This New Deal Summer Camp Program Aimed to Help Unemployed Women

This New Deal Summer Camp Program Aimed to Help Unemployed Women

During the Great Depression, thousands of unemployed men picked up saws and axes and headed to the woods to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program that employed about 3 million men. But men in the CCC weren’t the only ones to take to the great outdoors on the New Deal’s dime. Between 1934 and 1937, thousands of women attended “She-She-She camps,” a short-lived group of camps designed to support women without jobs.

The program was the brainchild of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who wanted an option for the 2 million women who had lost work after the stock market crash of 1929. Like their male counterparts, they looked for work, but stigma against women who worked and women who took government aid made finding a job even more difficult. Many women were forced to seek dwindling private charity or turned to their families. Others became increasingly desperate, living on the streets.

Their plight deeply concerned Roosevelt, who wondered if they might be served by the CCC. The program, which sent men to camps around the country and put them to work doing forestry and conservation jobs, was considered a rousing success. But Roosevelt encountered resistance from her husband’s cabinet, which questioned the propriety of sending women to the woods to work.

READ MORE: 6 Projects the CCC Corps Accomplished: Photos

An Alternative to the CCC

Roosevelt turned to Hilda Smith, an educator with a background as a suffragist, social worker and college dean. For years, Smith had taught a free school that brought women workers to Bryn Mawr College, and she was hired by the Works Progress Administration in 1933. She came up with an alternative to the CCC camps that addressed many of the cabinet’s qualms.

Instead of focusing on jobs, the FERA camps would emphasize education and domesticity. The camps Smith envisioned gave women the chance to safely socialize and rest and trained them in things like housekeeping and clerical skills. Instead of putting women to work, they would tackle the social isolation that afflicted so many people during the Great Depression.

Though Roosevelt immediately lobbied for the CCC to put Smith’s plan to work, she met significant resistance. It took a lobbying effort that included most of the New Deal’s influential women to finally get approval for an experimental camp funded by the administration and put into action in New York. Smith was given the green light to begin a camp in New York’s Bear Mountain era, and Camp TERA (named after New York’s Temporary Emergency Relief Administration) opened in June 1933.

READ MORE: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression?

Camps Geared More Toward Training Than Work








Instead of paying women to work, the camp hosted them for a four-week period and provided education, vocational counseling, company and encouragement. The camp was “a fully equipped camp, in an ideal spot, where young women who have not the means to pay for a much needed rest may find health and happiness in an outdoor vacation,” explained camp director of personnel Norma Carrier to the New York Times. Camp residents were self-governed and took classes in vocational topics like typing and filing, liberal arts subjects like English and current events. They spent their downtime hiking, playing baseball, swimming and socializing.

The camps were an immediate success. Most attendees reported gaining weight, learning new skills and their surveys attested to boosts in self esteem. “It’s not only that I am getting enough to eat for the first time in three years, but I am beginning to think of myself as a real person again,” one attendee wrote.

Though the camps had real benefits for women, many members of the general public mocked the program. They called the program the “She-She-She” in a sendup of the CCC’s initials. “She-She-She…was not its name, but the men mimicked it and called it that, because women were not really people,” recalled labor activist Maida Smith Kemp. But despite the mockery, the program spread beyond Camp Tera, which was eventually renamed Camp Jane Addams.

WATCH: Eleanor Roosevelt: A Restless Spirit on HISTORY Vault

Camps Were Popular, But Criticized

The camps received a flood of letters and applications from women, but were plagued by criticism and controversy from the start. Critics who had heard that some of the women in camps were members of the labor movement claimed the program was a Communist front. Others pointed out that some of the women in the camps had rebelled against its strictures and done things like sneak out to meet men.

Meanwhile, New Deal leaders gave only a trickle of funds to the camps and became less and less supportive as time wore on. Bureaucracy, a lack of transportation funds and confusion on the part of potential campers meant that enrollment was slow to pick up, and critics felt that the government was overspending on the program and should instead devote the dollars to men.

Despite reports that the camps offered “a new feeling of social responsibility” to attendees, they were short-lived. At their peak, there were 28 camps in 26 states, and about 8,500 women attended them over the life of the program. But support for the camps dried up by 1937.

“Ultimately,” writes historian Joyce L. Kornbluh, “the she-she-she camps were seen as a social aberration….The camps challenged the status quo by suggesting that women might go beyond their roles in the home to play extended, or different, roles in the workplace, in the labor force, and in public life.”


Records of the National Youth Administration [NYA]

Established: In the Works Progress Administration (WPA) by EO 7086, June 26, 1935, under authority of Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 115), April 8, 1935.

Transfers: To Federal Security Agency (FSA) by Reorganization Plan No. I of 1939, effective July 1, 1939 to Bureau of Training, War Manpower Commission, Office for Emergency Management, by EO 9247, September 17, 1942.

Functions: Provided work training for unemployed youth and part- time employment for needy students.

Abolished: By act of July 12, 1943 (57 Stat. 539), effective January 1, 1944.

Successor Agencies: Federal Security Agency as liquidator.

Finding Aids: Virgil E. Baugh, comp., "Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the National Youth Administration," NC 35 (1963).

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the National Youth Administration in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government. Records of the Work Projects Administration, RG 69.
Records of the War Manpower Commission, RG 211.
General Records of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, RG 235.

RECORD TYPES RECORD LOCATIONS QUANTITIES
Textual Records Washington Area 914 cu. ft.
Atlanta 10 cu. ft.
Boston 6 cu. ft.
Kansas City 1 cu. ft.
Philadelphia 4 cu. ft.
San Francisco 8 cu. ft.
Arch/engrg Plans Washington Area 7,100 items
Motion Pictures College Park 56 reels
Sound Recordings College Park 19 items
Still Pictures Washington Area 200 images
College Park 22,115 images
Boston 233 images

119.2 RECORDS OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE
1935-43
27 lin. ft.

History: Presidentially appointed National Advisory Committee, to recommend improvements and adjustments in the NYA program, established by EO 7086, June 26, 1935, with members drawn from labor, business, agriculture, education, and youth organizations. State advisory committees were appointed by state NYA administrators. Local committees consisted of interested individuals in rural and urban areas. State and local committees assisted with projects in their proper jurisdictions.

Textual Records: Proceedings, correspondence, and reference files, maintained by the chairman, 1935-42. Records of the office of the director, including a report and general correspondence file, 1935-42 correspondence with field representatives, 1941- 43 correspondence and reports of state and local advisory committees, 1937-42 and card lists of members of the national committee, and of members of state and local committees, n.d.

Related Records: Record copies of publications of the National Advisory Committee in RG 287, Publications of the U.S. Government.

119.3 RECORDS OF THE OFFICE OF THE ADMINISTRATOR
1935-45
322 lin. ft.

History: Aubrey Williams named Executive Director by EO 7086, June 26, 1935. Title changed to Administrator by EO 8028, December 24, 1938.

119.3.1 Records of the Executive Director and Administrator

Textual Records: Correspondence, reference files, and related records, maintained by the administrator and other officials, 1936-43. Information file on the "Campaign Against the NYA," 1942-43. Hourly and monthly wage rate forms and accompanying correspondence, 1938-39. Data file on NYA youth characteristics, 1936-43. Data summaries on NYA youth in defense work, 1941. Annual and other NYA reports, 1935-42.

119.3.2 Records of the Deputy Executive Director and Deputy
Administrator

Textual Records: Budget and personnel correspondence, 1935-38. Letters sent, 1935-40. Miscellaneous alphabetic-name correspondence, 1935-41. Correspondence with state directors and administrators, 1939-42. Correspondence concerning projects, 1935-38. Testimonial letters from student participants, 1936. Reference file of administrative, procedural, and historical materials, 1936-45. Administrative reports from state offices, 1935-38. Data file on youth movements, programs, and conditions abroad, 1935-39. Transcripts of conference proceedings, 1935-36. Project dossiers, 1936-37. Records relating to an NYA history project, 1935-43. State procedures file, 1940-42. Circular letters, memorandums, manuals, and regulations, ca. 1935-43.

119.4 RECORDS OF NYA DIVISIONS
1934-44
609 lin. ft.

119.4.1 Records of the Division of Finance

Textual Records: Correspondence and accounting records of the director, 1935-41. Numeric-subject file on NYA budgets and appropriations, 1939-42. Budget data file, 1934-44. Financial and statistical reports, 1939-43. Statistical records showing employment data, earnings, and assignments, 1937-43. Reports from regions and the field, 1939-43.

119.4.2 Records of the Division of Student Work

History: Established to administer the "in-school" Student Work Program, which had originated in the Federal Emergency Relief Administration as the Student Aid Program. Transferred to the NYA by EO 7164, August 29, 1935, with responsibility to provide part- time work to students in need of financial assistance.

Textual Records: General subject file, 1936-43. Letters and reports from state directors of student work, 1940-41. Correspondence with field advisers on industrial training, 1939- 41. Correspondence regarding continuation of the student work program, 1941-43. Data files on secondary school and college work councils, 1940-43. Affidavits of eligibility of colleges and graduate schools, 1935-39. Proposed work plans for high schools, colleges, and graduate schools, 1939-43. Descriptions of student- aid work projects, 1937-42. Reports and reference materials concerning education in the states and territories, 1935-41. Background material for a history of the student work program, 1935-43.

119.4.3 Records of the Division of Youth Personnel

History: Known until 1940 as the Division of Guidance and Personnel. Administered policies and regulations governing recruitment, assignment, transfer, separation, and other activities relating to the certification and employment of youths hired under the Out-of-School Work Program.

Textual Records: Director's administrative, reference, and correspondence files, 1935-42. Field inspection reports, 1939-43. Periodic and narrative reports concerning junior placement in the states, 1936-39. Divisional and other NYA correspondence concerning the work of youth personnel in the regions, 1941-43. Letters received by the NYA and other federal agencies on NYA training and trainees, 1941-42. Youth guidance and testing materials, 1936-41.

Subject Access Terms: American Vocational Association American Youth Commission.

119.4.4 Records of the Division of Operations

History: Known until June 30, 1942, as the Division of Work Projects. Administered the work project program for out-of-school youths.

Textual Records: Letters sent to state youth directors concerning projects, 1937-38. Correspondence with state administrators on defense training activities, 1941-42. Reports of outstanding work projects in states, 1938. Miscellaneous correspondence of the director, 1940-43, and of the assistant director, 1934-39. Records of the Technical Information Section, 1938-40, including technical and scientific reference materials, 1938-40. Records of the Project Planning and Control Section, including project application case files, 1935-41 and card files describing NYA projects, 1938-43. Construction project files, 1941-43, maintained by the Construction Projects Section. General administrative correspondence of the Mechanical Shops Section, 1940-42. Subject file and correspondence of the Resident Center Section, 1939-43.

Architectural and Engineering Plans (7,000 items, in Washington Area): Construction Projects Section plans for NYA buildings, 1937-43 (3,700 items), and maps and plans relating to construction, installation, and repair of NYA training centers, 1941-43 (100 items). Training blueprints maintained by the Shop Operations Section, 1940-43 (3,200 items). SEE ALSO 119.7.

Photographs (200 images, in Washington Area): Construction, installation, and repair of NYA training centers, 1941-43. SEE ALSO 119.10.

Subject Access Terms: Cassidy Lake, MI, resident work project.

119.4.5 Records of other divisions

Textual Records: Records of the Division of Reports and Records, including statistical data on approved applicants for NYA student aid, 1937-38. Correspondence of the director of the Division of Community Organization with youth organizations, 1935-37.

119.5 RECORDS OF OTHER OFFICES
1935-43
134 lin. ft.

119.5.1 Records of the Personnel Office

Textual Records: NYA job vacancy notices, 1940-41. Notes of interviews with applicants, 1935-38. Job descriptions and classifications, 1939-41.

119.5.2 Records of the Office of Information

Textual Records: Correspondence of the director and other officials, 1938-42. Alphabetic subject-name files, 1936-42. NYA policy and procedural releases, 1939-42. General file on NYA motion picture activities, 1940-41. Case histories, mainly "success stories" and endorsements of NYA by beneficiaries of its services, 1937-42. Press releases, 1935-42. Radio scripts, 1936- 42.

Motion Pictures (56 reels): NYA activities, including work and student programs, recreational activities, programs for blacks, and resident centers, 1937-42 (52 reels). Dramatization of problems of unemployed youth and assistance given them by NYA, 1937-42 (2 reels). Visit of the King and Queen of England to Washington, DC, 1939 (1 reel). Inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 (1 reel).

Sound Recordings (19 items): Discussion by NYA personnel on the Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Development Project, ca. 1939 (1 item). Radio drama about young persons assisted by NYA, 1939 (6 items). Dedication ceremonies of NYA exhibit at the New York World's Fair, June 3, 1939 (12 items).

Photographs (20,500 images): NYA personnel, facilities, exhibits, programs, and projects, 1936-42 (G, S). SEE ALSO 119.10.

Lantern Slides (12 images): NYA personnel, facilities, exhibits, programs, and projects, 1936-42 (LS). SEE ALSO 119.10.

119.5.3 Records of the Health Office

Textual Records: Correspondence with regional and state officials, 1940-42. Reports concerning state health programs, 1941-42. Statistical reports concerning the health of NYA youth, 1940-42.

119.5.4 Records of the Office of Negro Affairs

History: Coordinated activities and developed projects to afford employment opportunities for black youths. Investigated complaints of discrimination. Mary McLeod Bethune was the office's only director she was also a member of the National Advisory Committee (SEE 119.2).

Textual Records: General subject file, 1936-41. Correspondence and reports on black conferences, 1935-41. Reports of directors of state Offices of Negro Affairs, 1936-39. Miscellaneous file of research and publicity materials, 1935-41.

119.5.5 Records of the National Advisory Committee on Educational
Camps for Unemployed Young Women

History: In the summer of 1934, the Workers Education Section of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration established educational camps for unemployed young women. The National Advisory Committee, chaired by Hilda W. Smith, acted in an advisory capacity in this field. Mary McLeod Bethune, Director of Negro Affairs, and Richard R. Brown, Deputy Executive Director, represented the NYA on the committee.

Textual Records: Correspondence relating to educational camps for unemployed young women, 1935-37. Records relating to educational camps in Pennsylvania, 1936-37. Correspondence concerning meetings of the Educational Committee, January-May 1937.

119.5.6 Other records

Textual Records: NYA publications file, including processed and printed materials, 1935-42. Records of the music director, including correspondence concerning administration of the NYA music program, 1940-41. Records relating to liquidation of the NYA, including final reports of state offices, 1943.

Architectural and Engineering Plans (100 items, in Washington Area): Tracings and processed copies of plans for NYA buildings, maintained by the chief architect, 1937-41. SEE 119.7.

119.6 RECORDS OF REGIONAL OFFICES
1935-43
21 lin. ft.

119.6.1 Records of the "Old Regions"

History: Initial NYA regional structure, known informally as the "Old Regions," was organized in 1936 and corresponded to that of the WPA. It consisted of five regional offices: Region 1, with jurisdiction over CT, ME, MA, NH, NY, RI, VT Region 2, DE, DC, IL, IN, KY, MD, MI, NJ, OH, PA, WV, WI Region 3, AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA Region 4, CO, IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, NE, NM, ND, OK, SD, WY and Region 5, AZ, CA, ID, NV, OR, UT, WA.

Textual Records: Records of Region 1, consisting of administrative correspondence of the regional director with state directors, 1935-37 news clippings compiled at the regional level, 1941-42 and general records, 1939-43, and news clippings, 1939-42, of the Office of the State Administrator for Massachusetts (in Boston). Records of Region 2, consisting of correspondence of the state youth administrator for Pennsylvania, 1941-42 and copies of speeches by the state youth supervisor for Ohio, 1938-40 (in Philadelphia). Records of Region 3, consisting of general correspondence, 1936-38 correspondence and data file on regional defense production projects and workshops, 1940-42 and general subject file, 1940-42 (in Atlanta).

Photographic Prints (233 images, in Boston): NYA activities in each state included in Region 1, 1938-42. SEE ALSO 119.10.

119.6.2 Records of the "New Regions"

History: Transfer of NYA to the War Manpower Commission, 1942, resulted in modification of NYA regional structure to correspond with that of the commission: Region 1, with jurisdiction over CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT Region 2, NY Region 3, DE, NJ, PA Region 4, DC, MD, NC, VA, WV Region 5, KY, MI, OH Region 6, IL, IN, WI Region 7, AL, FL, GA, MS, SC, TN Region 8, IA, MN, NE, ND, SD Region 9, AR, KS, MO, OK Region 10, LA, NM, TX Region 11, CO, ID, MT, UT, WY and Region 12, AZ, CA, NV, OR, WA. Regions 1 and 2 operated as a consolidated region.

Textual Records: Correspondence of the regional administrator, Region 3, 1942-43 (in Philadelphia). Correspondence of the regional administrator, Region 8, 1939-43 (in Kansas City). Records of Region 12, consisting of an intraregional correspondence file, 1941-43 copies of regional letters sent, 1941-43 subject and name file of the regional administrator, 1941-43 proceedings and correspondence of the California state and local advisory committees and of regional councils of administrators for national defense training, 1941-42 and construction and shopwork manuals, n.d. (in San Francisco).

119.7 CARTOGRAPHIC RECORDS (GENERAL)

SEE Architectural and Engineering Plans UNDER 119.4.4 and 119.5.6.

119.8 MOTION PICTURES (GENERAL)

119.9 SOUND RECORDINGS (GENERAL)

119.10 STILL PICTURES (GENERAL)
1935-43
1,603 images

Photographs: Activities of NYA resident training centers, educational camps, and work centers, in albums, 1935-43 (SCA, 420 images). Roads, weather, and agriculture and high school projects and activities of the Bureau of Standards, 1936-42 (M, 1,000 images). Student antiwar activities, youth unemployment and idleness, and job training programs, taken by Ron Partridge, 1940 (CAL, 183 images).

SEE Photographs UNDER 119.4.4 and 119.5.2. SEE Photographic Prints UNDER 119.6.1. SEE Lantern Slides UNDER 119.5.2.

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. Compiled by Robert B. Matchette et al. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1995.
3 volumes, 2428 pages.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1995.


The New Deal

The New Deal generally refers to a set of domestic policies implemented by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to the crisis of the Great Depression. Propelled by that economic cataclysm, Roosevelt and his New Dealers pushed through legislation that regulated the banking and securities industries, provided relief for the unemployed, aided farmers, electrified rural areas, promoted conservation, built national infrastructure, regulated wages and hours, and bolstered the power of unions. The Tennessee Valley Authority prevented floods and brought electricity and economic progress to seven states in one of the most impoverished parts of the nation. The Works Progress Administration offered jobs to millions of unemployed Americans and launched an unprecedented federal venture into the arena of culture. By providing social insurance to the elderly and unemployed, the Social Security Act laid the foundation for the U.S. welfare state.

The benefits of the New Deal were not equitably distributed. Many New Deal programs—farm subsidies, work relief projects, social insurance, and labor protection programs—discriminated against racial minorities and women, while profiting white men disproportionately. Nevertheless, women achieved symbolic breakthroughs, and African Americans benefited more from Roosevelt’s policies than they had from any past administration since Abraham Lincoln’s. The New Deal did not end the Depression—only World War II did that—but it did spur economic recovery. It also helped to make American capitalism less volatile by extending federal regulation into new areas of the economy.

Although the New Deal most often refers to policies and programs put in place between 1933 and 1938, some scholars have used the term more expansively to encompass later domestic legislation or U.S. actions abroad that seemed animated by the same values and impulses—above all, a desire to make individuals more secure and a belief in institutional solutions to long-standing problems. In order to pass his legislative agenda, Roosevelt drew many Catholic and Jewish immigrants, industrial workers, and African Americans into the Democratic Party. Together with white Southerners, these groups formed what became known as the “New Deal coalition.” This unlikely political alliance endured long after Roosevelt’s death, supporting the Democratic Party and a “liberal” agenda for nearly half a century. When the coalition finally cracked in 1980, historians looked back on this extended epoch as reflecting a “New Deal order.”

Keywords

Subjects

  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • Economic History
  • Cultural History
  • Urban History
  • Labor and Working Class History

Defining the “New Deal”

On July 2, 1932 , Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president and pledged himself to a “new deal for the American people.” 1 In so doing, he gave a name not only to a set of domestic policies implemented by his administration in response to the crisis of the Great Depression but also to an era, a political coalition, and a vision of government’s role in society. The New Deal has been described as a “potpourri” of sometimes-conflicting policy initiatives, and scholars and popular commentators have long debated its ideological sources, beneficiaries, and legacy. 2 Nevertheless, most agree that it marked “a pivotal moment in the making of modern American liberalism.” 3 As this suggests, the New Deal cast a long shadow over the remainder of the 20th century, and it remains a touchstone for contemporary political debate.

When Roosevelt took office in March 1933 , the nation was more than three years into the greatest economic cataclysm that either the United States or global capitalism had ever experienced. The stock market crash in October 1929 had led to a financial meltdown, prompting a collapse in industrial production that began in the United States but soon spread to other countries. A rise in prices for raw materials—commodities ranging from cotton and wheat to tea, silk, lumber, and steel—soon followed. This prostrated farmers, miners, and loggers, not only in the United States but also around the globe. By the spring of 1933 , the U.S. gross national product had fallen to just half of its 1929 level. More than five thousand U.S. banks had failed, and thousands of families across the country had already lost farms and homes to foreclosure. On the day Roosevelt was inaugurated, roughly one-quarter of the American workforce was unemployed. In cities like Chicago and Detroit, home to hard-hit industries like automobiles and steel, the unemployment rate approached 50 percent. 4

On the campaign trail, Roosevelt had been vague about precisely how he planned to grapple with the economic crisis: He famously recommended “bold, persistent experimentation.” 5 Once in office, the president turned his abundant energy to implementing this pragmatic philosophy. He surrounded himself with advisors who had strikingly different viewpoints and agendas, and set them to work tackling a troika of problems: relief, recovery, and reform. 6 The result was one of the greatest outpourings of legislation ever seen in American history. Between 1933 and 1938 , Roosevelt and his New Dealers pushed through legislation that, among other things, regulated the banking and securities industries, shored up agricultural prices, established vast public works projects, repealed Prohibition, created new mortgage markets, managed watersheds, reversed a half century of American Indian policy, bolstered the power of unions, and provided social insurance to millions of elderly, unemployed, and disabled Americans. As historian David M. Kennedy has written, “Into the five years of the New Deal was crowded more social and institutional change than into virtually any comparable compass of time in the nation’s past.” 7

As Kennedy suggests, the term New Deal is most often used to refer to the set of domestic policies implemented by the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression. In this narrow sense, the “New Deal” might be seen as paralleling Teddy Roosevelt’s “Square Deal,” Harry Truman’s “Fair Deal,” or Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.” Scholars have also used the term more expansively to encompass later domestic legislation that seemed to be animated by the same values and impulses. Glenn Altschuler and Stuart Blumin, for instance, argue that the 1944 GI Bill built on specific New Deal policies, while reflecting FDR’s broader desire to use the power of the federal government to extend a safety net to American citizens. For this reason, they dub the GI bill “a New Deal for veterans.” 8 Ira Katznelson goes even further, redefining the New Deal as “the full period of Democratic rule” that stretched from Roosevelt’s election in 1932 to the election of Dwight Eisenhower two decades later. Only by looking at this longer time span, he suggests, can historians understand how the New Deal “reconsidered and rebuilt the country’s long-established political order.” 9

If some historians have extended the chronology of the New Deal, others have expanded its geographic scope. Scholars have most often applied the term to FDR’s domestic agenda, but Elizabeth Borgwardt argues that there was also a “New Deal for the world.” As World War II drew to a close, she suggests, Roosevelt administration planners translated “the New Deal’s sweeping institutional approaches to intractable problems” to the international arena, establishing a framework of multilateral institutions designed to stabilize the global system and advance human rights. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, and the charter that set the parameters for the Nuremberg Trials were designed to extend economic and political security to people around the globe, she writes, “much as New Deal programs had redefined security domestically for individual American citizens.” 10 In a similar vein, Kiran Klaus Patel argues that the United States “played a major role in redefining the international order by trying to project the principles of the New Deal regulatory state onto the world.” 11 Sarah Phillips suggests that the success of New Deal programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) convinced many liberals that they had “found the tools for conquering the problem of rural poverty.” The postwar Point Four program of foreign assistance, she argues, drew on these lessons and attempted to “export the New Deal.” 12

Neither the domestic nor the global New Deal would have been possible had FDR not mobilized a new political coalition. From 1896 until 1932 , the Republican Party dominated national politics only in the “Solid South,” which had opposed Republicans since the Civil War, did the Democratic Party consistently win elections. In 1932 , Roosevelt swept into office largely because of widespread animosity toward President Herbert Hoover, who had failed to end the Depression or significantly ameliorate suffering. Over the next four years, however, Roosevelt won over Catholic and Jewish immigrants and their voting-age children, industrial workers, African Americans, and large segments of the so-called chattering classes. Together with white Southerners, these groups formed what became known as the “New Deal coalition.”

