Forward to World War II The Magical History Tour Back to the 1920s
Heroes and Heroines:
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt - PBS American Experience
National Women's Hall of Fame - Eleanor Roosevelt
A former student wrote an essay about Eleanor and he called it "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World." He got it.
President Franklin Roosevelt:
FDR Presidential Library and Museum
The New Deal:
New Deal Network
Indian Reorganization Act
Critics of the New Deal
New Deal Slighted Women
Minorities and Women and the New Deal
Other Admired Americans:
Will Rogers Museums
Huey P. Long
Huey P. Long
The Great Depression:
The Great Depression
America's Great Depression
Photos of the Great Depression - Good for Photograph Worksheets
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
FBI - John Dillinger
TruTV John Dillinger
PBS John Dillinger
FBI Famous Cases: Bonnie and Clyde
The Story of Bonnie and Clyde
FBI - Lindbergh Kidnapping
1930s Organized Crime
The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys
The Dust Bowl:
PBS The Dust Bowl
Farming in the 1930s - The Dust Bowl
Photos of the Dust Bowl
Music, Dance, Radio, and Movies:
Music of the 1930s
Popular Music of the 1930s
1930s Film History
General 1930s Resources:
America in the 1930s
While we may argue about the benefits about the Harlem Renaissance for African-Americans, there was one thing we cannot argue. In 1929, the party was over. Although the Harlem Renaissance's essence never ended, the events of 1929 certainly put a damper on the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. Just think about it a moment. Between 1929 and 1931 African-American total income declined by 50% or half. What if that happened to you? Half of your income would be gone by 2015. This was just one result of the Great Depression.
First lets examine the possible causes of the Great Depression. I say possible because no one really knows for sure so you may make up your own mind. These are the most commonly considered the reasons.
The 1920s was a period of the philosophy of "get rich quick." Ordinary Americans believed it was possible as well as the wealthy. So, many Americans tried to make their fortune in the stock market. The stock market had gone up and up during the 1920s and no one thought it would ever go down. So working-class and middle-class Americans invested in the stock market by "buying on margin." This meant that the investor only had to pay 10% of the real cost of the stocks. Buyers believed the market would make enough money to pay off the margin. Unfortunately for them though, the margin was due on demand. When the depression began and business began to lose money and the stock market crashed on October 19, 1929, the business owners demanded the margin and most investors did not have the money so they lost what they had invested.
The scandals of the Harding administration can also be seen as signs of greed. Since all the Presidents of the 1920s were Republicans, they got a lot of the blame for the Great Depression. The return to laissez-faire, the lack of support for labor, and higher tariffs (taxes on imports) that led to a decline in U.S. exports as other countries retaliated all seemed to add to the economic problems that led to the depression.
Another suggested cause of the Great Depression was overproduction in all areas of the economy. Overproduction appeared in industry, agriculture, and construction. One examples was the Empire State Building that opened in 1931 but no one wanted to lease offices. They did not need them. So the Empire State Building sat almost empty for years.
For farmerrs, the depression began immediately after World War I. They had been encouraged to produce for the war effort. Then the war was over and an oversupply of products resulted and that meant a decline in the prices. Until 1929, though, the problems of farmers went unnoticed.
Meanwhile, industries also accumulated huge inventories. The 1920s view of sales was that a good salesman could sell anything to anyone like in "Death of a Salesman." Industrialists discovered that a point of saturation existed. So what would an industrialist do if he had warehouses full of products he could not sell. Lay-offs of workers began. There was no Unemployment Insurance for the workers either.
POOR DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH:
During World War I, 20% of Americans lived in poverty. By 1929, 40% of Americans lived in poverty. They suffered from periodic unemployment, no unemployment insurance and tax codes that favored the wealthy.
UNREGULATED FINANCIAL INDUSTRY:
Banks and the stock market had no regulations. Banks made high risk loans and if a bank went broke, depositors lost their money. There was no insurance or protections. The stock market also conducted rampant speculation in stocks and land.
High tariffs as mentioned before led to a decrease in trade for the U.S. In addition, the reparations that other Allied Powers received became a problem. Germany could not pay the money due to France and England. So, France and England could not pay money owed to the U.S. for wartime loans. A rather odd arrangement was created in which the U.S. loaned money to Germany so Germany could pay reparations to France and England so France and England could pay the U.S. The only profit was in interest payments.
STOCK MARKET CRASH:
Although the most famous "cause" of the Great Depression, the stock market crash was really a symptom of what was coming. In September, 1929, the stock market reached a record high. Then it began to fall. On October 29, 1929, it crashed and officially marked the beginning of the Great Depression. In one day investors had lost $40 million. And the stock market continued to drop.
