What did the 1930's depression look like (personal family storiesgreenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
Does anyone have any family stories about the Depression era? how did they survive? Where they homeless? What kinds of jobs did they have?
-- jane a doe (email@example.com), February 15, 2000
Some may be found here:
Economy/jobs Older Threads
After clicking on the link, search for "depression".
-- David L (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
Studs Terkel wrote a wonderful book about family experiences during the '30s depression called "Hard Times: an Oral History of the Great Depression in America." I found in my local librar
-- JC (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
My father and my aunt remember their mother closing the curtains while they ate, so the kids wouldn't have to see the hungry stares of those without food. The kids found eating when others who had nothing were watching to be very disturbing. My aunt says that her mom and dad frequently went without food so that their children would eat. The boys usually got work as loggers, the girls as waitresses. My dad went up to the Sierras to help herd horses all summer once, when he was 10 years old.
The '30's depression wasn't the only time some of my relatives experienced a dearth of food, though. My grandfather, who fought in north Africa against Rommel during WWII, also experienced lack of food in childhood. He and his friends caught grasshoppers or locusts and roasted them to supplement their diet. His sisters let him eat some of their share of the food because he was always still hungry. He also skillfully faked knowing the deceased at funerals to get food. Contrary to my grandparents going hungry so their kids could eat, my grandfather's parents always served the man of the house first--the logic was that he had to keep up his strength to be able to work and support the family. I think my grandfather's mother gave up some of her food for the kids, though.
Maybe this explains why my parents and grandparents ate/eat scraps left on plates before washing them, and why when I was growing up, food was a controlled item to which kids didn't have access except when an adult gave them something, and maybe even why my dad and his siblings are such inveterate packrats, even of complete junk.
-- S. Kohl (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
"Some may be found here: Economy/jobs Older Threads
After clicking on the link, search for 'depression'.
-- David L (email@example.com), February 15, 2000."
David, or anyone who knows,
How do you search these old threads/databases? There is no "search" function that I can see. Any and all help would be most appreciated!!
-- Shimoda (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
I was not around during that time but I sure remember my parents discussing the 30's during my young years in the 50's and 60's. They went hungry alright. My mother said she only had one child during the late 30's because of the poverty that she felt around her. She remembers going down to the local church to see if anyone would give her some milk for my older brother. She had no food, and no milk for him. I remember that my dad went to work at a farm for food only and all they gave him was old moldy cheese, and he was happy to have it. I remember my parents talking about the banks closing and only allowing people in if they had a safety deposite box. I remember my dad finding a job in a local slaughter house and starting a off at 5:00 in the morning so he could be at work at 7:30 he walked for 2.25 hours in -35F and then to boot lost his lunch in the snow after falling down a roadside. Yup. pollies take note!
-- justthinkin com (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
Supposedly many or most folks did 'OK' during the 'great' one. Wasn't there, so can't verify that, but view "Paper Moon" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" to see how things probably were. I'm not making light of the obvious plight of many--just saying that most folks got through better than we might believe. I've even read recently that the soup lines and apple sellers were 'staged' media events...although that does seem far fetched. Too many peoples lives were clearly and dramatically changed forever by it.
I suspect that the "Grapes of Wrath" scenario (while all too common) wasn't nearly as universal as one would think. No doubt that if it 'hit' your neighbor it was a recession...if it 'hit' you it was a depression. It was clearly a time of incredibly inept and inexcusable government economic policies...which not only helped set the stage for the depression but also prolonged it for nearly a decade. Both major political parties share the blame for that period of our history.
-- GreatDepression (WasntAnyFunAt@All.com), February 15, 2000.
What you need is a "FAQ" area at the top of the main page -- which the forum administers STILL will not provide. So here goes for the nth time:
Click your browser's "Back" button till you get to the main page from here. Scroll down that to the bottom of the thread list. BELOW that you'll see "Older Messages." Scroll down there to "Economy/jobs." Click. Then peruse the threads till you see a title with 'depression' in it. You're right, the forum does not have a search function. But that's not the admin's fault: it's the software provided (I believe for free) from MIT.