The New Deal coalition brought together unlikely bedfellows—for instance, African Americans and union members with conservative white Southerners who opposed racial equality and organized labor. Nevertheless, this unwieldy political alliance endured long after Roosevelt’s death, supporting the Democratic Party and a “liberal” agenda for nearly half a century. Every president elected between 1932 and 1980 was a Democrat, with the exceptions of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. The Democratic Party also controlled both houses of Congress for all but four of those 48 years. When the coalition finally cracked in 1980 , historians looked back on this extended epoch as reflecting a “New Deal order” with “an ideological character, a moral perspective, and a set of political relationships among policy elites, interest groups, and electoral constituencies.” 13

Battling the Great Depression

Before scholars could reflect on a New Deal “order,” there was what FDR and his contemporaries called simply the New Deal: the set of policies put in place during Roosevelt’s first two presidential terms in direct response to the ravages of the Great Depression. Most of that legislation came in one of two great bursts. The first followed Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933 . 14 Within days of taking office, the new president called Congress into special session. By the time Congress adjourned precisely one hundred days later, Roosevelt had signed fifteen bills into law. Taken together, they restructured vast swaths of the American economy and authorized billions of dollars in federal spending for everything from dam construction and crop subsidies to unemployment relief. Roosevelt proposed—and Congress passed—so much legislation during this first “Hundred Days” that the time frame became a benchmark for all subsequent U.S. political leaders.

The second burst of legislation came in the first nine months of 1935 . The previous November, the president’s party had bucked historical trends by winning, rather than losing, seats in the midterm election. The victory was a landslide: When the new Congress convened in January 1935 , Democrats held two-thirds of the seats in both the House and the Senate. The election signaled the political realignment that created the New Deal coalition, and it gave Roosevelt a mandate. This second legislative burst enabled some of the best-remembered policies of the New Deal, including the Works Progress Administration, federal support for organized labor, and the Social Security program.

Contemporary journalists called these two torrents of legislation the First and Second New Deal, and historians have generally followed their lead. For decades, both scholars and popular writers argued that the two phases of the New Deal were ideologically distinct, although they often disagreed on the precise nature of that difference. 15 In recent years, historians have suggested that any ideological shift between 1933 and 1935 was exaggerated. Many have embraced the argument made by David Kennedy that New Deal policies were designed, above all, to provide security—security not only for “vulnerable individuals” but also for capitalists, consumers, workers, farmers, homeowners, bankers, and builders. “Job security, life-cycle security, financial security, market security—however it might be defined, achieving security was the leitmotif of virtually everything the New Deal attempted,” Kennedy writes. 16

Stabilizing the Financial System

The most urgent matter that Roosevelt confronted when he took office in March 1933 was the banking crisis. The nation’s banking system had been teetering on the edge of collapse since the end of 1930 as fearful domestic and foreign investors scrambled to pull their gold and currency deposits out of U.S. institutions. A new round of panic the month before the inauguration prompted governors in state after state to close their banks to prevent runs. On the morning FDR became president, such “bank holidays” had closed all banks in 32 states. In six more, the vast majority of banks were closed. In the remainder, depositors could withdraw only 5 percent of their funds. 17

Some politicians and political observers urged Roosevelt to nationalize the banking system. 18 Instead, the new president declared a national bank holiday, called Congress into emergency session, and persuaded them to pass the Emergency Banking Act. That act affirmed the temporary bank closure, authorized the Federal Reserve to issue more currency, and took other steps designed to restore the system’s liquidity. With banks set to reopen on March 13, Roosevelt took to the airwaves, delivering the first of the radio addresses that would become known as “fireside chats.” Using simple language and speaking in an authoritative yet avuncular voice, Roosevelt explained both the workings of the banking system and the steps that the federal government had just taken to preserve it. “I can assure you,” the president told his 60 million listeners, “that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than under the mattress.” 19 Roosevelt’s combination of quick action and calming explanation worked. As his advisor Raymond Moley later wrote, “Capitalism was saved in eight days.” 20

New Deal efforts to shore up the banking system did not end with these emergency measures. A few months later, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment from commercial banking in an effort to insure that banks did not speculate with depositors’ savings. The act also established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guaranteed bank deposits up to an initial level of $2,500. (That figure has been raised many times since.) Although FDR initially opposed deposit insurance, it almost immediately halted bank runs. These two moves dramatically stabilized the banking system. Even during the prosperous 1920s, more than six hundred U.S. banks had failed each year. In the early 1930s, that number climbed into the thousands. Beginning in 1934 , fewer than a hundred U.S. banks failed annually by 1943 , the number had dropped to under ten. 21

Other New Deal financial measures were aimed at steadying the securities markets or strengthening the economy more generally. In the spring of 1933 , FDR followed Britain’s lead and took the United States off the gold standard, allowing the exchange value of the dollar to fall. One of the president’s advisors warned that the move would spell “the end of Western civilization,” but it gave New Dealers more flexibility to combat low prices by trying to stimulate inflation. Coupled with political instability in Europe, the end of the gold standard also prompted overseas investors to begin exchanging gold for dollars, further increasing the U.S. money supply and bolstering the banks. 22 The Securities Act of 1933 sought to end insider trading in the stock market by requiring publically traded companies to disclose financial information. The following year, Congress created the Securities and Exchange Commission to guard against market manipulation. Finally, the Banking Act of 1935 put the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee—the body that influenced the nation’s money supply and thus the availability of credit—under the direct control of a Board of Governors appointed by the president. This move helped centralize the nation’s banking system, and improved the Federal Reserve’s ability to shape the business cycle.

Relief for the Unemployed

Having stabilized the banking system, FDR turned quickly to the problem of unemployment relief. In the spring of 1933 , some 12.4 million men and 400,000 women—roughly one-quarter of the national workforce—were unemployed. Most were their families’ principal breadwinners. 23 The collective need of these American families had already overwhelmed the resources of local governments and private charities, as well as family and community support networks. With millions unable to pay rent or buy food, men, women, and children lined up at soup kitchens, grubbed for scraps in garbage cans, hopped freight trains, or moved into makeshift shantytowns that sprang up in parks and open spaces on the edges of American cities.

FDR first focused on the problem posed by young men—a problem captured in a 1933 film entitled The Wild Boys of the Road . Teenagers and men in their twenties had fewer skills and less experience than their older counterparts thus, they were more likely to be unemployed, to leave home, and to become hobos and vagrants. Events in Europe suggested the threat that such footloose young men might pose to the social order. Roosevelt believed that sending them to work in the countryside would not only improve the nation’s rural infrastructure but also transform the young men into upstanding future citizens. He proposed a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to employ those between the ages of 18 and 35 on a variety of forestry, flood control, and beautification projects. To be selected for the program, men had to be single, healthy, and U.S. citizens and to come from families on relief. Living in military-style camps operated by the War Department, they built roads, firebreaks, trails, and campgrounds. They also planted trees, fought fires, and drained swamps. CCC workers served stints of less than two years and were required to send home $25 of the $30 they earned each month to their families. Between the program’s establishment in 1933 and its expiration nine years later, the CCC put three million young men to work. It quickly became one of the New Deal’s most popular initiatives, and remained popular even in conservative areas. 24

Although the CCC kept many young men from taking to the road, it was hardly enough to relieve the distress of American families. Thus, Roosevelt urged establishment of a new agency, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). He persuaded Congress to appropriate $500 million to FERA, and used it to provide direct relief to needy Americans who were able to pass a means test. Some FERA funds were funneled through the states. Others were passed out by Harry Hopkins, the former social worker whom FDR tapped to run the agency. Hopkins had held a similar position in New York State when Roosevelt was governor there. Both men felt great sympathy for the poor, and both also knew how to use FERA to political advantage. By enlarging the federal role in awarding relief, they helped to transfer the political allegiance of America’s unemployed from local officials and political machines to Washington, D.C.

FERA made life marginally easier for many, but it never had sufficient funds. As the United States headed into the fifth winter of the Depression, unemployment remained high. In November 1933 , Hopkins persuaded Roosevelt to establish yet another agency to employ people directly. Drawing tools and materials from army warehouses, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) put Americans to work fixing roads, docks, and schools laying sewer pipe and installing outhouses for farm families. The CWA paid far more than FERA and did not subject all workers to a means test it was soon employing more than 4 million men and women. By February 1934 , the CCC, FERA, and CWA together were reaching 22 percent of the U.S. population, an all-time high for public welfare in the United States. The president, however, worried both about the escalating costs of such programs and about relief becoming “a habit with the country.” He ordered the CWA to close down at the end of March, noting that nobody would starve when the weather was warm. 25

Americans made it through the rest of 1934 , but as the new Congress convened in early 1935 , the unemployment rate still hovered near 20 percent. Moreover, some 5 million Americans remained on relief. FDR and many of his advisors continued to worry about deficit spending, but they also believed that something had to be done and that only the federal government had “sufficient power and credit” to do it. Work relief cost more than direct payments, but the latter, as FDR declared in his annual message to Congress, was “a narcotic.” “The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me,” he added, “show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre.” FDR proposed a massive public employment program to get 3.5 million abled-bodied but jobless Americans off the relief rolls. 26

The result was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of the most ambitious and best-remembered New Deal programs. Headed by Hopkins, the WPA put more than 3 million people to work in its first year. Roosevelt wanted all projects to be labor intensive and useful, and when possible to come to a natural end. He also wanted WPA to pay more than relief but less than market rates so as not to compete with private enterprise. WPA workers built highways, schools, airports, parks, and bridges. They bound books, supervised recreation areas, ran school lunch programs, and sewed garments for the needy. WPA workers even entered the arena of public health, building hospitals and clinics, conducting mass immunization campaigns, and churning out posters that promoted nutrition and warned against the dangers of tuberculosis and syphilis.

Many of those posters were produced by employees of the Federal Arts Project, part of a massive and unprecedented federal venture into the arena of culture. Both Hopkins and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt believed that the New Deal should provide work for unemployed artists, musicians, actors, and writers, and so the WPA set up a series of cultural programs known collectively as “Federal One.” The Federal Writers’ Project produced dozens of state and city guidebooks, and conducted thousands of oral histories with former slaves, immigrants, stonecutters, packinghouse workers, Oklahoma pioneers, and others. It also sent folklorists to record the music and stories of Appalachian banjo pickers, southern bluesmen, Mexican American balladeers, and Okies in resettlement camps in the West. The Federal Music Project sponsored symphony orchestras and jazz groups, while the Federal Arts Project commissioned muralists and graphic artists. Both hired individuals to teach music, painting, and sculpture to schoolchildren.

If New Dealers wanted to aid unemployed artists, they also hoped to democratize culture and to generate support for New Deal programs and political values. No New Deal initiative better illustrates this goal—or the controversy it generated—than the Federal Theatre Project, which brought plays, vaudeville acts, and puppet shows to small towns across the country. It also staged controversial shows like Orson Welles’s production of Macbeth , which featured an all-black cast. Finally, the Federal Theatre Project developed a new theatrical genre, the Living Newspaper, to dramatize current events and expose social issues. One Living Newspaper, Power , traced the development of the electrical power industry and urged greater support for public ownership of utilities. Other Living Newspapers dealt with agricultural policy, the shortage of affordable housing, the labor movement, and syphilis.

Not surprisingly, Federal One drew intense criticism from critics on the right: In June 1939 , a more conservative Congress dissolved the Federal Theatre Project, charging that it spread New Deal propaganda and encouraged racial mixing in stage productions. Budget cuts to the other cultural programs soon followed. Conservatives warned that all WPA programs were endangering the American way of life by providing jobs for the undeserving. They also complained that the WPA was simply a Democratic Party patronage machine. (FDR did use the program to reward local power brokers who supported the New Deal, although these included progressive Republicans like New York City’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, as well as Democratic political bosses in cities like Chicago and Memphis.) 27

Not all criticism of the WPA came from the right. Leftist critics noted that the WPA was chronically underfunded despite its size, it could provide jobs for only a third of those who needed them in the United States. 28 To avoid competing with the private sector, WPA jobs always paid less than the “prevailing wage” in a given community. Since that standard differed by region, gender, and race, it reinforced existing patterns of discrimination. The editors of The Nation complained that the program required workers to toil “at depressed wages in a federal work gang” and was “a morbid substitute for relief.” 29 Nevertheless, between 1935 and its dismantling in 1943 , the WPA employed some 8.5 million Americans, roughly one-fifth of the nation’s workforce, at a total cost of roughly $11 billion. Many were grateful to have a job rather than a handout. “We aren’t on relief anymore,” the wife of one WPA worker reportedly said. “My husband is working for the Government.” 30

Aiding Farmers

Both the crisis in the banking system and the spike in unemployment were problems brought on by the Great Depression. The plight of America’s farmers had deeper roots, however. Rural America had been mired in depression since shortly after the end of World War I, a situation that farmers found particularly vexing given the general economic prosperity of the 1920s. 31 The deflationary spiral of the early 1930s pushed farm income down an additional 60 percent. 32 Across the country, crops rotted in the field because prices were so low that farmers could not justify harvesting them. Western ranchers slit the throats of livestock they could afford neither to feed nor to market. Dairymen in upstate New York dumped milk into ditches, while growers in California lit mountains of oranges on fire. 33 Since taxes and mortgage payments did not fall, farmers across the country lost homes, land, and equipment to foreclosure. Many rebelled, joining “farm strikes,” disrupting auctions, and nearly lynching an Iowa judge who refused to suspend foreclosure proceedings.

New Dealers believed that boosting farm incomes would help not only rural Americans but also the entire U.S. economy. In 1933 , farmers still made up roughly one-third of the nation’s workforce, and their purchasing power dramatically lagged that of residents in urban areas. By restoring prosperity to the farm economy, New Dealers argued, they would increase farmers’ ability to buy nonfarm goods, in turn contributing to a more general economic recovery. Such reasoning reflected not only the thought of many in the Roosevelt administration regarding the economy, but also their tendency to romanticize the nation’s pastoral past and their awareness of the continuing political power of rural America. 34

The centerpiece of the New Deal’s efforts to raise farm incomes was the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), passed in May 1933 . The act charged the federal government with raising the price for key farm commodities in order to bring the prices that farmers received for their products into balance or “parity” with their production and living costs. It pointed to the years just before World War I as the ideal of parity. While the act was vague about the exact mechanism the government should use to achieve this end, it established a new agency and sanctioned a variety of remedies that farm advocates had been battling over for years. To prevent farmers from planting surplus crops, the AAA levied a tax on flour millers and other crop processors and used the proceeds to pay farmers for taking land out of production. At the same time, the agency tried to maintain a floor under prices by keeping harvested crops off the market when prices were low. It did this by offering farmers loans secured by their crops at above-market rates, then storing the surplus. If crop prices rose, farmers could repay the loans, redeem their crops, and sell at the higher prices. Finally, the act established a Farm Credit Administration (FCA) to provide mortgage relief to farmers.

From the beginning, the New Deal’s farm policy proved controversial. Cotton and wheat farmers had already planted their crops by the time the farm bill passed. A severe drought on the plains constrained the wheat supply naturally, but AAA officials paid farmers to plow up 10 million acres of cotton. The agency also bought and slaughtered some 6 million piglets and 200,000 sows to prevent a future glut of hogs. 35 While much of this pork eventually fed hungry people, the destruction of crops and livestock angered many Americans. When journalist Lorena Hickok went on a fact-finding tour for the administration in the fall of 1933 , people in Minnesota and Nebraska complained to her about the New Dealers’ methods. 36 “As long as there are 25 million hungry people in this country, there’s no overproduction,” one Iowa farm leader declared. “For the government to destroy food and reduce crops at such a time is wicked.” 37

Considered in the aggregate, rural America benefited from New Deal farm policies. Within 18 months of its establishment, the FCA had refinanced one-fifth of all farm mortgages. 38 Prices for crops like corn, wheat, and cotton surged, and net farm income rose by 50 percent between 1932 and 1936 . 39 Yet these benefits were not evenly distributed, and AAA policies often exacerbated the plight of tenant farmers and sharecroppers. New Deal officials relied heavily on county-level committees to set production quotas, monitor acreage-reduction contracts, and dispense federal payments. Agricultural Secretary Henry Wallace considered this decentralized approach to be “economic democracy in action,” but local committees were often dominated by the largest growers. 40 Large planters and landowners frequently pocketed checks for keeping acreage fallow, then pushed out the tenants and sharecroppers who were actually farming the land. In the South, many of these sharecroppers were African Americans, and so they bore the brunt of such policies. In California, where “factory farms” used migratory laborers, growers rarely restored wages to pre-Depression levels, even after prosperity returned. Tenants, sharecroppers, and farmworkers sometimes fought back—joining groups like the Southern Tenant Farmers Union and the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union—but such efforts often provoked violent reprisals. Liberals within the Department of Agriculture who pleaded the case of the disempowered were purged. 41

Although the Roosevelt administration did little to keep tenants and sharecroppers on their land, it did establish two agencies ostensibly designed to give impoverished farmers a fresh start. The Resettlement Administration (RA), set up in 1935 , built three “greenbelt” towns, which were close to big cities and surrounded by countryside. In 1937 , it was absorbed into a new agency, the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which established a chain of migrant labor camps and granted low-interest loans to enable some tenants to buy farms. Both agencies, however, faced opposition from farm corporations and southern landlords who wanted to keep their cheap labor. The RA had hoped to move half a million farm families, but ultimately resettled fewer than 5,000. 42 Photographers hired by the FSA to document America and build support for New Deal programs provided many of the most iconic pictures of the Great Depression, and the agency’s migrant camps came to public attention when John Steinbeck depicted one in his epic novel The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 . Nevertheless, the FSA’s congressional opponents kept its appropriations low, limiting its ability to make a real dent in rural poverty.

Conservation and Regional Change

As FSA photographs and books like The Grapes of Wrath attested, the problems plaguing rural America were not limited to low commodity prices. Across the nation, uncontrolled lumbering had scarred and depleted forests, while intensive farming had ravaged the land. Meanwhile, droughts, wind, and floods depleted the soil. A massive flood on the Mississippi River in 1927 inundated thousands of square miles and displaced some 700,000 people. 43 A single dust storm on the Great Plains in May 1934 sucked 350 million tons of topsoil into the air and deposited it as fair east as New York City and Boston. 44 New Dealers believed that only by developing more sustainable agriculture—and by distributing natural resources more equitably—could the living standards of Americans in rural areas be brought up to the same level as those of their urban counterparts.

To achieve this, New Dealers undertook a variety of initiatives. They retired land, sought to restore forests and soil, engaged in flood control and irrigation projects, and produced cheap hydropower to fuel farms and new industries. Historian Sarah Phillips has suggested that these projects reflected a “New Conservation,” focused less on the preservation of wild areas or the efficient use of natural resources than on the welfare of rural residents. 45 Since the South and West were the most rural parts of the nation, those regions benefited disproportionately. In fact, New Deal land use and energy policies contributed to the emergence of what would eventually become known as the “Sunbelt.” 46

The first, most ambitious, and ultimately most successful of these New Deal projects was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), established by Roosevelt during his first Hundred Days. Cutting across seven states in one of the most impoverished parts of the nation, the TVA brought economic progress and hope to a region that had seen little of either since the end of the Civil War. In addition to most of Tennessee, the TVA covered swaths of Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia. TVA dams prevented spring floods from displacing residents and washing away topsoil. They also provided ample cheap electricity, which the agency sold to rural co-ops and municipal power systems. TVA experts developed fertilizer, built model towns, upgraded schools and health facilities, planted trees, and restored fish and wildlife habitats. In 1933 , 2 percent of farms in this region had electricity by 1945 , 75 percent were electrified. Cheap electricity also attracted new industries to the region, including such corporate behemoths as Monsanto and the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). 47 Through its generation of power, not only did the TVA help to modernize the upper South, but it also inserted the federal government more fully and permanently into the private economy than did any other New Deal agency.

The success of the TVA prompted New Dealers to dive more fully into rural electrification. Private power companies had long argued that they could not afford to provide electricity to isolated farms and small, rural communities. As a result, many Americans were still living without the benefits of running water, indoor toilets, lights, refrigeration, or labor-saving devices. In 1935 , over the protests of private utilities, New Dealers convinced Congress to establish the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), a move that profoundly changed rural lives. The REA sponsored the creation of hundreds of nonprofit electric cooperatives and offered them low-cost loans for generating plants and power lines. In the early 1930s, fewer than one in ten American farms had electricity. By 1941 , the number had risen to four in ten. By 1950 , 90 percent of U.S. farms were electrified. 48

Industrial Policy

If rural electrification was one of the New Deal’s greatest successes, industrial policy was one of its biggest failures. When FDR took office, both he and his advisors were convinced that the economy needed a major stimulus, but few agreed on what form that should take. Some businessmen and New Dealers considered the Depression the result of destructive competition. They argued for suspending antitrust laws and forging industry-wide agreements that would allow businesses to stabilize prices, end overproduction, and ultimately raise wages. Others, more distrustful of the business community, argued either for stimulating competition or for engaging in national economic planning. Many advocated federal spending on public-works projects to “prime” the economic pump yet the president and most around him still hoped to avoid running federal deficits. This policy discord prevented FDR from taking any action until near the end of his first Hundred Days. When the Senate passed a work-sharing bill that the president opposed, he ordered staffers who favored differing plans to shut themselves in a room and develop a compromise. 49

The resulting bill, which Roosevelt proposed in May 1933 , contained what one of his advisors later called “a thorough hodge-podge of provisions.” 50 Declaring a state of industrial emergency, it largely suspended antitrust laws and created the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to oversee the development of codes to regulate prices, wages, hours, and working conditions for hundreds of industries. Section 7a of the bill gave industrial workers the right “to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing,” marking a historic reversal of the federal government’s traditional refusal to back unionization. Finally, the bill appropriated $3.3 billion to be spent by a new Public Works Administration (PWA). New Dealers hoped that the public works spending would jump-start the economy, buying time for the industrial codes to take effect.