The results of the Great Depression were both economic and psychological. Consumer confidence disappeared and people stopped buying and that made things worse. More layoffs followed. The unemployment rate was 20-25% until 1941. Banks began to fail, too. 5,000 banks closed their doors by 1932. Real estate values plummeted, crop prices dropped to a record low, foreclosures increased, construction declined by 85% by 1932, and manufacturing declined by 50% by 1932. Cities, school districts, and charities went broke. Teachers were not paid (now, that's a depression!). Homelessness increased and "Hoovervilles" appeared. These were shantytowns set up by the homeless in vacant lots, under bridges, and anywhere they could find space. Breadlines for food grew. "Hobos" also began sneaking onto trains and riding the rails looking for jobs. It was just men but whole families. And the stock market continued to drop and it was the same throughout the world so no one could help the U.S.
As the depression worsened, Americans looked for someone to blame. Some said it was the people's fault for not working hard enough. But, overproduction had been one of the problems that led to the depression. So Americans looked to President Hoover. He angered people when he approved help for business with loans and incentives and provided resources to feed cattle, but he refused to help individuals. Even when Hoover approved the Hoover Dam project near Las Vegas to create jobs, Americans believed it was not enough. Hoover's popularity was already in trouble when in the Spring of 1932 another problem appeared in Washington DC.
This was known as the "Bonus Army" or Bonus Expeditionary Force. Made up of World War I veterans and their families, they marched on Washington to demand veterans' benefits promised to them. They had been promised $1000 in 1945 which was about one year's salary. The veterans wanted it then. About 60,000 descended on Washington DC hand in hand. But, Hoover and Congress feared increasing the federal deficit. The Bonus Army just moved in building "Hoovervilles" on capital grounds and taking over vacant buildings determined to wait/
The first violence erupted with the D.C. police who had been ordered to evict the protesters from buildings on July 28. Fights erupted and two people were killed. The D.C. police withdrew and turned the problem over to Hoover and the federal government. Meanwhile, Congress fearing their safety recessed and left town. President Hoover decided to call in the U.S. Army to take care of the problem. Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur took charge with two lieutenants Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton. Hoover order them not to enter an area known as Anacostia Heights. This was the location of many of the "Hoovervilles" the veterans had set up and Hoover feared the Army would be too provocative and lead to violence.
MacArthur went prepared. He took four companies of calvary, a machine gun squadron, tanks, and teargas. Then he ignored Hoover's orders and entered Anacostia Heights which led to what is know as the Battle of Anacostia Heights. During the fighting, one child was killed and the veterans were dispersed while the shanties were destroyed. The Bonus March ws over and so was Hoover's political career although he did not know that. To his credit, Hoover was horrified but too full responsibility. As Americans heard about it they were equally horrified. They saw one generation of soldiers fighting another generation, father against son. Americans were not amused.
By the election of 1932, Hoover's chances seemed slim of winning. This became more obvious when the Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). He, unlike Hoover, understood Americans had changed. But, when nominated he was not that well known even though he had been the Governor of New York and considered conservative. He was a distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt but in the Democrat side. FDR had been the first governor to provide assistance to individuals suffering from the depression. Republicans seemed unconcerned. They believed he could not succeed in national politics because as they said he was only "half a man." This referred to the fact he was a paraplegic as result of polio in 1920. Prejudice toward disabled Americans was rampant. FDR even made sure photographs of him did not show him in a wheelchair or his braces. (Just a few years ago, when his statue was erected in Washington DC, some people objected because he was shown in a wheelchair.)
FDR's personality overcame prejudice. He had a take charge, optimistic determination to help. He resented the idea of some like Hoover to let the depression run its course. But, people were starving. They could not wait. FDR also became the first "media candidate." He understood how to use the radio and was an excellent speaker with a mellow voice and he seemed to care. On the other hand, Hoover was monotonous and business-like.
FDR's platform also reflected what Americans wanted. He promised a "New Deal" for Americans consisted of the "Three R's." That referred to his promise to provide relief, reform and recovery programs. How many promises do you expect politicians to keep after their elections? Let's see how well FDR did.
He promised eight actions. First, he said he would end prohibition to stimulate the economy. He kept that promise. He promised to create federal work programs. He kept that promise. He said he would create Unemployment Insurance and he did. He said he would enforce anti-monopoly jobs and did that, too. He also wanted to control crop surpluses so prices would rise and that was done as well. He added he pass laws to regulate the stock market, banks, and public utilities and will accomplish that. His last promise was to balance the budget and that proved to be impossible. So he kept seven out of eight promises. Do you consider that a good rate of keeping promises?
