Added to Medium, May 31, 2018
For this week, I was asked to write about a topic in history that always interested this patron: people’s experience during the Great Depression. She is interested in this topic because she was told about her mother’s life when the Great Depression hit, and her mother told her that years later she did not realize the impact of the Great Depression until many years later when she talked about it with her friends. I also thought it is an interesting topic to discuss because I knew of the general information about what happened during the Great Depression, and learning more about the specific experiences of individuals within the United States would not only give us the human perspective of the event but it would also help us identify with the individuals as we continue to recover from the recession.
I took a closer look into learning about individuals’ experiences during the Great Depression through the material I came across.
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression which took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. According to PBS, on Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression, which was the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. A strong believer in rugged individualism, President Herbert Hoover did not think the federal government should offer relief to the poverty-stricken population. Focusing on a trickle-down economic program to help finance businesses and banks, Hoover met with resistance from business executives who preferred to lay off workers. Not many people living during that time understood how everyone was living since the big hit and the years since then.
In Washington state, for instance, more than a quarter of the population had lost their source of income, from unemployment or loss of a family breadwinner. According to research from the University of Washington, in response to the larger changes happening in the government
People in Washington and across the nation developed new household and work practices, navigated emerging social systems of welfare, explored different avenues of social protest, and reworked their understandings of their role in communities, in the nation, and in the world.
The changes during the Great Depression were absolutely felt by the individuals who lived in the state. An article written and posted through the University of Washington by Annie Morro provides a glimpse of what everyday life was like in the town of Bellingham after the Great Depression.
In the town of Bellingham, which had been a thriving coal-mining town in Washington’s Whatcom County, many men found their wages and hours cut, or lost their jobs completely. Meanwhile the wives and mothers throughout Whatcom County did their best to adjust to the hard times, and one way to do this was to change household routines such as cooking simple recipes like Quick Breads that used every day ingredients and left money typically spent on bread for their other needs.
Women were expected to be a positive force in the community and the supportive center of a family and community weathering hardships. It was anticipated that women would become active community members by attending PTA meetings, raising funds for charities, collecting clothing for the needy, saving at the market, raising a family, and providing encouragement for disheartened husbands all while keeping up a happy, normal appearance. Children in the Bellingham community absolutely felt the affects of the Great Depression.
They were raised to be competitive on the job market and active members of their community, which reflected the cooperative community’s values as well as the competitive nature of a very tight job market. Older children, teenagers and college students, felt the effects of the Great Depression through school budget cuts which made it harder for them to begin their own lives through the difficult times. The experiences of each individual in the United States seemed similar while at the same time more specific experiences were different from one another.
I learned of an experience from the patron whose mother lived in Massachusetts as a little girl during the Great Depression. This patron’s mother grew up on Cape Cod, and lived on vegetables grown in her family’s garden. As an adult, she learned about one of her friends, who lived closer to the Boston area, knew too well about the concept of “coresies”. Coresies was when someone yelled out coresies that person would be able to eat the core of the apple once the person who was eating the apple left the core. As I compared the experiences of individuals from Washington and the two women from Massachusetts, I noticed that each individual of varying ages had different perspectives of the Great Depression based on what society expected from them.
Families had to adapt in order to survive, and their misfortunes did not seem to end until the New Deal introduced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to help people turn their lives around. It took until the end of World War II for the nation to fully recover from the Great Depression.
What experiences have you learned about individuals who lived during the Great Depression? Are there similarities and differences that stood out the most to you?