This unwieldy industrial policy foundered from the start. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, who had been charged with overseeing the PWA, moved with great caution in order to avoid accusations of misusing funds. In the agency’s first six months, he spent only $110 million of the billions allocated. 51 As a result, the PWA failed to provide any short-term economic stimulus. The cotton textile millers quickly drafted an industrial code, but other industries were slow to follow. Hugh Johnson, the colorful former general appointed to head the NRA, tried to compensate for this sluggish pace by resorting to the tactics of propaganda and community pressure that had been used successfully by the United States during World War I. Employers who agreed to sign a blanket wage-and-hour code were allowed to display NRA signs picturing a stylized Blue Eagle and the slogan “We Do Our Part.” The NRA’s Blue Eagle soon landed in store windows and on delivery trucks, and cities across the nation held “Blue Eagle” rallies and parades. This campaign made the NRA one of the most recognized aspects of the New Deal, but it did little to boost employment or improve incomes.

The code-writing process slowly moved forward. Although Johnson and the NRA had been given formal authority over the enterprise, they had no means to enforce compliance. Thus, the largest producers in each industry tended to dominate the proceedings. Mechanisms to fix prices and control production often hurt smaller operators. Code-making panels were supposed to include labor and consumer representatives, but they rarely did. As a result, price rises tended to outpace wage increases. The law eventually produced so many overlapping industrial codes—more than five hundred—that even businessmen complained about NRA bureaucracy. 52 In October 1934 , FDR finally secured Johnson’s resignation. The following May a unanimous Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional.

Although slow to get started, the PWA ultimately proved more successful. In contrast to other jobs programs launched by the New Deal, the PWA embodied a “trickle-down” approach. The agency paid higher wages than did other work-relief projects, hired more skilled workers, and drew fewer employees from relief rolls. By focusing on large-scale construction projects, Ickes hoped to stimulate industries that provided materials and components, thus creating jobs indirectly. Between 1933 and 1939 , PWA workers built schools, courthouses, city halls, hospitals, and sewage plants. They built the port of Brownsville, Texas the LaGuardia and Los Angeles Airports two aircraft carriers and numerous cruisers, destroyers, gunboats, and planes. The PWA constructed New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel, Virginia’s Skyline Drive, the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams in the Pacific Northwest, and the highway that links Key West to the Florida mainland. Surveying this legacy, one scholar compared Ickes to the Egyptian pharaoh who oversaw construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. 53

Crafting Social Security

The PWA and the WPA both provided jobs for able-bodied Americans. They did little, however, for the sick, the disabled, or the elderly—those whom one sympathetic House member called “America’s untouchables.” 54 Few workers had pensions, and so most worked as long as they were able. Those considered unemployable because of age or health were forced to rely on their families or on local welfare agencies. To help these citizens, to ensure that the elderly did not take jobs away from younger compatriots, and to give all Americans the promise of future “security,” the president proposed a sweeping program of unemployment and old-age insurance. The Social Security Act, which FDR signed into law in August 1935 , laid the foundation for the U.S. welfare state, reshaping the lives and futures of Americans for generations to come. One Roosevelt biographer called it “the most important single piece of social legislation in all American history, if importance be measured in terms of … direct influence upon the lives of individual Americans.” 55

Historians have argued that the Social Security Act in some ways marked a historic reversal of American political values. Politicians and political commentators had long celebrated individualism and self-help, and for most of the nation’s history, the federal government provided little in the way of pensions or insurance to citizens who were not veterans of war. By contrast, the Social Security Act created a national system of old-age insurance, while using federal tax incentives to encourage states to set up their own unemployment insurance plans. The act also provided federal matching funds to states for aid to dependent mothers and children, the blind and the physically disabled. The Social Security Act marked “a tremendous break with the inhibitions of the past,” Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., wrote in 1958 . “The federal government was at last charged with the obligation to provide its citizens a measure of protection from the hazards and vicissitudes of life.” 56

If the Social Security Act was revolutionary in some respects, however, it was deeply conservative in others. New Dealers had hoped to include national health insurance in the bill, but dropped these plans in the face of intense opposition from doctors. Southern Democrats, who were key to FDR’s political coalition, worried that giving African Americans too much aid would prompt them to reject backbreaking work at low wages. As a result, the bill’s drafters excluded both domestic workers and agricultural laborers from old-age insurance. They also exempted both groups, plus employees of small firms, from unemployment compensation. The cost of these exclusions fell disproportionately on women and racial minorities. Administration of unemployment insurance was also left up to the states, a move that multiplied the possibilities for discriminatory treatment.

Judged by international standards, one of the most conservative aspects of the Social Security program was its funding mechanism. By the 1930s, most modern industrial nations offered some form of social insurance for the elderly that was funded out of general coffers. 57 FDR, however, insisted that the federal pension plan work like private insurance: Workers would contribute to their old-age pension accounts through payroll taxes, and benefits would be tied to the amount that workers paid in. This regressive tax system prevented Social Security from redistributing income, leading to greater levels of income inequality among the U.S. elderly than among the aged in other industrialized nations. FDR, however, insisted that the decision to fund the program this way was political: “We put these payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits,” he declared. “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” 58 In this assessment, Roosevelt proved prescient.

A New Deal for Labor

When Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis likened Section 7a—the section requiring management to engage in good-faith collective bargaining with workers—to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. For decades, American workers had been divided along skill, race, and ethnic lines, and government at all levels had generally sided with corporations rather than unions. The 1920s had been a particularly difficult decade for organized labor as unfavorable court rulings, cautious union leadership, corporate use of welfare capitalism and government attacks on those perceived as radical all eroded union ranks. Section 7a appeared to reverse the tide, and Lewis jumped to take advantage of the new legislation. Gambling much of the mineworkers’ treasury on a bold campaign, he sent organizers into the coalfields in the summer of 1933 with instructions to invoke the authority of the New Deal: “The President wants you to unionize,” organizers told miners, adding that not doing so was “unpatriotic.” Within months, the union’s membership quadrupled. 59

It soon became clear, however, that Section 7a was not the labor cure-all for which Lewis had hoped. Employers in many industries continued to defy the new law or to evade its requirements by installing company unions that they controlled. The act contained few real enforcement mechanisms, and NRA head Hugh Johnson seemed disinclined to use those that existed. As workers grew increasingly frustrated, industry after industry erupted in strikes. In 1934 , a walkout by textile workers stretched across twenty states. In Toledo, Ohio, striking employees of an auto-parts company battled National Guardsmen in the streets. Strikes by Minneapolis teamsters and San Francisco longshoremen touched off general strikes in both cities.

These strikes, in and of themselves, produced only limited gains for labor, but they signaled a new militancy—and unity—on the part of America’s workers. These changes in part reflected the economic strains of the Depression, but as Lizabeth Cohen has shown, they also reflected important shifts in the orientation of working-class Americans during the 1920s and 1930s. Restrictive legislation passed in the early 1920s curbed the flow of new immigrants into the United States, contributing to the maturation of ethnic communities. Mass consumption and mass culture gradually gave workers of different ethnic backgrounds common ground, creating a more unified working-class culture. Meanwhile, employers’ use of welfare capitalism during the 1920s raised workers’ expectations. The Depression destroyed two safety nets that workers had relied on: the wages and benefits once offered by employers, and the webs of assistance rooted in ethnic and religious institutions. 60

The labor unrest of late 1933 and 1934 helped persuade FDR to throw his support very belatedly behind a new labor law crafted largely by New York Senator Robert Wagner. Roosevelt and his Labor Secretary Frances Perkins hoped to boost workers’ purchasing power through wage-and-hour legislation and laws affecting pensions and unemployment. They were less concerned about extending workers’ political power by guaranteeing their collective-bargaining rights. 61 As a result, Roosevelt initially showed little interest in closing the loopholes that weakened Section 7a. In late May 1935 , however, the Supreme Court nullified the National Industrial Recovery Act, thus limiting FDR’s options. With Congress poised to pass the new labor law in any case, the president finally declared it a high priority.

Passage of the National Labor Relations Act (more commonly known as the Wagner Act) in the summer of 1935 helped set the stage for an historic organizing drive. The economy had begun to recover, making companies more vulnerable to shutdowns. Liberal Democrats allied with the New Deal and sympathetic to labor won the governorships of such key industrial states as New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Lewis decided that the time was ripe to organize mass-production workers in industrial unions. In November 1935 , he and a handful of allies formed what would become the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). 62 In the first four months of 1937 , CIO unions “conquered the two most significant outposts of the open shop in mass-production industry”: General Motors and U.S. Steel. By the end of the year, organized labor had recruited some 3 million new members and unions represented almost 23 percent of the nonagricultural workforce, the largest proportion to that point in U.S. history. 63

Such victories were short-lived. By late 1937 , the CIO’s successes had sparked fierce attacks from corporate adversaries, Southern congressmen, craft unionists in the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and some New Dealers. 64 It would take World War II to again reinvigorate the labor movement. The Wagner Act did, however, help solidify labor support for the Democratic Party. Worker support, in turn, prompted New Dealers to push through the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which banned child labor and set minimum wage and maximum hour laws. (Agricultural laborers and domestic workers were exempted from the act, just as they had been from Social Security.) “For generations to come,” one historian has written, “the FLSA would stand as the backbone of U.S. employment law.” 65

The Legacies and Limits of the New Deal

Passage of the FLSA in June 1938 marked the end of New Deal reform. Roosevelt won a landslide reelection in 1936 , but his second term proved rocky from the start. Some of the wounds were self-inflicted. Unhappy with Supreme Court decisions overturning key pieces of New Deal legislation, FDR proposed a bill allowing the president to appoint one new justice for every justice over the age of 70 who refused to retire if passed, the bill would have enabled Roosevelt immediately to appoint six additional justices. This transparently political move drew wrath from New Deal opponents and criticism even from many of FDR’s allies. Before Congress could act, the swing justice switched sides and began voting to uphold New Deal laws. His shift, together with the retirement of another justice, ushered in a new, more liberal Supreme Court era, and effectively killed the Court reform bill. Nevertheless, the backlash associated with FDR’s “court-packing” scheme sapped much of the New Deal’s political momentum. 66

The president’s political problems were soon compounded by an economic downturn that became known as the “Roosevelt Recession.” For most of FDR’s presidency, the economy had improved steadily, in part because of ample government spending. Roosevelt, however, had never abandoned his belief in a balanced budget, and in early 1937 he decided the time had come for federal belt tightening. He ordered dramatic cutbacks in both the WPA and the PWA, even as the first Social Security taxes pulled $2 billion out of the U.S. economy. All this sent the economy into a tailspin. Stock prices began falling in October 1937 and dropped nearly 50 percent in just seven months. Industrial production cratered, and some 4 million workers lost their jobs. 67 Unemployment, which had fallen sharply throughout July 1937 , moved upwards until the following June. 68

FDR’s court-packing scheme, economic duress, and a wave of sit-down strikes by industrial unionists all weakened support for the New Deal in some quarters. In the latter half of 1937 , a group of conservative Democrats, mostly Southerners, joined forces with Republicans to stymie any further New Deal legislation. The FLSA squeaked through, but in the 1938 midterm elections, Republicans made big gains in both houses. In 1939 , Congress began scaling back or killing off federal projects, beginning with the WPA’s Federal Theater and Federal Art projects. By the end of 1943 , Congress had eliminated the CCC, the WPA, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), and numerous other New Deal programs. 69

So what did the New Deal do and whom did it benefit? New Deal policies did not restore the economy to pre-Depression levels—only World War II did that—but between 1933 and 1937 , the nation’s real gross national product grew at an annual rate of over 8 percent a year. Growth slowed during the Roosevelt Recession, but averaged over 10 percent a year between 1938 and 1941 . As economist Christina Romer has written, these rates are “spectacular, even for an economy pulling out of a severe depression.” 70 By strengthening the power of the federal government and extending federal regulation into entirely new areas of the economy, the New Deal helped to “devolatilize” American capitalism. 71 It stabilized the farm economy after two decades of depression, and introduced programs like crop subsidies and soil conservation that became staples of federal farm policy for decades to come. New Deal work-relief programs like the CCC, the PWA, and the WPA relieved the misery of millions of Americans, while building a vast public infrastructure that permanently changed the American landscape. Over time, Social Security dramatically reduced the number of elderly poor.

America’s industrial workers helped to “make” the New Deal, and white male workers were among its prime beneficiaries. In earlier decades, many members of the working class—particularly those who were foreign born—had not bothered to vote, and their party loyalties were fickle. Many simply found national party politics irrelevant to their lives. By the end of the 1930s, all this had changed. Many workers had received federal relief checks and jobs. Even more benefited from federal bank deposit and unemployment insurance, long-term low-interest mortgages offered by the HOLC, a nationally set minimum wage, and the promise of Social Security benefits in old age. In return, millions of working-class voters became loyal Democrats, ensuring the dominance of the Democratic Party for decades to come. 72

Not all Americans benefited equally from the New Deal, however. Women achieved important symbolic breakthroughs: FDR appointed the first female Cabinet member, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, as well as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Women also played an increasingly important role in the machinery of the Democratic Party. Overall, however, New Deal programs discriminated against women. Most New Dealers, including Perkins and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, saw men as heads of households, who were thus in greater need of work. As a result, federal work-relief programs employed women at a far lower rate than men. Of 1.6 million public-works jobs given out in 1934 , only 11 percent went to women. Women held about 12 percent of WPA jobs, even though they made up at least 25 percent of the unemployed. 73 New Deal programs generally assigned women to gender-specific jobs—for instance, sewing and canning projects—and paid them a fraction of the wages given to their male counterparts. (Professional women, particularly those employed in the WPA’s arts programs, fared somewhat better.)

If gender inequity was built into most New Deal programs, so too was racial inequality. White Southern Democrats played a key role in the New Deal coalition, and “Dixiecrat” politicians exercised inordinate power in both the House and the Senate. 74 As a result, FDR and his advisors went to great lengths to appease them. The CCC established segregated camps for African Americans, often far from population centers. NRA wage codes generally prescribed lower wages for blacks than for whites, while work-relief programs like the WPA often relegated African Americans to the lowest-paying jobs. Federal efforts to promote “grassroots democracy” gave control of the AAA and other New Deal programs to local authorities, who administered them in accordance with local (often racist) mores. Afraid of alienating his southern supporters, FDR refused to support antilynching legislation or a ban on the poll tax.

The New Deal’s social insurance and labor protection programs also discriminated against women and racial minorities. The Social Security Act exempted domestics and agricultural laborers, as well as individuals who worked intermittently and were employed in fields like education and nursing that were heavily female. As a result, more than three-quarters of all female wage earners and at least 65 percent of African Americans were initially denied coverage. 75 These rules—together with similar exclusions in the FLSA—also hurt many other racial minorities, as well as poor, rural whites. The Wagner Act helped workers in organized industries like steel, rubber, and automobiles, which were heavily dominated by white men. It did little for agricultural laborers, those in the largely unorganized service sector, or most workers in the South—in other words, for most employed white women and racial minorities.

Despite such rampant inequities, the New Deal did more for African Americans than had any past administration since Abraham Lincoln’s. As a result, African Americans switched parties en masse, setting the stage for a broader party realignment in the 1960s and beyond. African American voters put civil rights on the Democratic Party’s agenda after World War II, ultimately leading to a widespread defection by white Southerners. The New Deal drew millions of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe into national politics for the first time, but many of these working-class ethnics eventually became “Reagan Republicans.” The industrial labor movement proved to be what Robert Zieger has called a “fragile juggernaut”: Unions gained members and contract rights through the 1950s, but the CIO’s militancy was quickly curbed and union membership as a percentage of the American workforce fell sharply beginning in the 1970s. 76

While many New Deal programs and institutions were killed off, others—federal deposit insurance, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, among them—continue to the present day. Social Security gradually expanded to include domestic workers, agricultural laborers, and other excluded groups, making it more nearly universal. All this has left scholars, politicians, and pundits arguing over how to understand the New Deal’s legacy for the 20th century and beyond.

Discussion of the Literature

Few eras in modern American history have been the subject of more sustained scholarship or intense debate among both academics and popular commentators than the New Deal. Most agree that the policies of the Roosevelt administration brought new groups into the political process, laid the foundation for the welfare state, and greatly expanded both the power of the presidency and the reach of the federal government. Beyond this, however, historical judgments have differed markedly. For years, most scholars lauded President Roosevelt and cast the New Deal as a watershed in American history, albeit one consistent with American values and the nation’s reform tradition. Critics on the right and left, however, portrayed Roosevelt as a political opportunist who used the New Deal either to subvert or to preserve the nation’s capitalist system. In recent years, most scholars have acknowledged the New Deal’s achievements, but also stressed its limitations. Many have also deemphasized the role played by Roosevelt, and some have questioned the New Deal’s long-term impact.

Most New Deal scholarship has revolved around a handful of questions: How radical or conservative were Roosevelt’s domestic policies? What or whom did they benefit? When and why did the political “order” created by the New Deal come to an end? And what has been the New Deal’s lasting legacy for American politics, society, and culture? How historians and political scientists have answered these questions has depended on their ideological outlooks, the temper of their times, and their assessment of the possibilities and limits of American political culture. Since the New Deal itself was not always ideologically coherent and it evolved over time, historical assessments have also depended on the aspects of the New Deal that scholars have chosen to emphasize.

The first scholars to offer sustained accounts of the New Deal were those who came of age during the Great Depression. Most were liberals whose political outlooks were shaped by their own experiences during the 1930s and 1940s and by the politics of the Cold War and of McCarthyism that followed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Frank Freidel, Eric Goldman, and others focused on the commanding figure of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, celebrating the dramatic transformation that he and his New Dealers wrought in both American policies and political culture. 77 These liberals portrayed the New Deal as a moment of democratic renewal, when the federal government intervened in the nation’s political economy to protect the marginal and exploited from powerful and privileged “interests.” Richard Hofstadter considered the New Deal to be “a drastic new departure.” 78 Carl Degler went even further, calling it the “Third American Revolution,” after the War of Independence and the Civil War. 79

Even as these liberal historians emphasized the revolutionary nature of the New Deal, most also rooted it in a tradition of American reform. This was partly to blunt the attack of a handful of conservative commentators and scholars who argued that Roosevelt had weakened “the Constitutional system” and hurt the economy by exercising dictatorial powers on behalf of “Socialistic” and un-American objectives. 80 Such arguments originated with contemporary critics of the New Deal like Raymond Moley, a member of FDR’s “Brain Trust” who eventually broke with the president and became a conservative Republican. 81 For decades, conservative critics of the New Deal were few and far between, but in recent years a new group of right-wing journalists and think-tank scholars have resurrected such arguments. 82

By the late 1960s, the classic “liberal” interpretation of the New Deal was also drawing fire from critics in the “New Left.” Scholars like Barton Bernstein, Paul Conkin, and Howard Zinn argued that the New Deal had not transformed corporate capitalism so much as “conserved and protected” it. Bernstein summarized this viewpoint in a widely read essay subtitled “The Conservative Achievements of Liberal Reform.” He acknowledged that New Deal policies had helped some downtrodden Americans, but argued that Roosevelt and his advisors had spurned more substantive change. They did not question private enterprise or nationalize the banking system. They did not undertake massive public housing construction or use the tax system to fundamentally redistribute income or wealth. They failed to challenge both the southern “race system” and the power of the business class. By co-opting and incorporating the discontented, Bernstein and his allies charged, FDR and his New Dealers had blunted the possibility of more revolutionary change. 83

Reassessing the New Deal in the Face of Conservative Resurgence

Both classic liberals and New Leftists wrote during the decades of Democratic Party dominance thus, they assumed that “the political era ushered in by the New Deal would go on forever.” 84 By the 1970s, however, that assumption seemed increasingly untenable. Richard Nixon’s election to the presidency in 1968 signaled the fraying of the New Deal coalition. In 1980 , Ronald Reagan swept to victory on the Republican ticket, bringing a Republican House and Senate with him. Reagan’s victory ushered in a period of conservative resurgence, which prompted scholars to conclude that the “New Deal order” had come to an end. 85 This realization helped catalyze a shift in both the dominant tone of New Deal scholarship and in the questions asked by historians. Most scholars writing in recent decades have followed the lead of William Leuchtenburg, who declared in a pioneering 1963 work that the New Deal was only a “half-way Revolution.” 86 Historians have differed primarily on the relative weights they have assigned to the New Deal’s achievements and limitations, and on how they have explained the demise of the “New Deal order.”