When the election was over, FDR had won a landslide. He won 472 electoral college votes to Hoover's 59. Democrats also won 70% of the House seats and had a 22 vote advantage in the Senate. Whole blocks of voters switched parties including African-Americans who had remained loyal to the party of Lincoln until the 1930s. Unfortunately, the election did not mean immediate changes for the American people. It actually signaled the worst part of the depression. In those days the inauguration did not occur until March. So from November to March, nothing really was done. Hoover was a lame duck and could not get anything done and FDR was not in power. Everyone had to wait. To make it worse, there was an assassination attempt on FDR in Chicago where the Mayor (Anton Cermak) was killed by Giuseppe Zangara.
Finally March arrived and FDR was inaugurated. He began his New Deal programs immediately and changed the role of government in the "Hundred Days" or first three months of his presidency. He will change government more than any other President. If you are liberal, you will love what he did. If you are conservative, you might not like him so much.
He introduced his "fireside chats" that were radio talks to the American people. He explained his programs and kept the public calm in the crisis fearing a revolution like those in other countries. He then called a "bank holiday" closing all the banks to determine which ones were fiscally sound and those that were not. Many opened within as few as four days and others after they were found to be secure. This stopped the panic and run on banks as people tried to get their money before their bank closed and they lost their money. Another early action was the "Beer Act" to legalize been and he began the ratification process for the 21st Amendment to repeal prohibition altogether. This went quickly and a few months after his election, the amendment was ratified (1933).
In addition, he created the first of his jobs programs. As an outdoorsy type, I like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This program provided jobs for young men to do environmental work like planting trees, building state parks and national parks. There are CCC parks in Texas including Mineral Wells, Meridian, and my favorite Goose Island State Park. The young men had to sent part of their pay home to help their families but they were provided with food, housing, and other services on the jobs. Approximately 250,000 men participated. I wish young people, including women, had that opportunity today. But, that's just me.
Other programs in the "Hundred Days" included the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) that provided $500 million to state and local governments for relief. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) followed to restrict production. This was very unpopular because farmers and ranchers were required to destroy their produce while people were hungry in the cities. It did not last long and subsidies established to help farmers was found to be unconstitutional in 1936 because it interfered with states' rights. Another program fared better, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that was a jobs program to build dams, create flood control, and provide cheap electricity for one of the poorest regions in the U.S.
The Federal Securities Act provided regulations on the stock market and required full disclosure to investors. The Home Owners' Refinancing Act (HORA) refinanced 20% of home mortgages to stop foreclosures. he National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) created another jobs program but it was found to be unconstitutional also (1934). At the same time the Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act was a great success and created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to protect the deposits of Americans at banks which still exists today.
At the end of the "Hundred Days," the U.S. had changed, the President was more powerful, and the role of the federal government bigger. And most American loved FDR, but the depression continued. But, he had just begun. He created the Civil Works Authority to create more jobs, the National Housing Act for low interest loans including the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The largest jobs program during the New Deal also came into being. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided jobs for about 8 million people for public improvements. They built schools, airports, stadiums, and the buildings at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. The WPA had historians doing oral histories of former slaves, musicians and artists to provide culture to low income neighborhoods, and photographers to document the sights of the Great Depression.
The Wagner Act followed and was an effort to recognize the right of organized labor for collective bargaining. The law also restricted what business could do to stop labor actions and created the National Labor Relations Board to mediate disputes. A century long struggle by labor had succeeded.
The biggest New Deal Program that is still debated today was the Social Security Act. It provided for old age pensions, Aid to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC), Unemployment Insurance, SSI for the disabled, and public health clinics. There is one irony here. AFDC (welfare) was a conservative compromise. Republicans believed a woman's place was in the home taking care of her children. So rather than creating jobs for women, they got a handout. Men got jobs. Today, conservatives have changed their minds and hope to end public assistance and put all poor women to work. Which would be best? Give someone a job of some sort or give them a handout? For men, the answer was a job even if it was digging a hole and covering it up again. For women, it was a handout.
Other programs included the U.S. Housing Authority to subsidize low income housing. One that is relevant to most of you today was the Fair Labor Standards Act that created the minimum wage (40 cents an hour when it was created), the 8 hour workday, and prohibited child labor under 16 years of age. The Reorganization Act was good news for American Indians in that it repealed the Dawes Act and stopped the breakup of reservations. Agents were actually at the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation in southeast Texas when the law was repealed so they escaped the break-up. The law gave American Indians of right of self-determination. Some nations rebuilt their reservations.
Despite all of FDR's actions, though, the depression continued. But, most Americans did not blame him. They felt he was at least doing something to help and the jobs programs helped many people. So, he was re-elected in 1936, 1940, and 1944. There were no term limits then. How do you feel about terms limits? Seems to me if we get someone good, we ought to be able to keep them, but I know that's not the popular view.
