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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Travel Tuesday - Trip to Washington, DC During The Depression

Travel Tuesday – Do you have images, quotes or stories about trips your ancestors or family took during their lives? Or have to ventured out on travels to your ancestral homeland as part of your genealogy research? Travel Tuesday is a daily blogging prompt suggested by Susan Donaldson of Family History Fun on Geneabloggers.

Grandmother and Granddaddy go to Washington DC in 1940. Both of my grandparents grew up in the mountains of Madison County, NC in the northwestern mountains near Cold Mountain. As teens, the families moved to Marion, NC to go to work in the textile mill, Clinchfield Mill. They met in church there. Anyway, notice the background in this picture where they are leaving on their trip.

Grandmother and her sister-in-law, Margaret Alice Reese Young

This is Granddaddy and Uncle Joe beside Uncle Joe's 4 door 1940 Willys car.

The 2 door coupe is not their car.

My grandparents, Wilford and Genny got married at the end of 1933 and had their first child, my Mom, in 1938. They made a trip to Washington, DC with Granddaddy's sister and her husband, Margaret Alice Reese and Joe Young. Uncle James dated the photos with the cars. We found photos of a 1940 Willys cars and compared them to Uncle Joe's car. There is also a photo of Granddaddy leaning on the front hood of Uncle Joe's car looking at a map. Uncle James was able to zero in on the car's front license tag and it reads 1940. He zeroed in on the map and it seems to be one of Washington DC so we assume it's the same trip. Their fashions were from the 1930's which means they were very spiffy but a little old fashioned.

Remember this was during the Great Depression and in the northwestern NC mountains (way back in the mountains). But both couples were very properly dressed and the car was in good condition. Considering it was at the end of the Great Depression, they must have been doing pretty good. They shared their expenses and were able to make this trip.

Once they were in Washington, DC they took these photos at the Capitol building. I guess, back then, they were still afraid to smile in photos. But notice the hair style on Grandmother. She had naturally curly hair but her hair is fingerwaved in that early 1930's style. Notice the hats, coats, shoes. They were really dressed up and spiffy! I remember Granddaddy always made sure Grandmother could have the very best in clothes, according to what they could afford. She was thrifty but she would always have several really nice outfits. I guess that goes back to him being a Baptist Minister and his family reflected on him in his job. I know they weren't "proud" and "fake". I can honestly say my Grandparents were so NOT into image. But he also knew that they had to be circumspect in order to reach the people in his congregations and communities. He had such a great sense of humor but he also had a lot of dignity because he knew he represented God to the people around him.

What was going on during the 1930's? What was there world like? Lets look at the fashions first and see how very fashionable Granddaddy and Grandmother were.

The fingerwave hair style like Grandmother had.

The 1930's were called the Golden Age of Hollywood. They still made movies and everyone that had a little leftover money went to the movies to escape the reality of their lives. They saw excitement, glamour, fashion and love at the movies. So many firsts happened in the 1930's. Howard Hughes started his movie empire with Hell's Angels featuring the blonde bombshell, Jean Harlowe. Greta Garbo, the Great Garbo, transferred to the talkies and spoke for the first time. Her gravelly, low voice was considered sexy. John Wayne debuted in 1930. The big stars like Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburne, Shirley Temple, etc all became household names. The Civil War was featured in Gone With The Wind which came out in 1939 along with the Wizard of Oz.

Now let's look at the economy and politics of the time.

The Great Depression started after Black Tuesday, 10/29/1929, when the stockmarket crashed. It had been going gangbusters for awhile and people had decided to ride the stockmarket wave to wealth. People plowed all their savings into the stockmarket with the expectations that it would make them financially prosperous, if not wealthy. Many went beyond that and took out mortgages on their businesses and their homes to put the money in the stockmarket. But then it totally collapsed in one day...the whole house of cards! Everyone lost all the money invested in stocks. Savings were gone, home mortgages were called in by

