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The Great Depression Era: Women Making Do
Lessons from Others
- Great Depression:
- Gilder Lehrman: The greatest economic calamity in the history of the United States occurred in the third decade of the twentieth century. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and the economy plummeted over the next few years, the nation sunk into the most pervasive depression in American history. No one escaped the suffering that the Great Depression produced. The ranks of the suffering went well beyond those who lost everything as a direct result of the stock market crash. While millions lost their fortunes in investments on and after October of 1929, many more lost their savings when banks collapsed and their livelihoods when whole industries failed and businesses closed their doors. The drought that hit the Midwest produced additional suffering. By 1932, every economic sector and geographic region in the country was in dire condition. Few persons escaped the disastrous effects of the depression. The hardship of unemployment, the loss of homes and farms, and the lack of institutions that could provide adequate assistance were central to the pain caused by the economic crisis. The personal cost was perhaps greatest to the part of the population on the margin of economic activity. Though women were often faced with caring for families without income from employment or traditional support, the vast majority of the government’s recovery efforts were directed at bringing life to the economy, and men were the primary recipients of these efforts. In this lesson, we will consider the lives of the millions of women in need during the depression. In order to understand the impact of the Great Depression on women, we will read accounts, look at images, and evaluate programs directed toward some of those women. Finally we will analyze society’s expectations of women before, during, and after the Great Depression.
- Stanford History Education Group: Dorothea Lange’s iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph is often used to illustrate the toll of the Great Depression, but many neglect to examine the photograph as historical evidence. This lesson asks students to think carefully about the strengths and weaknesses of the photo as evidence of the conditions facing migrant workers during the Great Depression.
- Eleanor Roosevelt:
- Gilder Lehrman: Students will be asked to read and analyze primary and secondary sources about Eleanor Roosevelt and the work she did to support social justice issues both in the United States and around the world. They will look at the role of first lady and see how Mrs. Roosevelt expanded that role to influence the political, social, and economic issues of the twentieth century. Students will increase their literacy skills as outlined in the Common Core Standards as they explore the social justice actions taken by Eleanor Roosevelt, which at times changed the course of world events.
- Edcitement: This lesson asks students to explore the various roles that Eleanor Roosevelt took on, among them: First Lady, political activist for civil rights, newspaper columnist and author, and representative to the United Nations. Students will read and analyze materials written by and about Eleanor Roosevelt to understand the changing roles of women in politics. They will look at Eleanor Roosevelt's role during and after the New Deal as well as examine the lives and works of influential women who were part of her political network. They will also examine the contributions of women in Roosevelt's network who played critical roles in shaping and administering New Deal policies.
- National Womens History Museum: The purpose of this lesson is to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt as an agent of social change as the First Lady of the United States and later as a representative to the United Nations. Moreover, students will learn how Mrs. Roosevelt used her position as the First Lady to become a champion of human rights which extended after her time in the White House. Students will read primary sources to better understand the legacy of Mrs. Roosevelt.
- Mary McLeod Bethune:
- Teaching Tolerance: In this lesson, students will read an excerpt of an interview given by Mary McLeod Bethune and will learn that she founded the Daytona National and Industrial School for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman College) in 1904. Through close reading, they will explore and discuss connections between events from Bethune’s life experiences and their own lives, and connections between past and current events.
- National History Day: Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was born in South Carolina to parents who were former slaves. From childhood Bethune realized that education held the key for African American advancement. In 1904, she founded the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls. Her school grew rapidly, and in the 1920s merged with the all-male Cookman Institute; Mary McLeod Bethune served as the first president of the new Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune worked tirelessly for civil rights, women’s rights, and social justice. She served on commissions under Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, and in 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her the Director of the Division of Negro Affairs, part of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal program designed to help young people find jobs. Bethune became the first African American woman to serve as head of a federal agency and used her position to persistently lobby for African American issues. She founded the National Council for Negro Women in 1935, co-founded the United Negro College Fund in 1944, and attended the founding conference of the United Nations in 1949. Before her death in 1955, Bethune wrote a last will and testament that expressed her hope for a “world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.”
- Frances Perkins:
- National History Day: Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was born in Boston and graduated from Mount Holyoke College. After graduation, Perkins accepted a teaching job in Lake Forest, Illinois. While in Chicago, Perkins worked at Chicago Commons and Hull House, two of the oldest settlement houses in the country. Working with the poor and unemployed convinced Perkins that she had found her vocation. In 1907, Perkins accepted a position with the Philadelphia Research and Protective Association where she worked to protect newly arriving immigrant girls, as well as black women from the South, from entering prostitution. She enrolled at Columbia University in 1909 as a Master’s Degree candidate in sociology and economics. In 1910, she worked directly with reformer Florence Kelley, who founded the National Consumers League, focusing on sanitary conditions of bakeries, child-labor laws, and fire protection in factories. Late she worked in New York government positions for Al Smith, the first woman to be appointed to an administrative position in New York, and for Franklin D. Roosevelt as New York’s state industrialist commissioner. In 1932, as the newly elected president, Roosevelt asked Perkins to serve in his cabinet as Secretary of Labor, making her the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. Perkins was a forceful advocate in New Deal legislation, promoting public works programs, Social Security, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Later, Perkins served on the United States Civil Service Commission. She finished out her career writing and teaching at Cornell University.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Film and Video