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The Great Depression in America

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The Great Depression:

What about the Children

HUS 104

Suzanne By

The Great Depression in America was a time of great suffering for millions of Americans.  By 1930 25% of American workers had no employment. () Americans who had previously been thriving and earning a healthy wage were suddenly without jobs.  Many who had money in stocks and in banks lost all they had when the stock market crashed.  By 1933 more than 11,000 of the nation’s 25,000 banks had failed.()  Many of the children and youth from that time grew up wondering where their next meal was coming from, whether they would have a roof over their head and if they would have clothing to keep them warm.  What kind of effect did this have on them?  Were the effects all negative or was it a combination of both negative and positive effects.  Children are resilient and many times will, as a result of hard and trying times, find ways to survive and even thrive.  This being said what happened to them during the Great Depression was difficult and to see what effect this did have will come not just from history books but by hearing from the people who lived it.  This can be accomplished by reading and listening to oral histories from the people who grew up during this time.

One of the things that had adverse effects on the children was not knowing where their next meal would come from or where they would lay their head to rest at night.  Having basic needs met is critical for children.  They need to feel safe and have security in knowing that these needs will be met.  According to some of the people who were children back then “There were times when we didn’t know whether we’d have anything to eat at night.  (Terkel)  Robert A. Baird a child of the depression stated, “My dad lost the house he was buying, and we had to rent for a while. He went through bankruptcy which was a common thing”.  Another young person from the depression Pauline Kael stated “There were kids who didn’t have a place to sleep, huddling under bridges.”  She was attending college on scholarship and remembers many days not having any food to eat. (Terkel 346,347).  In the book “Letters to Mrs. Roosevelt”, the first lady received thousands of letters from young people asking for her to help them with problems arising from the depression (Burrell 442).  Many others recall never having a store bought coat.  Children that grew up on farms in many instances had food but couldn’t afford clothing or shoes.  Many who lived in cities had neither food or clothing and remember scrounging for food, living in a shack that was in such bad repair that it couldn’t be rented they were just allowed to live in it for free. (“Always a helping hand”)  So many of the young people during the Great Depression learned what it was like to be hungry, to fight for their survival.  To just get by day after day with very little was what all they knew.

As the Depression wore on many of the public schools began to feel the strain of it.  Many had to close as a result and nearly a third of a million children were out of school. (Shannon 94)  Other districts had to severely limit the number of days they were in operation.  There were several other ways the states found to cut costs of education as well, by cutting out art and music, by increasing class sizes and having no health services or even enough books and other materials.  All these contributed to how the Great Depression affected the children.  Many children had little or no formal education. (Shannon)

Many children were also malnourished during the Great Depression there was not enough food to go around.  According to Grace Abbott who was the Chief of the children’s Bureau, Department of Labor, “there was fear of what was happening and what could happen.  This was destroying a sense of security that was considered necessary for the happiness and well-being of children.”(Shannon 50-51)  The infant mortality was low but the health of children was being affected in New York City, it was reported that 20.5 were suffering from malnutrition. (Shannon 51) In other major cities teachers and staff would contribute portions of their salaries to help feed hungry, undernourished children. Older children who were out wandering (known as boy and girl tramps) were also hungry and would go for days with very little top eat.  They would pick up meals at relief stations, these meals would help but for a growing young man they were inadequate.(Shannon 60-62)  These tramps traveled by trains all over the country, many of them traveling in gangs for safety (Watkins 60).  In the summer of 1932 a sociologist named Thomas Minehan began a study of these adolescent tramps (Walkins 60).  He noted that these young people comforted each other when they were lonely or Ill.  They protected girls from men who may have tried to rape them.  For these children it was just a form of survival as there was nothing for them at home.  Many times the family just had too many mouths to feed. Sometimes these young people came from abusive households and needed to get out.  Either way it was just another part of what these children endured during this time.



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