Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Great Depression


Published on

Lecture: Familial Life and State Policies in the 1930s

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

Great Depression

  1. 1. Work and Family Life in the Great Depression HIUS157/Prof. Rebecca Jo Plant
  2. 2. Major themes • Setbacks for women – Emphasis on family survival – Hostility toward organized feminism – Cultural backlash against modern sexual and social mores • Progressive maternalists finally see many of their goals realized • New cultural models – Resourceful, self-sacrificing mothers – Plucky, independent single women
  3. 3. “Ma Joad,” Grapes of Wrath Babe Barnett, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”
  4. 4. Great Depression • Most severe economic crisis in the nation’s history – Lasted from 1929-41; worst period 1929-33 • Agricultural prices dropped – Fell more than 60% between 1929-32 • Unemployment rose – 1930: 4 million; 1932: 15 million – Nearly one-third of the entire labor force • Affected white-collar workers and skilled blue collar workers (“new poor”)
  5. 5. Depression’s visible impact • 1,000 homes foreclosed each day • Factories stood idle • Breadlines stretched for blocks • Hospitals reported an increase in death from starvation • People looked shabby
  6. 6. “Invisible” poor – single women • Images of urban poverty from the Depression overwhelmingly male – Women and children often did not stand in breadlines • Social services geared to support families – Unrealistic idea that single women should return to their families
  7. 7. Breadline
  8. 8. “Breadline” sculpture at the FDR Memorial in DC
  9. 9. Mexican-American “Repatriation” • Crisis generated hostility to immigrant workers – Municipal govts anxious about welfare rolls • US Government began a program to coerce immigrants to return Mexico – Free train rides • Hundreds of thousands forced across the border – As many as 60% US citizens
  10. 10. African Americans • Higher rates of unemployment – Downward mobility in the job market – 58% black women in Chicago • Received less government help • Conditions especially bad in the South • Some New Deal programs actually made things worse for black sharecroppers
  11. 11. Sharecroppers, Mississippi, 1937
  12. 12. How to respond? • Big changes in ideas re. government responsibility, but not in re. to gender roles • Renewed emphasis on women as homemakers • Hostility toward working women, especially married working women – 82% opposed wives working if their husbands held jobs • Including 75% of women – Roughly 50% opposed wives working under any circumstances • Including 50% of women • Only legitimate reason for women to work: to sustain families
  13. 13. Discrimination in employment • Section 213 of the Economic Recovery Act of 1932 – Married persons whose spouses worked for the federal government fired first • State and local governments refused to hire married women • So did school boards • AFL: married women workers with employed husbands “should be discriminated against” • Even women’s colleges urged graduates not to seek work
  14. 14. Women’s wage work • Nevertheless, the number of married women in the workforce increased 50% in 1930s • Ironically, sexual segregation of labor market provided a measure of protection for women – Male labor concentrated in the industries hit hardest • Construction, heavy industry, manufacturing – Clerical and service work less affected – Few examples of men moving into “women’s work” • Teaching
  15. 15. Women’s household labor • Role of housewife assumed on new importance • Stretching the family budget – ER’s 7-cent meals at the White House • Many women returned to home industry – Sewing – Canning • Others sought ways of supplementing family income – Taking in laundry, boarders, etc.
  16. 16. Orleck article • “Militant mothers”—working-class housewives – Protested evictions – Protested high food prices – Established barter networks • Saw themselves as defending traditional gender roles – Argued that the Depression had made it impossible for them to fulfill their role
  17. 17. Impact on Families • Emotional stress – Rise in domestic violence and desertion – But divorce rate actually fell • Too expensive • Thousands of families broke up; others became more closely integrated – Families pulled together, pooling resources and working together – Turned to cheap entertainment, like staying home to listen to radio
  18. 18. Delaying marriage • Marriage rates fell dramatically in early 1930s – Young people had to help support parents, younger siblings – By 1932, only 3/4ths as many people were marrying as during late 1920s – By 1938, some 1.5 million people had postponed marriage due to hard times • Led to concerns about the decline of public morality
  19. 19. Birth rate and birth control • Birth rate fell below replacement level for first time in American history • Greater public acceptance and increased availability of birth control – Government reversed course • Anxious about swelling welfare rolls – Contraception widely available by mail • Sears Roebuck advertised “preventives” • By 1940, only two states (MA and CT) still prohibited the dissemination of birth control to married couples
  20. 20. Abortion • Rising incidence • Most were not “back alley” procedures – “Professional” abortionists practiced openly – Clinic-like offices; followed medical procedures – Often bribed law enforcement • Leslie Reagan’s study of the Gabler clinic in Chicago: – Most patients (80%) married • Of these, 57% had children – Suggests attempts to limit family size
  21. 21. Ruth Barnett • Ran an abortion clinic in Portland from 1918-1968 – Claimed to have performed 40,000 abortions – Never lost a patient • Arrested for the first time in 1951
  22. 22. Repeal of Prohibition • Critics argued that it led to increased lawlessness – Bootlegging • Large industry under control of organized crime • Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform – Pauline Sabin • Children are growing up with a total lack of respect for the Constitution and for the law.” • December 1933: 21st Amendment ratified
  23. 23. WONPR poster, 1932
  24. 24. Movement for Repeal of Prohibition
  25. 25. Progressive maternalists and the New Deal • National Recovery Act of 1933 – Prohibited child labor • Social Security Act of 1935 – Provided maternal and child welfare benefits – Replaced state-level mothers’ pensions • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 – Guaranteed minimum wages and maximum hours for all workers
  26. 26. Social Security Act • Benefits not linked to citizenship, but to wage-earning – 3 components: unemployment insurance; old age assistance; aid to mothers with dependent children • Reinforced social hierarchies – Excluded: 50% of all workers; 60% of women workers; 85% of African Americans – Still a critical precedent
  27. 27. Frances Perkins • Former Hull House resident • Worked as a legislative lobbyist for the NY Consumer League (1910) – Witnessed Triangle Shirtwaist fire • FDR appointed her Secretary of Labor in 1932, making her the first woman cabinet member – Help craft minimum-wage laws and – the Social Security Act of 1935
  28. 28. Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, 1933- 1945
  29. 29. Mary McLeod Bethune
  30. 30. Mary McLeod Bethune • Child of former slaves • Active in black women’s club movement • Most prominent black woman in FDR’s government – Director of the Division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration, 1936-43 • Urged FDR (unsuccessfully) to support an anti-lynching bill
  31. 31. Eleanor Roosevelt
  32. 32. ER • Grew up a rich but unhappy socialite; drawn into reform • New model of a first lady – “My Day” – syndicated column – Outreach to black community • 1939 Resigned from the DAR due to its racism – Women’s press conferences – Strong stand on human rights
  33. 33. Legacies of the Depression • “Invisible scars” • Reinforced commitment to nuclear family model, with a male breadwinner • Helps to explain postwar demographic trends – Youthful marriages – Larger families
  34. 34. Dorothea Lange in Texas, c. 1937
  35. 35. “Migrant Mother” photos Dorothea Lange