If the Great Depression was not enough bad news, Americans also had to cope with a weather disaster in the 1930s known as the "Dust Bowl." Some people referred to the phenomenon as the "Dirty Thirties." It began in 1932 in the region from the Texas Panhandle through Kansas in 1932 with fourteen storms. In 1935, Amarillo had 908 hours of storms. The worst year, 1937, included 72 storms. There were two kinds. The "Dust Blows" were the most common but the "Black Blizzards" the scariest. See the video "The Dust Bowl" under Youtube at the top of this page.
The causes of this weather condition included poor agricultural practices with no cover crops which led to erosion. Then a drought hit and the winds came. The results of the "Dust Bowl" included it drove people crazy. Think about it. Hour after hour of blowing wind, whistling through cracks in the doors or window. The dust could not be kept out of houses. In addition, the elderly and babies suffered respiratory illnesses in these conditions. Livestock died, machinery was ruined, paint was removed, fences buried and ten million acres of land was damaged by loss of five inches or more of the top soil in which plants grow. As a result farmers including sharecroppers lost their land. And, where did all that dirt go? Citizens of Chicago woke up to dust covered streets like snow and much of it was dumped in the Atlantic Ocean.
Many people affected by the storms packed their bags and left Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. If you've read the book or seen the movie "Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, you have a good idea of what happened. (highly recommended) Many of those who left headed for California where the "street were paved with gold." The so-called "Okies" and "Arkies" met with barricades and police trying to keep them out. But, still they came. This will, in turn, have a huge affect on Latinos.
As the Okies and Arkies arrived, an excess of labor developed. Suddenly, Latinos were seen as a drain of public resources since the poor Anglos were hired first and would take any type of pay. Californians did not need Latinos anymore. Anti-immigrant feelings increased and affected all Latinos, not just immigrants. Agitation to restrict immigration increased including placing Latin Americans under the Quota System. At that time a literacy requirement had been added by Wilson and they were required pay a visa fee of $10 as of 1924. The vast majority of Latinos were either legal immigrants or native born. With the depression, however, restrictions on immigration turned out to be unnecessary. Immigration virtually stopped and a reverse movement out of the U.S. began.
The Great Depression and Dust Bowl made life very difficult for Latinos. Unemployment, loss of land, racism, and anti-immigrant feeling hampered them. Signs like "Only White Labor Employed" or "No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed" appeared on businesses. (Note: Hispanics are white. White simply means European and last time I looked, Spain is in Europe. 80% of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are actually mestizos or a mix of European and American Indian ancestry. Legally, however, they are white.)
As Anglos (again, an inappropriate term since non-Hispanic whites are not all Anglo [English], but that's the common usage today) arrived searching for work in California, Latinos were encouraged to leave. Repatriation began. Repatriation means to return to one's native land but in the 1930s it was really just a nice word for deportation. Los Angeles provided trains to get rid of them. Some were forced to leave by being loaded on buses and trains and dumped across the border. This became known as the "Mexican Scare" like the "Red Scare." Approximately a half million Latinos left the U.S. and thousands of them were citizens but that did not matter. In Texas, 132,000 left which caused concern among employers fearing the loss of cheap labor.
Latinos were affected in other ways, too. Those who stayed became more militant and more determined. Again, they turned to organizing to resolve their problems. Despite being a small percentage of the labor force and lack of AF of L support, they became the forefront of the labor movement. There were Latino led strikes by lettuce harvesters, miners, strawberry pickers, cotton workers, sheep shearers in Texas, canners and packers, pecan shellers and the textile industry supported by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Most action did not succeed and they paid a heavy price for trying. Leaders and members got repatriated (deported).
Latinos were not a docile, passive community. They began filing court cases. The most important in this period was a 1930 Del Rio, Texas, case against segregation of public schools. Also LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) was formed at this time in Texas but was a conservative, middle-class organization that actually supported repatriation and violent suppression of strikes. How things have changed! Another form of organizations also appeared in the 1930s. Latino gangs appeared in California known as "Zoot Suiters" after their preferred fashion.
Another trend was the Latino migration to the north. By 1930, Chicago had a Mexican population of 20,000, the largest Spanish-speaking population outside the Southwest. But life was still a challenge. In 1930, only 7,000 Spanish-speaking people held professional, white-collar jobs. Only 250 of those were doctors and 1000 teachers. Most lived in segregated colonias on the fringes of cities or worked as migrants. The worst conditions seemed to be in Texas where workers received about $1.75 a day. California, in comparison, paid $3.25 a day. Needless to say, many Latinos tried to get out of Texas except in ranch counties where a type of friendship between Anglos and Hispanics continued.
