The Great Depression: Limitations and Effects

What do Eleanor Roosevelt’s activities reveal about the limitations on women in the early twentieth century?

Women had very limited opportunities in the labor market due to various restrictions. The general attitude was that women had to maintain the household and be openly available to men as they came home from work (Roosevelt, It’s Up to the Women 25-26). Eleanor Roosevelt maintained the position that women and men were physically different; therefore, it realistically reflected on their employment prospects.

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The biological function of childbirth required so-called “protections” for women, which inherently meant prejudiced restrictions against employment. Women were considered unable to defend themselves, efficiently organize, or prepare for future jobs. Roosevelt considered that despite being capable, there was a lack of genuine demand for women in politics. Women, in general, chose to avoid running for legislation or support other females doing so because social attitudes did not see any need to back the female point of view. This resulted in consistent underrepresentation and even a drop of women legislators despite efforts for women’s suffrage (Beasley 13-14).

During this time in American history, women experienced continuous discrimination as certain jobs and positions were stereotyped based on sex. However, the economic pressures of the Great Depression, which led to many men losing their jobs, began a shift in gender roles where women’s employment was necessary to pay the bills. Despite that contribution, both the government and private sectors were often reluctant to hire women and usually provided a smaller salary in comparison to men.

In what specific ways did the Great Depression affect people in their daily lives?

As the Great Depression created an unprecedented economic crisis in the country, the standard of living declined across the nation. People could no longer rely on stable wages, and many areas struggled to meet the basic needs for survival, such as food. Eleanor Roosevelt recalls a trip to West Virginia as gloom, seeing the devastation of the economic depression which resulted in the decline of the industry. People’s paychecks were withheld or severely taxed with additional deductions, leaving practically no money for families. Food for families was scarce as people had to feed on scraps and even family pets. Rural areas had to attempt to grow their food or hunt (Roosevelt, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt 177-179).

People had to search for ways to save money continuously. This resulted in specific social behaviors such as declining marriage rates and home or automobile purchases. Naturally, many unnecessary costs regarding entertainment, fashion, or lifestyle were avoided. Also, many families understood the concept of scarcity, choosing to save by reusing items, sewing clothes at home, and making meals that were cheaper or long-lasting (“Everyday Life 1929-1941”).

Did the Great Depression affect all sociology-economic groups? If so, how?

Despite common assumptions, the Great Depression did not touch every socio-economic group. In fact, the very rich felt almost no impact, continuing to live a lavish lifestyle. Even the upper-middle-class families were not affected that much, living a relatively standard life with merely a little less money to spend. Poverty hit working-class families the most, particularly in rural areas (Ayers et al. 528).

Although the crisis-afflicted many, some groups experienced more issues than others, usually exacerbated by ongoing social factors such as racism. For example, African-Americans, already experiencing a high level of poverty, were severely affected by the Great Depression. Eleanor Roosevelt notes that the country was experiencing social injustice as people were limited in education, opportunity, and fundamental rights due to the color of their skin.

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The minority communities faced low standards of living, which impacted population health and basic living conditions. They were underprivileged and unable to contribute to society because they were never given the opportunity or resources to do so, including discrimination by the various federal aid programs during the Great Depression (Roosevelt, “The Negro and Social Change” 22-23).

Many other minority groups were afflicted since most of their occupations consisted of low-skill labor or farm jobs that were cut first by business owners. The unemployment rate for minorities was estimated to be twice that of white Americans. Also, their social rights were rarely supported as minorities were not allowed into unions and had tremendous difficulty receiving government assistance.

Works Cited

Ayers, Edward et al. American Passages: A History of the United States (4th edition). Cengage Learning, 2011.

Beasley, Maurine. The White House Press Conferences of Eleanor Roosevelt. Garland Publishing Inc., 1983.

Everyday Life, n.d. Web.

Roosevelt, Eleanor. It’s Up to the Women. Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1933.

—. “The Negro and Social Change.” Opportunity, 1936, pp. 22-23.

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—. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Curtis Publishing Company, 1937.

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