Women, Minorities, and Youth Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the Great Depression, women bore as much as or, arguably, more of the brunt of the era's ravages than men did. Yet women were not dealt with programmatically under New Deal relief legislation. Rather, they found jobs where they could find them, struggled to make ends meet at home, and voted their conscience at the polls. Advocate-in-chief of American women and, indeed, of all downtrodden souls was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote, spoke, toured, and engaged in policy debates on women's behalf. She was largely successful in being a feminist activist while not fully appearing to be so, in light of her more conventional role at the White House. Other officials who contributed to the advance of women were Labor Secretary Frances Perkins–the first ever female US cabinet member–and Molly Dewson, head of the women's division of the Democratic National Committee. Generally speaking, though, women did what they always have done: work, learn, manage families, and serve as citizens.

During the Great Depression, women bore as much as or, arguably, more of the brunt of the era's ravages than men did. Yet women were not dealt with programmatically under New Deal relief legislation. Rather, they found jobs where they could find them, struggled to make ends meet at home, and voted their conscience at the polls. Advocate-in-chief of American women and, indeed, of all downtrodden souls was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who wrote, spoke, toured, and engaged in policy debates on women's behalf. She was largely successful in being a feminist activist while not fully appearing to be so, in light of her more conventional role at the White House. Other officials who contributed to the advance of women were Labor Secretary Frances Perkins–the first ever female US cabinet member–and Molly Dewson, head of the women's division of the Democratic National Committee. Generally speaking, though, women did what they always have done: work, learn, manage families, and serve as citizens.

As with women's rights, minority rights were not systematically advanced under the New Deal. Only slight inroads were made in selective areas. Roosevelt, for example, failed to authorize anti-lynching legislation in order to secure the allegiance of southern Democrats. He did, on the other hand, put blacks to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps and other agencies–albeit often in separate African American units. It was largely left-wing political groups that helped organize southern black sharecroppers, not government relief programs. (In fact, farm workers were excluded from the new Social Security legislation.) The educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune helped organize a number of black organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women. With Eleanor Roosevelt's blessing, Bethune also served as an African American youth advocate inside the government.

Meanwhile, Latinos faced challenges and met them largely on their own. During the previous decade, many Mexicans migrated to California and parts of the southwest to become agricultural laborers or urban workers. They were initially welcomed as a source of cheap labor, but when the Depression set in they encountered hostility over the matter of jobs and their place in the economy. A program of “repatriation” was instituted under which they were deported en masse to Mexico. In the northeast, Puerto Ricans were becoming more populace as they too worked the fields and manned the factories. Here, there was no systematic deportation in reaction to Depression-era joblessness, but there was a concerted effort, even among some Puerto Rican leaders, to “mainstream” members of the community and have them speak English first and generally conform to the ways of the white majority.

For American Indians, the 1930s brought one notable improvement. John Collier, an anthropologist and social reformer, appointed by Roosevelt as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, ushered in a series of laws culminating in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The law gave Native Americans greater responsibility for self-government on the reservations and permitted increased cultural and educational freedoms. Increasingly, too, Indians were brought into the workforce, particularly in the areas of building construction, logging, and fisheries.

Categories: History Content