When the Okies Migrated To California, It Raised the I.Q. in Both States

Will Rogers? Robert Muldoon? Herbert L. Carver? Anthony S. Rogers? Harry Woodhead? Lynn T. White? Robert Ruark? Dewey F. Bartlett? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorous remark about migration that initially seems a bit paradoxical. Here are two versions:

When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, they raised the average intelligence level in both states.

When all those New Zealanders went to Australia, the average IQ in both countries was lifted considerably.

This phenomenon occurs when the migrating group have an average intelligence that is lower than the mean in the starting location and higher than the mean in the destination location.

U.S. humorist Will Rogers has received credit for the first statement, and New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon has received credit for the second. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: These two quips belong to an evolving family of expressions which is difficult to trace because of its variety. The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1939 within the “McComb Daily Journal” of Mississippi. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Puzzle: You name the counties:
A man is said to have moved from one south Mississippi county to another, and when he did he raised the intelligence level of both counties.

The joke above referred to a single person moving instead of a group migrating, but the idea was the same. The jest appeared in a column by Herbert L. Carver.

Will Rogers died in 1935. He received credit for an instance in 1970. But this late citation provided only very weak evidence. Robert Muldoon received credit from an eyewitness in 1990. But this joke schema was already quite old in 1990.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Will Rogers did occasionally mention intelligence, but QI has been unable to find a match for the quip in his writings. Rogers did state the following in a 1934 newspaper column: 2

You can’t legislate intelligence and common sense into people.

The 1939 instance referred to a single person, and so did the following instance in 1941 which occurred within a column by the pseudonymous “Church Mouse” in a religious periodical in called “The Word and Way” of Missouri: 3

A good one to tell on some preacher: When Brother Y went to hold a meeting in Arkansas he raised the intelligence level in both states.

In 1942 “The Rotarian” magazine published a humor column called “Stripped Gears” which solicited material from readers. Correspondent Anthony S. Rogers of Fort Collins, Colorado sent in a story: 4

Two farmers once engaged in an argument over the relative intelligence of their respective states . . .

“ . . . I know this to be a fact: A few years ago a neighbor of mine, who had lived on the farm just across the road all his life, moved down into your State and it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

The joke in “The Rotarian” was reprinted in “Ventura County Star-Free Press” of California. 5

In 1944 an instance appeared in “The Michigan Technic” published by the engineering students of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor: 6

Did you hear about the moron who transferred from Michigan to Ohio State and raised the I.Q. of both colleges?

In 1952 “The Clarion-Ledger” of Mississippi printed the following: 7

It is said that an itinerant “preacher” up in the Delta, member of no denomination, moved his operations across the Mississippi River into Arkansas. It was said of him that by so doing, he raised the intellectual level of both states.

In January 1955 “The Seminole Producer” of Oklahoma published an instance about Okies as told by industrialist Harry Woodhead who had moved from California to Oklahoma: 8

“Hundreds of thousands of Okies migrated to California during the dust bowl days.” Woodhead relates. “Right after this, they made a survey and found the I. Q. of both states had been raised considerably.”

In May 1955 “The Peru Pointer” newspaper of Nebraska printed an instance: 9

Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Wininger were in Omaha Wednesday. He tells us he learned there of the man so dumb that he moved from Nebraska to Kansas, thereby raising the intellectual level of both states.

In 1957 the “Longview Daily News” of Washington reported on a meeting of journalists during which Lynn T. White delivered a speech. White was the President of Mills College in Oakland, California, and after the address he was asked about the Okie migration: 10

The president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors is from Tulsa, Okla. When White finished his speech he couldn’t resist noting that White had said nothing about the large number of “Oakies” who had moved west into California during the depression. “Oklahoma recognizes that this emigration did take place,” the Tulsan said, “and that the average I.Q. in both states was improved as a result.”

In 1959 syndicated columnist Robert Ruark aimed a barb at the Governor of Louisiana Earl Long: 11

It was also said jokingly that when Long went to the mental institution in Galveston, Texas he had raised the intelligence quotient of two states.

In 1962 “The Ada Evening News” of Oklahoma printed this instance: 12

Oklahoma’s infamous inferiority complex is taking a beating. Newest joke at O. U. “Did you hear about the Oklahoman who moved to Texas?” Nope. “Raised the I. Q. of both states 50 per cent.”

In 1969 the “Sequoyah County Times” reported that the Governor of Oklahoma Dewey F. Bartlett employed the joke: 13

In a humorous vein near the start of his talk, he said in reference to the once large scale migration of Oklahomans toward the west:

“It is my opinion the migration of Okies to California raised the I.Q. of both states.”

In 1970 Governor Dewey F. Bartlett used the joke again, but this time he credited Will Rogers: 14

Speaking before a Town Hall of California gathering in Long Beach, Bartlett said the innovation has helped his administration fight Oklahoma’s longstanding problems of outmigration and erosion of job opportunities.

