Conservative Social Issues: Family Life in the 1930s*

by CJFosdick on May 19, 2009

American Political Issues

Part 2

Contrary to popular belief that most people had a solid family life during the Depression, family life often suffered. Desertion was common as one or both parents left the home looking for work. Over half the children born had parents who were either on relief or making so little, that they had to literally scratch to make it. It was not at all uncommon for people to eat anything — not only grasshoppers, but other bugs, spoiled food they could find in trash cans, dandelions, bark — anything they could stuff in their empty bellies. Older children often struck out on their own at very early ages because there was not enough food in the family to feed them. One recorded incident told of a teacher who instructed a little girl to go home and get something to eat.  The girl replied, “I can’t.  It’s my sister’s day to eat.” Domestic violence increased dramatically, and murders rose, as did suicide. Families were literally torn apart by the hard times. Conservative Social Issues of the early 1930s did very little to ease the pain of the Great Depression, although by the time FDR was elected, American Political issues did more.

Health care in the 1930’s was very primitive. There were no antibiotics, no cures for most diseases, and a person usually lived or died without the help of medicine. Needless to say, only the most robust made it through to old age. Pneumonia was very feared, and gangrene killed far more people than the injury causing the gangrene. Most people relied on home remedies.  Wounds were treated with substances such as iodine, whiskey, or turpentine.  Take your pick — they all stung like all holy get-out.  Leeches were still used commonly to pull the poison out of wounds, as was the practice of bleeding.  One home remedy for infection was to make a poultice out of a biscuit soaked in milk. I cannot help but wonder if this biscuit formed mold, which, in essence, is how penicillin is formed. Some of these cures worked quite well, while others were little better than “Snake Oil.”

Many people turned to crime in the 1930s. Across the Midwest, roving bands traveling in fast moving vehicles, toting sawed off shotguns and Tommy guns, robbed rural banks and post offices. Many people left embittered and destitute by the Depression actually found some justice in the growing number of bank robberies. In 1935, it was estimated that crooks outnumbered carpenters four to one, grocers six to one, and doctors twenty to one. This is another sign of the breakdown of Family life in the 1930s.

However, there was another face to the Great Depression, which is often overlooked. Photographs from these years (many which can benefit from photo retouching) show not just the desperate times, but events such as county fairs, carnivals, church picnics, Fourth of July parades, public swimming pools, and movie theaters. Movies and the radio were very popular because it was with these that people could escape their desolate lives. Church was a very important part of many people’s lives then, and communities, either in neighborhoods of larger towns or small towns themselves, became the lifeline that helped hold families together in such difficult times as American political issues changed from the panic of Depression to the growth of the future.

Even in the grip of hard times, people were still human and enjoyed a “high old time.” Children would play, and day-by-day life would go on. There were dimensions of joy and happiness that often do not come through with just the stark statistics recorded of family life in the 1930s. It was the vigor shown by the people who continued to have hope for a better tomorrow, who could pick themselves up after complete devastation and start over again, who had faith in God that things would get better. It was these people who would in a few years, would make America the most powerful nation on earth.

*For more about life in the 1930’s, read The Bjorngard Trilogy, by Carolyn J. Fosdick:
The Other Son, Ripples in the Water, and I Ride a Wild Horse

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

NehaVarma January 5, 2011 at 10:09 am

Damnn, 1930’s sucked.


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