As far as the depression goes, all around still look at me funny 'cause I ALWAYS leave my dinner plate pretty-well SCRAPED clean. Also I still tear those paper towel sections IN HALF before tearing them off the roll. But nobody in my generation thinks that behaviour is strange.
Another tidbit. The first doc I covered weekend housecalls for was a doc my senior. He told me what he got paid for on HIS housecalls in the '30s: chickens. Now the interesting thing about that story is the venue is Forest Hills, Queensboro, NYC, NY. Yes inside NYC they grew chickens.
Also in Forest Hills, my sis and I when we were 5 to 7 years old walked two miles (each way,) through a forest, and then tomato farms on each side, to get to public school, rain or shine or snow. Didn't think anything of it.
But we had it easy -- mom had a city civil service job (teacher) so we never were hungry (tho we wore patched, 2nd hand clothes.) Those in the country had the real misery experiences.
Could it happen here again? Of COURSE not! "Things are different now." "We've got controls now -- we don't let 'margin' stock buying get out of hand." "It's a new economy." Sorry, I'd give you more, but I always have trouble typing whenever nausea takes over.
Well I'm over the nausea now. Last comment. Margin transactions ARE more subdued now than 70 years ago. But THEY DON'T HOLD A CANDLE TO THE LEVERAGE PRODUCED BY 'DERIVATIVES' ('FUTURES' AND 'OPTIONS.') If you want to include yourself among those who are prudent about their financial future I suggest you do a search for commodity brokerages and such -- they'll send you freebies on how to speculate in such instruments. It will be eye-opening.
Bill, who invests in his garden, wood pile, coal pile, water tanks, food storage, solar panels and batteries.
-- William J. Schenker, MD (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
Both my wife and I are 79 yrs old and we lived in a small farm town. In those days everyone was friendly and not looking for a way to cut your throat as they are today...Thru the years we seem to have lost our civility [if there is juch a word]... Everyone had a garden and canned the crops...We didn't have money but we had a great family lfe and good friends....My dad was a barber and averaged about $5.oo per week. My wife's mother was fortunate enough to get on WPA...We never went Hungry and know of no one in town that did...We didn't know we were poor as almost everyone was in the same boat....I still remember losing $15.00 that I had saved when the banks went under....In those days you did anything you could for a whatever they would pay you....As I remember Dad paid 2 or maybe 3 daollars per month for the house we rented...I worked 12 hr days on farm for 75 cents if they fed me lunch or $l.oo if I took my lunch, but then we could go to a movie 15 miles away have a hot dog and a coke buy a gal of gas and do that on 50 cents....Soooo as you can see everything was relative...In short, as far as we were concerned we grew up just as happy as if we had good sense...Started going together when we were 15 and finally got a job we could live on and got married at 21....Just celebrated our 58 wedding anniverary.... NOW, the people in cities was a different story they went thru Hell in soup lines etc just to get a little something to eat....
-- eohoward (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
I find it sad that the idea of minimizing waste, despite its seeming self-evident to some, is given so little attention these days.
Thanks to all who shared their experiences, on this thread.
By "find" I was referring to the so-named capability of most (all?) browsers to search the current (web) page. Control-F is a common shortcut for the find command. Hope this helps.
-- David L (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
I believe "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck gives a realistic view of those times.
My dad only worked one day in 1933 - - the day I was born. They already had two children. Before the depression, he had made a good salary building hotels on the outer drive of Chicago.
My mom had a garden and canned. With the money he earned that one day, he bought food and made a down payment on a piece of property, upon which he later built a 10 room brick home. (A room or two at a time!) He was a veteran of the first WW; my mom had a two-year teaching certificate from the Georgia State College for Women at Milledgeville. She was the only college graduate among my friends' parents. She later went back and got a four-year degree after my dad died at age 52.
The Depression started in 1929 and didn't end until the second war started in 1941. The 'Boom' started after the war when the veterans returned to go to school, have families and build homes, schools, and businesses.
My mother once said that while it was very difficult, those were among their happiest years, because people worked together to survive.
We did a lot of creative, hand-involved activities; we played 'Kick the Can', baseball, 'Hide-and-Seek'; we told ghost stories around a campfire after dark (with our parents or at least one hovering around the edges); and I can remember my older sister reading many stories to us.
