequality that other states experienced in the 1980s and 1990s. The Granite State continued to have a strong middle class that identified with traditional Yankee values and a relatively high standard of living.

Focus Questions for This Unit

Lessons in this unit are geared towards students answering the unit focus questions comprehensively through a variety of methods. This unit’s focus questions are:
  • 1
    How did New Hampshire’s identity evolve in the 20th century?
  • 2
    What economic changes did New Hampshire experience during this time?
  • 3
    How did New Hampshire’s people adapt to changes in the 20th century?

Essential Questions for This Unit

Essential questions are designed to be answered repeatedly throughout the entire curriculum. This unit particularly addresses three of the curriculum’s essential questions:
  • 1
    How has New Hampshire come to be the way it is?
  • 2
    How has New Hampshire been shaped by many voices?
  • 3
    • How have New Hampshire’s people shaped its government?


In Unit 15: Forging a Modern Identity, the first two lessons examine the impact of the Great Depression on communities and use primary sources to investigate one government program aimed at employing young men, the Civilian Conservation Corps. The second two lessons look at the evolution of the identity of the New Hampshire Yankee and how New Hampshire is portrayed through writers’ eyes in the 20th century.  

Lesson Plan 1: Impact of Unemployment

After engaging with primary sources to identify factors of production, students graph historic unemployment rates and evaluate the effects of unemployment on families and communities.

Lesson Plan 2: The Civilian Conservation Corps in New Hampshire

Students use primary and secondary sources to investigate the need for the Civilian Conservation Corps and how it functioned, then assess the impact of the program in groups.

Lesson Plan 3: The New Hampshire Yankee

An image set made up of iconic New Hampshire pictures helps students define a “Yankee,” then students consider the values and identities inherent in Alice Cosgrove’s Chippa Granite.

Lesson Plan 4: New Hampshire Through the Writer's Eye

Students read poetry and literature to analyze language and perspectives in the evolution of New Hampshire’s identity in the 20th century.

Please note that a printable vocabulary list with definitions is accessible to students in the Learn It! section of this unit.

