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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?

1. Unemployment

2. Homelessness

3. Poverty

4. Destruction of families

5. Farm losses

B. What was President Herbert Hoover's economic policy during the depression?

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.

 

A PERSONAL VIEW OF THE DEPRESSION

I. Mary Owlsey Recalls Life in Oklahoma City:

"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 the Depression.

"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 have food….


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…

 

Letters to Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady, was known for her kindness and generosity. Her are a few of the letters she received.

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
 
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.
 
Pineville N.V.
April 20, 1935

 

Mrs. Roosevelt.
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
R.P. Gordon
Pineville N.C.

 

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

They used to tell me I was 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 DIME.

 

Headlines of 1932

U.S STEEL LAYS OFF ANOTHER 10,000

GENERAL MOTORS STOCK DOWN FROM $500 A SHARE TO $10 A SHARE

CHICAGO TEACHERS FEED 11,000 HUNGRY CHILDREN

IOWA CORN WAY DOWN IN PRICE

SALE-SALE-SALE SUITS AND COATS FOR $15

KENTUCKY COAL MINERS FOUND LIVING ON DANDELIONS

N.Y.C. COPS TO CARRY LIST OF CHARITIES TO DIRECT THE HELPLESS

110 CHILDREN IN N.Y.C. DIE FROM MALNUTRITION


Some Interesting Statistics

National Income: 1929--$81 billion

1932--$41 billion

Business Failures: 1929-32--85,000

Banks: 1929-32 - 9,000 failures and 9,000,000 accounts wiped out

Per capita income: 1929 -- $681

1932 -- $495

Weekly income of a stenographer: 1929 -- $45

1932 -- $16

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