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American History Essay Example: Women and the Great Depression

5 pages
1112 words
Vanderbilt University
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It is true that the 1930s were a challenging period in the American history. Family life and jobs were adversely affected by a long-lasting economic downturn that causes high levels of unemployment. A lot of people were affected by adverse psychological and social changes together with key financial losses. It is essential to know that multiple components played huge roles in this economic disaster called the Great Depression. Some of the factors that contributed to the occurrence of the Great Depression include the crash of the Stock Market in 1929, mass layoffs resulting to high levels of unemployment, devastating drought, and the collapse of banks. It was a period of extreme adversity for the entire country. However, there is an interesting occurrence that accompanied this period. It caused women of different ethnicities, statuses, and backgrounds to adjust to a completely different lifestyle. Although it is a common fact that in the face of adversity, women are known to be resilient people I tend to believe that the Great depression inflicted a lot of harm on women. In this assignment, we will see women thrived and survived during the Great Depression.

Men and women were affected by The Great Depression in different ways. Men were usually employed in the heavy industries such as the steel production whereas the women were often employed in the service industries. During the Great Depression, heavy industries experienced high levels of layoffs, and many men lost their jobs. Women, on the other hand, were nurses, teachers, clerical workers, and telephone operators and their jobs were largely found. Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that women were the sole breadwinners in many Great Depression families. In fact, the employed woman suddenly became a decisive factor in the family. The womens employment rate increased while the mens employment rate decreased. It is estimated that about ten million women were working outside their homes and they constituted approximately 25 percent of the total workforce. However, despite these efforts, womens work was still not recognized by the society. Men started accusing women of robbing them of their jobs. And even worse, colleges started motivating women not to look for employment after finishing school so that men could take those positions instead.

So how were women harmed by the Great Depression? Well, in my opinion, women were not given enough respect despite their significant efforts to save the countrys economy instead the society inflicted more harm on them. Here is one of the ways women were harmed by the Great Depression. This period forced women to make adjustments in how their families and homes functioned. With a lot of men abruptly unemployed. The relations between wives and husbands became strained due to financial security. In fact, some men who felt ashamed of being unemployed turned to drinking; others even left their families completely. This left women as the only breadwinners and the caregivers of their families. Women played a key role in helping other members of the family such as the children to adjust to the new situation. Moreover, it is the women who were making more efforts of creating and saving money during the period. Many of them would even engage in laborious activities such as cultivating vegetable gardens to sustain their families. These events show that women were tasked with a lot of activities during this period and they were straining so much to make ends meet. In my opinion, the Great Depression caused more harm to women by causing high rates of unemployment among men leaving women to be the sole breadwinners of their families which consequently strained them.

Introduction of New Deal programs during the 1930s helped women thrive despite the unforgiving conditions they were facing. New Deal programs were implemented to address the challenges of the Great Depression. And for these programs to be effective, competent relief workers were required. In America, a lot of competent relief workers were those people who had been trained in social work, and it was mostly women. This means that New Deal programs presented a lot of opportunities to women to make a difference in the society. In fact in 1933 for instance, approximately 35 women had been appointed to top government positions. It is imperative to understand that women, especially from the minority groups, were not often given equal employment opportunities like the rest of the women during the Great Depression. However, the implementation of the New Deal programs created more employment opportunities for the African American women. I tend to believe that these programs fostered womens equality and rights. Eleanor Roosevelt, in my opinion, was the major advocate for womens social and economic rights within the context of these programs. She knew that a lot of working women were suffering as a result of Great Depression and was determined to address their plight. Therefore she created agencies such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to address the issue of unemployment of women. Roosevelt also hosted a White House meeting which was meant to address the needs of the working women. This led to the implementation of major policies such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Labor Relations Act which allowed over 800,000 women to join unions. These policies also set the minimum wages and maximum hours, though some key divisions of womens employment, e.g., retail clerks and domestic workers were not addressed. The New Deal provided unprecedented opportunities to professional women placing a huge number of them in top government positions. Although the New Deal was not perfect, we will always appreciate the work done by Eleanor Roosevelt and others in breaking new ground for women in America. In general, it is fair to say that the New Deal provided financial support and generated jobs for the unemployed, young, as well as the older adults.

In conclusion, I tend to believe that the primary source of suffering for women during the Great Depression came from handling stressful emotions from a whole family of frustrated people. Women were required to work longer hours to earn enough money to sustain their families. Those women who were so busy depended on other women to take care of their kids. During the Great Depression, we saw a lot of role changes in the American society, and I am glad to see how women were given more decisive roles in the society. In my opinion, these fostered women equality in the society. The New Deal programs were the best solutions to address the plight of the working women and it allowed women to thrive despite the economic downturn.


DuBois, Ellen Carol, and Lynn Dumenil. Through womens eyes: an American history with documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2016.

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