All over the world, people have different experiences of life due to the different challenges they face during their lifetime. The same case applies in America. There are different eras and people who used to live during those times have different experiences owing to the different issues that characterized each era. Some experiences are wonderful and thrilling but on the other hand, some were too difficult and just by imagination one can only sympathize with those who were in existence during that particular time. For instance, Luke and Agnes an American couple were only ten years old in their marriage by the year 1932.
They had gotten married in the year 1920s, a period that was characterized by lots of prosperity. Americans during this period were so hopeful for they were successful and used to believe that success actually belonged to those who deserved it. Having married at that particular time, Luke and Agnes were hardly hit by the situations that followed the collapsing of the American economy during the great depression. In the year 1929, the stock market collapsed on a Thursday morning due to various economic factors like bank failures, draught conditions among others.
This eventually paved way to the era of the great depression, an era in which America faced the most difficult economic situation it has ever experienced throughout its whole history. The changes that mostly affected people during that particular time were the issues concerning employment. Quite a considerable number of people lost their jobs. History records that by the year 1932, unemployment rates rose from five million in the year 1930 to thirteen million (Sutton 1999 Para 3-7).
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Luke and Agnes were not left out for they used to live in rural areas where the problem was more rampant.
Luke who was employed in an agricultural farm as a manager lost his job due to the difficult economic situations which were facing the country. He was the sole bread winner and Agnes used to take care of their four children, two boys and two girls. Nevertheless, there were many more changes that were taking place in America that were affecting people leave alone employment. Since all these changes were affecting men and women differently, this paper shall look at the life of Americans during the great depression in relation to gender roles of men and women.
Family Life Since Luke was no longer employed, Agnes sought a clerical job so as to support the family for the family had to survive. It was actually very easy for women to find jobs more than it was for men although before that women had actually been dismissed from their jobs. A lot of industries had collapsed and the jobs that men could do were virtually not available as Boehm (1996: para 1) puts it. Since they were reluctant to take the jobs that were previously meant for women, they had to remain unemployed.
Consequently, during this particular time, a lot of women were employed more than men contrary to the situation that had existed earlier on in which men were the sole bread winners and women the home makers (McMahon, 2009: para 1).
Luke’s family exhibited the situation that was prevalent in most of the families. The role of men being the sole breadwinner was quickly being taken by women who were mostly being assisted by their children. Luke’s firstborn, John, was employed as a sweeper so as to help her mother in providing for the family.
Although it was painful for Luke to see his firstborn missing school so that he can be employed in a job that paid very little, he actually had no choice. Although most women of the great depression were very helpful in their families for they had taken roles of a breadwinner, a lot of family problems emanated from the same. The family of Luke had a lot of peace when he was employed but after he lost the job and could not look for any other form of employment, Agnes could not stand it for long. They would quarrel more often and Agnes blamed him for the hardships they were facing. It was difficult and tricky for Luke.
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He was afraid that even the children may not respect him any more for he was not of much help in the family. He was supposed to be the head and the provider but the current situation had incapacitated him. Though he was not alone for there were thousands of other men who actually were being left at home when their wives went to work, he was not to take it anymore. He could not imagine being like other jobless men who were left at home by their wives to do the household chores. In the mid 1930s when the economy was improving slowly, Luke decided to leave his family behind and went to Boston city to look for some form of employment.
He joined thousands of men who had refused to go back home after they had lost their jobs. Due to poverty, these men used to leave in Hoovervilles; shelters which were made of discarded wood and tin (The Library of Congress, 2002: para 1).
Since these men were ashamed because they could no longer make it to provide for their families, they decided to stay away from them. After Luke had joined them, his wife went to stay with her in-laws since she could not manage to work and support the children. Nonetheless, she was not the only one; a lot of families had broken up during the great depression in America.
Education Agnes, though a hardworking woman, could not have afforded to educate her children without the help of her husband. The eldest son had already dropped out of school to help the mother in providing for the family. The other children used to be in and out of school most of the times due to lack of school fees. In addition, the school had also reduced the length of a school day and the number of school days in a year due to lack of finances. Since Agnes loved education, she did not want her children to miss school although it was not easy to educate them.
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Like other parents who were in her position, she used to go to the schools to beg the administration to offer free school meals to her children. This habit strained the school budget even further. Agnes kept hoping that her husband would come back home or even communicate, which he never did until after some time. The shame kept him far from his family as he could not imagine coming back home empty handed. Parents like Agnes and Luke who were not cooperating caused a lot of problems to the whole of the education sector.
Since they could not even afford to pay their taxes, the school board had to fire some teachers in order to cope with minimal funds. Moreover, the teachers’ salary was reduced to forty US dollars a month for the five month school year. Such an amount of money was not worth the job of a teacher though; they had no alternative but to accept it gladly. Since the school day and the school year had been shortened, some subjects were eventually dropped like the history, geography, physical education among others. Most schools were only offering the basic literacy subjects which included reading, writing, and the arithmetic (Sutton, 1999: para 13).
