Government’s Role

The stock market crash of October 1929 may not have “caused” the Depression, but nonetheless it was a visible signal of the economic problems in American society. For at least half of the population, the Depression brought no great deprivation, though they were certainly aware of the hardships others faced. By 1932, unemployment had reached twenty percent, with a third of those who were working only working part-time. Families moved in together to save money and brought food to less fortunate relatives, strengthening “kinship ties.”

Meanwhile, the federal government, in a mind-boggling display of bureaucratic spin, advocated the notion that women actually felt less strain due to the Depression than men.

The chief of the Federal Bureau of Home Economics argued that homemaking could and should be esteemed because it was the ‘only occupation engaging a significant number which give economic security to its workers.’ None of the nation’s twenty-eight million housewives lost their jobs because of the economic crisis.

– Lois Scharf, To Work and to Wed

The government of course ignored exactly how unpaid work inside the home offered the women any economic security. Nonetheless, the government’s awkward praise is an example of the difficult negotiations during the era to determine exactly what service provides a “contribution” to society and should be protected by governmental assistance.


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