1920 – 1948 Confidence and Crises The Great Depression

Key Ideas

1. All Americans felt the impact of the Great Depression.

2. Both society and the federal government placed greater value on women’s role in the home during the Depression.

3. Women actively participated in growing bureaucracies, holding leadership positions at the highest levels of government.

4. From managing the home to organizing protests, women worked tirelessly throughout the Depression to ensure daily life continued and Americans received their fair share.

Introduction

Workers Alliance leader Emma Tenayuca speaking to crowd outside San Antonio City Hall, March 8, 1937. Courtesy, UTSA Special Collections.

The Great Depression

If the Jazz Age propelled American women into the modern world, the Great Depression was a retreat back into the home.

The 1920s offered women the opportunity to celebrate their achievements as voters, consumers, and creative voices. But as the economy crashed and unemployment rose, money dried up and much of the excitement disappeared. The family became the officially recognized and government sanctioned backbone of American society. More than ever, women were expected to roll up their sleeves and keep their homes and families running smoothly – and on a budget. Women without a family – either by choice or by circumstance – were often overlooked.

Local, state, and federal government policies favored men and discouraged married women from entering the workforce. New Deal programs for women relied on sewing and other traditional forms of women’s work.

For more about women during the Great Depression, watch the video below.

This video is from “Women Have Always Worked,” a free massive open online course produced in collaboration with Columbia University.

Section Essential Questions

1. How did the Great Depression change women’s lives?

2. How did the emphasis on married women and domesticity shape women’s experiences during this era?

3. How did women actively contribute to revitalizing the economy and the nation?

4. How did new forms of entertainment, media, and culture shape women’s lives and provide an outlet from the daily toil?

Resources

Advertising related to the challenges of maintaining a family on a tight budget.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
consumer culture, daily life, fashion, Great Depression, marriage & family, motherhood
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Dresses demonstrating the influence of mass media on daily life.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
art & culture, daily life, consumer culture, entertainment & media, fashion, Great Depression
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A newspaper article about a mother who made and sold illegal liquor out of necessity.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
daily life, motherhood, marriage & family, Great Depression, work, law & legal status, Prohibition
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Photographs of women sharecroppers taken by agents of the Farm Security Administration.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Black experiences, Latinx experiences, daily life, Great Depression, New Deal, politics & government, art & culture, social reform, work
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A two-page spread from a Communist publication encouraging housewives to join a national meat boycott.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, consumer culture, daily life, Great Depression, organized labor, politics & government, New Deal, motherhood, marriage & family, work, social reform
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A Wisconsin Senate resolution condemning married women in the government workplace.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
daily life, work, marriage & family, motherhood, social reform, law & legal status, politics & government, Great Depression
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A page from a union scrapbook highlighting the involvement of women in Depression Era picket lines.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
work, social reform, law & legal status, politics & government, Great Depression
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A federal report on women receiving government assistance in Chicago.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Black experiences, daily life, Great Depression, Great Migration, immigration, marriage & family, New Deal, politics & government, public & personal health, social sciences & anthropology, social reform, work
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A sculpture created by Harlem Renaissance sculptor Augusta Savage for the 1939 World’s Fair.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, art & culture, Black experiences, entertainment & media, Great Depression, Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow, New Deal, race & racism, social reform, work
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Amelia Earhart’s advice to a young aspiring adventurer.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
entertainment & media
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Life Stories

The story of Southern widow who transformed her need to work into a high-ranking government career.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
daily life, New Deal, Great Depression, marriage & family, motherhood, law & legal status, politics & government, Red Scare, art & culture, social reform
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The story of a woman whose Progressive Era commitment to education and civil rights led to high-profile roles in New Deal America.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, Black experiences, education, Great Migration, Jim Crow, law & legal Status, politics & government, New Deal, race & racism, social reform, work, war, Great Depression
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The story of a documentary photographer who captured the lives of citizens from the New Deal through World War II.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, art & culture, daily life, marriage & family, motherhood, New Deal, politics & government, social reform, work, war, Great Depression
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The story of a labor leader who led a major food-industry strike in her early 20s and was eventually ostracized for her political beliefs.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
activism, Great Depression, immigration, Latinx experiences, law & legal status, New Deal, politics & government, organized labor, race & racism, social reform, work, Red Scare
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The story of a woman whose Hawaiian heritage inspired her to resist Americanization and dedicate her career to cultural preservation.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Native people, education, social sciences & anthropology, race & racism, work, art & culture
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