Leisure and Entertainment After being away for two years, Luke returned home. Her wife was glad though he did not come with anything expect for a radio which had become very popular during the decade. Although the economic situation was not favorable, most of the homes of the Americans used to own radios. Young & Nancy in their book ‘Music of the Great Depression’ records that 46% of the American homes used to own radios (2005: p. 1).
The same studies record that by 1935, 67% of homes in America owned more than twenty one million sets of radios.
Although there were other forms of entertainment, music from the radio was the dominant form of entertainment as 2/3 of the programs from the radio used to be basically music shows. Luke had become very fond of the same and would sit at home and listen to music when his wife was away during the day. Luke and other men in the society did not actually like the situation of having women being the leaders for they had taken their gender roles of providing for the family. The fear of losing their masculinity was so much but they did not have much of a choice.
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The music and the songs that were being produced then explained their fate better like ‘Remember My Forgotten Man’ and ‘Ever since the world began, a woman’s got to have a man. ’ Such songs were men’s favorite during that particular time for they explained their feelings and their anticipations. Luke and other men who were in existence during the great depression also turned to Hollywood in order to heal their ailments of lost masculinity. There were movies like the ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ which were men’s favorite for they signified the fears and the longings of men during the period of depression.
In addition to radio and movies, some games like the board games were also played as a form of entertainment (Sutton, 1999: para 14 &15).
Since affording the basics was a problem in the Luke’s family as it was the case in every other family, fashions did not have much significance by then. Fashions from Paris had become very expensive for all people in America expect for the very rich. However, the flappers of the 1920s were replaced by a simple print dress with a waist line and a longer hem for the women. Zippers were widely used as closures for they were less expensive than the buttons which were previously being used.
There were also different hems for the different times of the day such that mid calf was for the day wear and the long calf for the evening wear. For the men’s wear, the vest sweaters had replaced the traditional matching of the three piece suit. All well and decently dressed men used to wear hats as well as pants which were wide and of high waist. Surprisingly the great depression did not have much impact on the American’s religious practices as one would have expected. The church remained a place for the middle aged women as others did not think the same had any significant impact in their lives.
For the Luke’s family, Agnes was the only one who was a regular church attendant. For Luke, Sunday was the day he would join other people at the stadium for entertainment incase he had money. If not, he used to listen to his radio the whole day together with his younger children who did not join their mother in church either. History records that there was only a 5% increase of people in church during the time of the great depression which fell drastically immediately after the great depression. Although the radio did make some church leaders quite famous, that did not have much impact as one would have expected.
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Politics Although women had acquired the power to vote, majority still did not consider voting for they thought it was men’s business. During the Election Day, majority stayed at home and due to this, only a small number of women were elected. Nevertheless, with the influence of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady by then, majority were appointed to high government positions. Agnes happened to be among the women who were elected in those high positions for her family had some political influence and she was learned.
Their life gradually changed because they could now afford not only the basics but also some comforts. Luke started to do business which was quite good for him for he was assured of being restored back to the original position as the provider. Their children could also attend school because it was not difficult to raise school fees any more. Conclusion The great depression in America impacted America, socially politically and economically. The period extended for about ten years or more until the onset of World War II. Of all the changes that took place, social change of gender roles was most significant.
Women became the providers due to the fact that they could find jobs easily. Men were greatly incapacitated by the unfavorable economic situation. Consequently, the rate of marriage and birth rate dropped greatly. Women could not consider getting married to men who could barely provide anything. Moreover, most young men were busy helping their mothers in providing for the family to have anytime to think about marriage. Those who were married like Agnes often regretted their decision especially when situations became too hard to bear.
As it is popularly believed “seasons do not last forever’, the great depression era in which there was much change in the gender roles came to an end and paved way for World II era (Filene n. d: para 15-18).
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Works Cited: Boehm, Lisa, K. , Women, Impact of the Great Depression on. 1996. Web. Retrieved on 29th April from: http://www. jiffynotes. com/a_study_guides/book_notes/egd_02/egd_02_00550. html Filene, Peter, American Families during the Great Depression. N. d. Web. Retrieved on 29th April from: http://www. dlt. ncssm. edu/lmtm/docs/families/script. pdf McMahon, Kathy A. , The Invisible Women of the Great Depression.
2009. Web. Retrieved on 28th April 2010, from: http://ezinearticles. com/? The-Invisible-Women-of-the-Great-Depression&id=1888970 Sutton, Bettye, American Cultural History 1930 – 1939. 1999. Web. Retrieved on 29th April 2010 from: http://kclibrary. lonestar. edu/decade30. html The Library of Congress, Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945. 2002. Web. Retrieved on 29th April 2010 from: http://memory. loc. gov/learn//features/timeline/depwwii/depress/depress. html Young, William H. & Young, Nancy, K. , Music of the Great Depression. Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO. 2005. Print.