Another interesting trend developed in regard to Latinos. At the same time that they were being forced out of the U.S., their culture had been discovered. Spanish and Portuguese-speaking stars appeared in sports, film, nightclubs, and on the radio.
Just imagine baseball today if there were no Latino players. Well, until Alfonso Ramon Lopez (Al Lopez) of Cuban ancestry (born in Florida) there were no Latino stars. A few had played in the 19th century by passing for Anglo, but until Al Lopez, no one thought of Latinos as baseball players. He began in the 102-s as a catcher and went on to manage the Cleveland Indians where he helped his team win the 1954 World Series.
In films, Latinos became popular in stereotypical roles. Men generally played the parts of the "Latin Lovers" or "banditos." Women generally were either pure and virtuous Catholics or bad girls trying to steal the Anglo guy. Latinos also played the roles of any ethnic group need. They were everything from American Indians to Greeks. Most often, however, they were not Mexicans but there are notable exceptions.
Dolores Del Rio was a Mexican-born movie star from 1924 through the 1960s. She stared in silent films but made the transition to "talkies" probably due to beauty. She is still considered one of the most beautiful women in films. Still, she generally played the role of the sexy temptress after the Anglo guy. She also often played the part of a non-Mexican such as Brazilian in Flying Down to Rio. Here are some cool pictures of her. If interested in more just Google "Youtube Dolores Del Rio" and there are several cool films and pictures. She also was a singer. Despite her success in the U.S., she returned to Mexico in 1943 although returned to the U.S. occasionally to make a movie until the 1960s.
Other famous Latinos in the 1930s included Anthony Quinn (Mexican-Irish ancestry) from Chihuahua, Mexico, and most famous as "Zorba the Greek." Another star was Cesar Romero (Cuban) who typified the "Latin Lover" in films from the 1930s through 50s but got his start as a musician in nightclubs. And, everyone knows Desi Arnaz (Cuban) who became a popular band leader in the 1930s with his Conga drum. In 1940, he married Lucille Ball and in the 1950s they began the very popular television show "I Love Lucy." Xavier Cugat (Spanish-Cuban) began as a concert violinist with Enrico Caruso. He also was a cartoonist for the L. A. Times. But. it was his band that began in 1928 where he got the nickname the "Rhumba King" that made him famous. Jose Ferrer (Puerto Rican) graduated from Princeton graduate school and in 1934 began his career as an actor, director, and producer. Jose Greco (Spanish but born in France and grew up in Brooklyn) became one of the most famous Spanish dancers in the 20th century beginning in the 1930s. Here's a sample of his dancing the Flamenco.
I must admit that my favorite was Carmen Miranda. Born in Portugal and raised in Brazil, she came to the US. in 1939 and was quickly labeled "The Brazilian Bombshell." Her Brazilian music and dance (The Samba) became a craze. Even in the 1950s when I was a child, they showed MTV type films on television as fillers. She also influenced fashion for women with the introduction of platform heels (she was short and tried to look taller) and crazy hats. She had worked in a hat factory as a young woman in Brazil and was inspired, but she was very poor while in Brazil. Here's a cool film about Carmen Miranda. This is my favorite song by Carmen. I'm somewhat obsessed with her and sometimes I think I'm her! But, she's controversial in Brazil. I had an interesting discussion with a Brazilian professor who condemned her for "selling out" her Brazilian ways to get rich in the U.S. In the U.S. we tend to admire people who started very poor and grew rich by their own talent and hard work. So, there's an interesting difference of opinion. Unfortunately, in 1955, Miranda unknowingly suffered a mild heart attack while performing during the taping of an episode of The Jimmy Durante Show. She finished the show but died the following morning after suffering a second heart attack.
Another famous actress was Rita Hayworth (Margarita Carmen Cansino)whose father was Spanish. She made her film debut in 1935 and became known as the "erotic queen of Hollywood" by the 1940s. She made her last film in 1972 and was famous for her stormy private life with four marriages.
Meanwhile, it was not just Hispanics who were organizing to improve themselves. The most dramatic growth of labor unions in U.S. history occurred during the 1930s. By the end of the 1930s, eight million Americans belonged to unions. This was a direct result of passage of the Wagner Act and government support. Also, a new labor union formed that attracted many workers. The Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) began as part of the AF or L in 1935. They aimed to organized the unskilled and semi-skilled workers, but that did not fit the Af of L plan to organize skilled workers so the CIO was kicked out and created and independent organization. It was hugely successful. They organized auto workers (UAW), miners (UMW), and many others including many restaurant workers. Their most successful strategy was the "sit-down strike." Workers would sit at their work site and not work. This worked particularly well in the auto industry. The sit-down strike was found to be unconstitutional in 1939 but inspired the "sit-in movement" during the Civil Rights movement.
