The Generation that Saved America: Surviving the Great Depression

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Of course, my experience does not encompass all Chinese or all immigrant lives; however, I would like to share my story as it pertains to my identity in order to provide further insight on just how emotionally and practically complicated acknowledging mental health struggles and seeking treatment can be.

However, even if I were able to move past these two concerns, there are two more practical barriers to deal with. The links on this page may contain document data that requires additional software to open:. Search form Search. Donate to MHA. Now What? How can I get help paying for my prescriptions? What do I need to know about my insurance benefits?

What can I do if my insurance company is refusing to approve? Share this page. Many of them have given up on their own personal hopes and dreams of living the life that they have always wanted. Instead, they rest their purpose on providing the best they can for their children. They sacrifice their hopes and dreams so that someday their children can have the opportunity to make their own hopes and dreams come true. Like myself, many children of immigrants grow up conscious of the enormous sacrifices that their parents have made and spend the rest of their lives proving to their parents that the suffering was not in vain.

For this reason, I do not feel comfortable informing my parents of my mental health struggles. How can I, when they have given up everything for me to be happy? Dependent Relationship Dynamic Through many conversations with my friends of all different backgrounds , one thing has been made clear to me.

It seems that in many families, the role of parent and child is defined. Milk was 10 cents a quart, a pound of steak only 29 cents, and a loaf of bread a nickel. For a dime one could go to the movies, buy a nickel bag of popcorn, and even win prizes given away by the theater. Not many lucky enough to be working had much change to spend after paying rent and buying food.

To turn to the government, at least during the Hoover years, was useless. There was no federally financed "safety net" of welfare programs to keep the working class from falling into poverty. In the new president, Franklin Roosevelt, brought an air of confidence and optimism that quickly rallied the people to the banner of his program, known as the New Deal "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," the president declared in his inaugural address to the nation.

He was determined to make effective changes during his presidency. On his very first night in office, he directed Secretary of the Treasury William Woodin to draft an emergency banking bill, and gave hi less than five days to get it ready. The New Deal, in a certain sense, merely introduced types of social and economic reform familiar to many Europeans for more than a generation.

Moreover, the New Deal represented the culmination of a 1ong-range trend toward abandonment of "laissez-faire" capitalism, going back to the regulation of the railroads in the s, and the flood of state and national reform legislation introduced in the Progressive era of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

What was truly novel about the New Deal, however, was the speed with which it accomplished what previously had taken generations. Many of the reforms were hastily drawn and weakly administered with some actually contradicting others.

Surviving the Generational Clash

During the entire New Deal era, public criticism and debate were never interrupted or suspended; in fact, the New Deal brought to the individual citizen a sharp of interest in government.. When Roosevelt took the presidential oath, the banking and credit system of the nation was in a state of paralysis. With astonishing rapidity the nation's banks were first closed -- and then reopened only if they were solvent. The administration adopted a policy of moderate currency inflation to start an upward movement in commodity prices and to afford some relief to debtors.

New governmental agencies brought generous credit facilities to industry and agriculture. By millions of Americans were out of work Bread lines were a common sight in most cities. Hundreds of thousands roamed the country in search of food, work and shelter. Ah early step for the unemployed came in the form of the Civilian Conservation Corps CCC , a program enacted by Congress to bring relief to young men between 18 and 25 years of age. About 2 million young men took part in this program during the Os.

During their time in the CCC, they participated in a variety of conservation projects such as "planting trees to combat soil erosion and maintain national forests; eliminating stream pollution; creating fish, game and bird sanctuaries; and conserving coal, petroleum, shale, gas, sodium and helium deposits. The Civil Works Administration was a work relief program that gave jobs to many unemployed people. Although this program was criticized as "make work," the jobs funded ranged from ditch digging to highway repairs to teaching. It was Created in November ,and was abandoned only a few months later in the spring of Roosevelt and his key officials, however, continued to favor unemployment programs based on work relief rather than welfare.

The AAA had a core to plan to raise crop prices by paying farmers a subsidy to compensate for voluntary cutbacks in production. The funds for the payments would be generated by a tax levied on industries that processed crops. By the time the act had become law, however, the growing season was well underway, and the AAA encouraged farmers to plow under their abundant crops Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace called this activity a "shocking commentary on our civilization.

History Brief: Daily Life in the 1930s

Between and , farm income increased by more than 50 percent, but only partly because of federal programs. During the same years that farmers were being encouraged to take land out of production, which would displace tenants and sharecroppers, the farm production was significantly reduced due to a severe drought hit the Great Plains states.

Violent wind and dust storms ravaged the southern Great Plains in what is known as the "Dust Bowl," throughout the Os, but particularly from to The damages were immense People and animals were harmed, crops were destroyed, cars and machinery were ruined. Approximately , people; often called "Okies," left Arkansas, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma during the s and s Most of these travelers headed further west to California, the land of myth and promise.

The migrants were not only farmers, but also professionals, retailers and others whose livelihoods were connected to the health of the farm communities.

It was a Terrible Way to Live.

California didn't live up to their expectations, however, as conditions in the sunny state were just as bad as those in the places from which the migrants fled. Most migrants ended up competing for seasonal jobs picking crops at extremely low wages. Although the AAA had been mostly successful, it was abandoned in ; when the tax on food processors was ruled unconstitutional.

In , he co-authored a pamphlet with John Steinbeck on the plight of migrant workers in California. Why was this happening to me? It was an aimless, discombobulated feeling, as though the world had disappeared. The same feeling you have during an earthquake that's beyond your control. The thought that something was wrong must've crossed my mind but those days I didn't think of it in political terms. I spent so goddamn much time just staying alive. Riding the rails was a rite of passage for a generation of young people and profoundly shaped the rest of their lives.