No single book better exemplified this shift in tone and emphasis than the 1989 essay collection entitled The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order . As editors Gary Gerstle and Steve Fraser wrote in their introduction, “The witnessing of a political era’s eclipse has imparted to many of these essays a sober and ironic tone, appropriate to political analyses that stress missed opportunities, unintended consequences, and dangerous but inescapable compromises.” 87 Many of those who contributed to the volume developed their arguments further in subsequent books. Steve Fraser and Nelson Lichtenstein, for instance, both argued that labor leaders entered the Depression decade with dreams of institutionalizing industrial or social democracy. They gradually gave up on this public-policy vision, however, settling instead for more generous benefits and greater job security gleaned through contracts negotiated with management. 88 In a similar vein, Alan Brinkley suggested that between 1937 and 1945 , the dominant ideology among New Dealers shifted from an emphasis on regulation in the public interest to a faith in Keynesianism and economic growth as “the surest route to social progress.” The result, he declared, was “the end of reform.” 89

While these historians focused broadly on issues of political economy, scholars of race and gender highlighted the limits of New Deal egalitarianism. Ira Katznelson and Mary Poole showed that many New Deal programs discriminated against African Americans, resulting in what Katznelson dubbed “affirmative action for whites.” 90 The sociologist Cybelle Fox argued that European immigrants received more generous access to social welfare programs than did African Americans, and Mexican immigrants. 91 Linda Gordon, Gwendolyn Mink, Suzanne Mettler, and Alice Kessler-Harris explored what Kessler-Harris called “the gendered limits of social citizenship.” They pointed out that many New Deal programs, including such landmark initiatives as Social Security and the Fair Labor Standards Act, treated men and women quite differently. 92

Still other authors emphasized the contributions of the New Deal, even as they acknowledged its limitations. In his magisterial Freedom from Fear , David M. Kennedy argued that the New Deal not only provided relief and social insurance to many “vulnerable individuals,” but also “erected an institutional scaffolding designed to provide unprecedented stability and predictability” to large segments of the American economy. In doing so, he suggested, the New Deal helped to catalyze postwar prosperity, while giving “countless Americans” a new “sense of security, and with it a sense of having a stake in their country.” 93 Ira Katznelson struck a note of both tragedy and triumph in his monumental 2013 book, Fear Itself . Elaborating on a theme he had explored in earlier works, Katznelson described the way that Southern Democrats in Congress built racial inequality into the very foundation of the New Deal. This “Faustian terrible compromise” on the domestic front was the price that FDR had to pay for what Katznelson saw as the New Deal’s most important achievement: its “demonstration that liberal democracy, a political system with a legislature at its heart, could govern effectively in the face of great danger.” At a time when the Depression was destabilizing societies around the globe—a time when fascists and communists were on the march—the New Deal reinvigorated democratic institutions and redefined the role of government, giving liberal democracy renewed and lasting “legitimacy and prestige” around the world. 94

Katznelson measured the New Deal’s achievements against the successes of fascism and communism abroad. I have suggested that this same context helped to derail the drive for economic justice that animated industrial unionists and their New Deal allies during the 1930s. Alarmed by the chaos of the Depression years and convinced that internal disunity had undermined democracies abroad, Americans with divergent political outlooks and agendas increasingly emphasized Americans’ common ground. Against the backdrop of war and Cold War, businessmen alarmed by what they saw as the New Deal’s class-based resentments sometimes made common cause with liberals eager to contain religious and ethnic hostilities. In an effort to succor social harmony, both groups sought to define a unifying and distinctive “American Way.” They helped to shape a consensus ethos that privileged civility over equality, delegitimized many forms of dissent, and constrained American politics into the 1960s. 95

Most of the authors discussed to this point either imply or explicitly argue that the ultimate demise of the “New Deal order” resulted from flaws in the New Deal’s architecture or from fractures in the Democratic coalition. To paraphrase James T. Kloppenberg, they would say that the New Deal order was not pushed, but rather jumped. 96 Recently, however, several historians have focused on those who sought to speed the New Deal order on its way. Kim Phillips-Fein has shown how right-wing businessmen waged continuous and often covert war on New Deal legislation and values from the 1930s through the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan in 1980 . By funding think tanks and foundations—and recruiting politicians, intellectuals, ministers, and others to their cause—these men worked “to undo the system of labor unions, federal social welfare programs, and government regulation of the economy that came into existence during and after the Great Depression of the 1930s.” 97 In One Nation Under God , Kevin M. Kruse elaborates on the coalition of conservative businessmen and religious leaders who united to oppose the New Deal and who helped to transform both American religious and political culture. 98

The books of both Phillips-Fein and Kruse reflect a shift in the focus of political history since the turn of the 21st century—a renewed interest in the type of conservatives that the first New Deal historians would have considered “fringe.” Both books call into question the power and legacy of postwar liberalism. Recently, Jefferson Cowie has gone even further, questioning the assumption made by most prior historians that the New Deal marked a turning point in American political culture, even if only a “halfway Revolution.” The New Deal was a “triumph of redistributive policy,” Cowie affirms, at least for “the white, male industrial working class.” Its reform of capitalism, however, could not last. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, a rare convergence of historical circumstances—“changes in the state, immigration, culture and race”—briefly enabled “a limited but powerful sense of working-class unity” that triumphed over America’s long-standing ideology of individualism. When those historical factors subsided, however, the nation’s commitment to overcoming economic inequality frayed. The New Deal order, Cowie argues, “marks what might be called a ‘great exception’—a sustained deviation, an extended detour—from some of the main contours of American political practice, economic structure, and cultural outlook.” 99

Primary Sources

Few eras in American history have been as well documented in words and film as the 1930s. Thus the New Deal offers scholars and students a wealth of available published and online primary sources. A number of books capture the human toll taken by the Depression, as well as the response of diverse Americans to the policies proposed by their leaders. In 1933, Harry Hopkins, who headed first the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and then the Works Progress Administration, dispatched the journalist Lorena Hickok to gather information about the day-to-day toll that the Depression was exacting on ordinary citizens. Over the course of two years, Hickok traversed 32 states. The reports she sent back are compiled by Richard Lowitt and Maurine Beasley in One Third of a Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression. 100 Robert S. McElvaine’s Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man collects nearly 200 letters written by ordinary men, women, and children to those who occupied or worked in the White House during the Great Depression. The letters show the personal connection many Americans felt with FDR, and they display a wide range of emotions toward both the economic cataclysm and government relief. 101 Between 1938 and 1942, the Federal Writers Project sent writers across the country to interview individuals of diverse backgrounds, occupations, and circumstances. In First Person America, Ann Banks offers eighty of these life stories, including those of a Polish immigrant, a Chicago jazzman, a retired Oregon prospector, a North Carolina tobacco farmer, and a Bahamian midwife living in Florida. 102 Decades after the Depression, the journalist Studs Terkel interviewed dozens of Americans who lived through the 1930s. He recorded their words in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. 103

New Dealers had a sense that they were living through and shaping history, and many produced memoirs recording their experiences. One of the first to appear was Harry Hopkins’s Spending to Save. 104 Raymond Moley, an original member of FDR’s Brain Trust who eventually became one of the New Deal’s harshest critics, published After Seven Years. 105 The many other accounts by New Dealers include these by the only two members of Roosevelt’s Cabinet who served throughout his entire presidency: Frances Perkins’s The Roosevelt I Knew and Harold L. Ickes’s The Secret Diary of Harold L. Ickes 106

Many archives have made extensive collections of New Deal materials available online and can be found in “Links to Digital Materials.” The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum has digitized major collections of FDR’s papers, selected correspondence of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the complete diaries of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. and other New Deal documents deemed particularly significant. The Library also provides links to videos of FDR and to online versions of two documentary films produced by the government and designed to build support for New Deal programs: Pare Lorentz’s The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River. The Library of Congress has also digitized numerous collections relating to the New Deal, including photographs taken by Farm Security Administration photographers life histories collected by members of the Federal Writers Project ethnographic materials documenting the lives of migrants living in California work camps run by the FSA images, posters, and scripts produced by the Federal Theatre Project and posters designed by graphic artists working for the WPA.

Links to Digital Materials

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum—This link offers access to the digitized collections of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

The American Presidency Project—This searchable document archive contains the addresses, proclamations, news conferences, executive orders, and fireside chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as those of the presidents who preceded and followed him.

The Living New Deal—The Living New Deal, developed in part by the Department of Geography at the University of California at Berkeley, is a national database of thousands of documents, photographs, and personal stories about public works made possible by the New Deal. The site contains a map, continually under construction, indicating thousands of projects undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, Works Progress Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, and other New Deal agencies. Projects are searchable by location, New Deal agency, category and artist.

The Library of Congress hosts numerous collections of primary sources related to the New Deal, including:

The New Deal Stage: Selections from the Federal Theatre Project, 1935–1939—This collection contains more than 13,000 images of stage and costume designs, still photographs, posters, scripts for productions, and other materials from the Federal Theatre Project.

Works Progress Administration Posters—This collection consists of 907 digitized posters created from 1936 to 1943 by various branches of the WPA. The posters were designed to publicize health and safety programs, art exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances, travel and tourism, and educational programs in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. The states most frequently represented in the collection are California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Documenting America, 1935–1943: The Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photo Collection—This site contains two videos introducing users to the vast collection of images taken by photographers for the FSA (and later the Office of War Information). Many of these pictures—taken by such photographers as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, and Gordon Parks—are some of the most iconic images of the Depression Era. The Website also includes links to collections of these photographs digitized by the Library of Congress and to other relevant materials.

American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1940—This collection of life histories consists of about 2,900 documents compiled by some three hundred employees of the Federal Writers’ Project working in twenty-four states. The documents include narratives, dialogues, reports, and case histories. Those interviewed recounted immigrating, undertaking grueling factory work, farming tobacco, and journeying west, among other things. The documents also include tales of meeting Billy the Kid and surviving the 1871 Chicago fire.

Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940 to 1941—This Website presents materials from an ethnographic field collection documenting the everyday life of residents of ten Farm Security Administration migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941. Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin documented dance tunes, cowboy songs, traditional ballads, play party and square dance calls, camp council meetings, camp court proceedings, conversations, storytelling sessions, and personal experience narratives of the Dust Bowl refugees who inhabited the camps. The digitized collection includes audio recordings, graphic images, and print materials.


II. The Origins of the Great Depression

Crowds of people gather outside the New York Stock Exchange following the crash of 1929. Library of Congress.

On Thursday, October 24, 1929, stock market prices suddenly plummeted. Ten billion dollars in investments (roughly equivalent to about $100 billion today) disappeared in a matter of hours. Panicked selling set in, stock values sank to sudden lows, and stunned investors crowded the New York Stock Exchange demanding answers. Leading bankers met privately at the offices of J. P. Morgan and raised millions in personal and institutional contributions to halt the slide. They marched across the street and ceremoniously bought stocks at inflated prices. The market temporarily stabilized but fears spread over the weekend and the following week frightened investors dumped their portfolios to avoid further losses. On October 29, Black Tuesday, the stock market began its long precipitous fall. Stock values evaporated. Shares of U.S. Steel dropped from $262 to $22. General Motors stock fell from $73 a share to $8. Four fifths of J. D. Rockefeller’s fortune—the greatest in American history—vanished.

Although the crash stunned the nation, it exposed the deeper, underlying problems with the American economy in the 1920s. The stock market’s popularity grew throughout the decade, but only 2.5 percent of Americans had brokerage accounts the overwhelming majority of Americans had no direct personal stake in Wall Street. The stock market’s collapse, no matter how dramatic, did not by itself depress the American economy. Instead, the crash exposed a great number of factors that, when combined with the financial panic, sank the American economy into the greatest of all economic crises. Rising inequality, declining demand, rural collapse, overextended investors, and the bursting of speculative bubbles all conspired to plunge the nation into the Great Depression.

Despite resistance by Progressives, the vast gap between rich and poor accelerated throughout the early twentieth century. In the aggregate, Americans were better off in 1929 than in 1920. Per capita income had risen 10 percent for all Americans, but 75 percent for the nation’s wealthiest citizens. 1 The return of conservative politics in the 1920s reinforced federal fiscal policies that exacerbated the divide: low corporate and personal taxes, easy credit, and depressed interest rates overwhelmingly favored wealthy investors who, flush with cash, spent their money on luxury goods and speculative investments in the rapidly rising stock market.

The pro-business policies of the 1920s were designed for an American economy built on the production and consumption of durable goods. Yet by the late 1920s, much of the market was saturated. The boom of automobile manufacturing, the great driver of the American economy in the 1920s, slowed as fewer and fewer Americans with the means to purchase a car had not already done so. More and more, the well-to-do had no need for the new automobiles, radios, and other consumer goods that fueled gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the 1920s. When products failed to sell, inventories piled up, manufacturers scaled back production, and companies fired workers, stripping potential consumers of cash, blunting demand for consumer goods, and replicating the downward economic cycle. The situation was only compounded by increased automation and rising efficiency in American factories. Despite impressive overall growth throughout the 1920s, unemployment hovered around 7 percent throughout the decade, suppressing purchasing power for a great swath of potential consumers. 2

While a manufacturing innovation, Henry Ford’s assembly line produced so many cars as to flood the automobile market in the 1920s. Wikimedia.

For American farmers, meanwhile, hard times began long before the markets crashed. In 1920 and 1921, after several years of larger-than-average profits, farm prices in the South and West continued their long decline, plummeting as production climbed and domestic and international demand for cotton, foodstuffs, and other agricultural products stalled. Widespread soil exhaustion on western farms only compounded the problem. Farmers found themselves unable to make payments on loans taken out during the good years, and banks in agricultural areas tightened credit in response. By 1929, farm families were overextended, in no shape to make up for declining consumption, and in a precarious economic position even before the Depression wrecked the global economy. 3

Despite serious foundational problems in the industrial and agricultural economy, most Americans in 1929 and 1930 still believed the economy would bounce back. In 1930, amid one of the Depression’s many false hopes, President Herbert Hoover reassured an audience that “the depression is over.” 4 But the president was not simply guilty of false optimism. Hoover made many mistakes. During his 1928 election campaign, Hoover promoted higher tariffs as a means for encouraging domestic consumption and protecting American farmers from foreign competition. Spurred by the ongoing agricultural depression, Hoover signed into law the highest tariff in American history, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, just as global markets began to crumble. Other countries responded in kind, tariff walls rose across the globe, and international trade ground to a halt. Between 1929 and 1932, international trade dropped from $36 billion to only $12 billion. American exports fell by 78 percent. Combined with overproduction and declining domestic consumption, the tariff exacerbated the world’s economic collapse. 5

But beyond structural flaws, speculative bubbles, and destructive protectionism, the final contributing element of the Great Depression was a quintessentially human one: panic. The frantic reaction to the market’s fall aggravated the economy’s other many failings. More economic policies backfired. The Federal Reserve overcorrected in their response to speculation by raising interest rates and tightening credit. Across the country, banks denied loans and called in debts. Their patrons, afraid that reactionary policies meant further financial trouble, rushed to withdraw money before institutions could close their doors, ensuring their fate. Such bank runs were not uncommon in the 1920s, but in 1930, with the economy worsening and panic from the crash accelerating, 1,352 banks failed. In 1932, nearly 2,300 banks collapsed, taking personal deposits, savings, and credit with them. 6

The Great Depression was the confluence of many problems, most of which had begun during a time of unprecedented economic growth. Fiscal policies of the Republican “business presidents” undoubtedly widened the gap between rich and poor and fostered a standoff over international trade, but such policies were widely popular and, for much of the decade, widely seen as a source of the decade’s explosive growth. With fortunes to be won and standards of living to maintain, few Americans had the foresight or wherewithal to repudiate an age of easy credit, rampant consumerism, and wild speculation. Instead, as the Depression worked its way across the United States, Americans hoped to weather the economic storm as best they could, waiting for some form of relief, any answer to the ever-mounting economic collapse that strangled so many Americans’ lives.


Summer Camping in the United States

Since its inception in the 19 th century, the Jewish summer camp, advertised as a ‘a worthy use of leisure,’ has provided a means to promote good health, fight anti-Semitism, instill Jewish identity, craft and question religious rituals and traditions, and trouble notions of gender. Throughout the twentieth century, it was a business venture that empowered middle-aged women who founded summer camps, a means of employment for young women who worked as camp counselors and instructors, and a place for the girls who were campers to explore and shape Jewish girlhood. Providing insight into Jewish identity, womanhood, and girlhood, as well as work and leisure, this entry sketches the ways a twentieth-century Jewish endeavor evolved into a twenty-first-century American institution.

Play Rehearsal at Berkshire Hills Camp, ca.1953. Joan Mykoff, daughter of camp owner Elsie Reich, center stage. Courtesy of Nancy Mykoff.

“Are These Our Children?” questioned a radio series with the same title in the 1920s. The stories of youth gone bad were at the center of the broadcasts that transfixed audiences and the nation. Social commentators and ordinary people believed that the sources of the delinquency were “cheap amusements,” like Coney Island and Hollywood film. Un-chaperoned leisure, jazz, and cigarettes were also to blame. Overindulgent mothers were thought to be at the heart of the problem.

Summer camp was presented as the cure. According to brochures and news releases, this novel educational initiative would transform “physically and spiritually illiterate” boys and girls into “able-bodied” and “morally upright” American citizens. The plan for fulfilling the vow centered on educating the “total child,” his or her “body, mind, and soul,” in an environment that made “learning fun.”

Early turn of the century camping endeavors thrived in cities as well as the countryside. Urban camps were built on the rooftops of neighborhood centers. They provided adults and children with sports and educational activities, like “instruction in sewing and fancywork like basketry,” on a daily basis and within walking distance of home and work (Seman, “A Summer Roof Garden Recreation School,” ca. 1930s). Camps in the country, called “resident camps,” offered working women and men, mothers with young children, and children of both sexes the opportunity to live and learn, for two weeks to two months, “close to nature” within the woods. The resident or “sleep-away” summer camp, the focus of this entry, became an American institution in the aftermath of the first world war.

Government-sponsored 4-H summer camps flourished in the 1920s. The four H’s stood for “head, heart, hand, health.” The central aims were to cultivate agricultural skills, develop nationalism, and counter the loneliness of childhood on isolated farms. The 4H camps approached their goals by welcoming boys and girls from farming families into a community of children from like backgrounds (NMAH-AC). That the number of 4-H camps doubled between 1924 and 1930 testifies to their appeal if not success. According to statistics and the “4-H Goes Marching Along” ballad, approximately 250,000 children were “keeping our nation strong” by learning how to “raise blue ribbon breeds and bumper crops from our seeds…[and] having happy hearts that bring health, and willing hands that bring wealth” at the 2,400 camps premised on the 4-H way (Samuel Berek, “The 4-H Goes Marching Along,” in the Sam De Vincent Collection of Illustrated Sheet Music NMAH-AC).

Federal government summer camp endeavors expanded throughout the 1930s. For example, New Deal initiatives included camps for men established by the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC). In addition, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was critical in the establishment of the “Educational Camps for Unemployed Women.” The overarching aim was to “restore better physical condition [and] a better mental attitude” to help women without jobs “take their place as responsible, well-informed citizens.” According to campers’ letters and diaries, the summer camp experience provided a “new deal” on life and instilled nationalistic fervor. One young girl described her experience as “refreshing and invigorating.” It gave her “new courage, new determination and new confidence” in herself and the nation (“Report on Educational Camps for Unemployed Women 1934 and 1935,” FERA: May 1936). These sentiments were most likely shared by her peers, 18,000 of whom attended federally funded summer camps in 1934 alone.

The uniquely Jewish “sleep-away” summer camp movement that developed during the interwar years was an expression of national trends, as well as a reaction to a growing nationalism that viewed Jews with fear and hatred and deemed them un-American. Prejudice resulted in social policies and immigration legislation that restricted Jewish-American access to social clubs and elite educational institutions like Yale University, and effectively barred Jews from entering the country. The restrictions shaped the lives of many Jewish children in America.

Leaders and individuals in Jewish communities designed camp life to address the concerns of the nation in general and Jewish people specifically. For example, camp activists countered accusations by racists like E. A. Ross that Jews were “weak and limp” and a cause of “racial decline and degeneracy” with diet and exercise programs, such as “milk call” and athletic competitions like tennis tournaments, that promoted campers’ physical fitness. These activities aimed to develop a “muscular Judaism” paralleling the “rugged Christianity” at Christian camps.

The summer camp embrace of “the” Native American who lived in the country’s collective imagination also speaks to the effort to forge an American identity. Jewish campers, like their Christian and non-denominational counterparts, were encouraged to draw strength, pride, and beauty from Native American heritage. Jewish boys were inspired to develop the athletic skill of their Indian “ancestors,” while camps for girls awarded Indian feathers to campers who displayed “feminine” characteristics. Ruthy B., for instance, received a “green feather for good posture” and described her achievement as “simply grand.” Her joy stemmed from acquiring an esteemed trait and the feather itself, which helped her look and feel more like the mythical Indian she was trying to embody.

Ethnic pride was perhaps even more important than physical development. The routines that structured summer camp days and nights nurtured a strong sense of belonging to a Jewish community, that helped children cope with the antisemitism defining their young lives. The camp day typically began with flag-raising ceremonies that started with the national anthem and ended with the singing of Hebrew songs. Jewishness was then woven into the fabric of daily life. Hebrew place names, symbols, stories, and plays textured the camp’s physical and cultural landscapes. A mezuzah, for example, was hung on doorways, while the Star of David was placed over doors and worked into fences. Jewish illustrations and clippings were posted on the walls of camp buildings and bulletin boards. Bungalows and cabins, like the camp itself, were often given names with Jewish historical significance. The camp milieu was also “made Jewish” through the Jewish calendar that set the pace of summer life. This meant, for instance, that Saturday, rather than Sunday, was the Sabbath.

Camp life conveyed Jewish identity that lasted beyond the summer season. Historian Sandra Fox claims that campers’ identification with “Jewishness” countered the assimilationist impact of suburban life. Campers’ testimonies support the claim. For example, children like Jackie Anscher shared their love of Jewish rituals with family members at the summer’s end (Author’s Interview of Jackie Anscher, 2020). That the sharing fueled an ethnic-American experience of suburbia is suggested in the new Jewish traditions incorporated into Anscher’s life at home.

Performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Berkshire Hills Camp, ca.1973. Jackie Anscher, granddaughter of camp owner Elsie Reich, third from the left. Courtesy of Nancy Mykoff.

The summer weeks and months were defined by Jewish and American holidays and celebrations, like Tisha B’av and the Fourth of July. The American flag that hung in the social hall at camp Berkshire Hills in the summer of 1950, like the flag raising ceremonies and Fourth of July celebrations, speaks to the Cold War culture that demanded national loyalty across America. Theatrical productions with Jewish themes, on the other hand, were manifestations of the ethnic pride movements that defined the 1960s and 1970s

Jewish institutions of a variety of ideological stripes perceived the resident summer camp as a means of promoting health and mediating ethnic and American identities. Regarding the former, post-World War I activists advertised camp as a way to protect children from polio. Regarding the latter, the physical location and isolation of the camp, deep within the woods and far from the child’s family and community, also offered an unparalleled opportunity to convey and instill ideas about what it meant to be an American Jew. The Central Jewish Institute of New York City, for instance, was established Cejwin Camps shortly after World War I. Bertha Schoolman was an instrumental figure. According to her, the camp was conceived as an “educational enterprise, not just a fresh-air place for poor children.” By 1961, 1300 children attended Cejwin summer camps each year.

Like Cejwin camp activists, Zionists, Hebraists, Yiddishists, Socialists, and Communists all viewed the “total environment” of the summer camp as a means to transmit their ideologies. Dr. Samson Benderly, head of the New York City Bureau of Jewish Education, established the first Hebrew-speaking camp in America in 1927. Camp Ramah, the first summer camp expression of Conservative Judaism, was established in Wisconsin by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1947. A second Ramah camp opened in the Poconos (1950) and a third opened in Connecticut (1953). According to prominent JTS educator Sylvia Ettenberg, the camps bridged the gap between “what the school was teaching and what the Jewish child was experiencing in the home, by providing a new milieu which could act as a surrogate home.”

Girls at Camp Ramah California reading the Torah and wrapping Tefillin, early twenty-first century. Courtesy of Camp Ramah.

Summer camps also provided innovative places of worship that questioned hierarchal religious traditions. An example is the introduction of egalitarianism in 1972, when Ramah camp directors issued a report endorsing Lit. "ascent." A "calling up" to the Torah during its reading in the synagogue. aliyot for young women and their chanting of the Torah and prophetic portions. The report also suggested that camp directors hold ancillary services where post- Lit. "daughter of the commandment." A girl who has reached legal-religious maturity and is now obligated to fulfill the commandments bat mitzvah girls would function as shelihot zibbur [leaders of the service]. The opportunities for girls to study Jewish texts and culture alongside boys, and lead services, were empowering experiences that shaped Jewish girlhood. The impact on boys’ perceptions of what girls could be and become was equally significant.

The meaning of Jewish ethnicity played out in camp life and histories. Yiddish cultural organizations such as the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute and the Workmen’s Circle, for instance, saw the institution as a means to perpetuate yiddishkayt, a secular Jewish culture developed by radical working-class Jewish workers in the needle trades. In 1913, the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute established camp Boiberik within the framework of yiddishkayt. According to ex-campers, “The Yiddish language and culture that defined the camp perpetuated Jewish identity and values and sustained a warm and spirited ethical community.” In 1926, Camp Kinderland was founded on Sylvan Lake in New York State, when its organizers separated from the Workmen’s Circle to become part of the Communist-led Jewish Workers Schools. Here, the children in their 36 bunks were, in Irving Howe’s words, “dutifully herded into thirty-six little Soviet Republics.” Yiddish culture was mobilized to teach Communist ideology. Mildred Siminoff attended the camp in 1931 and remembered the communist context of daily life, where she “got up every morning to the pledge of allegiance to the Communist flag.” Although the camp was “proudly secular,” Siminoff nevertheless “felt it was a Jewish camp because most of the children were Jewish.” That she learned to identify being Jewish with being Communist speaks to the camp’s success in collapsing the two identities.

In 1927, the Workmen’s Circle built Camp Kinder Ring across Sylvan Lake from Kinderland on socialist principles. Rather than being united by their shared Jewish constituency, however, Siminoff recalls that “there was a lot of rivalry between the camps because we were the Communists and they were the Socialists.” Anne Bernstein shared the memory. She attended Camp Kinder Ring in the 1930s and later wrote that Kinder Ring campers “hated Communist Kinderland.”