We need a popular labor song of the 1930s. Here's "We Shall Not Be Moved".
Another change in the U.S. was redefining who heroes and heroines were. Of course, many Americans thought FDR was a hero. Read some of his quotes at this site. Do you think he was a hero?
Another man some believed to be heroic was Huey P. Long. (See links at top under "Youtube.") Long had been a long-time Louisiana politician as Governor and Senator. He did a lot of good for the poor of Louisiana and they admired him despite innumerable scandals and controversies. At first he supported FDR but turned against him saying FDR was not doing enough. So he began running for President in 1935 promising to "Make Every Man a King." Here was his campaign song. He promised to send every family $5000. Would you vote for someone who promised to send you %5000? In the case, it did not happen since Long was assassinated in 1935 while surrounded by his own guards. As result, a conspiracy theory developed and continues today.
Other Americans looked to sports for their heroes. One was Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in the 100m, long jump, 200m and 400m relay. This was a major event because Owens was an African-American and the Olympics were held in Hitler's Germany (Berlin). Hitler said the U.S. should be ashamed to have an African-American in the Olympics and refused to acknowledge Owens in any way. Americans celebrated and white Americans patted themselves on the back for not being so racist.
Another famous Athlete of the day was boxer Joe Louis. In 1938 he was defeated by German Max Schmelling (a German) who stated after the fight that no black man could beat him. Wrong thing to say. In the rematch, the fight was over in the first round (2 minutes, and 4 seconds) and Joe Louis won. In the U.S., he was a hero. Again, white Americans patted themselves on the back for their open-mindedness.
Other Americans saw criminals as heroes and heroines with a Robin Hood approach. Criminals were seen as robbing from the rich and giving to the poor (usually themselves). Two such criminals were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow from West Dallas and Oak Cliff. Bonnie in particular caught the public's attention. (My Mom knew her and thought she was the coolest girl in the world.) Bonnie was cute and feminine and stood my her man. She was seen as a victim of a controlling man. Bonnie also wrote poetry when in jail. Here's her most famous poem: "The Trail's End. Her poem was prophetic. In 1935, they were ambushed by the law at the Louisiana and Texas border and killed. There's a video of the death scene above under "Youtube." I saw the death car at a drive-in movie when I was very little. Good thing to take you kids to see...
Another hero was Will Rogers, probably one of the most loved Americans in history. He was a humorist and entertainer of American Indian heritage (Cherokee) from Oklahoma. As he said "My ancestry didn't come over in the Mayflower. They met it." He was seen as the voice of the common man. He was a social critic who said what many Americans wanted to say and did it with humor. He always introduced his act with "Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers." He began his career as the "Cherokee Kid" doing rope tricks and added the observations about American life. One of his most famous sayings was "I never met a man I didn't like." Few disliked him. My favorite quote is "I'm not the member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." But, he was friends with people of both parties even the staunch Republican Calvin Coolidge. Here are more of his quotes. Unfortunately, he was killed in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935.
Some Americans looked to the movies for heroes and heroines. One of the major actresses in this category was Hattie McDaniel. She was the first African-American to win an Academy Award. She was chosen Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Gone With the Wind." Here's her acceptance speech. She played stereotypical roles in 300 films but also was the first African-American woman to sing on radio. As an actress, she always played the loyal maid. During the Civil Rights movement she came under criticism that she had "sold-out" her people. I like her response. Basically she said, in the 1930s, she had two choices. She could be a mail or act like a maid in movies. She had a child to support so do you blame her for her choice?
Another heroine of the 1930s was Amelia Earhart. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928. She was the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. And she was the first person to fly from Hawaii to California in 1935. In addition, she had a fashion business. Most know the story from there that she disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific Ocean in an effort to fly around the world. Her remains have never been found although there is a new effort privately funded with Hillary Clinton in the lead to try to find out what happened to her.
When someone asks me who the heroine of the 1930s was, only one name comes to my mind and that is Eleanor Roosevelt, considered by most historians the best First Lady in our history. She changed the role of First Lady and she changed the roles of women and minorities in the U.S. As one historian described her, she was "a one-woman social revolution."
In the beginning, she looked like a unlikely candidate for my heroine. No two people could be more different. She was born to a wealthy Roosevelt family in New York and Republicans. She was Theodore Roosevelt's niece. Born in 1884, her parents were known as socialites. Her mother was considered one of the most beautiful somen in New York. Her father was a man-about-town and alcoholic. To understand Eleanor you have to understand she did not inherit their good looks and was an embarrassment to her mother who referred to her as "Granny." As a result, she understood the pain of others and became a supporter of underdogs and the downtrodden. And then there was her voice, a rather high-pitched aristocratic sound.