Mother said that poor people would mark the fences or gates of people who would share, for the next beggars who would come around. There were 'Hobo Cities' near RR tracks, which our parents would tell us to avoid at all costs.
We've become spoiled, I fear.
-- Connie (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
My parents were born in 1921 and 1923, so they were adolescents during the Great Depression.
My dad's family was large. He was third child among what eventually numbered ten. In order to survive, his parents moved from the outskirts of Minneapolis to a farm in the boondocks of northern Wisconsin.
There they could at least grow food, preserve it, raise livestock, and chop wood to live. My dad remembers well that he got one pair of shoes and two pair of overalls to last him a year, bought new at the start of the school year. In the summer, the shoes were worn out so he went barefoot.
My mom's family was more fortunate, in that her father got a teaching job at a college just before the Depression hit. His salary was so cheap they kept him on, but he never got a raise for 10 years. Because he had a job he often supported his relatives, who would live with the family for months before moving on. Her uncle was putting himself through college at the time and survived, in part, by foraging for food in garbage cans.
My mom remembers well that the family food budget was 10 cents per person per day. While I was growing up, she never threw out so much as a paper clip or a rubber band. These were carefully put aside for future use.
-- Brian McLaughlin (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
I just remembered something else quaint. My mom raised chickens so that my sister could go to college, and the feed came in patterned sacks. We all had hand-made dresses made out of feed sacks (but Mom made them look cute.) This was probably during the war, but we really never were well-off again. i had mentioned earlier that my mom, who was brought up very properly in an old-fashioned Southern home, cooked stuffed calves' heart and brains and eggs for us. And pork scrapple. This was the drippings of meat dishes combined with the bits of leftover meat from various dishes, re-cooked and flattened in a pan; then sliced and cooked as a breakfast meat dish. We had Bing Cherry and peach and pear (five varieties grafted in) and apple trees, also. Also grapes, gooseberries and blackberries. With the eggs and chickens and the rabbits my dad hunted, we survived. But my mother never threw ANYTHING away, including pickle jars, milk bottles and cartons and cans, rubber bands, string and newspapers.
And now my children accuse me of becoming like her. Oops!! maybe she'll forgive me (she's in heaven) for getting after her for saving everything.
-- Connie (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
I grew up in the 50's and 60's hearing many stories from both of my parents and grandparents about the depression years in Buffal, NY. My dad was the oldest of five children, his father was a traveling salesman and was lucky enough to keep his job, although there was never enough to feed five growing children. My mom was the oldest of two daughters and her dad was out of work for two years. My mom told me about the canned meat they used to get from the "relief" that would help my grandmother stretch their food budget. My mother quit high school at 15 and went to work as a live-in maid, nanny and housekeeper for 5 dollars a week and board. She sent the 5 dollars home. I believe it must have been worse for city people than people who had a little land to grow their own food on. My husband's parents were raised in a small town and did not suffer during the depression. Also my dad quit highschool and went into the CCC (Civialian Conservation Corps)
-- Lornna Mitchell (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
When it hit there wasn't a dime left. However, after the rest of the help left, the Butler stayed because he didn't have any place else to go. Some of the family friends who weren't connected with the market kept their money, so the butler hired himself out to them for parties. He usually brought home all the left over hors d'oeuvres and that was what we ate.
To this day, I love caviar, pate' and all the rest, of course smoked salmon is a favorite.
But, alas when this came to an end, it was off to the farm of friends who kept the food coming. There was no work for anyone in the cities. However, there was a spirit of people helping people that doesn't exist now. Father died shortly thereafter. Strain was too much for him. Mother went to work sewing, all she knew how to do, and everyone managed. During this time, not knowing any better, I really thought popcorn was truly a main evening meal. My brother got work painting apartments. Before some money was coming in, we moved at least every 30 days. The only problem with electricity or gasoling then was paying for it. Gasoline was 15 - 20 cents a gallon.