“I like what Will Rogers once said: When the Okies migrated to California, it raised the I.Q. in both states,” he said.

In 1975 Bartlett presented a statement to a committee of the U.S. Senate. Bartlett credited Will Rogers with a variant remark about Texas instead of California: 15

I would like to comment to my good friends from Texas, along the lines that Will Rogers said when he left Oklahoma and went to Texas; “It raised the IQ of both States.”

In 1990 Australian journalist Peter Fitzsimons wrote a piece in “The Sydney Morning Herald” about former New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon: 16

At dinner the night before, when we had been on opposite sides in a sport v politics debate, he had held the audience electrified from the moment he ambled to the podium.

“Of course,” he had said, setting the crowd laughing at my expense, “everybody knows that when all those New Zealanders went to Australia at the end of the ’70s the average IQ in both countries was lifted considerably. . .”

So what if it was a very old, endlessly reworked joke? They thought he was a riot.

In 1997 “The Speaker’s Quote Book” edited by Roy B. Zuck included the following entry: 17

When I moved from Oklahoma to California the IQ of both states went up.
—Will Rogers

In 2008 the “Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” edited by Ned Sherrin included this entry: 18

When New Zealanders emigrate to Australia, it raises the average IQ of both countries.
Robert Muldoon 1921-92: attributed

In conclusion, the quips attributed to Will Rogers and Robert Muldoon were part of an evolving family of expressions which was initiated by 1939. Columnist Herbert L. Carver employed the earliest instance known to QI, but QI conjectures he was repeating an existing quip.

Will Rogers probably did not employ this joke. It was attributed to him in 1970, a few decades after his death. Robert Muldoon did employ this joke by 1990, but it was already in circulation.

Image Notes: Public domain abstract illustration of neurons and brain from geralt (Gerd Altmann) at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(In October 2021 Ryan Anderson was a guest contributor to the email newsletter “Why is this interesting?” Anderson referred to the “Will Rogers Phenomenon”. This caused QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1939 April 6, McComb Daily Journal, The Jackson Go-Round by Herbert L. Carver, Quote Page 5, Column 5, McComb, Mississippi. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1934 March 17, The Boston Daily Globe, Will Rogers’ Dispatch by Will Rogers, Quote Page 1, Column 8, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  3. 1941 December 18, The Word and Way and Central Baptist, Ex Cathedra by the Church Mouse, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Published by The Western Baptist Publishing Company, Kansas City, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1942 December, The Rotarian, Stripped Gears: My Favorite Story (Story from Anthony S. Rogers of Fort Collins, Colorado), Quote Page 62, Column 2, Published by Rotary International, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1942 November 24, Ventura County Star-Free Press, Two States Affected, Quote Page 10, Column 2, Ventura, California. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1944 February, The Michigan Technic, Volume 62, Number 5, The Technic Reflects, Quote Page 13, Column 1, Published by the students of the College of Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1952 December 11, The Clarion-Ledger, Hew-itt To the Line: Let the Chips Fall Where They May by Purser Hewitt, Quote Page 22, Column 1, Jackson, Mississippi. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1955 January 5, The Seminole Producer, Seeds From the Grass Roots by Leland Gourley (Editor of the Henryetta Free-Lance), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Seminole, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  9. 1955 May 5, The Peru Pointer, News and Views, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Peru, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
  10. 1957 July 15, Longview Daily News, News and Views by JMMjr., Quote Page 1, Column 1, Longview, Washington. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1959 December 4, Boston Traveler, Too Long For the Longs by Robert C. Ruark, Quote Page 35, Column 6, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  12. 1962 April 5, The Ada Evening News, (Banner near top of page), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Ada, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  13. 1969 September 11, Sequoyah County Times, Governor Speaks of Great Future for Basin Region, Quote Page 1, Column 7 and 8, Sallisaw, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  14. 1970 February 6, Los Angeles Times, ‘Okie-Type Companies’ Cutting Job Erosion by Robert E. Wood (Times Staff Writer), Section 3, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  15. 1975, FEA Nominations, Hearing Before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-Fourth Congress, First Session, Nominations of Gorman C. Smith and John A. Hill, Date: April 16, 1975, Statement of Hon. Dewey F. Bartlett, A U.S. Senator from The State of Oklahoma, Start Page 6, Quote Page 7, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (Google Books Full View) link
  16. 1990 October 9, The Sydney Morning Herald, On the record — on and on by Peter Fitzsimons, Quote Page 15, Column 6, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Newspapers_com)
  17. 1997, The Speaker’s Quote Book: Over 4,500 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions, Edited by Roy B. Zuck, Topic: California, Quote Page 44, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans)
  18. 2008, Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Ned Sherrin, Topic: Australia, Quote Page 24, Oxford University Press, New York. (Verified on paper)