Eleanor had to grow up quickly. Her mother died when Eleanor was eight and her father died about a year later after being institutionalized for his alcoholism. As a result, she went to live with her maternal grandmother. It was a Cinderella existence. Her pretty aunts and cousins went off to parties and dates. Eleanor stayed at home to do chores. She did get to go to school in Europe and she loved that, but at 18 was forced to return to New York for her social debut that she hated. By 1900, Eleanor decided she would never marry so had better find a career. Throughout her life, she earned her own living giving her inheritance away to charities. She said "You must be important to yourself."
She began her career in the footsteps of Jane Addams in social work. In 1905, no one was more surprised that Eleanor when her 5th cousin once removed, Franklin Roosevelt, proposed marriage. In many ways they were opposites. Some people like that. (My husband and I were like twins even born in the same hospital...) FDR was attractive, outgoing, and loved parties. Eleanor was not beautiful, shy, and didn't care for parties. She even bragged she bought her clothes at the bargain basement stores. Eleanor was, however, very feminine, graceful, and was an excellent dancer. She also had unquestionable integrity, not a bad quality for a politician's wife. To FDR it did not hurt she was Theodore Roosevelt's niece since he admired him so much.
At any rate, they got married and began the lives of typical aristocrats and had six children although one died in infancy. It became obvious quickly that domesticity was not Eleanor's strength. She had no feel for cooking and believed food was for sustenance and that was all. Visitors often made wisecracks about her lack of housekeeping skills and lack of order. To make it worse, she was totally dominated by her live-in mother-in-law.
In 1920-21, everything changed. FDR got polio and became a paraplegic. His mother told him to retire to the life of a wealthy invalid, hiding as much as possible. Like many women might do, Eleanor began to think about life at home with her husband - all the time, day and night. She responded by saying "Get up and go to work" and she would help him. Nonetheless, FDR retreated from public and family life for awhile. Meanwhile, Eleanor found herself. She became an independent woman.
She learned to drive, swim, ride horses, and go camping with her children. She also got involved in politics having switched to the Democrats with her marriage. She became an excellent campaign worker and important activist in the Democrat party. She also got involved in the League of Women Voters, worked in settlement houses, and entered the world of labor unions. She also helped some friends set up a furniture factory to provide jobs for rural youth and bought a girls' school and served as Vice Principal. She also taught civics and literature.
During this time, FDR returned to politics. As his career advanced, she became his legs but developed her own political network at the same time. At 48 years of age, she became First Lady. She served until she was 62.
When she began, she already was a powerful force among ordinary Americans who considered her their link to the President. In her first six months, she received 300,000 pieces of mail. But, she was always controversial. She wrote newspaper and magazine articles and had a radio talk show. (She joined the Writers' Guild union.) She became the first First Lady to have press conferences and insisted women reporters be included (there were none in Washington DC at the time). During her speeches and conferences, she rarely used notes. And to FDR's credit, he accepted her role, depended on her, and defended her right to free speech as an American citizen. If criticized, he would always say "Well, that is my wife. I can't do anything about her." No doubt her outspokenness did cost him votes.
Her main interest was equality. She confronted racism, sexism, and poverty wherever she found it. She said there was not sense paying lip service to democratic ideals while slavery still existed in a modified form in the South. She said government could not dictate or force the end of prejudice, but she said government had to see that all legal barriers were removed and that equality be insured in the courts and in employment. She talked to farmers and went into coal mines to talk to miners. She visited slums and helped passage of legislation to deal with living conditions. She visited hospitals and roamed the streets at night looking for homeless women. She even visited prisons that led to my favorite Eleanor joke. The story goes that a secretary asked FDR where Eleanor was. FDR responded that she was at a prison. The secretary responded "I'm not surprised. What has she done now?"
She visited many American Indian reservations and was given the name "Princess of Many Trails." She designed New Deal programs that included minorities, women, and youth. She mediated conflicts between agencies and developed the Federal Theater Project. She worked to get contraceptives legalized and funds for women to obtain them. She succeeded in 1936 and contraceptives became legal. She publicized the problems of labor, urged the development of labor unions and refused to ever cross a picket line. She even boycotted a birthday dinner for her husband because the waitresses were on strike. at the same time, she scolded labor leaders who she felt abused their power and told them to return to traditional concern for members. She was devoted to ending child labor and supported special protections for women workers that got her in trouble with feminists.
She opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. When I was in college, that was the kiss of death among feminist historians. She did not want women treated equally on the job. She wanted special protections. I got over the feminist view pretty quickly when I understood her argument plus all her other accomplishments.
