How did the Great Depression affect the lives and dreams of those that lived through it?
As we have just discussed the causes of the great depression we
must assess the human costs of the depression and the impact it had
on many Americans.
I. The Great Depression
A. What made life so hard during the Great Depression?
4. Destruction of families
5. Farm losses
B. What was President Herbert Hoover’s economic policy during the
1. Refused to use the Fed to increase money supply.
2. Followed Laissez Faire philosophy – left the economy alone:
“the ship would right itself.”
3. Believed in “Rugged Individualism” people should “pick
themselves up by the boot straps…”
4. Passage of Smoot-Hawley Tariff (40% Protective Tariff)
5. Eventually created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation
(RFC) to loan money to business but this was too little too late.
C. What was the reaction to Hoover’s policies?
1. He was basically hated.
2. Homeless set up “Hoovervilles” – tent cities.
D. How did this effect people’s
perception of government?
1. The felt for the first
time that government was not their to protect them.
2. People’s ideals began to shift
away from the conservative laissez faire ideology.
3. Those that lived through the
depression are very frugal and careful with their money. They also
tend to distrust banks.
I. Mary Owlsey Recalls Life in
“There was thousands of people our of
work in Oklahoma City. They set up a soup line, and the food was
clean and it was delicious. Many, many people, colored and white, I
didn’t see any difference, ’cause there was just as many white people
out of work than were colored. Lost everything they had accumulated
from their young days. And these are facts. I remember several
families had to leave in covered wagons. To California, I guess……
I knew one family there in Oklahoma
City, a man and woman and seven children lived in a hole in the
ground. You’d be surprised how nice it was, how nice they kept it.
They had chairs and tables and beds back in that hole. And they had
the dirt all braced upon there, just like a cave……
A lot of times one family would have
some food, They would divide. And everyone would share. Even the
people that were quite well to do, they was ashamed. ‘Cause they was
eating’, and other people wasn’t.
My husband was very bitter, That’s
just puttin’ it mild. He was an intelligent man. He couldn’t see why
as wealthy a country as this is, that there was any sense in so many
people starving to death, when some much of it, wheat and everything
else, was being poured into the ocean.
II. Pauline Kael a well-known film critic, was a
college student at the University of California at Berkeley during
“When I attended Berkeley in 1936, so
many of the kids had actually lost their fathers. They had wandered
off in disgrace because they couldn’t support their families. Other
fathers had killed themselves so the family could have the insurance.
Families had totally broken down. Each father took it as his personal
failure. These middle class men apparently had no social sense of
what was going on, so they killed themselves.
It was still the Depression. There
were kids who didn’t have a place to sleep, huddling under bridges on
the campus, I had a scholarship, but there were times when I didn’t
III. Ben Isaacs was a salesman in
Chicago during the Depression:
“We tried to struggle along living
day by day. Then I couldn’t pay the rent. I had a little car, but I
couldn’t pay no license for it. I left it parked against the court. I
sold it for fifteen dollars in order to buy some food for the family.
I had three little children……
Wherever I went to get a job, I
couldn’t get no job. I went around selling razor blades and
shoelaces. There was a day I would go over all the streets and come
home with fifty cents, making a sale.
Finally, people started to talk me
into going into the relief… I didn’t want to go on relief. Believe
me, when I was forced to go to the office of the relief, the tears
were running out of my eyes. I couldn’t bear myself to take money
from anybody for nothing. If it wasn’t for those kids–I tell you the
truth–many a time it came to my mind to go commit suicide than go
ask for relief. But somebody (had) to take care of those kids…
Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady,
was known for her kindness and generosity. Her are a few of the
letters she received.
I am a boy of eleven. And have
to walk five miles to
school Will you please send me,
a bicycle as all the
boys around me have
bicycles. And there are seven
children in the family
and dad is unable to buy me
one. With many thanks.
Your friend, Charles Edmondson
I am writing to you for
some of your old spoiled dress if
you have any. I am a poor girl who has to stay out of school on account
of dresses, and slips, and a coat. I am in the seventh grade in
school but I have to stay out of school because I have no books or
clothes ware. I am in need of dresses
and slips and a coat very bad.
April 20, 1935
Dear Madam, I understand that you help the
needy. I would appreciate it very much if you would give me a suit
of clothes. I’ve been out of work a long time and I believe if I had
a suit of clothes I would have a chance of getting a job.
My age is 45 years my height is
5ft 5in weight 145 lbs. If you won’t do this please don’t expose my
name Yours Truly
I am ten years old. I had
waited for Santa Claus to come but my mama said the chimney was
blocked and he couldn’t come, so I had a poor
Christmas. I was expecting Santa to bring me some things…I have
read in the papers how good you are to the poor and thought
maybe you could help me. I will appreciate it all my life. Today we
have started school from our Christmas vacation and all the
children talk about how many presents Santa had brought them and I felt so
bad because I had nothing to say.
The following song was the most
popular of the time and was emblematic of the attitude many had
during the depression.
BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A DIME
building a dream And so I followed the
mob. When there was earth to plow or
guns to bear I was always there – right
there on the job They used to tell me I was
building a dream with peace and glory I
had Why should I be standing in
line Just waiting for bread.
Once I built a railroad – made
it run Made it race against
time Once I built a railroad – not
wit’s done BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A
DIME Once I built a tower to the
sun Brick and rivet and wine
Once I built a tower – now it’s
done BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A
DIME. Once in khaki suits
Gee we looked swell – full of
that Yankee Doodledy-Dum Half a million boots, went
slogging through hell I was the kid with the
drum. Say don’t you remember, you
called me Al It was Al all the time
Say don’t you remember, I’m
your pal BUDDY CAN YOU SPARE A
U.S STEEL LAYS OFF ANOTHER
GENERAL MOTORS STOCK DOWN FROM $500 A
SHARE TO $10 A SHARE
CHICAGO TEACHERS FEED 11,000 HUNGRY
IOWA CORN WAY DOWN IN PRICE
SALE-SALE-SALE SUITS AND COATS FOR
KENTUCKY COAL MINERS FOUND LIVING ON
N.Y.C. COPS TO CARRY LIST OF
CHARITIES TO DIRECT THE HELPLESS
110 CHILDREN IN N.Y.C. DIE FROM
National Income: 1929–$81
Banks: 1929-32 – 9,000 failures and
9,000,000 accounts wiped out
Per capita income: 1929 —
1932 — $495
Weekly income of a stenographer: 1929
1932 — $16