Self-reliance, compassion, frugality, a love of freedom and country are at the heart of the lessons they learned. Their memories are a mixture of nostalgia and pain; their late musings still tinged with the fear of going broke again. At journey's end, the resiliency of these survivors is a testament to the indomitable strength of the human spirit. By , Bledsoe had been riding the rails for two years picking cotton and doing menial work that rarely provided a living for the year-old and two cousins.


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That summer the trio rode a freight to Comanche, Oklahoma heading back to his cousins' home on a drilled-out oil field. They had to walk the last 13 miles through the woods. It had a well in the backyard with a rope and a pulley. A man who must have been close to ninety years came out of the cabin. We asked if we could have a bucket of water," Bledsoe recalled. The milk was beginning to turn sour -- 'blinky' we called it -- and the molasses was full of tiny ants. We were hungry beyond being picky and we lit on the food. I still remember we couldn't fault the old lady's cornbread. At the height of the Great Depression, a quarter of a million teenagers joined the ranks of the army of migratory idle roaming across America riding freight trains or hitchhiking.

Not since the civil war had the American nation stared so deeply into the abyss. Some youths ran from home believing they were burdens on their families; some fled, broken by the shame of unemployment and poverty; others left eager for what seemed to be a great adventure. Romantic ideas of life on the road vanished when a young hobo felt the first pangs of hunger. The majority of homeowners and shopkeepers were sympathetic toward the hard luck kids. Sixty years later, the simplest acts of kindness were remembered by those who'd been half-starved and utterly dejected when they knocked at a stranger's door.

Other kids, too, recalled seeing their mothers and father help hobos who came to ask for food. It was a lesson in giving that was never forgotten. The young hobos never forgot those who reached out to them in their time of need. For their benefactors, too, the ragged bands who knocked at their doors were remembered, especially by the boys and girls of the house. Many were deeply touched by seeing their parents' compassion toward total strangers.

In the s, Albert Tackis's family lived in the small West Virginia town of Colliers, where their house backed onto the Burgettstown Grade. Two-engined freight trains stopped at a water tank behind the house before starting the mile haul to Burgettstown. In summer, Albert would see 60 or 70 hobos climb off the cars to stretch their legs, every train delivering as many as eight hobos who came to the Tackis home to ask for food. Grandpap grew all our fruit and vegetables in his garden. In season, mother canned vegetables and made jellies. Every week, she baked 21 loaves of bread.

Grandpap always had something for the hobos to do. There would be wood to chop, cans to pick bugs and insects in his garden, buckets to fetch water from a spring. The hobos worked for about 20 minutes and then hopped back on the train with a good meal in hand. At Cottonwood, Idaho, William Loft -- a local dentist's son -- would watch the freight trains pull in with tired hobos riding on the top "sitting with their heads slumped down and looking more like sacks of grain.


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He ran out and asked why he did this. The hobo explained: "Son, when you're starving and on your last legs, this means there's a hot meal and friendly people you can trust. The mark on the Loft's fence was one of many hobo signs traditionally used to alert each other to houses where they could get a handout, what approach might work best, and what houses were best avoided. The one place where the young hobo was assured a welcome was the "jungle," as the hobo camps were called. These were generally not far from the tracks, some nothing more than a clearing for a camp fire, some well-established sites overseen by old jungle buzzards who set up home there.

Between stops at transient camps, Gene Wadsworth dropped into hobo jungles. He found permanent denizens of the camps living in shacks made of flattened tin cans, boards, railroad ties, anything that could be scavenged to build a shelter. When a freight train rolled by and hobos started arriving, the old buzzard would issue instructions: "Hey, you, Whitey, go up to the meat market and ask for scraps. If he liked your looks, he'd dip down deeper for meat and vegetables; others got mostly soup. Fredrick Watson knew the Pocatello, Idaho jungle from a different perspective.

What we learned from the Dust Bowl: lessons in science, policy, and adaptation

His father worked in the Union Pacific yards at Pocatello. Watson recalled that the jungle was on the west side of town near the Portneuf River. They weren't bums but good citizens who were flat out of work and trying to get by. Watson and his young friends would go to the jungle and eat lunch or dinner with the hobos.

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Mom and Dad probably knew about it but didn't say anything. Ann Walko was deeply moved by her mother's compassion for the downtrodden who came to their home at Wall, Pennsylvania where freight trains were broken up and re-routed. Mother invited him in but he stood in silence for a moment. He brought his wife and three children. They still refused to come inside so mother spread two rugs on the ground for them. They ate her home-made bread and baked beans and couldn't thank us enough.

In a way what a beautiful time it was. Some left home because they were a burden on their families; some fled homes shattered by unemployment and poverty. Some left because it seemed a great adventure. I'm out of work,' he told mother. It was the first time I saw my father cry. Things went downhill. You lived off your relatives. You went to eat at grandma's and here and there until you hit rock bottom and went on relief. Everything closed in on me.

I sat down and told myself, I'd lighten my parents' burden if I took off. The quickest and easiest way was to jump a train and go somewhere. You were always filthy and constantly hungry. You'd take whatever odd jobs you could. We did everything from mowing lawns to cleaning grease traps in restaurants. It was humiliating but sometimes you panhandled. Sometimes you'd meet kids your age in town and start talking with them, I remember once I was cutting a lawn. I started talking to this perfectly nice girl and her mother called her away.