Criticism rolled off her back. She was described as totally lacking self-consciousness and "incapabe of discouragement. She described herself as "a really tough person." Eleanor said "A woman is like a tea bag- you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water." Here are some more of her quotes.
When Eleanor tackled Civil Rights she created on controversy after another. She refused to recognize segregation. On one occasion while attending a 1938 conference in Birmingham, Alabama, on Human Welfare, she arrived to find Jim Crow (segregated) seating. She immediately sat in the African-American section. The police were called. Finally, she agreed to sit in the middle, facing the audience, and giving the white audience what I call the "Eleanor Look."
Her most famous incident involved the great African-American opera star Marion Anderson. Anderson had been refused to be allowed to sing at Constitution Hall at a DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) conference. (The DAR denies this accusation today.) At any rate, Eleanor resigned from the DAR and set up another concert at the Lincoln Memorial.
Sometimes Eleanor did not understand the uproars she caused. On one occasion she was present at a lecture given my the well-known African-American educator, Mary McLeod Bethune. Seated next to Ms. Bethune, Eleanor notices Ms. Bethune needed some water so she poured a glass and gave it to her. After the conference, Eleanor was besieged by African-Americans with praise saying she demonstrated democracy and the next day the story covered the newspapers. Eleanor did not get it. She kept telling people she was just getting Ms. Bethune a glass of water since she needed it. Do you know what caused the controversy? If you answered because Americans had never seen a white woman serve an African-American woman, you were correct.
Eleanor pushed for a federal anti-lynching law and the end to the poll tax, two issues she did not win. She scolded whites for their prejudice and encouraged African-Americans to work hard toward self-improvement through education, political activism, and forming unions. NAACP leader Roy Wilkins said that FDR had done a great deal for his people but that Eleanor was a "true friend."
Meanwhile she accepted her husband's infidelities. Eleanor had caught her husband with another women, her own social secretary. While hurt, Eleanor accepted FDR's promise never to stray again. Then she caught with another woman. That was that. She said he had a choice. She would divorce him (which have destroyed his political career in those days) or he could build her a separate house on their premises and she would continue her work. He chose the house. And, of course, she had grown to enjoy her power and did not want to give that up easily. So they worked out a deal and lived that way until his death in the arms of his original mistress.
Now what was Eleanor up to? Well, there are different theories but I can't say any proof. One book says she became the original "cougar" by taking a lover much younger that she who was one of her guards. Another book and most lesbians claim she became a lesbian and letters between she and her friend did suggest very close relationships. Her family chose celibacy as her path. I find the latter a bit hard to believe and her writings show a great love for FDR. I have come to my own conclusion she might have been bi-sexual since she loved everyone. But, the real conclusion is still undetermined I think. I don't care. I just hope she found happiness.
During World War II, she continued her work. She visited troops in the Pacific (1943) and Caribbean (1944), the first First Lady to do so. She visited Red Cross clubs, met soldiers, and carried messages to their families. At home she urged tolerance toward German-Americans and Japanese-Americans which will lead to one of her big disappoints when FDR decided to imprison Japanese-Americans during the war. She told him it was wrong but he did not listen. She also agitated for rights for working women including convenient day care and getting stores to stay open at night for their convenience.
After FDR died, she was not done. President Truman appointed her to the United Nations organizational meeting in 1946. She served in the U.S. for seven years, fours of those as chairperson of the Human Rights Commission in which she was a co-writer of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that contains the basic rights of all humans including the right to join a labor union as one of her main contributions. If you did not know you had these rights, here's the Declaration of Human Rights. She took on no less than the Soviet Union for human rights violations. She said about Communism: "You can't understand them. You just have to outlast them. We have the ability, but do we have the patience?" Her appointment to the U.N. had not come without controversy like everything she did. But, she was shocked when she received the vote all but one Senator from Mississippi who refused to explain his vote because it would "fill a book."
Her last appointment was a s chairperson of the President's Commission on the Status of Women under John F. Kennedy. At 72, she said she had more energy than her sons. She died in 1962 at 78 years of age.
To many Americans she was a true American heroine. But other Americans hated her and her husband for how they had changed the U.S. Yet she maintained close to a 70% approval rating. Some accused her of not having a sense of humor but she though she did. She thought the campaign button that read "We Don't want Eleanor, Either" was hilarious. But, she was not one to tell jokes.
Another change in the U.S. had to do with social history. How did behavior change? Here's a list of social aspects of the U.S. Which do you think increased and which ones decreased?
percentage of women working
E-mail your answers and I'll tell you if you are correct and give you a point on your project for each correct one.