Jewish summer camps were defined by class and gender as well as politics. Camp Woodmere, for instance, was among the summer camps for wealthy Jewish girls established deep within the Adirondack Mountains. Although some campers were granted scholarships to pay for travel expenses and summer fees, most hailed from upper-class backgrounds. That they nevertheless identified with less affluent camps, however, speaks to the existence of a community of Jewish summer camps forged by a shared Jewishness. This ethnicity is partly reflected in charitable behavior that, in turn, confirmed existing class structures. The “Plea Chorus,” performed at Camp Woodmere, shows how this worked. The Woodmere campers performed a play for visiting parents. At the end of the act, the children bowed their heads and took off their top hats. Members of the audience then filled the hats with coins. The money collected was donated to Camp Council for poor Jewish children located in Pennsylvania. The significance of the performance of philanthropy was in its development of self-esteem, not the nominal fundraising. The campers’ display of charity was seen and recorded by their parents. Mothers and fathers witnessed their benevolent selves in their children’s behavior. They then exhibited this benevolence by “filling the actresses’ hats to the brim.” This generated good feelings about themselves and each other that strengthened ethnic solidarity while confirming class status.

In the winter of 1945, Elsie Reich and her husband Harry bought seven acres of land in Salisbury, Connecticut. She “pawned her diamond ring” and convinced him to borrow money against his pharmaceutical business to finance this purchase. The deed of sale lists Harry Reich as the owner of the grounds, but Elsie managed the property. She employed homeless people recommended to her by a New York City clergyman. Their names were Joe, Turk, the Swede, and Dutch.

In the spring of 1946, Reich drove “her men,” up from the Bowery to Connecticut. They constructed cabins and carved out a waterfront in exchange for room and board. Berkshire Hills Camp opened that summer. It provided the men with a safe space to work and live Jewish children with “amusement, recreation, entertainment and instruction” and Elsie Reich with the prospect of financial independence.

When Elsie Reich opened Berkshire Hills Camp in 1946, she was perpetuating a female tradition that had existed for thirty years. In 1916, Miss Kuhn and Miss Goldsmith founded Camp Woodmere. The “fundamentals of good citizenship” structured life at this summer camp. Democracy, patriotism, and a Jewish-American identity were conveyed on the fields, within the cabins, and around the campfires that were central to the camping experience. Elsie Reich carried these ideals and customs into the second half of the twentieth century.

Throughout the twentieth century, middle-aged Jewish women justified their camping activities in terms of extending their child-rearing duties to a more public sphere. This made it possible for them to journey to summer camp without crossing traditional gendered boundaries. The histories of the women in this survey provide a general sense of how and why women worked at and supported Jewish summer camps. The histories of their camping activities, in turn, suggest that they challenged contemporary ideas about male and female behavior. Camp’s very location in “the wilderness” illustrates this point. The wilderness has featured in historical narratives as a male territory. Be it virginal or savage, it is often described as an object that is either conquered or tamed by men. Camping women ventured into the woods. Neither conquering nor taming it, they transformed pieces of the “great out-doors” into prototypes of the American home. In the process, they redefined gendered norms in Jewish American culture and steered the course of their own lives.

Women participated in many interpretations of Jewish life by crafting “authentic” Jewish traditions that shaped the experiences of childhood. Among them were the religious rituals that took place in the woods, on the lake, or within the “mess hall.” In the summer of 1934, for example, “Miss Sunny conducted services” while “Miss Jean kindled the Sabbath candles” at Camp Council. Like “Aunt Mickey” at Camp Woodmere, they told “moral” tales after conducting the Sabbath prayers. At Camp Berkshire Hills (BHC) in the 1970s, campers and counselors dressed in white for Friday night dinner, where camp director “Aunt Elsie” sang the Sabbath prayers. Campers’ letters and memories reveal that these invented traditions “instilled a proud Jewish identity that lasted beyond the closing of camp itself.”

Twentieth-century camp owners and organizers rallied support for their business ventures by presenting summer camp as a “public family” of motherly and fatherly directors and staff. This familial (and therefore familiar) presentation was embodied in the “camp mother.” Like Ruth Steinbach Steppacher, known to Woodmere campers as “Aunt Dolly,” the camp mother prefaced her name with “Aunt” and treated the campers as if they were her own children. She “dried tears, sewed buttons,” and was the object of the campers’ love and affection. Their many roles, ranging from camp director to counselor, had an impact on the women’s lives as well as on the children. In a letter written in the 1950s to “Aunt Elsie,” for example, Rosalie Stockman reflected that her work as a counselor had helped her become “a more tolerant person.”

The motherhood rhetoric is also evident in the encouragement of female counselors to relate to “their” campers in a “motherly way,” while developing the children’s physical fitness, outdoor skills, and self-confidence. Letters written to their own mothers suggest that they took this directive to heart. Marie Rothschild was a counselor at Camp Tripp Lake. In the summer of 1921, she and two other counselors took a group of campers on a canoe trip. Although they suffered from an “unmerciful sun, hunger, dirt and fatigue,” these dedicated young women “wouldn’t say die.” They tended to and inspired their campers and returned to camp “dead tired but thrilled at the trip” and “singing hymns of Joy.”

Bunk Photo at Camp Berkshire Hills, ca. 1951. Camp Counselor Joan Reich, daughter of camp owner Elsie Reich, back row third from the left. Courtesy of Nancy Mykoff.

Camping women assumed the role of “female fathers” as well as nurturing mothers. Sometimes, the two roles converged. Miss Kuhn and Miss Goldsmith, two Sunday school teachers, directed life at Camp Woodmere throughout the 1920s and 1930s. They signaled the beginning of the day by “ringing the old school bell.” And with “high-heeled shoes and pursed lips,” they oversaw the daily activities. Miss Shulamit was the head counselor at Berkshire Hills Camp in the 1940s. Like the “directresses” of Camp Woodmere, she inspired deference and sometimes fear. “Aunt Minah,” on the other hand, embodied both “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics. This camp dietitian is remembered as imposing yet nurturing. She was “gutsy enough to buy from the meat man,” claimed one ex-camper, “yet loving enough to comfort any home-sick camper.” That contemporaries viewed “guts” as male and love as female, and that leading women combined both characteristics, speaks to the ways summer camp questioned ideas of femininity and masculinity. According to Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, this questioning fueled female empowerment by providing leadership roles in a variety of contexts. Women led children, and each other, in their roles as Olympic Team Captains, Counselors, Dieticians, Camp Mothers, and Camp Directors.

Bunk Inspection at Camp Berkshire Hills, ca. 1969. Featuring Camp Mother Barbara Levine, daughter of camp owner Elsie Reich. Courtesy of Nancy Mykoff.

The impact was significant. On the one hand, young and older women were role models for camping boys and girls. On the other hand, their personal experiences helped them to imagine new possibilities. Lori Levine-Ordover’s experiences as a camp counselor at Berkshire Hills Camp gave her “the self-confidence to be that person in-charge and to imagine a different way of being.” The camp Mother and Director, Ordover’s real mother and grandmother, were her role models. (Author’s interview of Lori Levine Ordover, 2020).

Family matters and fond memories had motivated Elsie Reich to open a summer camp. According to Reich, she wanted her children to experience the “utter joy I had as a camper at Camp Rhineback” in the 1920s (Author’s interview, 1996). Reich justified her work at camp to her husband, daughters, son, and extended family household as a means to “watch over the children” while they enjoyed summer in the country. Her children, however, suggest that something more was going on. According to them, working at summer camp was a socially acceptable and ethnically sanctioned way for their mother to distance herself (literally) from an unhappy marriage and home.

In addition to the Jewish women who established, directed, and worked at summer camp, some shaped the Jewish institution from afar. Social reformers and educators, like Jennie Franklin Purvin, presented lectures and wrote articles that encouraged parents to send their children “off to camp.” Purvin also worked as the “camp adviser” of Mandel Brothers Department store from the 1930s to the mid-1950s. Her skill at recommending summer camps for individual children earned her the gratitude of satisfied parents and the praise of the department store. The president of Mandel Brothers described Jennie Purvin’s advisory work as a “great contribution” to the store’s “prestige and reputation,” as well as to its camp and sporting goods sales.

Although income largely determined the decision to invest in summer camp, the camp’s Jewish profile and authentic promises motivated mothers, fathers, and guardians to overcome financial barriers. Some applied to philanthropic organizations, or to the camps themselves, to defray the cost. The 1951 letter of thanks by Ruth Schneider to camp director Elsie Reich expressing her joy in being “able, at last, to pay…the debt,” and her sincere gratitude “for [Reich’s] kindness and understanding,” suggests that camp owners deferred camp fees. According to Reich’s financial records, many children became campers at Berkshire Hills despite their parents’ inability to pay the summer camp tuition.

Some women worked at camp without pay so that their children could become campers for the summer season. Working at summer camp also enabled them to simultaneously go to work and be at home, in the countryside during the summer vacation. In a series of oral histories given 60 years after her first summer at Camp Woodmere, Steppacher’s youngest daughter, Mildred Bonwit, described her mother’s history of work at summer camp, and how it affected Bonwit throughout her life. Ruth Steppacher worked at Camp Woodmere in the 1920s as the “camp mother.” Rather than receive wages, Steppacher’s children, Mildred among them, were admitted to the camp free of charge. Mrs. Steppacher, or “Aunt Dolly,” was a camp employee through the 1940s. Over decades, she advanced to become an assistant director, director, and finally, the owner of Camp Woodmere. Mildred Bonwit followed in her mother’s footsteps. She first appears in the camp’s brochures as “baby Bonwit.” Twelve years later, she is pictured as the recipient of the camp’s “Honor Girl” award. In the late 1930s and into the 1940s and 1950s, she is featured as a favorite counselor, a camp director, and finally, the owner of Camp Woodmere.

The camp histories of Elsie Reich and her family are similar. Reich worked at Cejwin Camps as a cashier in the canteen and as an accountant in the 1930s. Like Steppacher, her children were admitted to the summer camp in exchange for her wages, and they also grew up at camp. Reich went on to establish and direct Camp Berkshire Hills in the 1940s. Her daughters and son were campers in their childhood and counselors, camp mothers, directors, and owners in their adulthood. Her grandchildren, in turn, cherish their memories of growing up at summer camp. Reich’s granddaughter Lori Levine Ordover, for example, who was two years old her first summer at camp in the 1950s, vividly remembers the pride and joy she felt when she was “finally able to be a real camper and live in a bunk” at age nine. Amongst her vivid memories is winning the “bunk night” competition and feeling conflicted about the victory. Each bunk staged a performance that poked fun at the camp director and camp mother, her grandmother and mother. She felt ashamed about the jokes made at the expense of the “women she loved most in the world,” both of whom reassured her that they were proud of her performance and thought that “she was a wonderful actress.”

The cultural, intellectual, social and athletic programs crafted by early twenty-first century summer camps speak to the continuing legacy of innovation that defined Jewish women’s pioneering work. That the programs appealed to parents, if not all children, reflects in contemporary surveys. They indicate that there were approximately 82,000 campers attending 191 Jewish camps during the summer of 2000, 76 of which were privately owned and 115 were not-for-profit.

The rich and varied programs at the different types of 21 st -century camps range from academic courses run in partnership with competitive universities to art programs supervised by world-class artists, to sports programs run by Olympic medalists. They also include “electives” in culinary arts, ocean exploration, robotics, and high-tech entrepreneurship. Summer camps that ban access to the internet nevertheless appeal to technologically savvy campers with courses like digital filmmaking.

These innovative summer camps cater to a wide range of children. Some focus sharply on the inclusion of children with special intellectual, social, and physical needs. Camps like CampChi, for instance, develop confidence, communication, and leadership skills in young campers and counselors like Kelly, a nineteen-year-old CampChi counselor with Down Syndrome. Educational resources such as the Training Guide for Jewish Summer Camps offer guidance, support and resources (Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Ramah Camping Movement, 2017).

Camp Eisner, where “all kids—regardless of their race, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure or Jewish background—are treasured,” features gender-inclusive cabins (Eisner Camp, https://eisnercamp.org/ Accessed May 11, 2020). Others, like camp Tawonga in California, offer campers the opportunity to live in an all gender (AG) cabin. Like Camp Havaya, part of the Reconstructionist Movement, the camps are dedicated to providing an open and inclusive camp culture that embraces diversity and Judaism. The embrace, evident in daily life and religious rituals, echoes in the final shabbat at Camp Tawonga where “hundreds of voices chanted Hebrew blessings, before crooning a de-gendered version of Sabbath Prayer from ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ …that sounded like a mantra for Camp Tawonga: ‘May the Lord protect and defend you….May God always shield you from shame’” (Levin, 2019).

Some camps, like the ten residential Ramah camps flourishing across the United States, now venture into campers’ homes with activities collectively referred to as Ramah Ba-Bayit (“Ramah at Home”). They are advertised as “a compilation of programs from Ramah camps on… zoom, facebook live, and more!” These websites engage children with virtual Shabbat Singing, Havdalah, workouts with personal trainers, and courses like “Yiddish through the lens of Gefilte Fish.” The internet initiatives also provide a means to include the campers’ families. An example is the EliTalks, fashioned after TedTalks, that speak to a variety of issues such as “The Art of Jewish Parenting.”

Contemporary Jewish summer camps cater to young adults as well as children, inviting people ages 20-30 (and sometimes 40) to “relive the passion of your youth, where what you do for a living doesn’t define you, and spontaneous adventures await.” Some of the adult camps are religious or Zionist. Others, like Trybal Gatherings, founded by Carin Warsawski, aim to “foster lasting community among Jews (whether you define yourself as ‘Jewish or just ish’).” The shared pledge to “recharge your city-worn spirit” in a picturesque valley, hilltop, or countryside, echo the twentieth-century belief in nature as a means of coping with modernity.

On April 30, 2020, Camp Ramah Darom closed for the summer season. It joined the cancellation of fifteen Reform camps that counted 10,000 campers in 2019. The closings usher in a revolutionary moment in the history of the Jewish summer camp. Loving memories of summers at camp will inspire new approaches to traditional rituals. Articulated in diaries, letters, and interviews, they are also evident in art, memorabilia, film and photographs. Barbara Levine’s framed photograph of her bat mitzvah at Camp Cejwin illustrates this point. The 70-year-old image hangs on a living room wall amongst snapshots that mark the turning points in her family history and chart the course of an ethnic-American life.

The twentieth-century dream of a Jewish place that offered children the opportunity to play, learn, become physically fit, enjoy intellectual challenges, challenge themselves, and forge friendships during the process, became a reality. The idea that the summer camp was a work opportunity that offered young and older women the chance to “take charge” of their lives inspired many to own, direct, and work at summer camp. Campers’ warm memories speak to their success. The twenty-first-century pandemic will give rise to new approaches to summer camp as both a virtual and physical experience. Changing with and over time, the ability to reimagine the summer camp throughout the decades has turned a Jewish endeavor into an American institution.

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Rebound Families: Helping Others So They Can Then Help Themselves

Rebound Families began in 1996 as a ministry at Cornwall Church. After 10 years, it grew enough to become its own non-profit entity, and continues to work hard behind the scenes to find—and help—kids and families with problems other local organizations don’t address. Through building one-on-one relationships, Rebound shares skills and resources to help folks find their path to stability.

Executive Director Yvonne Cartwright was born in Seattle, raised in Tacoma and attended the University of Washington before she landed in Bellingham in 1991. After the 2008 global recession put an end to the successful advertising business she’d built, Cartwright decided to spend some time volunteering. That’s when she discovered Rebound. “In 2015, I was offered the position of development director, and then in 2018 I became the executive director,” she says.

Yvonne Cartwright knew that she wanted to volunteer to help others, which led to her becoming Rebound’s executive director. Photo courtesy Rebound Families

From its humble beginnings, Rebound has played an important role in the local network of aid organizations. “Social services are overwhelmed,” Cartwright says. “There are too many people that need help and too few people to do the work, so there are folks who fall through the cracks. We try to catch them and bring them to a point where they can experience a better life.”

Rebound has a vision that ensures that it works with people at ground-level. “We try to fulfill our mission of connecting with, empowering, and restoring vulnerable kids and families. We do that through education, advocacy and mentorship,” says Cartwright. “The way we define ‘vulnerable’ is that someone either has experienced, or is experiencing, some kind of trauma. That can look like anything you can imagine: abuse, neglect, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, the loss of a loved one, homelessness—or all of the above.”

Who can resist some quality time with a cute little bunny, or the obvious happiness of a child looking toward a brighter future? Photo courtesy Rebound Families

In the face of hardship, Rebound specializes in connection. “There are an awful lot of people suffering, and we know through research—and the training that all staff participate in—that people who experience trauma tend to isolate. When you become isolated, your problems actually get worse,” Cartwright says. “The biggest thing that Rebound offers is a sense of community. Not just with the staff, but with each other, and that pulls them out of isolation. That’s really the core of our Roots Family Connection Program.”

A cornerstone of their service, the Roots program meets one evening a week for 12 weeks, and every session begins with a hot meal.

“The families come and everybody eats and chats, then the kids go off to their program and the parents go off to their class,” Cartwright says. “We try to provide parents with a toolbox of skills, the things that parents have to deal with as a child grows up. We have some people who have been participating in our Roots program for several years, and we’ve developed some pretty deep relationships.”

The Rebound mission of connecting with kids includes helping connect them to the rest of the world, both one-on-one and through technology. Photo courtesy Rebound Families

Another major part of the mission is Ray of Hope, a summer program for elementary-school-aged kids aimed at those who have high behavior needs and don’t thrive at more traditional camps. “It’s a six-week day camp where we teach a variety of what we call virtues. We will spend a week talking about kindness, we’ll talk about empowerment, self-control,” says Cartwright. “It’s a wonderful way for these kids to be mentored. Group leaders are mostly students from Western Washington University who are studying human services, early childhood learning, elementary education and child psychology. The kids love that age group—they can relate to them easily, and so are more likely to open up about what’s going on with them.

While these programs help groups, Rebound also tailors much needed one-on-one time, including keeping kids connected to schools during COVID. “There are folks whose internet access is very often prepaid minutes on a cell phone, so even if they were given a tablet by the school district, we helped walk them through how to use it,” Cartwright says. “We help them with whatever they need help with, day to day—it could be with the school district, the courts, property managers.”

The goal is to help people help themselves, and seeing smiles on people’s faces is a sure sign that progress is being made. Photo courtesy Rebound Families

They also keep an eye out for groups of people who don’t get much recognition. “One thing that has really stood out to us is that single dads don’t get much love,” Cartwright says. “There’s just not the support in place, so one part of our strategic plan is to create a dads’ program.”

All of this difficult work does come with rewards. Cartwright points out an inspiring interview with a man who worked with Rebound. “He’s got to be 60, raising three grandkids, and he’s doing an absolutely fabulous job. He turned his life around so that he could save their lives,” she says, stressing it was important that he improved his own life first. “We are a hand up, not a hand out. We’re happy to help, but we’ve got to see some forward progress. Simply coming to Roots once a week is a big deal, because people are learning and improving.”

Rebound does not operate alone, and Cartwright can reel off a seemingly endless list of people and organizations that make their work possible. “Financial donations are always welcomed and deeply appreciated. Chuckanut Health Foundation and Whatcom Community Foundation have been fabulously supportive, and we have a lot of individual and corporate donors as well,” says Cartwright. “And that’s how we stay in business, because we don’t charge for our programs. If we charged, we would be leaving people out.”


FDR's New Deal and the fight for jobs

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March 1933, 12 million people were unemployed, out of a total U.S. workforce of approximately 50 million. Investment in new plant and machinery had come to a virtual standstill. Estimates of the numbers of homeless transients ranged from half a million to 5 million. There were protests, riots, and strikes across the country, but the previous Hoover administration had done virtually nothing to address the question of jobs or relief.

In this short but excellent survey, Put To Work: The WPA and Public Employment in the Great Depression, Nancy Rose argues that FDR began the first jobs programs of the New Deal because he, unlike his predecessor, understood the threat that working class rebellion posed to restoring capitalism’s stability. Rose writes:

Although much of the business community steadfastly opposed federal unemployment relief, increasing destitution, continuing protests, the exhaustion of traditional sources of relief, and pleas from local and state governments compelled the Roosevelt administration to act. The alternative, as historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote in his study of this period, might be revolution.

In just 103 pages, Rose deftly sketches the history of the New Deal jobs programs. We get a sense of their grand scale—particularly compared to anything being discussed by the Obama administration in response to today’s crisis—but also their profound concessions to racism, sexism, and the business-as-usual status quo.

As part of his legendary first hundred days in 1933, FDR established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which put men to work in the national forests, and provided work for 2.5 million people over the next ten years. As Rose points out, women were barred from the CCC because construction was not considered appropriate women’s work. Quotas limited Black men to just 10 percent of the jobs, and they were housed in segregated camps.

Above all, the push-pull of class struggle was decisive in shaping the form and final implementation of New Deal policies. When FDR took office, he was already facing a high level of workers’ and farmers’ unrest. In 1930, the Communist Party began organizing the Unemployed Councils, which led hunger marches, rent strikes, and demanded relief programs. As Rose writes “In general, cities with strong Unemployed Councils provided better relief. ” When the first jobs programs were established,

In general, the [eligibility] test was applied most leniently in the large northern cities, where protest was more widespread, as the high levels of unemployment led people to understand that joblessness was not caused by personal failure but by factors beyond the control of individuals. It was applied most stringently in the rural areas of the South, where the white elite continued to fight attempts to provide relief, especially to African Americans, because it also provided an alternative to low-wage labor.

The relief programs that issued in the first hundred days were sorely inadequate. As the first winter of FDR’s term approached, his administration feared that the onset of cold weather would create a new upsurge in protest. Rose argues that this was one of the primary motivations that created the Civil Works Administration (CWA), established by executive order in November 1933. By January 1934, the CWA had created work for 4.3 million people. But the need was so great that another 7 million applied and were not accepted into the program, creating dangerous riot situations outside employment offices in cities around the country.

From the outset, big business raised an outcry against the CWA, and just three months into the program, FDR was already responding to the pressure by making cuts—most importantly, backing off on plans to make the CWA into a permanent jobs program. Protests across the country to defend the CWA were to no avail. By the summer, the program had been eliminated and replaced by the more conservative Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) with its lower wages and more stringent eligibility requirements.

Why were these relief programs so threatening to business? In a real way, the programs helped raise wages by alleviating workers’ need to compete for low-wage jobs. But they also raised hopes about alternatives to free-market capitalism in the depths of the Depression.

One of the least well-known, but most radical relief programs, called “The Ohio Plan,” was started in June 1934 it allowed state and local relief administrations to reopen closed factories under government control, rehire the workers and set them to work making products that would then be distributed for free to other workers on relief. Government-run factories popped up in many states, with plans to expand into coal mines, rock quarries, and canneries. But the whole project was killed under pressure from business. Rose explains:

The underlying problem was that production-for-use projects raised a critical question: since production-for profit was not a sufficient motive to induce business to produce needed goods, and the government was producing them instead, why depend on the private sector at all?…. This was simply the business sector’s worst fear: that the system of production-for-profit would be replaced by production-for-use.

