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Women During the Great Depression

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  • 0:00 1930s & The Great Depression
  • 0:59 More Women Join the Workforce
  • 1:40 Pursuing Higher Education
  • 2:10 Improving Family Living
  • 3:10 Eleanor Roosevelt
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lorrine Garrison-Boyd
Women are known to be resilient in the face of adversity. The Great Depression proved to be a time of severe adversity for the whole nation. In this lesson, we'll discuss how women, specifically, survived and thrived during the Great Depression.

1930s America & The Great Depression

The 1930s was a dark time in American history. Jobs and family life were harshly challenged by a long-lasting economic decline that left the country in a state of mass unemployment. Many people were affected by extreme social and psychological changes, as well as major financial losses. Several factors played roles in this economic tragedy, known as the Great Depression.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 was one factor. Additionally, people experienced a loss of personal savings due to the collapse of banks. There were mass layoffs of factory workers due to inability to pay employees. Further, devastating drought in the Great Plains, resulted in the loss of crops. All of these incidents caused women of various backgrounds, statuses and ethnicities to adjust to a way of life far from what they were use to.

More Women Join the Workforce

Role changes became the norm for women coping with and adapting to the economic changes brought on by the Great Depression. Men were drastically removed from the position of breadwinner, and many women were thrust into the position of working outside of the home. For the first time, a significant number of women made up about 25% of the workforce.

Places of employment for women included restaurants, factories, laundries and beauty shops. Some women worked as teachers, secretaries, librarians and nurses. And so, the Great Depression, though an economic crisis, served as an opportunity for women to increase their presence in the workforce.

Pursuing Higher Education

Before the Great Depression, the chances of women furthering their education were slim. However, during the drastic economic change, some women (especially those who were unmarried) took the opportunity to attend college. In the past, females would generally rely on their husbands for financial support. But with the growing number of men without employment--and therefore unfit for marriage--women began to take their financial futures into their own hands, turning to college for training for future careers.

Improving Family Living

The Great Depression forced women to make changes in how their homes and families functioned. With many men suddenly unemployed and at home all day, husbands and wives found themselves quarreling much more often. Some men, facing the shame associated with unemployment, turned to drinking or abandoned their families altogether. In any case, women played a large part in keeping the peace in the household, making creative efforts to help all members of the family adjust to the new situation.

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