The Great Depression
It was the greatest economic downturn of the twentieth century. A global phenomenon, the Great Depression—in America triggered by unregulated and speculative trading and bank financing, an already depressed farming market, and hindered even further by dry “Dust Bowl” weather and overfarming—became the defining era of hardship in cultural memory.
Everyone was affected. Formerly prosperous businessmen sold apples on Wall Street. The poor became homeless “hobos”, living in “Hoovervilles” along the edges of towns or riding the rails, looking for a job.
Industry shrunk. Unemployment was staggering. Children went hungry.
No one who was old enough to have a memory in 1940 was left unscathed by the Depression … including Miranda. Her memories of what she’d seen in the early ’30s shaped the woman we meet in 1940.
The majority of working and middle class people were deeply grateful to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the “New Deal” he dealt in trying to get the country back on its feet. His programs—from the National Recovery Act to the Works Progress Administration—gave people a job, made them feel confident and worth something again.
Among the many project the federal government helped to fund were the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island.
(From the Pare Lorentz Center at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)
FDR Signs Social Security
The Works Progress Administration was the largest employer up through the early 1940s. A focal point of FDR’s New Deal, it allowed all workers—including poets, writers, artists, actors and laborers—to work and support themselves with dignity.
One of the great social history projects of the late 1930s was the recording of life, photos, and folk music among Americans—from city-dwellers to migrant farmers, Dust Bowl emigres, southern sharecroppers, and northern fisherman. Their legacy of bravery and endurance lives on, thanks to the Library of Congress.