New Deal & The Federal Emergency Relief Administration of 1933

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the New Deal and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) of 1933. We will learn about the events leading to the New Deal, what its purpose was, and we will examine the function of the FERA.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Beginning of the Great Depression

In October 1929 many people in New York and throughout the country lost virtually everything almost overnight. The sudden losses were the result of a stock market crash that took place on October 29, 1929, a day that has come to be known as 'Black Tuesday'. The resulting economic collapse has become known as the 'Crash of 29', and marked the beginning of the Great Depression. The Great Depression was the most severe and prolonged economic downturn in American history. It lasted from October 1929 until American involvement in World War II in 1941.

Unemployed men wait in line at a soup kitchen in 1931.
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The Great Depression was a terribly dark time in American history. Families struggled to put food on the table due to unemployment rates that reached 25% in 1933. Soup kitchens popped up all over the U.S., where people waited in line for food. Some families packed their belongings and moved to the West where they hoped access to land would help them sustain themselves. For many Americans it was a hopeless time.

FDR and the New Deal

Republican Herbert Hoover had been the President of the United States when the Great Depression first hit. Naturally, he received much of the blame for the outbreak of the Depression. As things worsened in the early 1930s, he became widely despised. Not surprisingly he lost the election of 1932 to Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt by a landslide. Franklin D. Roosevelt went on to be elected to four consecutive terms, making him the longest serving U.S. President in history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt served from 1933-1945.

FDR had a bold plan to combat the Great Depression and restore the vibrancy of the American economy. Unlike his predecessor Herbert Hoover, FDR believed that the federal government must take an active role in regulating the economy. To this end, Roosevelt and his advisors developed a set of government-driven programs for economic recovery known as the New Deal. It was not one single act or agency, but rather refers to the broad strategy employed by President Roosevelt to combat the Depression. Under the New Deal policies numerous government agencies were created. Among the most well-known were the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Social Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. These agencies were designed to create jobs, get America 'back to work,' and revive the failing economy.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration

One of the many agencies created under the New Deal was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration or FERA. FERA was a federal administration charged with granting loans to state governments to operate various relief programs. Under pressure, President Hoover had created the Emergency Relief Administration (ERA), but President Roosevelt restructured and renamed it in May 1933. Reducing unemployment by creating unskilled jobs was chief task of FERA. Jobs in construction, agriculture, and production were common under FERA, which is estimated to have provided work for some 20 million people.

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