Farmers in the Midwest were doubly hit by economic downturns and the Dust Bowl. Schools, with budgets shrinking, shortened both the school day and the school year. No one knew how best to respond to the crisis. President Hoover believed the dole would do more harm than good and that local governments and private charities should provide relief to the unemployed and homeless. By , some states began to offer aid to local communities.
This helped only a very few. In , only 1. Cities, which had to bear the brunt of the relief efforts, teetered on the edge of bankruptcy.
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By , Cook County Chicago was firing firemen, police, and teachers who had not been paid in 8 months. Breadlines and Hoovervilles homeless encampments appeared across the nation. Those hurt the most were more stunned than angry. Many sank into despair and shame after they could not find jobs. The suicide rates increased from 14 to 17 per , Protest that did occur was local, not national: "farm holidays," neighbors of foreclosed farmers refusing to bid on farms at auction, neighbors moving evicted tenants' furniture back in, and local hunger marches.
Optimistic after World War I, firms over-invested in factories.
Farmers over-invested in equipment and land. Americans took on consumer debt for the first time. Unregulated banks made bad loans and held inadequate reserves. Investors, including middle-class people, speculated in the stock market. When all of these bubbles burst, economic chaos shook the nation.
The Great Depression
In the late s, banks ran amok—abandoning conservative standards to free up capital for risky investments. There were few government regulations to restrain them. By December , banks were failing at an unprecedented rate. Citizens lost their savings; businesses lost the money they needed to operate. Courtesy of Library of Congress. The depth and length of unemployment during the Great Depression was unique in American history. At its height in , nearly 25 percent of the labor force was jobless. In the excerpts below, some of the state's residents relate their memories of the Depression. I was working there when they started paying you twenty five cents an hour.
I think it was—what president was it? He made 'em pay us twenty five cents an hour. But I worked there a long time. But the Depression didn't hit us—I didn't feel it too much. Because my husband was an insurance man, looked like, though, it would have hit it pretty hard then, but a lot of people, I heard 'em talk about Depression but it really didn't bother me that much.
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Interview H They had food cheap enough, but you didn't get that little bit of money to buy it with. We was on three days a week then. And to keep a few spare hands, they'd expect you to get off a day to let somebody have a day's work. And that was hard. And on three days a week, nobody couldn't afford to do that.
You could go to the store then and get a pound of liver for a nickel and a loaf of bread for a nickel and get a bag of potatoes for about a dime, so if you had the money you could live pretty good, but if you didn't have the money you had to without, and everybody had a garden back then. So we all had to depend on our gardens. Oral History Interview with Edna Y.
Hargett, July 19, You graduated from high school [in Wilson, N. That put you going through high school during the Depression. What about that? We didn't realize that we were in a poor financial situation, because everybody was in the same boat. I remember when we were children, we lived on the corner. The yard was very large, and all the children in the neighborhood would come down and play on our yard after dinner. Daddy would always give us money to go get ice cream.
Great Depression: What Happened, Causes, How It Ended
There was an ice cream parlor up the street, at which you could get a lot of ice cream for a nickel. He would always give us a quarter to go get ice cream, and that was a sufficient amount for all of us. One night I went to him to get the quarter to go get the ice cream, and he said, "How about a nickel, Sis? But we were all in the same boat; everybody was in the same boat. A friend was telling me the other day that she remembered when they had lost their house, and they had gone to live with her grandparents in another section of town. She had gone to bed, and she said she remembered hearing her parents downstairs talking about if they could just get enough money to pay the milk bill.
Her father had lost his job. So she went and got her little savings, which I think she said was sixteen dollars, and took it downstairs and gave it to them to pay the milk bill. But we all worked, and we got along fairly well. We didn't have to have a stereo; we didn't have to have an automobile when we were sixteen; we didn't have to have a television. Interview B What did you do to keep from starving, if wages were that low? Most of them though worked out in the field, you know, for people and farmed, worked in the fields, and most of them had gardens and things like that.
They all got along pretty good. But NRA come in. I know one man—he's dead now—that lived over there. He said that weren't such a thing as milk gravy. He said he eat Hoover gravy. He said that finally somebody had a cow and he'd buy a quart of sweet milk a week from them. And he said that he'd eat so much milk gravy till every time he seen a cow he said, hello, lady, how are you? But he said he eat water gravy, and he hoped he'd live long enough to see Hoover eat water gravy.
So he come in and starved everybody to death. I don't think too many people nowhere liked him. Boy, he pulled them out of the ditch.
The Great Depression
They loved him to death. Well, everybody everywhere I've ever heard say anything about him—well, it wasn't only in Bynum neither. It was everywhere.
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Everybody was in the same ditch everywhere. I know I heard a friend lived down here below Pittsboro down here in Asbury—old woman—and she said that if she hadn't had a good garden and if she hadn't had her own pig and cow that she didn't know what in the world she would have done. She sold milk at ten cents a gallon and butter fifteen cents a cake and she said she had some hens, she sold eggs. I've forgotten now how much she said she sold the eggs for. And said that's the way she dressed her younguns to send them to school, from what she sold.
And Bynum's always been good about that. If anybody here ever gets down or sick or disabled to work or anything, they've always been good to chip in and help them out in every way they could, give them money or give them food. Bynum has really been good about that. I've been here about all my life and I don't know of nobody here that ever would have sickness or anything like that but what somebody would chip in and help them out.
There was a lot of old people here then, during that Depression, that weren't able to work at all. And I've knowed the younguns around to go clean out their yards and help them clean the house, and do things like that, where they didn't have no money to hire somebody to help them out.
Working Papers & Publications
This lesson from the North Carolina Civic Education Consortium uses a variety of sources to explore the causes and situations experienced during the Great Depression. Many of the interviews focus on the lives of textile mill workers. An extensive collection of digitized documents, photographs, and biographies from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The Great Depression Mystery. Short clip from Universal Newsreel showing footage from the stock market crash of The Great Depression in Cartoons.
Using the Internet, find another interview in which someone discusses how the Great Depression affected them the person interviewed does not have to be from North Carolina.