Sometimes the government stepped in to use relief as a weapon against workers in the class struggle. To accommodate the complaints of the Southern elite, the programs made sure to cut agricultural, migrant, and domestic workers—who were mostly Black —off the relief rolls whenever their labor was required.

During the great textile strike of 1934, which involved 400,000 workers from Maine to Alabama, the federal government looked the other way while local relief agencies cut strikers, and even their family members, off the rolls. When the mayor of Syracuse, New York, cut the city’s textile strikers off his relief rolls in May, he said, “This is one way of starving workers into accepting any terms of employment offered them.”

Rose argues that the scars of business lobbying and pressure from the more conservative wing of the New Deal administration can be seen even in the shape of the most expansive reform the U.S. working class has ever won—the Social Security Act of 1935. The initial version of the bill, called the Economic Security Act, included national health care and a permanent jobs program for those whose unemployment insurance ran out or who were not covered by unemployment at all. Pressure from the American Medical Association killed the plan for national health care, and the bill’s final version spun off the jobs program as a separate, temporary program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of 1935.

The WPA was one of the great reforms of the Depression Era. In its eight years of operation, the WPA oversaw the construction or repair of more than 650,000 miles of roads it built schools, libraries, and recreational centers it established the first—and only—federal arts programs the U.S. has ever had. Most importantly, it gave jobs to millions of workers.

But it was also, in many ways, a compromised program. As a temporary program, it became a political football because it required yearly reauthorization from Congress. Long-term plans and projects were very difficult under the WPA, and workers experienced the constant insecurity of layoffs and budget cuts. These factors also made the WPA projects into sites of struggle and protest throughout the decade.

The policies of discrimination against Blacks, Mexicans, and immigrants continued in the WPA. There were quotas limiting the numbers of people of color. They earned lower wages and worked fewer hours. Projects were largely segregated. Since most of the work was in construction, and therefore deemed inappropriate for women, most WPA jobs went to men. As a rule, women in the program earned lower wages.

FDR ended the WPA in 1943 as he was gearing the country up for war production. By that time, the WPA had become a favorite target of the anti-New Deal right wing. Anticommunist witch-hunts, which are usually associated with later years, started when the WPA adopted a loyalty oath in 1939. The Federal Theatre Project was shut down because it was deemed a hotbed of radicalism, and communists were driven out of WPA jobs.

First published in 1994, the book’s current edition includes a new introduction and afterword—where Rose argues that today’s generation needs to raise its sights. If the government could create 4 million jobs in a month in 1933, then it can do much better than Barack Obama’s tepid American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which claimed to “create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years”—in a workforce that now totals 155 million! Rose calls for a “mobilized mass Left” to keep “pressure on Obama” so he feels the need to consider left-wing solutions to the crisis, such as nationalizing the banks instead of bailing them out. The history of the New Deal, Rose writes, shows that “we can do better.”


New Deal

Since shortly after the treaty that ended World War I, the world economy struggled. Germany was straddled with harsh reparation debts and their economy stalled. Farm income in the United States fell dramatically with the end of wartime price supports, and with nearly half of the U.S. population living in rural areas, American buying power plunged. At the same time, the U.S. imposed tariffs on imported items, helping manufacturing but raising prices for consumers. The stock market boomed, and investors poured money into stocks far beyond their earning capacity. Eventually, these and other factors combined to bring the stock market crash of 1929 and the beginning of the greatest economic downturn ever experienced in the United States.

Herbert Hoover and the Market Crash

Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928 and assumed office while prosperity was still running high. When the market crashed in October, he and many other economists saw it as a temporary slide and predicted quick recovery. As unemployment continued to rise and business slumped, Hoover proposed some new efforts by the federal government. His main idea was to provide incentives and financial supports to business to get firms hiring and selling again. He favored lower taxes and a balanced budget. He also encouraged greater volunteer contributions to charities for the poor and unemployed, but he opposed any direct relief efforts to individuals fearing the welfare would discourage the unemployed from looking for work.

New Deal Programs

Anger against Hoover grew rapidly through 1931 and 1932, leading to the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While Roosevelt also talked about balanced budgets during the campaign, he changed courses between his November election and March inaugural as national conditions became worse. With the Democratic majorities in Congress that were elected with him, Roosevelt pushed through a remarkable agenda of programs that radically changed the relationship of individuals to the federal government. The New Deal created work programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration that put people to work on public parks, roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects and hired teachers and artists. The Civilian Conservation Corps hired, fed and clothed teenage boys and sent most of their salaries back to support their families. The Agriculture Adjustment Act provided payments to farmers who agreed to limit their production. It was Roosevelt's policy that, in times of recession, the government should spend to spur economic growth, even if that means adding to the federal debt.

While New Deal programs provided a safety net to hundreds of thousands of American families, there is debate among economic historians about their overall effectiveness. What finally ended the Depression was American entry into World War II with a military draft and government contracts for planes, tanks, ships, munitions, uniforms and farm products. However, on the political side, the hope that the New Deal offered those struggling, including many Iowa farm families, was a factor that prevented rebellions against the government at all levels. It also reconfigured the American political landscape as African Americans, other urban-based minorities and labor unions leaving the Republican Party to form a strong Democratic coalition.


This New Deal Summer Camp Program Aimed to Help Unemployed Women - HISTORY

Significant events of the Great Depression started on Black Thursday, October 24, 1929. On that day, nearly 13 million shares of stocks were traded. It was a record number of stock trades for the United States. Mr. J.P. Morgan and a few other bankers attempted to bail out the banking system using their own money. They were unsuccessful and their move led to a slight increase in stock price on Saturday, October 26. Then, over the weekend, many investors lost faith in the stock market and decided to sell their shares. When the markets reopened on Monday, October 28, 1929, another record number of stocks were traded and the stock market declined more than 22 percent. The situation worsened yet again on October 29, 1929, the infamous Black Tuesday. That is when more than 16 million stocks were traded. The stock market ultimately lost $14 billion that day.

