The Depression was a difficult time for poor women. In 'America's Women' Gail Collins writes:
'The average family income dropped 40 percent between 1929 and 1933, and while men took second jobs or searched for better-paying employmen in an oversaturated market, mos tof hteir wives stayed home and struggled with what Eleanor Roosevelt called "endless little economies and constant anxieties." At the bottom end of the middle class, women worried about losing their homes and falling back into the class of renters - in Indianapolis, more than half of the families with mortgaged had defaulted on them by 1934.
The marriage rate dropped. The nation declared a truce in its war on spinsterhood, and magazines once again ran articles about women who found happiness in life without a husband. "Do you realize how many people in my generation are not married?" asked Elsa Ponselle, who wsa working as a teacher when the Chicago school system ran out of money and started paying its staff with IOUs. Her own boyfriend, a commercial artist, vanished when he was laid off from his job.
The people who suffered most during th eDperession had generally been poor all along, and now they quickly got poorer. "I have seen fear grip the people in our neighbourhood around Hull HOuse" wrote Jane Addams. O fall the terrible signs of the Depression, she thought "the clutch of cold fear is one of the most hideous aspects." In New York, Meridel LeSueur, writing an article for the New Masses, said it was "one of the great mysteries of the city where women go when they are out of work and hungry." Few women were actually on the breadlines, she noted, and there were no cheap flophouses for women as there were for men.
Certainly some single women slept in city parks and even traveled as hoboes on the rails. Bertha thompson, who called herself 'Boxcar Bertha' estimated that 500,000 to 2 million people were hoboes in the 1930s, and that perhaps a tenth of them were women. But mainly, the women who took to the road went with their families. Peggy Terry, who traveled as a migrant worker, remembered seeing a "Hooverville" in Oklahoma City. "Here were all these people livin gin old, rusted-out car bodies. There were people living in shacks made of orange crates. One family with a whole lot of kids were living in a piano box."
The sense of solidarity among the poor was often - though not always - strong. Housewives with very little still fed hungry tramps who came to the door. Pauline Kael, a teenager during the Depression who grew up to be a famous film critic, rememberd her mother vowing "I'll feed them till the food runs out." One of Lilian Wald's visiting nurses went to teach a young woman how to give her firstborn baby a bath and found not one young mother but two. The other girl had been in the next bed in the maternity ward, and when she confided she had no place to go, she was invited to the tiny tenement, where the husband gave up hsi half of the bed to the guest. "I can't do much for her, but I can put a roof over her head." said the first mother.
The issue of whether women should work was chewed over constantly in the newspapers and women's magazines, with the consensus coming down on the side of not. A federal law, passed during th eDepression, prohibited the employment of "married persons" whose spouses also worked for the government. Of the people forced to quit, three-quarters were women. (Eleanor Roosevelt called the law "a very bad and foolish thing" - government salaires, she argued, were so low, a family needed two incomes just to get along). Legislators in twenty-six states introduced laws completely banning the hiring of married women, although only Louisianna actually passed a law, and it was quickly declared unconstitutional. More than three-quartrers of the nation's public school districts refused to hire married teachers - unless they wree men. Despite all this, the number of married women who worked continued to increase throughout the decade. Most of them were poor women struggling to keep their families above water.'
Answered By: Louise C - 1/28/2009