But remember, good hamburger was 10 cents a pound, some places a nickel. Cigs were one cent each. Chickens were usually 25 cents, each! Butter was a luxury and was replaced by a brick of white margarine that had a small yellow packet in each package to be mixed in when the margarine was soft to color it like butter. Ugh!
The main point is that there was an entirely different mind-set than there is today. If a mother was sitting on a bench, waiting for a street car, breast feeding here baby, no one paid any attention. It wasn't polite, but nothing was thought of it so there wasn't anything to look at in the first place.
People shared and helped each other however they could.
Don't try any of this today, without supervision.
-- Richard (Astral-Acres@webtv.net), February 15, 2000.
Were the churchs full?
-- justthinkin com (justthinkin@God.com), February 15, 2000.
My great Aunt told me that even when the times were pretty bad, everybody tried to keep off of welfare. It was a point of pride to not be receiving from the government.
-- Dana (A_Non_O_Moose@xxx.com), February 15, 2000.
My parents were teenagers/young adults during the depression years. There was terrible "Grapes of Wrath" type poverty and dislocation in parts of the country, and suffering by many in every city/town. But like any other era, there were also those folks who had enough, or even plenty. Farm families, like my dad's, (except in the dust bowl areas of the country)generally had enough to eat, but commodities' prices were so depressed, they were cash-poor and often didn't have shoes or anything needing to be "store-bought". Fields of crops WERE plowed under in a desperate government attempt to bring prices up by reducing production, just as pigs were slaughtered en masse because it cost more to feed them than you made trying to sell them.
Approximately one out of four adult males were out of work. A lesser recognized effect, nowadays, of the depression, was the tremendous stress it put on family stability. During a time when working was the responsibility of the "man of the house", not being able to provide for your family was a devastating blow to the men who found themselves in that situation. My maternal grandfather had a nervous breakdown and was bed-ridden for a few weeks. My mother still remembers him crying because she had never seen a man cry.
Other fathers and husbands couldn't bear the shame and took off to travel the rails, either just to escape or to look for work elsewhere. Some never came home again, or when they did, the marriage had disingrated in the interim, after the wife had held body and soul together alone, doing laundry or maid work or whatever she could (including the oldest profession). The breakdown in family unity first became a national social concern, not in our modern times, but during the depression decade.
My mother remembers working in a canning factory and doing a "run" for charity purposes (the town orphanage, etc.). She still shudders recalling that they processed all the spoiled beans, and other old vegetables for this, and how "sour" the end product was. She thought it was terrible that the poor kids had to eat stuff that bad, but her family was barely making it as it was, too. Mom still thinks of powdered milk as something you got if you were reduced to being "on the dole", a social horror that was considered only just better than dying, and some considered dying preferable. That powdered milk was of a similar quality to the charity canned goods.
Another friend STILL feels guilty that her parents happened to be fairly well off and she had a dozen dresses to wear during the depression years, when so many other girls she knew had so little. No one got through those years without having their emotions sorely troubled, even if the suffering was not their own.
And just ask the kids of other depression-era parents -- if their parents are still alive, odds are they're still pinching pennies till they squeal and warning about staying out of debt. My hairdresser can only convince her mother to come in for a permanent if she lets her bring her own cotton (saved from medecine bottles), and if she assures her mom she got a good discount buying on a business order. The only thing my own mother still kicks herself over is that she got rid of the "Depression" glass dinnerware sets before they became so collectible. She relates that the pieces were free premiums in detergent boxes, it was fun to try collecting a set and most everybody did try, because they were pretty and made you feel like things weren't so bad after all when you looked at them. But "we knew they were only cheap junk, so when times started to get better not many people kept using them."
There's one industry that all the depression era folks I've known all mention, and that's the movies. Entertainment became a way of escape and a format to provide dreams of better days to come. If you had any pennies at all extra, you spent them at the theatre.
-- Bonnie Camp (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
Jane and Others,
Here is a very good homepage entitled "Growing up on a farm during the Great Depression" I enjoyed it enough to bookmark it and I hope you do to!
