Despair Fills The Air By Ashley Velloso

Parents Across the Nation Struggling to Feed their Families

A mother with two children leaving their run-down home. This family, like many others, felt that the time of despair would never end.

The struggles endured during the Great Depression affected lives in many ways. The economy felt great devastation in the Great Depression. Consumerism and the growth of industry was prospering. The stock market was booming and people never wanted to sell their stocks, expecting that the prices would continue to rise. Then, everything went crashing down. The stock market crash of 1929 had signaled the start of this economic downturn. Factories and stores had shut down, businesses had laid off workers, and there were severe cutbacks in hour and pay.

Hopelessness Fills the Air in the Hoovervilles

A makeshift house made of scraps. A woman sits in front of the dirty shack.

The demand for manufactured goods as well as agricultural goods were at an extreme low. Droughts added insult to injury for farmers as the weather changed drastically in the Great Plains. Hoover attempted to help the situation through private relief efforts, but it was not enough to make a significant impact. Franklin D. Roosevelt, however, focused on helping people directly, which increased the role government played in people’s lives. Although this did not end the Great Depression, it did help stop the extreme plummet in the economy. The Great Depression only ended because of World War 2, when manufacturing rose with the number of war products being produced.

Single Mothers Facing Great Struggles

A single mother with two children living in a makeshift shack home. They have rags as clothing and can't afford shoes any longer.

The state of the economy affected people differently, though. Women were typically the first ones to be laid off, which was extremely inconvenient for divorced or widowed mothers who only had one paycheck. Women who did try to get jobs were labeled as job robbers.

Dust Bowl Destroys Everything

A home and car buried under dust from the Dust Bowl.

For farmers, the demand for their products dropped even more in the 30s. Surpluses had built up from the overproduction during World War 1. The agricultural economy was at a very low point.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Uses the Radio to Connect with the American People

A family listening intently to the Fireside Chats on their radio. They felt hopeful while listening to their President speak about how he was going to help the economy.

Leisure time had also become less "extravagant", at least for people who were not extremely wealthy. Modern conveniences had made life easier in the 20s. Everyone tried to get the latest “must have” items. People went out on the town to the movies or clubs. Flappers danced their hearts out, while jazz musicians played their hearts out. The prohibition of alcohol had only caused speakeasies to open up. There were 32,000 of these secret bars in New York City alone. But, during the Great Depression, people could barely afford these leisure activities.

An Evening Out in the 1930s

An empty theater during the Great Depression. Many people had barely enough money to eat, let alone go to the movies.

When people did afford to have an evening out on the town, they chose dance clubs or movie theaters. While in the 20s these places were used for fun, they were used as an escape during the Great Depression.

Nightlife in the 30s

Group of men and women “dancing their troubles away” during the Great Depression. Some people still tried to feel positive.

Leisure time for women also changed greatly. The once young ladies who danced the night away without their parent's permission, were now stuck at home sewing and making creative dishes from leftovers.

A Look at Life on a Farm

Farm children creating their own “merry go round” to play with. They didn’t have much else to have fun with.

During the war, farmers may have had certain luxuries as well, but these were taken away after.

The Breadwinners

Unemployed men lined up outside to get free food for their families.

Home life had also changed for the average citizen. Consumerism had led to people owning several convenience items in the 1920s. They bought their clothes in stores, and washed their dishes in a dish washer. This all changed a decade after. Some people did not even have a home. Many people had to leave their homes because they lacked enough money to pay their mortgages.

The Dreaded Hoovervilles

These were shacks people made in cities when they lost their homes. They were named after Hoover because they believed he was the cause for their living situation.

The middle and working class families adjusted to “making do.” The wealthy, however, barely even noticed the depression was happening. The poor struggled to stay fed and have shelter. Soup kitchens opened and work camps were created. Some lived in Hoovervilles; dirty, run-down shacks created in the cities. People in rural areas sometimes rode the rails in hope of finding work someplace else, far from the Dust Bowl. Most of these people traveled to California. But, these migrants were sometimes discriminated against once they got there. Also, many times it was as hard to make a living there.

The Housewife

Mother cleaning her own clothes at home for her family. Convenience items like laundry machines had to be sold to buy food for families.

Mothers had to take on new responsibilities. Families had fallen apart. This was because of several fathers who took the "poor man's divorce” option. This made it even harder on the mother of the family. They already had other responsibilities of their own. Women had to make sure that their children were fed, but still make ends meet. As the popular saying went, "we didn't go hungry, but we lived lean."

Too much food for the farmers, too little for the city folk

Farmers pouring out their surpluses of milk. Farmers had an advantage of having enough food for their families, but the demand for farm products were too low for them to sell any of it.

Farmers also experienced a difficult home life. Farmers went into debt, which resulted in several farms going into foreclosure. Farmers and their families were left homeless. Those who did not lose their homes still struggled to pay the bills. Houses were also lost during the Dust Bowl, buried under the piles of dust.

The Government Needs to Take Action

Little boy protesting for the government to help the unemployed.

The role of government changed as the economy did, as well. In the 20s, there were three Republican presidents, all with similar tactics. The economy was booming without government help, so they thought it was best to not interfere. Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover’s policies always supported businesses. The policies never affected the people directly. But, when the Great Depression hit America, Hoover did not know what to do. He continued to believe in limited government involvement. He did not provide any direct relief to the American people. Of course, citizens were angry because they felt that he did not even care about what they were going through. The anger he created led to 20,000 veterans gathering in Washington D.C., demanding to get their bonuses.

Government Help Finally on its Way

FDR signing New Deal bills to help the economy.

So, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was quickly elected. The new president created bills part of his New Deal. He created relief, recovery, and reform programs. This expanded executive power greatly.

Women's New Role in Government

Female reporters gathered by Eleanor Roosevelt for a press conference.

Women were able to benefit through his presidency because of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. She advanced women's rights by holding conferences for female reporters only, and urging FDR to appoint women in government positions.

Are Surpluses Going to Be a Thing of the Past?

A farmer receiving a check from his county supervisor. He earned this money in exchange for not growing crops. This was the AAA, part of the New Deal.

Farmers also received a helping hand from the government. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed which paid farmers to now grow as many crops. Also, the Civilian Conservation Corps hired the train-hopping young men to work in disaster relief, planting trees, creating parks, and preserving natural areas. Tragedy can impact the human experience in many ways. Many will do the best they can to cope, and adjust to the difficult situation they are in. Although tragedy can be dreadful in the moment, it can strengthen people and prepare them for future struggles.

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