    In the song a beggar talks back to the system that stole his job. Jay Gorney said in an interview in 1974 "I didn't want a song to depress people. I wanted to write a song to make people think. It isn't a hand-me-out song of 'give me a dime, I'm starving, I'm bitter', it wasn't that kind of sentimentality". The song asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war, who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned and in bread lines. This report was prepared by Anna Kempshall, Director of Family Service, and most likely to have been presented to the Board of Directors of the Community Service Society November 4, 1940. The subject of relief was very timely because a number of the New Deal programs enacted in 1935 created the nation’s first universal social safety net that included federal and state funding for financial grants to poor individuals and families. Later generations of Americans have no first hand experience of the depths of despair into which the depression, beginning in 1929, had thrust the nation, and the excitement and eagerness with which people greeted the New Deal. You know many critics not only have denied that anything constructive could have come from the New Deal but they have even succeeded in creating the impression in the prosperous years since 1945 that the depression really did not amount to much. Modern adoption history has been marked by vigorous reforms dedicated to surrounding child placement with legal and scientific safeguards enforced by trained professionals working under the auspices of certified agencies. In 1917, for instance, Minnesota passed the first state law that required children and adults to be investigated and adoption records to be shielded from public view. By mid-century, virtually all states in the country had revised their laws to incorporate such minimum standards as pre-placement inquiry, post-placement probation, and confidentiality and sealed records. At their best, these standards promoted child welfare. Yet they also reflected eugenic anxieties about the quality of adoptable children and served to make adult tastes and preferences more influential in adoption than children’s needs. The Adoption Project paper is a part of that history. The Emergency Conservation Work Act establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps was signed into law by President Roosevelt on March 31, 1933. Under the direction of Robert Fechner, the CCC employed young men between the ages of 17 and 23 in work camps where they were assigned to various conservation projects. Enrollees were paid thirty dollars a month, twenty-five dollars of which was sent home to the enrollee's families. From 1933 to 1942, over three million young men enrolled in the CCC, including 250,000 African Americans who were enrolled in nearly 150 all-black CCC companies. In 1932, Herbert Hoover asked the AFSC if it would take money left over from the American Relief Administration Children's Fund and start a feeding program in the mining districts once again. The Service Committee agreed to do this, but it soon became apparent to those carrying out the project that more than just feeding needed to be done. It appeared the mining industry might never fully recover from the economic collapse of the time. Miners were underemployed, if employed at all. Most knew only mining and felt inadequate in attempting any other form of employment. For many reasons miners and their families were reluctant to leave the place where they were born and had lived all their lives. The student movements of the Depression era were arguably the most significant mobilizations of youth-based political activity in American history prior to the late 1960s. In 1934 the American Youth Congress (AYC) came together as the national federation and lobbying arm of the movement as a whole. Article written by R. A. Vonderlehr, M.D., appearing in Survey Graphic, 1940. "A little less than four years ago Surgeon General Thomas Parran launched the present campaign against syphilis. The battle has since been waged continuously with the cooperation of the medical profession, health officers, and voluntary agencies all over the country. It is of interest to pause briefly and take stock." ". For the old people who have lived so long a life of independence, how bitter it must be to come for everything they need to the youngsters who once turned to them! From every point of view, it seems to me that the old age pension for people who so obviously could not lay aside enough during their working years to live on adequately through their old age, is a national responsibility and one that must be faced when we are planning for a better future. Unemployment insurance in many homes is all that stands between many a family and starvation. Given a breathing spell, a man or woman may be able to get another job or to re-educate himself in some new line of work, but few people live with such a wide margin that they have enough laid aside to face several months of idleness. " The public now owns, at a cost of less than a million and a half dollars, about fifteen thousand new works of art. These range from prints, which can be issued in some quantity, to what seems to be the most ambitious of the undertakings, the decoration of the Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, in which forty-four artists and their assistants were engaged. Actually 3671 men and women were employed, for varying periods of time, in the less than five months' duration of the Public Works of Art Project. Except where sketches for special pieces of work had to be passed on in advance, the artists worked with complete freedom. The general assignment was the American scene. "Program of Assistance for the Crippled:" Radio address by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1931. "I want to talk, of course, about the big human side of relieving distress and helping people to get on their feet, but at the same time I think there is another phase of the broad question of looking after cripples to which some people have never given much thought--the financial side." Article by Walter Reuther, one of the most prominent labor movement figures of the 20th century, in The Student Outlook, March, 1933. "The challenge to organize the production workers was taken up by the Auto Workers Union, which is organized on a broad industrial basis and is founded on the principle of the class struggle." . However that may be, I know that silence is essential to the happy development of the human being. In the Montessori schools the period of quiet is a part of the curriculum. Every child sits tranquilly at his task for a certain length of time. When they become obstreperous and interfere with each other's orderly conduct, they are isolated until they regain their composure. Public relief affords no real security. The family on relief cannot meet its actual minimum needs. If private employment can offer more, we send it men. But we can hardly abandon our people to industry or agriculture which offers them less than relief. Employers will have no difficulty in getting or keeping labor if they can guarantee a certain and adequate wage and decent conditions. The relief client and his family are not lolling on the fat of the land on $7.50 a week. What happens to a steel town, and to steel workers, when modern technology sweeps old methods aside? Whatever the long range gain through efficiency, the first effect, according to this researcher, is a lot of dead jobs, gone forever in the big new continuous production mills. Significant straws in the wind point to social changes in Black Richmond. The findings of the Negro Welfare Survey, of which Mrs. Guild was director, the new Negro Welfare Council and the coming in of federal relief are outstanding factors in new racial attitudes in this colored city within a city. During 1928 and 1929 a Negro welfare survey was conducted in Richmond by a bi-racial committee, employing a Negro and white staff, under the auspices of the Council of Social Agencies. In itself this was an accomplishment in racial progress, if it be remembered that we are talking about the Capital of the Confederacy. The survey was not the result of sudden realization on the part of the community that almost a third of its population was miserably handicapped in every department of life and holding back the other two thirds. The survey simply represented the vision of a few social workers who needed a practical answer to a perplexing question: What are the priorities in the social problems pressing for attention in Black Richmond? During his period of service, Mr. Bondy has, at different times, represented the Red Cross in liaison with the Veterans’ Bureau, the American Legion, the National Council of Social Work and its constituent agencies, and numerous other organizations. He was Director of Reconstruction in Red Cross relief work following the disastrous flood of 1927, frequently serving as aid to Mr. Herbert Hoover and Vice Chairman Fieser in their joint direction of Mississippi flood relief work. During the past year he directed drouth relief work in the Eastern Area. These experiences, together with his work in connection with numerous lesser relief operations during the past ten years, give him an acquaintance with recent disaster methods and procedures possessed by few Red Cross executives. Following WWI, a pension was promised all returning service men to be administered in 1945. As the Great Depression took shape, many WWI veterans found themselves out of work, and an estimated 17,000 traveled to Washington, D.C. in May 1932 to put pressure on Congress to pay their cash bonus immediately. The former soldiers created camps in the Nation’s capital when they did not receive their bonuses which led to their forcible removal by the Army and the bulldozing of their settlements. Article by Beatrice Sawyer Rossell, Editor, Bulletin of the American Library Association, appearing in The Survey, 1935. "'The people are book hungry,' said one of the librarians who has a reading-room in her home. 'A little boy knocked at my door at six o'clock in the morning to borrow The Dutch Twins. I passed a house the other day where a little girl was sitting on the porch reading aloud to her family of five people, not one of whom could read. An old man who was once a school teacher and a young girl who loves reading are each walking miles carrying books to share with people who otherwise would be without them.'" Linna Eleanor Bresette: Teacher, Advocate for Women Laborers, Catholic Social Reformer (1882-1960). By Michael Barga Article by Edward Berman, The Nation, 1935. The Pullman Porters organized and founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. The BSCP was the very first African-American labor union to sign a collective bargaining agreement with a major U.S. corporation. Miss Bailey Says. We have to park our principles sometimes in the face of the realities of family situations where the only cash is what children earn. What can a worker do, for instance, about: A ten-year-old boy who peddles pencils downtown at night to get money for movies, roller-skates and hot dogs? A family that bare-facedly lies about the ages of children too young to work but whose earnings are desperately needed? A boy of seventeen, oldest of a turbulent flock who gets his first job, and a pretty good one, and leaves home to live on his own? A docile girl of eighteen, oldest of six and only one working, who gives her father, for family purposes, every penny of her meager weekly wage?? C. C. Carstens: Interpreter of the Needs of Dependent Children (1865-1939). Written by: Emma Octavia Lundberg. "How much is stoop labor paid in a day?" "Almost everything is piece rate here. A Mex, working ten hours, can make $2 at pulling and tying carrots, but he has to go like hell. In the pea fields it's a penny a pound. A white man is good if he can pick more than two hundred pounds a day. Other wages are about the same. In your citation from the Mayor’s Committee on Unemployment Relief the statement occurs – “The one million men and women who are unemployed today in New York City as a result of the depression cannot be regarded as maladjusted individuals in need of case work.” This is another version of the old “worthy” and “unworthy” concept, which holds that ordinary poor are to be regarded as just maladjusted people who may be subjected to an unpleasant discipline called case work but the new or worthy poor, or the poor “through no fault of their own” must be protected against this case work. Article by Gertrude Folks Zimand, Director Research and Publicity, National Child Labor Committee. "One of the many tragic aspects of the industrial exploitation of children is the army of boys and girls who, at the outset of their industrial careers, fall victims to the machine. Each year, in the sixteen states which take the trouble to find out what is happening to their young workers, no less than a thousand children under eighteen years are permanently disabled and another hundred are killed." "The Last decade of the nineteenth century witnessed the beginning of educational experimentation based on an awakening interest in child psychology. Gradually invasions were made in the old academic curricula as the needs and nature of childhood became more evident." Article written by Gertrude Folks Zimand, Director Research and Publicity, National Child Labor Committee, appearing in The Survey. "One of the many tragic aspects of the industrial exploitation of children is the army of boys and girls who, at the outset of their industrial careers, fall victims to the machine. Each year, in the sixteen states which take the trouble to find out what is happening to their young workers, no less than a thousand children under eighteen years are permanently disabled and another hundred are killed." Article written by Paul Comly French, appearing in The Nation, 1933. "Shocking conditions in the sweatshops of Pennsylvania, where 200,000 men, women, and children work long hours for starvation wages, became front-page news through the efforts of the "baby strikers" of the Lehigh Valley." Written by Beulah Amidon, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1937. "Nineteen state legislatures are meeting this year. Twenty-four states have ratified the child labor amendment if twelve more act—and act favorably—the amendment will be a part of the Constitution, conferring upon Congress the power, which the Supreme Court has ruled it now lacks, to safeguard young workers." Written by June Hopkins, Ph. D., History Department, Armstrong Atlantic State University. "Almost one hundred years ago, when Christina Isobel MacColl and her friend Sarah Carson founded Christodora Settlement House in the slums of New York City's Lower East Side. these two indomitable women, inspired by such social activists as Jane Addams and Lillian Wald, intended to settle in the slums and form bonds of "love and loyalty" with their immigrant neighbors while helping them adjust to the mean streets and squalid tenements of urban America." The proportion of our children who are found in families without adequate nutrition should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. A Bureau of Labor Statistics' study of employed wage earners and clerical workers shows that more than 40 percent of the children in this relatively favored group live in families whose incomes are below the level necessary to provide adequate food, as well as suitable housing, clothing, medical care, personal care, union dues, carfare, newspapers, and the other sorts of recreation for which city families must pay in dollars and cents. In developing an educational program for improving nutrition, it is important to keep in mind the importance of custom in our food habits. The Labor Department's recent studies of food consumption show the remarkable persistence of the food preferences of earlier generations in the localities studied. The tables of New Orleans still remind one of the fish, the chicken, the salads, and the greens of the French the Bostonians still eat more beans and drink more tea than families in most other cities. In Cleveland and Milwaukee they eat more rye bread and cheese and apples and coffee. A national nutrition policy should plan to change food consumption habits only insofar as it is absolutely necessary to do so to provide all the nutrients necessary for health, efficiency, and the full enjoyment of life. I think I will tell you a little story that brought home to me how important it was that in every community there should be someone to whom people could turn, who were in doubt as to what were their rights under the law, when they couldn't understand what was happening to them. I happen to go every now and then to a certain mining community and in that mining community there are a number of people who came to this country many years ago. They have been here so many years that they have no other country. This is their country. Their children have been born here. They work here. They have created great wealth for this country, but they came over at a time when there was not very much feeling of social responsibility about giving them the opportunity to learn the language of the country to which they had come, or telling them how to become citizens, or teaching about the government of this country. The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the most successful New Deal programs of the Great Depression. It existed for fewer than 10 years, but left a legacy of strong, handsome roads, bridges, and buildings throughout the United States. "My Hopes for the CCC" by Robert Fechner, Director, The Civilian Conservation Corps. This article appeared in American Forests: The Magazine of The American Forestry Association, Washington, D. C. (January, 1939). Wilbur Cohen bounded off the plane and down the jet way at Logan Airport. Unlike the other passengers, who were somewhat tentative as they faced the uncertainties of a new city, he did not measure his step. He walked, with determined energy, straight ahead. The President's Committee on Economic Security (CES) was formed in June 1934 and was given the task of devising "recommendations concerning proposals which in its judgment will promote greater economic security." In a message to Congress two weeks earlier President Roosevelt spelled-out what he expected the CES to achieve. ". . . I am looking for a sound means which I can recommend to provide at once security against several of the great disturbing factors in life--especially those which relate to unemployment and old age." Article by Louis Adamic, The Nation, 1934. "In brief, the A. F. of L. union skates are utilizing, exploiting the workers' hate for company unions, stirring and intensifying it, focusing their thoughts and feelings on the company-union evil, exaggerating the power of company unionism, in order to keep them blind to the faults and shortcomings of the A. F. of L. organizations." Father Coughlin's influence on Depression-era America was enormous. In the early 1930s, Coughlin was, arguably, one of the most influential men in America. Millions of Americans listened to his weekly radio broadcast. At the height of his popularity, one-third of the nation was tuned into his weekly broadcasts. Written by Helen Keller, an Article in Home Magazine, 1931. "I WONDER how many of you have Miss Abbott's annual report of the Children's Bureau. The part relating to child labor is distressing. Miss Abbott tells us that there was a steady increase in child labor during the three years preceding the present period of depression and unemployment. According to reports from sixty cities in thirty-three states, 220,000 full-time working certificates were issued to children between fourteen and eighteen years of age in 1929, as against 150,000 in 1928." Article by Edward Levinson, The Nation, 1937. "General Motors must have known it was making an offer which the union could not consider without inviting a repetition of the collapse of the 1934 strike. While talking peace to Governor Murphy it has thrown up breastworks for a fight to the end." Everywhere emergency care was promptly and effectively given. At Pittsburgh the Chapter performed an admirable service of caring for sixty thousand refugees – feeding, sheltering, clothing and giving medical and nursing attention at over 150 centers. At Greensboro, North Carolina, one of the many recorded acts of unselfishness and devotion to duty by a Chapter officer was reported when the Chairman of the disaster committee hardly paused at his own tornado-wrecked business to take charge of Red Cross relief at great personal sacrifice. At Gainesville, Georgia, so completely devastated by the storm, the Atlanta and other nearby Chapters virtually took charge of emergency aid. At Wilkes-Barre, as at many other points, the Chapter gave a wonderful service of rescue to thousands from flooded homes without a single casualty – aided by the courageous and skilled men of the U.S. Coast Guard to whom my hat is always off in tribute for an endless procession of service of rescue. And so it went in Chapter after Chapter. "Educational Alliance: A History of a Lower East Side Settlement House," by EJ Sampson. "The Educational Alliance. balanced the growing professionalization of settlement house work by becoming community-based, and kept its emphasis on encouraging public civic culture even as in other ways it aligned with a social service “agency” model. And it kept it eyes on its Jewish origins not only in its neighborhood work, but in negotiating its internal ethos. " Presentation by Forrester B. Washington, Director, Atlanta School of Social Work, given at the 55th Meeting of the National Conference on Social Welfare, 1928. "The problems which I will discuss are health, education, delinquency, crime and family disorganization. They follow logically those discussed by Mr. Thomas. In addition, I will attempt to summarize his paper and my own and present our combined recommendations." In the late 1920s, Ophelia Settle Egypt conducted some of the first and finest interviews with former slaves, setting the stage for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) massive project ten years later. Born Ophelia Settle in 1903, she was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher for the black sociologist Charles Johnson at Fisk University in Nashville. In Blackey’s view a school of social work had many constituencies—the university, the profession, the communities and clients served, cooperating agencies, and the general public. With all of them Blackey urged the maintenance of meaningful ties and a leadership role that in large measure remains elusive. She hoped that schools of social work would have a stronger presence within their universities she envisaged greater involvement of the schools in formulating social policy and advocacy on behalf of vulnerable groups in society and she wanted agencies to be more open to experimental approaches to practice. These are goals still to be achieved. President Herbert Hoover said: "I expect to sign the relief bill on Tuesday. I do wish to express the appreciation which I have and I know that the country has to those leaders of both political parties who have cooperated to put the bill into effective shape and to eliminate the destructive proposals which were from time to time injected into it. An editorial in The Nation, May, 1934. The Child Labor amendment discussed in this entry was proposed in 1924 following rulings by the Supreme Court in 1918 and 1922 that federal laws regulating and taxing goods produced by employees under the ages of 14 and 16 were unconstitutional. By the mid-1930’s the majority of state governments had ratified the amendment however, according to Article V of the Constitution, three quarters of the states are required to ratify it before it is adopted. The issue became mute when in 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act, allowing federal regulation of child labor, was enacted. In 1941, the Supreme Court approved the law. On May 24, 1937, President Roosevelt sent the bill to Congress with a message that America should be able to give "all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." He continued: "A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling worker's wages or stretching workers' hours." Many mothers have come to us in conflict as to whether or not to go to work. The motives may be patriotic, or desire for a more adequate income, or deeper personal urges for greater independence and release from home care. Since the absence of the mother from the home often creates serious problems of childcare, the decision is particularly crucial. We believe firmly that a mother’s care of her children is in itself an “essential industry”, but, if we are to be realistic, we know that it will not for every woman take priority over other “essential industries”. Our efforts have been to engage in a sort of “screening process”, to try to determine as promptly and soundly as possible the best solution for all concerned, to help the woman who should not work accept her homemaking role as a dignified and contributing one, and to help the mother who should work maintain all possible security for herself and her children. This article was written by Anna Kempshall, a nationally renowned social worker. "Two general principles that are basic in casework philosophy help in differentiating the specialized service of a caseworking agency: (1) that individuals react differently to the problem of need and dependency (2) that casework services have not been limited to persons in economic difficulty." A report to the board of directors of the Community Service Society of New York, 1940, by Anna Kempshall, Director of Family Service. "The realization that there is nothing more precious than the life of a child places upon our caseworkers a grave responsibility. To understand the impact of, the currents and cross currents of the environment upon the delicate and elusive mechanism of a child's mind and heart is a challenge to science, religion, education, and social work." One of the obstacles to creating unemployment relief programs as part of the President's New Deal was the widespread feeling that in this land of opportunity, any individual could find some way to maintain himself and his dependents without relief if only he would exert the necessary initiative and effort. Therefore, it was with only the greatest reluctance that the American public in general and legislative bodies in particular came gradually to accept that fact that as a result of the Great Depression there were actually too few jobs to go around. Text from the The Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 Article by Charles R. Walker, The Nation, 1937. "'We'll stay in till they carry us out on stretchers,' is the message sent out by the sitdowners in Fisher 2. 'We'd rather die than give up.'" The Flint Sit-Down Strike is known as the most important strike in American history because it changed the United Automobile Workers (UAW) from a collection of isolated individuals into a major union, ultimately leading to the unionization of the United States automobile industry. Thanks to the ever-normal granary and the efficiency of modern farm production, we can approach the problem of nutrition more constructively than during the last war. There seems little likelihood that we shall have meatless days, or days without sugar. The problem today is to use our soil, our farmers, our processors, our distributors, and our knowledge to produce the maximum of abounding health and spirits—a broad foundation on which we can build all the rest of our hemispheric defense. An informal description of demonstration projects of the Resettlement Administration on the West Coast during the Great Depression. Mrs. Glenn’s move to New York coincided with the growing awareness for the need for professional training for charity workers and the importance of trained caseworkers. It was also a time when social welfare advocates and charity workers were beginning to realize the necessity for more efficient organizations of “good will” and better means for dealing with the conditions of a society where large numbers of able-bodied workers were being compelled to seek handouts, depend on breadlines and soup kitchens. Mrs. Glenn became an active participant in discussions about the possibilities of a larger, national movement that would bring together local agencies and advocates into some form of national organization. One observer pointed out to Franklin D. Roosevelt upon taking office that, given the present crisis, he would be either the worst or greatest president in American history. Roosevelt is said to have responded: “If I fail, I shall be the last one.” By the time Franklin Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the traditional ideologies and institutions of the United States were in a state of upheavel. Americans who had grown up promoting the ideology of the “deserving and undeserving poor” and the stigma of poor relief were now standing in line for relief. While teaching at NYSSW, Hamilton also sought social work practice opportunities in local and national agencies. She became associate director of social service and adviser on research at Presbyterian Hospital in NYC (1925–32). From this experience came her first book: Medical School Terminology (1927). During the Great Depression, Hamilton worked with federal relief agencies and helped establish the 1st Federal Emergency Relief Administration training program. For the years 1935 and 1936, Hamilton took a leave of absence from NYSSW in order to serve as social services director of the New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. After World War II, Hamilton became involved in international social welfare. She worked with the Church World Services and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration from 1944 until 1952. She also worked as a research consultant at the Jewish Board of Guardians, in New York City from 1947-1950. Article written by John Dos Passos, The New Republic (1931). "Harlan County in eastern Kentucky, which has been brought out into the spotlight this summer by the violence with which the local Coal Operators' Association has carried on this attack, is, as far as I can find out, a pretty good medium exhibit of the entire industry: living conditions are better than in Alabama and perhaps a little worse than in the Pittsburgh district." The Harlem riot of 1935, now the subject of a comprehensive report, demonstrated that "the Negro is not merely the man who shouldn't be forgotten he is the man who cannot safely be ignored." Alain Locke, early interpreter of the New Harlem in a special issue of Survey Graphic, here pictures the Harlem of hard times The cultural and political currents that shaped American society during the early decades of the twentieth century had a decided effect on the configuration of the American welfare system as it appeared in the 1930s. Social workers, politicians, and reformers carried those currents into the maelstrom of the Great Depression to influence New Deal policy. Harry Hopkins' New Deal work relief and jobs programs, designed to overcome the economic devastation wrought by the Great Depression during the 1930s, included the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Civil Works Administration (CWA), and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). "No work, no eat" has been the slogan in many communities as fruit and grain ripened for harvest and relief clients held back from farm jobs. In other areas, shortage of domestic help has been reported. What is the workers' side of the story? The taxpayers'? What is the policy of federal and state relief officials? Here an informed Washington writer goes behind the headlines to kind the facts and what they mean. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created by Executive Order #7034 on May 6, 1935. President Roosevelt had the authority for this Executive Order via the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. The WPA was created to offer direct government employment to the jobless. The unemployment rate was about 20% at the time the WPA was created. The WPA lasted until June 30, 1943. The unemployment rate then was possibly below 2%, with many Americans working in the armed services, defense industries, etc. The WPA–during it’s 8 years of existence–employed over 8.5 million different Americans, and reached peak employment of over 3.3 million in late 1938. The following address was delivered by Mrs. Florence Kerr, Assistant Commissioner, Work Projects Administration. "In our WPA project work, we have come to grips with the problem of public health on a number of important fronts. we are not just talking about the need for better sanitation the need for more medical, dental and nursing service, the need of school children for hot, well-balanced lunches, the need of home visits to underprivileged families in time of illness. We're. doing something about them." Article by Louis Adamic, The Nation, 1934. "In recent months, with production increasing, it has been necessary for the companies to bring in tens of thousands of people from outside, principally from the South, and put them to work in the busy plants. For months now the companies have been sending their labor agents to recruit hill-billies from Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama." While some children required long-term placement, assistance was often temporary. One worker describes a case below which particularly displays the “uplift” mentality of the Society: "After a meeting, I called on a widow with four children. She is sick. To secure daily bread, her boy, twelve years of age, sells papers. He called to see me, asking for a situation in the city, whereby he might help his mother. I knew a man of business who wanted a boy, took him with me and secured the place. He has been with him three weeks, and gives such good satisfaction that his wages have been raised, and he is promised permanent employment with a knowledge of the trade. When the mother had sufficiently recovered she came to thank me for the interest I had taken in her son. In this case it was not the money given which called forth her gratitude, but the fact that I had helped the family to help themselves." Farm Security Administration's experiment in resettling southern tenants on land of their own, here described by a recent visitor to several projects, demonstrates that, given a boost by government, America's poorest pioneers can rise from relief to self-support. Before serving as America's 31st President from 1929 to 1933, Herbert Hoover had achieved international success as a mining engineer and worldwide gratitude as "The Great Humanitarian" who fed war-torn Europe during and after World War I. Son of a Quaker blacksmith, Herbert Clark Hoover brought to the Presidency an unparalleled reputation for public service as an engineer, administrator, and humanitarian. He was elected thirty-first President of the United States in a 1928 landslide, but within a few short months he had become a scapegoat in his own land. Even today, Herbert Hoover remains indelibly linked to an economic crisis that put millions of Americans out of work in the 1930s. His 1932 defeat left Hoover's once-bright reputation in shambles. But Herbert Hoover refused to fade away. In one of history's most remarkable comebacks, he returned to public service at the end of World War II to help avert global famine and to reorganize the executive branch of government. By the time of his death in October 1964, Hoover had regained much of the luster once attached to his name. The Quaker theologian who eulogized him at his funeral did not exaggerate when he said of Hoover, "The story is a good one and a great one. . . . It is essentially triumphant." Written by Dr. June Hopkins, Associate Professor, History Dept., Armstrong Atlantic State University. Harry L. Hopkins (1890-1946) — Social Worker, Architect of the New Deal, Public Administrator and Confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt One million undernourished children have benefited by the Works Progress Administration's school lunch program. In the past year and a half 80,000,000 hot well-balanced meals have been served at the rate of 500,000 daily in 10,000 schools throughout the country. Address of the Honorable Robert F. Wagner, U.S. Senator, at the National Public Housing Conference, 1936. "They reflect our desire as a practical people to get at the essential. It is curious that our search for the essential has taken so many years to reach even the threshold of the housing problem. It has long been known that many of the evils confronting philanthropy and education are rooted in bad living conditions." Jane Edna Hunter (1882-1971) – Social Worker, Advocate for Women and Founder of the Phillis Wheatley Association And suddenly the Navajos have been faced with a crisis which in some aspects is nothing less than a head-on collision between immediate advantages, sentiments, beliefs, affections and previously accepted preachments, as one colliding mass, and physical and statistical facts as the other. The crisis consists in the fact that the soil of the Navajo reservation is hurriedly being washed away into the Colorado river. The collision consists in the fact that the entire complex and momentum of Navajo life must be radically and swiftly changed to a new direction and in part must be totally reversed. . And the changes must be made—if made at all—through the choice of the Navajos themselves a choice requiring to be renewed through months and years, with increasing sacrifices for necessarily remote and hypothetical returns, and with a hundred difficult technical applications. Written by Anna Kempshall, Director of the Institute of Family Service. "The recent period of social and economic change has affected the programs and functions of many social agencies in the community. The Institute of Family Service has constantly adjusted its program in relation to the total community situation, making such revisions of practice and procedure at various times as seemed indicated." If you are in the South someone tells you solemnly that all the members of the Committee of Industrial Organization are Communists, or that the Negroes are all Communists. This last statement derives from the fact that, being for the most part unskilled labor, Negroes are more apt to be organized by the Committee for Industrial Organization. In another part of the country someone tells you solemnly that the schools of the country are menaced because they are all under the influence of Jewish teachers and that the Jews, forsooth, are all Communists. And so it goes, until finally you realize that people have reached a point where anything which will save them from Communism is a godsend and if Fascism or Nazism promises more security than our own democracy we may even turn to them. In 1917, four days before Christmas, and with only twenty hours notice, Miss Kempshall was dispatched by the C.O.S to assist the American Red Cross in relief work in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the site of an enormous explosion that caused death and damage to a large area surrounding the Halifax Harbor area. (Editor’s Note: On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia, Canada. One ship was loaded top to bottom with munitions and the other held relief supplies, both intended for war-torn Europe. The resulting blast flattened two towns, Halifax and Dartmouth. The toll of the Halifax Explosion was enormous with over 1,600 men, women and children killed. An additional 9,000 people were injured and 25,000 buildings spread over 325 acres were destroyed.) Dorothea Lange was one of the leading documentary photographers of the Depression and arguably the most influential. Some of her pictures were reproduced so repeatedly and widely that they became commonly understood symbols of the human suffering caused by the economic disaster. At the same time her work functioned to create popular support for New Deal programs. Written by Ellen Woodward, WPA Assistant Administrator in charge of the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects. "No one can better appreciate the lasting values of the work relief program than we women, for its results affect primarily that which is closest to our hearts--the home." On this trip I've tried not to be too preoccupied with relief. I've tried to find out what the people as a whole are thinking about--people who are at work. I carry away the impression that all over the area, from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Tupelo, Mississippi, and on up to Memphis and Nashville, people are in a pretty contented, optimistic frame of mind. They just aren't thinking about the Depression any more. They feel that we are on our way out and toward any problems that have to be solved before we get out their attitude seems to be, "Let Roosevelt do it." We spent the morning in conference, took a quick look at the transient setup--thousands came here looking for work, you see, and present quite a problem--and spent the afternoon looking over Muscle Shoals--Wilson dam and power house, Wheeler dam, the houses they are building there for the engineers and their families, the construction camp, and so on. It's all on such a huge scale! But darned interesting. Always in the background, though, is this dreadful relief business-- dull, hopeless, deadening. God--when are we going to get out of it? As nearly as I can figure it out, most of the relief families in Tennessee are rural, living on sub-marginal or marginal land. What are we going to do with them? And, so low are their standards of living, that, once on relief, low as it is, they want to stay there the rest of their lives. Gosh! TVA is now employing some 9,500 people. But it doesn't even make a dent! . . . Nearly 10,000 men--about 9,500--are at work in the Valley now, at Norris and Wheeler dams, on various clearing and building projects all over the area. Thousands of them are residents of the Valley, working five and a half hours a day, five days a week, for a really LIVING wage. Houses are going up for them to live in--better houses than they have ever had in their lives before. And in their leisure time they are studying--farming, trades, the art of living, preparing themselves for the fuller lives they are to lead in that Promised Land. You are probably saying, "Oh, come down to earth!" But that's the way the Tennessee Valley affects one these days. As the Great Depression worsened, Long made impassioned speeches in the Senate charging a few powerful families with hoarding the nation’s wealth. He urged Congress to address the inequality that he believed to be the source of the mass suffering. How was a recovery possible when twelve men owned more wealth than 120 million people. In 1934 Long unveiled a program of reforms he labeled “Share Our Wealth” designed to redistribute the nation’s wealth more fairly by capping personal fortunes at $50 million (later lowered to $5 - $8 million) and distributing the rest through government programs aimed at providing opportunity and a decent standard of living to all Americans. Long believed the programs he initiated in Louisiana were effective in lifting people out of poverty, and he wanted to implement this philosophy nationally. This entry was copied with permission from the book "This Far By Love: The Amazing Story of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan" by Nancy Manser. Motivated to serve others as an expression of the love of Christ, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan continues today to help those in need regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin. In the depth of the Great Depression, the March 1933 issue of Survey Midmonthly journal carried the first in a series of columns that would continue for a decade. The subject of the columns — Amelia Bailey — "Miss Bailey" to most people — was a 1930s-style virtual-reality public relief supervisor.