-- Zdude (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
I just posted my contribution and discovered others had, too. Richard, thank you, something you wrote hit me like a ton of bricks in the nostalgia department, hadn't thought of it in quite awhile. Every Sunday night, and I mean EVERY Sunday his whole post-Depression life, my maternal grandparents made popcorn for their family meal. They put the hot (sometimes buttered) popped corn in a bowl, poured milk over it, and ate it like a cereal. Their son still makes popcorn every Sunday, but for a snack, not a meal. A square of hot corn bread with milk over it was another meal they had, and they called it "corn-meal mush".
Justthinkin -- No, the churches weren't full, at least not those I heard about. It wasn't due to a non-religious mindset taking over, but because many folks were ashamed they didn't have anything to put in the offering plate, so they avoided embarassment by not attending. Pastors were especially hard hit in those years, "poor as church mice" being a pretty standard description, but you could say they did have steady employment, and I understand that at least some of the small town preachers made more of an effort to visit their parishioners at their homes, understanding the situation, but still maintaining contact. Lots of times somebody would leave a chicken or bag of potatoes on their back stoop. People did for the most part try to take care of each other -- it's just that chickens didn't fit in a collection plate. Having your "Sunday best" single set of clothing wear out and not being able to buy another also kept some folks out of churches, who were brought up to believe it was disrepectful to attend in work clothes. Maybe it was different in other places, I'm just trying to answer your question from what I've had related to me.
-- Bonnie Camp (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
My wife was a kid in western Oklahoma during the depression. She had two pet chickens named Lum and Abner. One fateful day while eating a chicken salad sandwich she asked her mom if she had seen her pets. Her mom had to inform her that they were in her hands.
I was living in eastern Oklahoma and much of our food my grandad brought in from the woods...rabbits and squirrels or the creeks....carp and catfish he "noodled" with his hands.
I prepped for Y2k.
-- tc (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
Remember that the '20s were like today: High flying. Everyone had a job who wanted one; the economy was booming. This was after the First World War. My parents lived in a beautiful section of Chicago overlooking a park. The Charleston was in vogue and bathtub gin was also. ('Though my parents didn't drink or break laws.) Stage entertainment was very popular. My dad was a connoisseur of the latest cars. He never saved a lot of money, so didn't have that much to lose. But losing his job was a terrible blow.
They moved back to Peoria, IL., because his family lived there and oddjobs were easier to find in the smaller cities.
My husband's father was an ornamental ironworker who also had plenty of work before the crash, but who was without work for 8 years! His mother and he lived in the home of a medical doctor in Oak Park, where his mother worked as a housekeeper and cook. His dad moved back in with his mother. For a short time, his dad worked in St. Louis.
Everyone suffered to some degree, so don't think it was in any way easy. Yes, 75% still had jobs, but they had their investments wiped out, and their new positions didn't pay what the old ones did. The people committing suicide were a reality.
As far as the politicians being at fault: Keep in mind how independent everyone was brought up to be. My grandmother, who paid into Social Security for years, (she was a corsettier after my grandfather died) WOULD NOT ACCEPT IT until my mother insisted that she do so, and took her through the paces to get it! She considered it charity, and would never become dependent on anyone else.
Roosevelt's (and the Congress') policies enacted in the 30s were a completely foreign way of looking at government's role in dealing with the needs of people.
Up until that time, families took care of their own needs.
Not a completely bad way to do things. But we DO need that safety net under the vulnerable in our society. We also need to expect able- bodied people to shoulder their own loads.
-- Connie (email@example.com), February 15, 2000.
My husband was born in 1931, on the farm on which he grew up. He says they did ok, with their own crops and livestock. He was seventh of eight, and there was always enough work and never quite enough food to go around. They went barefoot whenever they weren't in school or church. They were Czech. Their parents were children of immigrants, so they all spoke Czech at home. He was in third grade before he spoke English very much. They ate lots of sauerkraut (always a good crop of cabbage)and pork, since they'd slaughter one big pig every fall. They saved everything on that pig but his squeal. Potatoes were also a big item on the menu, and there was a lot of bartering between farms. Church was very important for all the Czechs, so their churches were always full, but I can't say much about other churches elsewhere. They farmed with horses clear up into the fifties, I think, then finally went to tractors. As long as he was at home they never had electricity on the farm. (We drive by there today, and the house that replaced theirs has solar panels on the roof.)
