Ow Did the Great Depression Affect Americans?

The Task

1. Your task is to create a letter in the voice of a person growing up in the 1930s. This letter will be written to a person living in the year 2000. Before you begin your research, consider the name, sex, race, and age of the Characterthat you will become. Also decide the audience for your letter. This might be a friend, family member or teacher.

2. Begin your research by writing the following topics on the top of 5 x 8 index cards:

Causes and effects of the Great Depression

Family, New Deal and Standard of Living

School and Friends

Social and Political Events in the 1930s
3. Begin your research by exploring the resources listed in bold red letters at the bottom of this page.

4. As you explore the sites, record facts on the appropriate card. Print excerpts from sites that you find useful and use highlighters to mark information. This information can then be recorded on your notecards.

5. When you have collected information about each of the topics, you are prepared to begin the writing process. Remember, you are writing from the perspective of a person living in the 1930s. You are explaining your life to a person living in 2000. Your letters should include enough detail and description for your reader to gain a sense of what your life was like.

6. Your letter should be a minimum of 300 words and five paragraphs in length. The letter should have the following:
a) Heading:

Address (imaginary)
City, State (imaginary)
Date (Month, Day, Year in the 1930s)

b) Greeting:
Dear ________ :

c) Closing:
Sign the letter with your imaginary name.

7. In your letter focus on the following aspects of your life:

Paragraph 1:
In the introduction to your letter, identify two causes of the Great Depression. Utilize the Web site in the Resource section. Explain how the Great Depression has affected you and your family. Use specific details from the Web site (For example: how did Black Thursday affect your family or relatives?) What is your standard of living?

Paragraph 2:
a. Describe your family. Who are your brothers, sisters, relatives? What do your parents and relatives do for a living?
b. Choose one of your relatives that has a job set up by FDRs New Deal. (For example, an uncle might be employed by the WPA). Choose a specific program within the New Deal do not simply reference the New Deal in general. Describe the job with details. What is the purpose of the organization?

Paragraph 3:
a. Describe your school, classes and teachers. Who are your friends?
b. Describe the town where you live. Who are your neighbors? Important celebrations, events and people? Where do you like to hang out or play?

Paragraph 4:
a. What is happening in the nation politically and economically? Look carefully at the date of your letter. Include specific details from the resources.
b. What is happening in the nations culture? Tell about music, radio programs, movies, sports. (Minimum of two specific details from the timeline according to the date of your letter.) See resources for Cultural Timeline of the 1930sand American Cultural History 1930 1939.”

Paragraph 5:
What are your dreams for the future? What do you think the world will be like? How do you think the events of the Great Depression will affect you?


In October 1929 the stock market crashed, wiping out 40 percent of the paper values of common stock. Even after the stock market collapse, however, politicians and industry leaders continued to issue optimistic predictions for the nations economy. But the Depression deepened, confidence evaporated and many lost their life savings. By 1933 the value of stock on the New York Stock Exchange was less than a fifth of what it had been at its peak in 1929. Business houses closed their doors, factories shut down and banks failed. Farm income fell some 50 percent. By 1932 approximately one out of every four Americans was unemployed.

The core of the problem was the immense disparity between the countrys productive capacity and the ability of people to consume. Great innovations in productive techniques during and after the war raised the output of industry beyond the purchasing capacity of U.S. farmers and wage earners. The savings of the wealthy and middle class, increasing far beyond the possibilities of sound investment, had been drawn into frantic speculation in stocks or real estate. The stock market collapse, therefore, had been merely the first of several detonations in which a flimsy structure of speculation had been leveled to the ground.

The presidential campaign of 1932 was chiefly a debate over the causes and possible remedies of the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover, unlucky in entering the White House only eight months before the stock market crash, had struggled tirelessly, but ineffectively, to set the wheels of industry in motion again. His Democratic opponent, Franklin D. Roosevelt, already popular as the governor of New York during the developing crisis, argued that the Depression stemmed from the U.S. economys underlying flaws, which had been aggravated by Republican policies during the 1920s. President Hoover replied that the economy was fundamentally sound, but had been shaken by the repercussions of a worldwide depression whose causes could be traced back to the war. Behind this argument lay a clear implication: Hoover had to depend largely on natural processes of recovery, while Roosevelt was prepared to use the federal governments authority for bold experimental remedies.

The election resulted in a smashing victory for Roosevelt, who won 22,800,000 votes to Hoovers 15,700,000. The United States was about to enter a new era of economic and political change.

U.S. Department of States Bureau of International Information Programs. Great Depression. ONLINE. Available: ch9.htm#great.

Timeline of the 1930s

American Cultural History 1930 1939

The Great Depression
This site gives an overview of the causes and effects of the Great Depression.

The Causes of The Great Depression Essay

Roosevelt and The New Deal and The New Deal

Photographs of the Great Depression
A picture is worth a thousand words. Explore the images of the Great Depression. Over 400 pictures are available.

Interview: Growing Up White in the South in the 1930s
All three of these women where members of prominent southern families.

Interview: Growing Up Black in the 1930s
Interview of Mrs. Peacolia Barge who grew up outside of Birmingham, Alabama in the 1930s.

I Remember.....Reminiscences of the Great Depression
These stories of how people who lived during the Depression coped with hard times were published in Michigan History Magazine, January February 1982 (Vol.66, No. 1)

Then and Now: Prices
This site compares 1930s prices with prices today.

The Great Depression and Children
How did the Great Depression affect those under 18? This site gives details. Hint: There are three frames within this site. When you have completed a frame click on the arrow to the right.