Vocabulary in This Unit

advertisement (noun) An announcement promoting an event, service, or product
Allied Powers (noun) A group of countries during World War II who worked together to win the war; there were many countries in this alliance, but the three main powers were Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The Allied Powers eventually won the war.
Axis Powers (noun) A group of countries during World War II who worked together to fight the war; the three main powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Axis Powers eventually lost the war.
candidate (noun) Someone who is applying for a job. In a presidential primary election, a candidate is a person who is trying to get the job of president of the United States.
capital (noun) 1. The money and goods that a person owns
2. One of the four factors of production; the human-made items used to make a product, like factories and machines
civic group (noun) A group of people who come together to work for a common purpose
civil rights (noun) Rights that all people have to be treated equally by the government and in society
Civilian Conservation Corps (noun) A government program created during the Great Depression to give young men jobs doing outside work. They repaired or built roads, bridges, and trails, and protected the environment by planting trees, fighting fires, and creating state parks. The CCC ran from 1933 to 1942.
defense industry (noun) Businesses that make tools, machines, and equipment that a country uses to defend itself
economy (noun) Relating to the system by which goods and services are made, bought, and sold
electricity (noun) A form of energy from positive and negative charges that can be carried by wires; used for heating, lighting, and giving power to machines
entrepreneurship (noun) 1. Setting up a business
2. One of the four factors of production; the people and systems that connect the other three factors and help them grow
factors of production (noun) Four economic resources necessary to create a successful product: capital, entrepreneurship, labor, land
factory (noun) A building designed to house machines and other technology
front-runner (noun) The person who everyone thinks is going to win an election
Great Depression (noun) The time from 1929 to 1939 when there was a severe economic crisis all over the world and especially in the United States; at the worst, almost 25% of workers were unemployed
indoor plumbing (noun) A system of pipes and faucets that allows water to be brought into a building and turned on and off
infrastructure (noun) Human-made features that help a society function, including railroads, bridges, and road systems
isolationism (noun) A government policy that a country does not get involved with what is going on in other countries
labor (noun) 1. Work, especially hard physical work
2. One of the four factors of production; the human workers needed to make a product
land (noun) One of the four factors of production; the natural resources needed to make a product
manufacturing (noun) Making products, especially with machines in factories
mascot (noun) A person or thing who symbolizes an event or organization
mass communication (noun) Media like radio or television that shares information with large numbers of people at one time
natural disaster (noun) An event caused by nature that produces a lot of damage or hurts a lot of people, like a hurricane or flood
New Deal (noun) A group of programs run by the U.S. government during the Great Depression to fix the economy and help people survive economic hardship
nominee (noun) Someone who is proposed for a position. In a presidential primary election, the nominee is the candidate who wins the most votes among all the candidates from the political party.
Old Home Week (noun) A day or week that celebrates a town with a festival, especially inviting residents who have moved elsewhere to return for a reunion
primary election (noun) An election before the general election when voters choose which candidates will represent each party in the general election
retail politics (noun) A style of political campaigning in which the candidate tries to connect with individual voters by attending local events and talking with people
Roaring Twenties (noun) The decade of the 1920s, which are remembered as a time when people found lots of ways to entertain themselves and have a good time, like going to parties, seeing movies and concerts, attending sporting events, and taking vacations
segregate (verb) Keeping Black people away from white people. Black people attended separate schools, restaurants, and theaters, or were forced to sit in separate areas from white people.
segregation (noun) A system that kept Black people from interacting with white people. Black people attended separate schools, restaurants, and theaters, or were forced to sit in separate areas from white people.
sleepaway camps (noun) Summer camps where children stayed overnight away from their parents
taxes (noun) Amounts of money, added to the regular cost of items, that go to the government
textiles (noun) Types of cloth or fabric
tourism (noun) Travel for recreation
underdog (noun) A person who is behind in a contest and not expected to win
unemployment (noun) When a person does not have a job but is available to work
victory garden (noun) A type of garden people planted in their yards during World War I and World War II to raise their own fruits and vegetables. People grew their own produce so that farmers could send their crops to soldiers fighting in the war.
whopper (noun) Something large and extraordinary, especially an extraordinary lie
Works Progress Administration (noun) A government program created during the Great Depression to provide jobs for people. The WPA built public projects like roads, bridges, airports, buildings, and housing. It also supported the creation of public art like murals, paintings, plays, and music. The WPA existed from 1935 to 1943.
World War I (noun) A major war that involved most of the countries of Europe and, eventually, the United States. The war lasted from 1914 to 1918. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were on one side, and Great Britain, France, the United States, and Russia were on the other side. Germany and Austria-Hungary lost the war. Also called the First World War.
World War II (noun) A major war that involved many countries around the world. The war lasted from 1939 to 1945. The Axis Powers (mainly Germany, Italy, and Japan) started the war against the Allied Powers (mainly Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China, and the United States). The Allies eventually won the war. Also called the Second World War.
Yankee (noun) A person from New England who typically works hard, is thrifty, and values independence
Alan Shepard: Higher and Faster
By Janet and Geoff Benge
For Students. Part of the Heroes of History series, this book tells the story of astronaut Alan Shepard’s life, from his boyhood fascination with flight to attaining national hero status as the first American in space
Builder of Men: Life in CCC Camps of New Hampshire
By David Draves
For Educators. Based on extensive interviews with participants, Draves tells the story of the thousands of New Hampshire men who served in the CCC during the Great Depression
Crash Course
By John Green
For Students and Educators. John Green’s fast-paced video series on U.S. history includes several videos on the United States and the world in the 20th century, particularly videos 31–42
History Comics: The Challenger Disaster: Tragedy in the Sky
By Pranas T. Naujokaitis
For Students. In this graphic novel, a group of fifth graders living far in the future investigates the 1986 Challenger disaster. The book combines biographical information about the astronauts with a scientific exploration of space travel
Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard
By Neal Thompson
For Educators. The definitive biography of the first American in space, New Hampshire native Alan Shepard
National World War II Museum Educational Resources
By National World War II Museum
For Students and Educators. A collection of distance learning resources, including videos and virtual field trips
The New Hampshire Century
By Felice Belman and Mike Pride
For Educators. Concord Monitor profiles 100 people who shaped the Granite State in the 20th century
“New Hampshire and the Emergence of an American Ski Industry”
By Jeffrey R. Leich
For Educators. Published in Historical New Hampshire (Fall 2009), this article gives an overview of the development and growth of skiing in the White Mountains in the twentieth century, including the state government’s promotion of the ski industry
Our Town
By Thornton Wilder
For older Students and Educators. This classic play, written while Wilder was in residence at the MacDowell artists’ community in Peterborough, New Hampshire, depicts daily life in a small Yankee town at mid-century. Several stage versions and one film version also available on YouTube.
Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost
By Natalie S. Bober
For Students. This picture book-biography describes the Frost family’s years living on a New Hampshire farm and the poet’s love of reading and words. Appendix includes additional biographical information, quotations, and poems by Frost
Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost
Edited by Jay Parini
For Students. This beautifully illustrated volume includes an age-appropriate introduction to Frost’s life and work and 30 of his finest poem
Twentieth-Century America: A Brief History
By Thomas C. Reeves
For Educators. A succinct overview of the major themes and events in twentieth-century American history aimed at the general reader
Video Game History Timeline
By Strong National Museum of Play
For Students and Educators. A visual timeline with short blocks of text that covers the development of computers and video games