    There is perhaps no point in the whole business of relief about which the public is so sensitive as in the matter of car-ownership. The question comes up even in the most car-conscious communities. Stories of abuses multiply at dinner and bridge tables and sooner or later magnify into newspaper headlines. More than once they have occasioned formal investigations of relief agencies and sweeping "reforms." What can the relief worker do when: • Practically every relief family in a foreign-speaking neighborhood finds the price of a ton of grapes for its year’s supply of wine? • A family steadfastly refuses to give any information about a relative who regularly pays their rent and sends them occasional boxes of luxurious clothes? • The family of five which is suddenly augmented by three half-grown children who, it is calmly explained, have been visiting their “auntie,” hitherto unheard of? What shall the untrained investigator do when she observes in homes such situations as: Bootlegging? Deserted wife with children on relief, living in sin with a lodger? Father periodically drunk and (a) cheerful, (b) abusive to children? Father demanding shotgun marriage for reluctant daughter? What shall the untrained relief investigator do when she observes in homes such situations as: The family on relief that she "catches" filing into the movie theater? The girl in the family who blossoms out with a new permanent wave? The family that, at the morning call, was in rags and despair, and is all dressed up and going to a party when she returns at night with a food order? The family that supports a man‑sized dog? What about relief investigators who, when visiting families: Smoke if they feel like it Holler upstairs Pump the children and the neighbors Look under the bed for extra shoes and into the cupboard for food? What about relief investigators who, in visiting families: • Find a public‑health nurse also on the job? • Opine that codliver oil is an old wives' tale? • Predict the goryness of approaching tonsillectomies? • Report prenatal patients when the stork is on the wing? What can an unskilled home visitor do when she finds that in families where relief is as adequate as conditions permit: • Children, under threat of parental whipping, are coming to the office to make special pleas? • Children and grown‑ups too are making a practice of begging? • Children are being permitted, even sent, to hang around restaurants and explore garbage‑cans? What should relief workers do when: What should relief workers do when: • A waiting client suddenly throws a paper‑weight across the office and begins to scream • A client disrupts the waiting‑room with loud threats of what he proposes to do to the interviewer? • A delegation with banners and baby‑carriages demonstrates noisily under the office windows? • A large and voluble committee, with police hovering in the background, demands a hearing for its protest against the relief system? Families with bank accounts, families with cars, families never before touched by social agencies, now figure large in the “relief population” of these United States. How the new problems they bring, rarely encountered by case workers of a few years ago, are being treated, how workers without extensive training are being prepapred to meet situations calling for quick and discriminating judgment, are the subjects of a series of Survey articles, of which this is the eighth, drawn from day-to-day experience in busy relief offices. What shall the home visitor do about: • The unemployed son of the house who brings home an unemployed bride? What shall the home visitor do about: • The girl who holds out her slender earnings from the family budget and takes title to a cheap fur coat the day the family is dispossessed? • The able-bodied youth who refused to go to a refestation camp and who has since kept himself in cigarettes by bartering the tidbits of the family grocery order? • The mother who persistently and successfully connives to swap essentials of the food order for cream to satisfy the “weak stummick” of her 200-pound son? • The mother who supports her stalwart eldest in his refusal to take a job that requires him to get up at six o’clock in the morning? Very many families are unable to secure enough "protective foods." Milk, meat, eggs, fresh vegetables, and fruits are relatively expensive. Whole wheat bread and other whole grain cereals are perishable—a factor which adds to the cost of their distribution. The farmer in most cases can keep a cow and have a garden and an orchard but on some poor lands, this is impossible. The city dweller is always dependent on the market for the variety of foods available to him and the amounts which his dollar will purchase. Families with incomes below a certain level must have assistance in tangible form if they are to secure the foods which provide an adequate diet. Assistance may take the form of a money dole, or it may involve the direct distribution of food. From the 1940s to the 1960s, NHC consisted of a coalition of public housing advocates, social workers, labor unions, and local housing authorities who pushed for housing reforms. However, by the 1970s, NHC became an ally of the federal housing bureaucracy because its membership included primary builders, construction unions, and real estate developers. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) was one of the most important and daring measures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was enacted during the famous First Hundred Days of his first term in office and was the centerpiece of his initial efforts to reverse the economic collapse of the Great Depression. NIRA was signed into law on June 16, 1933, and was to remain in effect for two years. It attempted to make structural changes in the industrial sector of the economy and to alleviate unemployment with a public works program. It succeeded only partially in accomplishing its goals, and on May 27, 1935, less than three weeks before the act would have expired, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 (NIRA) was signed by newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 16, 1933. The new law created the National Recovery Administration (NRA). The NRA began to work with businesses to establish the mandated codes for fair competition, which were to be exempt from the antitrust laws. A speech by Aubrey W. Williams, Executive Director of the National Youth Administration in 1937. "The Youth Administration was established to equalize opportunity for Youth. It was set up to raise economically disadvantaged Youth to within reach of opportunities denied them." "I hereby prescribe the following functions and duties of the National Youth Administration: To initiate and administer a program of approved projects which shall provide relief, work relief, and employment for persons between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five years who are no longer in regular attendance at a school requiring full time, and who are not regularly engaged in remunerative employment." Written by William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, 1934. "During the past five years Negro wage earners have been turning to the organized labor movement with new conviction. They are becoming responsible union members, sharing the benefits and hardships of union endeavor. These developments are evidence of substantial progress in the growing acceptance of responsibility on the part of Negro workers." Written by Lester B. Granger. "Negro labor in St. Louis, MO., has shown the way for colored workers throughout the country to make an aggressive attack against prejudiced and discriminatory policies on the part of certain sections of the American labor movement." If the 2,500,000 Negroes in the North and the 9,500,000 in the South earned more they would buy more. The masses of Negroes have never purchased enough food, clothing, furniture, transportation, hospitalization, and the like. Twelve million people would greatly expand production if they were employed and paid according to their economic value rather than their social status. "The Wage and Hour Administration Reaches a Second Stage" by Beulah Amidon, an article in Survey Graphic, December, 1939 Eleanor Roosevelt's speech before the Twenty-Fifth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Artists in 1934. "Go ahead and make this thing as beautiful as you can make it. make of this thing something that really was the expression of a "love"--a piece of work that was done because he loved to do it." ". We can hardly be happy knowing that throughout this country so many fine citizens who have done all that they could for their young people must end their days divided--for they usually are divided in the poorhouse. Old people love their own things even more than young people do. It means so much to sit in the same old chair you sat in for a great many years, to see the same picture that you always looked at! And that is what an old age security law will do. It will allow the old people to end their days in happiness, and it will take the burden from the younger people who often have all the struggle that they can stand. It will end a bitter situation--bitter for the old people because they hate to be a burden on the young, and bitter for the young because they would like to give gladly but find themselves giving grudgingly and bitterly because it is taking away from what they need for the youth that is coming and is looking to them for support. For that reason I believe that this bill will be a model bill and pass without any opposition this year." We have seen in our time the revolution of dispossessed youth in Europe, where anything seemed better—to live, and march, and die for—than existence without meaning. Can we give our young people a real stake in life before it is too late? This grave question is put to educators, and all responsible leaders in American life, by one of our best informed and most sympathetic younger writers. A Radio Address by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sunday, May 7, 1933. Written by Lucretia Penny, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1935. "The death notice in the county paper was not more than two inches in depth but it had, nevertheless, its modest headline: PEA-PICKERS CHILD DIES. Already there had been three deaths in the pea-pickers' camp: a Mexican had been murdered, stabbed a child had died of burns a baby had died of what his young mother referred to as "a awful fever in his little stomach." And now the shallow headlines spoke of Zetilla Kane, the seventh child and only daughter of Joe and Jennie Bell Kane." In 1913 Perkins married Paul Caldell Wilson. He was handsome, rich and a progressive. She defied convention and kept her maiden name. After several attempts at conceiving a daughter was born. Life did not treat Frances well. Both husband and daughter were depressed and institutionalized for long periods. While she had some help with living from her wealthy friends Frances paid their bills until they died. She also dealt with a myriad of stresses they introduced into her life. She did not believe in divorce. Despite her personal miseries Frances continued to develop her political skills. The Labor department that Perkins found called into play all her research and political skills. It was corrupt and inefficient and hadn’t accomplished much. Many were removed and some eventually went to jail. No detail was too small. In her shabby offices cockroaches were found. This was because black employees were not allowed to use the department cafeteria and brought their lunches to work. She and her secretary cleaned the office and soon ordered the cafeteria to be integrated. And, finally, the third principle is to use the agencies of government to assist in the establishment of means to provide sound and adequate protection against the vicissitudes of modern life -- in other words, social insurance. Later in the year I hope to talk with you more fully about these plans. A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it "Fascism", sometimes "Communism", sometimes "Regimentation", sometimes "Socialism". But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. Article written by Samuel Romer, The Nation, 1937. "When sitdown strikes in five General Motors automobile and parts plants resulted in a practical paralysis of production operations and forced direct negotiations between national officers of both the corporation and the union, few of the workers involved realized that they were participating in the first important battle of a civil war which will largely determine the industrial progress of America during the next decade." Further progress must of necessity depend on a deeper understanding on the part of every man and woman in the United States. Knowledge of the splendid results already accomplished is not widespread. You can go into thousands of farming districts in this State and you can go into thousands of closely populated wards in our great cities and find ignorance not only of what has been accomplished but of how to go about utilizing the facilities which we already have. There are literally hundreds of thousands of cases of boys and girls in the United States hidden away on the farm or in the city tenements, boys and girls who are mentally deficient or crippled or deaf or blind. Their parents would give anything in the world to have their mental or physical deficiencies cured, but their parents do not know how to go about it. What to me was of outstanding interest here is the way the unemployed are behaving about relief. The workers on the whole are "hard babies," the living conditions are bad, the struggle for existence has been terrible even before the depression, but the place is to a certain extent a yardstick of behavior in depressed, deflated conditions. I spent a day visiting homes with investigators. They tell me that relief is actually raising standards in some of these shack lives. One of the leading doctors told me that medical care in the City was now better than it had ever been before. In the homes that I visited less than 25 per cent were "unemployables." All, except a very few, asked for clothing or other articles such as a new stove, that neighbors had received from relief. I certainly had a feeling that few would choose to stay on relief but there was little feeling that it was a painful process to ask for relief. As one investigator said, "The workers in Detroit used to run up debts between employment,--run a rent up for several months, owe a grocery bill for several months and borrow on the furniture. They don't do that any more. When their money is exhausted they come to relief." While several men said to me with evident satisfaction that they had no debts, others pointed out that the grocers and landlords no longer feeling so optimistic about the economic possibilities of their debtors will not extend credit as they used to. An old Ford worker said, "I used to be able to pick up odd jobs such as washing cars. My wife did, too, then. We used to worry along." A Chevrolet man said "Each year my savings grew lean and less until now I am at rock bottom." These men are both applying for relief for the first time this Fall. They expect to get jobs by the first of the year if not before. To a degree rare in social work education her view of her tasks was marked by a sustained interest in and respect for the field of social work practice, while at the same time she maintained a scholarly perspective upon the field as a rich source for study, learning and teaching. Even more significantly for the School, the nature of Robinson's interest in social work as related to professional education suggested methods of interchange and patterns of relationship between classroom and field work which have proven steadily fruitful through the years and remain widely recognized as effective in preparing the student both in comprehension of his task and in be- ginning competence in practice. Despite her initial intent to focus on her social activities as First Lady, political issues soon became a central part of the weekly briefings. When some women reporters assigned to ER tried to caution her to speak off the record, she responded that she knew some of her statements would "cause unfavorable comment in some quarters . . . but I am making these statements on purpose to arouse controversy and thereby get the topics talked about." Written by Jack Sutters, former AFSC archivist. "Eleanor Roosevelt's association with the AFSC began before Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration in March 1933." Eleanor Roosevelt (ER) became aware of the barriers women faced while working with other women on other social justice issues. Although she did work in a settlement house and joined the National Consumers League before she married, ER's great introduction to the women's network occurred in the immediate post World War I period when she worked with the International Congress of Working Women and the Women's International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to address the causes of poverty and war. As headworker at Madison House during The Great Depression, Schiff, like so many other settlement house workers, tried to cope with the immediate problems of relief, unemployment, and evictions. He established a day care center, introduced venereal disease and tuberculosis control programs, and started a vocational training program for unemployed youth. he was also was a community organizer and helped create a network of Lower East Side social service agencies to advocate for social welfare policies, especially unemployment and housing. In 1936, Philip Schiff ran unsuccessfully on the American Labor Party's ticket for First Assembly representative to the New York State legislature. If you want to know how to make a bum out of a workingman who has had trade, home, security and ambition taken from him, talk to any of the young fellows on the breadline who have been in town long enough to have become experienced in misery. Say a man in this town goes to the Municipal Lodging House for his first night. Until lately, he would have been routed out at five in the morning. Now he can stay until six. He is given breakfast, then he must leave, blizzard or rain. He can go next to a Salvation Army shelter for a handout, and get down to the City Free Employment Bureau before it opens. Or he can find shelter in subways and mark the Want Ads in a morning paper. Article written by Gould Beech, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1939. ". it was 'too great a compliment to attribute to the Negro child the ability to gain equal education for one dollar to every seven spent on the education of the white child. ' And yet even against such handicaps, the Negro race has advanced in little more than three generations from 80 percent illiterate to better than 80 percent literate—a heartening measure of capacity to make bricks with such straw as there is. On March 25, 1931, nine unemployed young black men, illegally riding the rails and looking for work, were taken off a freight train at Scottsboro, Alabama and held on a minor charge. The Scottsboro deputies found two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, and pressured them into accusing the nine youths of raping them on board the train. By Beatrice McConnell, Director Bureau of Women and Children, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. "Child labor cannot be ignored as a vital factor in the present economic crisis. Children are leaving school and going to work at a time when millions of adults are jobless and many of these children are acting as the sole support of their families because their fathers and older brothers and sisters are unemployed." The following pages present a detailed historical chronology of the development of social insurance, with particular emphasis on Social Security. Items are included in this compilation on the basis of their significance for Social Security generally, their importance as precedents, their value in reflecting trends or issues, or their significance in SSA's administrative history. The information includes legislative events in Social Security and related programs. Our expectation is that this Chronology can be used as a reference tool and finding aid for important dates and events in Social Security's long history. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's philosophy was: that Government has a positive responsibility for the general welfare. Not that Government itself must do everything, but that everything practicable must be done. A critical question for F.D.R. was whether a middle way was possible-- a mixed system which might give the State more power than conservatives would like, enough power indeed to assure economic and social security, but still not so much as to create dictatorship. Over the past two decades, social work educators and students have developed a body of literature, which describes the legacy, and contributions of African Americans or members of the Black community to social welfare historical developments. "The Social Program of the Labor Movement," a presentation by Mary van Kleek, Director, Division of Industrial Studies, Russell Sage Foundation New York City, at the National Conference of Social Work, 1937. "It is true that the movement has been divided as between the craft unions and the great masses of unorganized workers. Every day, however, brings evidence of the present vital unity." At this moment what are social workers saying concerning economic and political theory or the need for fundamental social changes to eliminate the cycles and seasons of unemployment? With infrequent exception, exactly nothing at all. On the whole, social workers know little and care less about economic or political theory and practice. Their lack of understanding can only be described as abysmal, tragic. Ignorance in very young social workers, of whom there are many, may be forgiven. It is hard, however, to defend the silence--sometimes the deception--of the old-timers. The poor themselves, when they are not so persistently protected from publicity by their social workers, are taking a somewhat more practical view of their situation. Nowadays, when relief is inadequate and they are hungry, they turn to stealing, begging, and standing on the public streets in bread lines. In fact, in one city where the professional social workers are too "ethical" to disclose the distress of those receiving charitable relief, the unemployed are participating in demonstrations, petitioning the city administration for more food, and in turn are being arrested by His Honor, the mayor of the city, on charges of vagrancy and disorderly conduct. When an Alabama town erected a monument "in profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity" a moral was pointed which this author drives home with recent researches in the South. Cotton still enslaves 8 million people emancipation can come only by diversified farming, a long range program for which is here given "Gertrude Springer has sprung from Better Times to The Survey. With this issue of the Mid-monthly, she takes over, as associate editor, the Social Practice Department. " (15 October 1930, p. 106.) Springer undertook field trips and initiated contacts to determine the lay of the social welfare landscape beyond New York. In pithy writing about social issues, policy, and services across the country, she never neglected to explain how things came down to affecting individuals. "Amelia Bailey," — "Miss Bailey" to most people — was a 1930s-style virtual-reality public relief supervisor. “Miss Baily Says…” columns dealt with issues such as: “When Your Client Has a Car,” “Are Relief Workers Policemen?,” “How We Behave in Other People’s Houses.” In late October 1929 the stock market crashed, wiping out 40 percent of the paper values of common stock. When the stock market crashed in 1929, it didn’t happen on a single day. IN DECEMBER 1932, A DISCONSOLATE YOUNG MAN, TWO OR three years out of college, sat on a park bench and watched his big toe come through his best shoe, while he tried to screw up courage to apply for relief. Two years later he was the executive head of an insurance enterprise handling millions of dollars annually, working in close conjunction with important medical and educational institutions. He, himself, has won an international reputation in his special field. His name would be known to many Survey Graphic readers. IN DECEMBER 1932, A DISCONSOLATE YOUNG MAN, TWO OR three years out of college, sat on a park bench and watched his big toe come through his best shoe, while he tried to screw up courage to apply for relief. Two years later he was the executive head of an insurance enterprise handling millions of dollars annually, working in close conjunction with important medical and educational institutions. In 1930, with unemployment rising and jobs becoming increasingly scarce, American citizens began to feel the effects of the economic downturn that began with the Stock Market Crash the previous October. The Great Depression was just beginning. The problem of unemployment in New York State and in its major cities grew increasingly critical, and it was obvious that neither local funding nor privately-supported agencies could handle the crisis. Despite the lack of accurate statistics, all cities had reported that unemployment had reached unprecedented proportions. New York, as the leading industrial state, had an especial need to maintain and develop the wage-earner market. With the support of both labor and business, Frances Perkins, the state industrial commissioner, told Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt that public works projects were "the greatest source of hope for the future," and she recommended the immediate implementation of local public works programs along with public employment clearinghouses.1 Article by Edith Elmer Wood, appearing in Survey Graphic, 1940. "Equal opportunity which lies at the heart of democracy implies for every man, woman and child at least a sporting chance to attain health, decency and a normal family life. It was because the cards were stacked against a third of the nation that there had to be a new deal in housing." Article by Lester B. Granger, Executive Director, Los Angeles Chapter National Urban League. "Dismay is the first reaction which thoughtful Negroes will register toward this program-not so much because of what it plans, but because of what it fails to plan" Written by Julia Wright Merrill, Executive Assistant, Library Extension Board. "The work of the library, unlike that of many business organizations, grows rather than diminishes in times of depression. Do not trustees have a responsibility for wise spending of the funds available and for an effort to secure an adequate appropriation for the coming year?" Article by Samuel Romer, The Nation, 1933. ". There were only about 450 men working in the plant then--but every one of them put away his tools and walked out. So began the first major labor struggle in Detroit since the period immediately following the war." When America began to recover from the Great Depression, it began to take stock of its human resources. We found that a large minority of our population did not get enough to eat. These people who did not get enough to at were below par in health. They were below par in initiative and alertness. A call to action—and a program. An epochal statement.—by the Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service in July 1941. Out of a million men examined by Selective Service and about 560,000 excepted by the army, a total of 380,000 have been found unfit for general military service. It has been estimated that perhaps one third of the rejections were due either directly or indirectly to nutritional deficiencies. In terms of men, the army today has been deprived of 150,000 who should be able to do duty as soldiers. This is 15 percent of the total number physically examined by the Selective Service System This practice of the displacement of Negro labor by white labor began even before the depression. The Negro felt its effect as early as 1927. From the very beginning it has been stimulated by outside forces. For instance, an organization called the Blue Shirts was set up in Jacksonville, Florida, about 1926 for the express purpose of replacing Negroes in employment with white men. An organization called the Black Shirts was formed at Atlanta, Georgia, late in 1927 for the same purpose. The Black Shirts, whose regalia consisted chiefly of black shirts and black neckties, published a daily newspaper. They frequently held night parades in which were carried such signs as "Employ white man and let 'Niggers' go" "Thousands of white families are starving to death-what is the reason?" and "Send 'Niggers' back to the farms." About the only source to which the Negro can look for real aid today is the United States government. Experience has shown that local authorities cannot be trusted to administer equably government funds in many sections of the country so far as Negroes are concerned. I am satisfied that the national administration is eminently fair and wants to reach out and see the benefits of its recovery program extended to every citizen, but this ideal is neutralized in many local communities. On the other hand, one does not need to argue for complete centralized control by the federal government, but rather for a degree of protection for a group which experience has proved suffers at the hands of local administrators. ". No right-thinking person in this country today who picks up a paper and reads that in some part of the country the people have not been willing to wait for the due processes of law, but have gone back to the rule of force, blind and unjust as force and fear usually are, can help but be ashamed that we have shown such a lack of faith in our own institutions. It is a horrible thing which grows out of weakness and fear, and not out of strength and courage and the sooner we as a nation unite to stamp out any such action, the sooner and the better will we be able to face the other nations of the world and to uphold our real ideals here and abroad. " On October 29, 1929, the crash of the U.S. stock market—known as "Black Tuesday"—reflected a move toward a worldwide economic crisis. In 1929-1933, unemployment in the U.S. soared from 3 percent of the workforce to 25 percent, while manufacturing output collapsed by one-third. The public’s acceptance of New Deal programs and services initiated by President Roosevelt in his first term was to a large extent a result of the pain and fear caused by the Great Depression. How bad the conditions were is worth remembering, since this is a means of gauging the enormous pressure for significant changes in government policy. One of the worst thing about the 1929 depression was its length of time. Men who had been sturdy and self-respecting workers can take unemployment without flinching for a few weeks, a few months, even if they have to see their families suffer but it is quite different after a year, two years, three years. Among the miserable creatures curled up on park benches, selling apples on the street corner or standing in dreary lines before soup kitchens in 1932 were white men who had been jobless since the end of 1929. This traumatic experience marked millions of people for the rest of their lives, and made them security conscious. The nomination of an avowed socialist to head the Democratic party ticket was more than the California establishment could tolerate. Sinclair's radical candidacy was opposed by just about every establishment force in California. The media virtually demonized Sinclair through a concerted propaganda campaign based largely on smears and falsehoods. Sinclair's candidacy also set off a bitter political battle both within the Democratic party and with many groups who were opposed to various aspects of the EPIC plan. Sinclair was denounced as a "Red" and "crackpot" and the Democratic establishment sought to derail his candidacy. Despite all of this, Upton Sinclair was very nearly elected Governor of California in 1934. Speech given by Aubrey Williams, Assistant Works Progress Administrator and Executive Director of the National Youth Administration before the Buffalo Council of Social Agencies. "You and I know that the problem of unemployment does not stem directly from industrial depression. it was spawned in an era of giddy expansionism. it is an inescapable concomitant of our type of civilization. its roots are now sunk in the very bedrock of our capitalist society." A "Year of Roosevelt" would be a crisper title for the address made at the twenty-first annual meeting of Survey Associates by Secretary of the Interior Ickes. As federal public works' administrator he is steward of "the greatest sum of money ever appropriated by any government for such a purpose in the history of the world." But it was as a fighting citizen of Chicago, a long-time member of Survey Associates, that we turned to him to interpret the social stakes in the Recovery Program TVA was one of the most ambitious projects of the New Deal, encompassing many of FDR’s own interests in conservation, public utility regulation, regional planning, agricultural development, and the social and economic improvement of the “Forgotten Americans.” When the civil service examinations were first given by the TVA in the twelve counties round about Norris, only 1.9 per cent of those who qualified for jobs were Negroes. In these same twelve counties Negroes comprise exactly 7.1 per cent of the total population. Thus it looked as though colored labor was to suffer. TVA authorities insisted that they were helpless to rectify matters since they were compelled to choose their employees from among the people who had qualified by examination. Negro leaders claimed, however, that the reason so small a proportion of their population had qualified was that they had either not even been told of the examinations or else had been given to understand by the native whites that there was no need for them to apply since the whole project was for the advantage of the white man. There were some facts which lent credibility to this charge. For example, TVA authorities did not, and still do not, plan to use any Negro labor on the building of the Norris Dam itself. "A Statement on Racial Discrimination," read by Reginald A. Johnson, executive secretary of the Atlanta Urban League, at the Hearing of the American Federation of Labor Committee of Five to Deal with Negro Problems, 1935. ". the American Federation of Labor has stood firmly behind its position that the ranks of organized labor must be open to all workers regardless of color or creed. " After the war the Townsends lived in Long Beach, Calif. But Townsend's private medical practice did not prosper so he took a position as assistant city health director. Because of the Great Depression, he soon lost that job. Then, at the age of 66 and wanting to retire, Townsend grew increasingly indignant over the plight of the large number of poverty-stricken old people like himself. In 1933 he proposed a plan whereby the Federal government would provide every person over 60 a $200 monthly pension. The plan called for a guaranteed monthly pension of $200, a quite-considerable sum in the 1930. The pension would be sent to every retired citizen age 60 or older, to be paid for by a form of a national sales tax of 2% on all business transactions with the stipulation that each pensioner would be required to spend the money within 30 days. His idea was to end the Depression through consumer spending by way of ending poverty among the elderly. The rural social worker is confronted with a real dilemma in knowing how much of a family's welfare is her responsibility. It is not unusual to find that man'y of our rural areas have been untouched by social working organizations, or, for that matter, by few if any community organizations. The rural worker is called on to provide for the health needs of the families in many instances where there is inadequate medical and nursing service. School attendance becomes her concern where the state laws are static in their effectiveness. She finds mental problems of long standing, or disturbances of an acute nature, in her families, and since she is the only representative of an agency in the area, securing treatment or institutionalization becomes part of her service to the family. Whether she is equipped for it or not, emergencies arise where the worker participates in removing children from the home, in institutional placement of delinquents, feeble-minded, or handicapped members of the family. On October 25, 1929, Mayor Jimmy Walker broke ground on the Triborough Bridge. This date later proved significant, as it was just one day after the "Black Thursday" that helped trigger the Great Depression. The initial $5.4 million allocated by New York City for construction of the new bridge - most of which went to condemnation awards and counsel fees - had already been spent before the Ward's Island piers had been built. With its coffers depleted by the ensuing Depression, the city abandoned work on the bridge early in 1930. In 1933, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed Moses as the chairman of the Triborough Bridge Authority. President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted the new authority a $37 million loan, making the bridge the first project in New York City to earn approval from the new Federal-level Public Works Administration (PWA). Seeking a clear break from the Tammany Hall corruption of the past, LaGuardia said the following to the press: "We are going to build a bridge instead of patronage. We are going to pile up stone and steel instead of expenses. We are going to build a bridge of steel, and spell steel "s-t-e-e-l" instead of "s-t-e-a-l." The people of the City of New York are going to pay for that bridge, and they are going to pay for it in tolls after its completion." Article written by John S. Gambs, Survey Graphic, 1934. "In this fashion, carrying on their banners the device used by men in the Continental Navy—-the coiled rattlesnake and the militant words, Don't Tread on Me—thousands of men and women are protesting the inadequacies of unemployment relief." "It is a remarkable thing to tell you, some people can’t see it, but I am going to tell you, you can believe it or not but it’s the truth some colored people at that [time] wouldn’t be whipped by masters. They would run away and hide in the woods, come home at nights and get something to eat and out he would go again. Them times they called them "runaway niggers". Some of them stayed away until after the war was over." "What the skill and care of these devoted nurses has meant to thousands of the needy sick, of all ages, during these dark times, no statistics can reflect. Home nursing, such as ours, includes health education to the family as well as care to the patient. The charts and facts presented in this report enable those previously unfamiliar with our work to understand in some small measure the significance of the Service." by Robert S. Allen, The Nation July 17, 1937. Wage-hour legislation was a campaign issue in the 1936 Presidential race. Article by Ira DeA. Reid in Opportunity, Journal of Negro Life (September, 1933). "Three million Negro workers, more than half of the total number of Negroes who must labor for their livelihood, will not be covered by the industrial codes now being formulated by the NRA!" THE FIRST benefit we received from the REA service was lights, and aren't lights grand? My little boy expressed my sentiments when he said, "Mother, I didn't realize how dark our house was until we got electric lights." We had been reading by an Aladdin lamp and thought it was good, but it didn't compare with our I. E. S. reading lamp. Article by Eleanor Roosevelt, Forum, 1932. ". in all cases the thing which counts is the striving of the human soul to achieve spiritually the best that it is capable of and to care unselfishly not only for personal good but for the good of all those who toil with them upon the earth." Article written by Rose Dudley Scearce in Rural Electrification News, 1939. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created in 1935 by President Roosevelt to promote rural electricity. By 1931 White had become executive secretary, the highest position in the association. During his tenure, the NAACP led the fight for anti-lynching legislation, and initiated trailblazing legal battles to eliminate all-white primaries, poll taxes and de jure segregation. Working with labor leader A. Philip Randolph, White in 1941 helped persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 which prohibited racial discrimination in defense industries and established the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), the first Federal agency to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination measures. What is happening to the self-helpers? Will they become true cooperators? Chiselers? Brown Shirts? And what about the Communists? In California, which has more self-help organizations than all the rest of the country, barter has been going on long enough to have a history and some policies and to refute the prophets who predicted it would die aborning. Article written by Carl Mydans, The Nation, 1933. "The real object of the strike at the Edgewater, New Jersey, plant of the Ford Motor Car Company was, of course, a wage increase. The workers seized the opportunity, however, to protest against a number of the conditions under which they had been working." Written by Gertrude Folks Zimand, Director Research and Publicity, National Child Labor Committee. "WHEN President Roosevelt on July 9 signed the Code of Fair Competition for the Cotton-Textile Industry, which bars from employment children under 16 years, he virtually removed from that industry several thousand children who will be replaced by adults. Had this action been taken in the spring of 1930, before unemployment became so acute, the number displaced would have been over 10,000." Women are thinking and that is the first step toward an increased and more intelligent use of the ballot. Then they will demand of their political parties clear statements of principles and they will scrutinize their party’s candidates, watch their records, listen to their promises and expect them to live up to them and to have their party’s backing, and occasionally when the need arises, women will reject their party and its candidates. This will not be disloyalty but will show that as members of a party they are loyal first to the fine things for which the party stands and when it rejects those things or forgets the legitimate objects for which political parties exist, then as a party it cannot command the honest loyalty of its members. ". optimism is premature, just as was true in the cases of NRA, CWA, and others of the Administration's pet schemes for "priming the industrial pump of America." Certainly the controversy which the Work-Relief Bin is evoking at present writing in Senate committee and corridors indicates that there are grave weaknesses in the plans of President Roosevelt for ending the dole by giving jobs. Outstanding among these weaknesses is the President's insistence that the rate of pay shall be lower than prevailing wage levels. Here he has met the bitter opposition of organized labor, and it seems that he will meet defeat on the issue. There should be no hesitation among the Negroes to back up the position which organized labor takes in this instance. Mr. Roosevelt's plan to pay a lower wage than private industry is nothing less than an attempt to lower the existing wage level throughout all industry. It is a surrender to those interests which claim that "recovery" is held back because the wage structure is too high. It is an ignoral of the plain fact that in the building trades the wages for workers have taken a considerable drop in the past two years while the costs of materials have gone steeply upward. " The depression came and county libraries were sorely stricken financially. Rescuing funds from the Federal government through relief agencies came in the nick of time. Numerous employees were being furloughed, others were having their salaries cut for the third or fourth time, book repair and book purchases had ceased, many buildings were sadly in need of repair and service was cut to the bone in the summer of 1933. Helen Russell Wright was a pioneer social researcher, economist, and social work educator. She was the first president of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). She also had the formidable task of becoming dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Chicago in1941, a position she held until 1956. Following in the footsteps Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott and Sophonisba Breckenridge she became an important transitional figure in the emerging profession of social work, one who often went against the then current trends by advocating for social reform supported by research as opposed to the total emphasis on the primacy of casework within the profession. The student movements of the Great Depression era were arguably the most significant mobilizations of youth-based political activity in American history prior to the late 1960s. As time passed, many local youth organizations became more organized in their pursuit of progressive government, and in 1934 the American Youth Congress (AYC) came together as the national federation and lobbying arm of the movement as a whole.

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