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The Great Depression
Transcript of The Great Depression
Artists and Intellectuals
Many Americans in the 1930s were shocked to discover rural poverty.
Photographers traveled throughout the South, taking pictures of agriculture life during the Depression.
There was some literature that exposed the country's poverty, but it was not as popular as cultural products that distracted people from the Depression.
Almost every family had a radio in the 1930s.
Radio was often a community experience and brought families together.
Mostly escapist programming.
Radios helped draw the nation together and reshaped the social life of many Americans.
Americans reinforced their commitment to traditional ideas and goals, mainly individualism.
However, the Depression slightly weakened the traditional "success ethic." Some Americans began relying on government aid.
Americans blamed themselves for the Depression.
Dale Carnegie’s book
How to Win Friends and Influence People
(1936) was a best-selling book and helped many Americans.
The most popular form of entertainment during the Depression
Censored by Will Hays and the studio system
Neither the censor nor the studio system could prevent films from exploring social questions. (Grapes of Wrath, Frank Capra films)
Most films, however, were escapist.
Marx brothers' films were popular.
The 1930s marked the beginning of Walt Disney's long reign as champion of animation and children's entertainment.
After producing short cartoons in the 20s, (Mickey Mouse), Disney began producing feature-length animated films.
His first film was
The Coming of the Great Depression
In February 1928, stock prices began a steady rise. The average price of stocks increased over 40 percent. Trading mushroomed to as many as 10 or 12 million stocks a day. There was also a short speculative fever .
In the autumn of 1929, the market began to fall apart. There were alarming declines in stock prices followed by temporary recoveries. On October 29, the stock market failed. Over 16 million shares of stocks were traded, the industrial index dropped 43 points; and stocks of many companies became worthless.
Causes of the Great Depression
One factor of the severity of the crisis was the lack of diversification in the American economy.
A second factor was the maldistribution of purchasing power which resulted in weakness in consumer demand.
A third problem was the credit structure of the economy.
A fourth factor was America’s position in international trade.
A fifth factor was the international debt structure that had emerged in the aftermath of WW I.
Progress of the Depression
The stock market crash helped trigger a chain of events that exposed longstanding weaknesses in the American economy.
A collapse of much of the banking system followed the stock market crash. The money supply of the nation fell by more than a third between 1930 and 1933. Members of the Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates in 1931, which contracted the money supply even further.
Popular Literature and Journalism
The struggles of the Great Depression found more voice in literature and journalism than in radios and movies.
However, the most popular books and magazines at that time were romantic and escapist.
Unemployment and Relief
Cities were becoming paralyzed by unemployment, with a rate of up to 80%.
A large number of families were turning to state and local public relief systems, just to be able to eat. Those systems were unequipped to handle new demands, and relief simply collapsed. Private charities and State governments tried to help but both had issues preventing them from giving adequate support.
A large area of agricultural settlement in the Great Plains of the South and West was suffering from one of the worst droughts in the history of the nation. A rise in temperature along with decreased rainfall turned most of the fertile lands into deserts.
African Americans and the Depression
The collapse of prices for cotton and other staple crops left some A.A.s with no income at all. Many left the land altogether. Some migrated to southern cities.
Unemployed whites believed they had first claim to all work and began to take positions in menial jobs displacing the African Americans who formerly occupied such jobs.
Whites demanded that all blacks be dismissed from their jobs and used intimidation and violence to drive them from jobs. What limited relief from unemployment that there was, almost always went to whites first.
Around 400,000 blacks left the South and journeyed to the cities of the North. There they found generally less blatant discrimination. Conditions were in most respects little better than in the South
The Scottsboro Case: In 1931, 9 black teenagers were arrested for vagrancy and disorder. Later, two white women also accused them of rape. There was overwhelming evidence that the women were lying but they were convicted anyway. The Supreme Court overturned the convictions in 1932. Eventually all nine were freed by 1950.
Mexican Americans in Depression America
Mexican Americans filled many of the same menial jobs in the West and elsewhere that blacks filled in other regions. They occupied the lower ranks of the unskilled labor force.
White Anglos in the Southwest demanded jobs held by Hispanics,and Mexican unemployment rose quickly to levels far higher than those for Anglos. Some Mexicans were forced to leave the country by officials. Most relief programs excluded Mexicans, and Mexican children had no access to American schools and many hospitals refused them admission. Most Mexicans began to migrate to cities such as Los Angeles, where they lived in poverty.