their banks (who had invested in the stockmarket and could no longer carry the mortgages and had to have the money or go belly up themselves). Business loans were called in. If the owners didn't have the money to pay off their mortgages or business loans then the banks foreclosed and tried to auction the homes, farms, and businesses to make some money. But everyone had lost and no one had ready cash so they had no buyers. It didn't matter if you weren't behind on your payments, your mortgage was still called in by the banks because they needed the money to stay open. It got worse and worse in a downward spiral. Banks still closed and people who had money in them lost it all even though it wasn't in the stockmarket. Businesses had to close. This ended up in unemployment and homelessness. This photo is a bank auctioning off a once prosperous farm. Not too many people could afford to buy the property that was being auctioned off. My Dad's parents had bought a farm and only owed $300 and it would be free and clear of mortgage. He wasn't behind on his payments but the bank needed their money. They called in the mortgage and he would have lost his farm over that $300 except for a miracle. A friend of his offered to pay the $300 off and Papa would pay him back. It saved his farm and Papa and his 2 mules would hire out for .25/day (not per hour) in order to pay his friend back and he did. He never borrowed money from a bank again!

It began in the United States and quickly spread to Europe and every part of the world, with devastating effects in the industrialized countries. We might have recovered a little faster if it hadn't been for the severe drought that occurred in 1930.

A severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland beginning in the summer of 1930. It created the Dust Bowl. It has an earlier start. We had overfarmed our nation over the years and many farmers didn't know how to build the soil back up. It became more and more depleted. We didn't have fertilizers like we do now and so many farmers weren't educated in land management. The cotton, grain, and corn farming across the nation depleted the soils.

Here in SC, this resulted in poor red clay but in the midwest, the prairie lands that had once been grasslands, had been plowed and the soil depleted and then the winds came. This created the great dust storms. The topsoil was blown away, much of it into the Atlantic Ocean. This left farmers destitute with worthless lands and homes filled with sand. This led to a mass migration of families from Texas, Oklahoma (Okies) and Arkansas. They went west to California looking for temperate climate where they could stand to live in tents and shanties and looking for work in the fields as migrant workers. It would have done them little good to go North where it would have been too cold for them to live outdoors or South where it was too hot and poor (still recovering from the Civil War and the Reconstruction as well as it's own soil depletion which made us dirt poor). This is aptly depicted in the famous book, Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. I hated that book because it was so depressing but that was the times too.

At the end of World War I, the American veterans had been promised a bonus to be given to them in 1945. This was before Social Security and I guess it was a way to help aging veterans. But the Great Depression had decended on the country and these veterans and their families were suffering and unemployed. They began to demand their bonus early. In 1932 it came to a head. The problem was the stockmarket crash had affected the government too. No jobs meant no income and therefore no taxes paid into government coffers. The government had not anticipated having to pay out the bonus early and did not have it. It would bankrupt the government during a time of economic crisis. So it became a "we against them" situation. The veterans began to congregate in Washington DC to protest and demand their bonuses. They raised a tent city called Hooverville (after President Hoover) on the marshy Anacostia flats. Veterans hitchhiked and rode the rails and rode in on tractors and trucks full of men. A lot of them had no homes now and they brought their families too. It began to get out of control. A tent city of poor people is going to get nasty fast and disease was a threat. The anger built and built.

These men deserved their bonus, had been promised a bonus, had fought for their country and were desperate. And yet the government couldn't give in because it didn't have the money to give them and the tent city was becoming a real problem. Finally Hoover sent the army in to physically remove the protesters, the bonus army expedition. The 12th Infantry from Fort Howard, MD, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment under the command of Major George Patton, and under the overall command of General Douglas MacArthur. Dwight D. Eisenhower was on General MacArthur's staff and didn't like what happened but couldn't do anything about it. The army had a conflicted time. They knew they were hurting veterans who had served in the world's greatest war, served their country. They knew THEY would be veterans one day. And yet, they are trained to obey their officers and do what needed to be done. It was hard for everyone concerned. The troops came in with tear gas, horses and bayonets, guns and fire. Hundreds of veterans were injured, several were killed and Hooverville was burned out.

Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the Presidency from Herbert Hoover in 1933. He began to restructure the economy. For the poor, the farmers, the small business owners he was a savior during the worst time in American history. The South had suffered like this during and after the Civil War but this affected the entire world! He began by restructuring the banking system and Wall Street. Bank deposits are now insured by the FDIC up to a certain amount so that people would not lose all their savings by bank closings. He set minimum prices and minimum wages. He organized the Social Security Administration that we know today to protect the elderly, disabled and unemployed. He started the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the WPA (Worker's Progress Administration) which were government projects that employed men for workers. They built infrastructures like roads, bridges, highways, public parks, dams, etc. To fund these programs he started an income tax. These were temporary organizations that were eventually fazed out as the economy got better. Slowly, the economy began to heal and jobs became available again. But it wasn't until World War II that we completely came out of the Great Depression. For America, we rebounded strongly due to the War. It employed men and built factories for the War effort. And we didn't fight on our shores so we didn't have the war ravages that Europe and the Pacific had. We weren't bombed out. So we rebounded first and then the rest of the world followed after the War. World War II started in December 1941.

Franklin Roosevelt lived until the last months of World War II and was our president for 3 presidencies. He had led us out of the Great Depression and through the greatest war that the world had ever seen, even bigger than World War I. People had depended on him for so long that when he died it affected our nation greatly. Many people mourned. He is the reason why my family were Democrats, staunch Democrats, until my generation. The Democratic Party has changed a lot since FDR.

Unemployment lines.

A shanty town in America! Can you believe it?

A tent city. Sometimes the car was all they had, it would take them from field to field for migrant farm work. Like a turtle with his home on his back, it was also their home. It was essential to have tires and gas and repairs or they couldn't move to find the migrant work.

Soup lines in New York City.

Soup line for children.

A free food line in front of an ironic billboard.

A shanty town on the outskirts of a town. Look carefully at how small they were and yet whole families lived in them. Remember there wasn't birth control back then so families had lots of children and many children died. It was a fact of life back then that we aren't used to now.

I've seen many rural shacks like this even when I was a girl in the 1960's. Haven't seen it too much since then. I remember seeing the pigs and chickens in the yards. You didn't have yards to mow because the animals ate what you didn't. It's what you call "dirt poor". No running water meant no bathrooms in these houses. Personal hygiene was bad because they didn't have indoor bathrooms and baths.

Many families lived without shoes for their feet, coats or clothes. They had to make do with what they could find. This was the time that you cut the buttons off your clothes and carefully pulled the threads out and saved the buttons and thread to be used for the next outfit. You used any ragged material left over for rags to make quilts, rag rugs and cleaning rags. That left little to "give away" to charity like we do today.

A shanty town home. And these shacks weren't unusual. Either their men were dead, dying, disabled, or abandoned their families or simply couldn't even scrounge materials to build a decent shelter. Sometimes this left women trying to provide for their children. They didn't have the strength, know how or time to build better than this. Many 3rd world nations live like this today but few Americans have to live like this. There are homeless people and it's bad like this for them. But it's not widespread like it was during the Great Depression.

Many men were unemployed and homeless. The single men often traveled looking for work. They couldn't afford to pay for a railroad ticket so they would hop the trains and try to get a free ride. They would camp near the railroad tracks. These men would become known as hobos riding the rails. Many were naturally transient men who would move around no matter what the economy but there were many who had no other options. But the railroad companies didn't like to encourage the hobos and their free rides. So many would employ men to bounce the men off the trains.

This gave these men jobs and they had to do what they had to do to keep their jobs or they would be homeless and their families would do without. But this kind of work attracted the worst men and they could be brutal, often beating and killing men.

Stan had a great uncle that rode the rails during this time period. He was well educated but he liked the road and he chose transiency above staying at home and working at the mill. Stan's mother remembers when he would ride in on the train and walk to her grandmother's house (close to the tracks). She said he would drink his coffee straight from the coffee pot spout. He could have stayed at home and been fine but he didn't want to.


Anonymous said...

hiya sharon! I think your blog is really cool! keep on keepin on!


Anonymous said...

Dear Sharon, I was googling images of "dust bowl"and found your blog. A very interesting summary and collection of images of the times. Thank you. Alister

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