-- Liz (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 15, 2000.
My father was the oldest of nine children. His family lived in a tiny house about the size of a large livingroom of today's standards. We have never been able to get any of the siblings to divulge the secret of how nine kids slept in that tiny two bedroom house. He was often hungry. He told me about having lard and mustard sandwiches to take to school. Ugh. Most of the brothers spent time 'farmed out' to other relatives, not for pay, just for room and board. Clothes and shoes were mostly hand me downs from charity bins. Chores started when very young. My father began cattle chores around age five. It was a big deal to get an orange in your Christmas stocking. Waste was a crime in our home growing up, and yes, my parents are both packrats. My mother's father had a regular job on the Baltimore street cars, so hunger was not as much of an issue. On the other hand, she had to drop out of school at age fourteen to earn money for her own glasses and shoes. Difficult to stay in school if you can't see and have no shoes. She did that by scrubbing floors initially. Any extra money went to the boys. The girls were only expected to marry and have children. The saddest story I heard from my father was the time they traded his pet dog to the rich neighbors for a pig...which provided a substantial boost to their food supply. The spoiled neighbor boys ended up using his trained dog for target practice. Another story of note happened during his teen years. There was a house party, and a window was accidentally broken. His cousin went to an empty house in the country, removed a window, and repaired the window that was broken. For this crime, he went to prison for two years.
I wonder how many preppers were influenced by residual Depression dynamics?
-- Mumsie (email@example.com), February 16, 2000.
My great-aunt died several years ago. When we were cleaning out her house to be sold you would not believe the stuff we found(or maybe you would). Well, we rolled our eyes and gave away or threw away most of her "junk". Then, about a year later we became aware of the Y2K issues. My mother and my siblings and I are still kicking ourselves for tossing her treasures. One day I spent an hour on the phone looking for used glass gallon jars(from restaraunts) and my mom had thrown out about 20 from my great-aunt's garage. Urgh! We always felt intellectually superior to her, now I just feel stupid, as well as very regretful that I didn't take her concerns more seriously.
-- Just Curious (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 16, 2000.
Justthinkin and Bonnie Camp:
Concerning whether the churches were full or faith was affected during the depression:
These were the days of a marked falling away of people of faith, with a surge of Communism and Socialism. I personally believe that God may have let people go through some of that to remind them of His existence.
He cares more about our spiritual welfare than our physical welfare (though He cares about that, also); my own family had become agnostic IN THE GOOD TIMES. I and one of my sisters became Christians AFTER my dad died.
In the same way, even though there is a lot of lip-service to God presently, I believe a lot of it is pseudo-Christianity, with materialism being the true goal. That is partly why I thought that Y2k might be bad.
As different ones have stated, however, the easy (relatively) turnover was virtually a miracle, so God may have chosen to delay His judgment. As another wag said, though, if God DOESN'T judge us, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology. God will judge our present worship of technology and our present godlessness eventually.
My mother said she quit going to church because my dad would get angry and say he was going to stand up and call the pastor a liar. She later said she was sorry she quit going to church. Late in my dad's life, when he was working on a Catholic church in Iowa, he became friends with the priest, and they had theological conversations. Whether he ever became a believer, I don't know, but he had said earlier in his life that there are no atheists in foxholes, and he'd been in several. (Silver Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters.
-- Connie (email@example.com), February 16, 2000.
Both my Mom and Dad grew up during the depression. I don't think it was too bad for my Mom (born 1911) but I could tell if was really bad for my dad(born 1903) I remember asking him about it and he would get a real depressed face and say " Son, I hope you never have to go through it" About the only thing I do know is that he drifted throughout the county trying to find a job. Most likely road the rails. It was part of his life he wanted to forget. I think I probably learned more about the depression more from his behaviour than his spoken words. We save everything. Bent nails come to mind, Nuts and Bolts and Bailing wire. Always fixed everything and it was a real treat to buy something new. The guy could fix just about anything mechancial. Sometimes he would just use baling wire and a pair of pliers. Anyways, I learned a great deal from him.
-- Bill (firstname.lastname@example.org), February 16, 2000.