Asian Americans in Hard Times
For Asians, the Depression reinforced discrimination and economic marginalization. In California, even educated Asians found it impossible to move into mainstream professions. College graduates were often working at fruit stands. They often lost jobs to white Americans desperate for work.
The Japanese formed clubs that worked for laws protecting racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination.
An overwhelming majority of Chinese continued to work in Chinese-owned laundries and restaurants. They could rarely find jobs above the entry level.
Women and the Workplace in the Great Depression
The Depression worked to strengthen the belief that a woman’s proper place was in the home. There was also a strong belief that no woman whose husband was employed should accept a job.
Professional opportunities for women declined because men began moving into traditional women’s jobs. But the women also had advantages. The nonprofessional jobs were less likely to disappear because men weren’t likely to ask for those jobs.
Black women suffered massive unemployment, but more of them worked after the Depression because it had always been more likely for them to work, less out of preference than out of economic necessity.
The Popular Front and Left
The late 30s marked the rise of the Popular Front.
Its most important group was the American Communist Party (ACP).
The ACP was against capitalism and helped organized the unemployed.
It was also in favor of racial justice
The Socialist Party and
The Socialist Party of America also blamed the Depression on the failure of capitalism.
It supported the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU).
Neither the STFU nor the party made any real progress toward establishing socialism as a major force in American politics.
Anti-radicalism was a strong force in the 1930s, just like it had been during WWI.
The Left's New Respectability
The 30s was a rare time where being part of the left was respectable among workers, intellectuals, and others.
Thus, the 30s experienced a widening of the ideological range of mainstream art and politics.
The most successful piece of literature portraying social conditions was John Steinbeck's novel
The Grapes of Wrath
(1939). Its movie was released in 1940.
The economic hardships of the Depression years placed great strains on American families.
Women often returned to sewing clothes for themselves and their families and to preserving their own food rater than buying such products in stores. Others engaged in home businesses taking in laundry, selling baked goods, accepting boarders. Households expanded to include distant relatives. Parents often moved in with their children and grandparents with their grandchildren or vice versa.
There was a decline in divorce rate. More common was the desertion of families by unemployed men. The marriage and birth rates declined also.
The Hoover Program
Hoover wanted to restore public confidence in the economy
In 1930, Hoover tried to convince leaders of business, labor, and agriculture to adopt a program of voluntary cooperation. It failed by mid-1931.
Hoover also tried to use government spending to fight the Depression. In 1932, at the depth of the Depression, he proposed a tax increase to help the government avoid a deficit.
Hoover and the Agricultural Economy
April 1929: Hoover proposed the Agricultural Marketing Act
Hoover tried to protect American farmers from international competition with the Hawley-Smoot Tariff of 1930.
Neither pieces of legislation helped American farmers significantly.
Hoover's Declining Popularity and More Failures...
By 1931, Hoover's political position had deteriorated considerably.
Many Americans blamed President Hoover for the crisis. They began naming towns with large numbers of unemployed people "Hoovervilles."
January 1932: bill was passed establishing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).
The RFC failed to deal directly with the real problems of the economy or produce any significant recovery.
1932: unhappy farmers gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, to establish the Farmers' Holiday Association. In the end, it was a failure.
1932: American Veterans, members of the "Bonus Army," marched into Washington, built crude camps, around the city, and promised to stay until Congress passed legislation to pay them their promised bonus of $1,000 early (planned for 1945).
Hoover got rid of the Bonus Army using the United States Army.
This incident made Hoover a symbol of failure.
The Election of 1932
The Republicans nominated Herbert Hoover for a second term.
The Democrats nominated Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In national politics, FDR avoided divisive issues and emphasized the economic grievances that most Democrats shared. This helped him win his party's nomination.
When FDR addressed the Democratic national convention, he said "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." "New Deal" became a promise to Americans that prosperity would return.
FDR won the election by a landslide due to Hoover's extreme unpopularity.
In the 4 months between the election and the inauguration, the economic crisis continued to get worse.
In the months after the election, Hoover tried to get FDR to pledge to stick to policies of economic orthodoxy.
A month before FDR took office, the collapse of the banking system accelerated.
March 4, 1933, the day of inauguration, was, therefore, a day of economic crisis and considerable personal bitterness.