The invisible women of the Great Depression

The Great Depression, women made up 25% of the workforce, but the job more unstable, temporary or seasonal than men, and the unemployment rate much it was greater. There was also a strong cultural prejudice and believes that "women are not working," and in fact, many who are employed full time are often called themselves "homemakers". Neither of people, labor unions or government branch was prepared to accept the reality of working women, and this distortion caused by female intense hardship of the Great Depression.

was in 1930 particularly difficult to single, divorced or widowed woman, but it was even harder for women who were not white. Women's color had to overcome sexual and racial stereotypes. The black women in the North reached an astounding 42.9% unemployment, while 23.2%. White women were out of work, according to the 1937 census. The South, black and white women are equally unemployed is 26%. By contrast, the unemployment rate for black and white men in the North (38.9% / 18.1%) and South (18% / 16%) was also lower than female counterparts.

The financial situation Harlem was bleak even before the Great Depression. But then, the black working class in the emerging wholesale layoffs decimated the North Black industrial workers. To have a black and a woman is alone hold a job or find another almost impossible. The work of racial hierarchies are replaced by black women in domestic work or waitressing, white women, now desperate to work and willing to steep wage cuts.

Survival Contractors

At the beginning of the Depression, while one study found that homeless women were the most likely in the case of factory and service workers, domestics, garment workers, waitresses and beauticians; Another suggested that the cosmetics industry was a major source of income for black women. These women, later called "survival entrepreneurs," became self-employed, must find solutions for independent living in a desperate. "

Replaced White women in traditional household chores cooks, maids, nurses and laundresses, more skilled and educated black women are so desperate, & # 39; to actually offered to sell the so-called" slave markets & # 39; – street corner where black women were gathering to wait for White housewives who came daily to pick and bid down wages & # 39; & # 39; (Boyd, Drake and Cayton 2000 quotes, 1945/1962: 246). In fact, the domestic national service is very difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate with family responsibilities as domestic servants were usually call & # 39; & # 39; day and night & # 39; & # 39; and it was tied to "" the arbitrary power of the individual employer. & # 39; & # 39;

Inn Keepers and hairdressers

There are two occupations sought out black women, in order to find a solution to the need for income (or barter items) and household tasks in the northern cities of the Great Depression: (1) bed and breakfast accommodation and house keeping; and (2) hairdressing and beauty culture.

The "Migration" in 1915-1930, thousand blacks in the south, especially the young, single men, streamed into northern cities, looking for places to stay temporarily while they searched the homes and workplaces. Housing opportunities created by these immigrants working-class black women -Now unemployment to pay the rent.

According to one estimate, & # 39; & # 39; at least one-third & # 39; Black family in the northern city was a tenant or tenants of the Great Migration (Thomas, 1992: 93, quoted Henri, 1976). The demand was so high, many snowboarders were held, which reported a survey of the northern black families that & # 39; & # 39; Seventy-five percent of the Negro tenant homes are so many that they are really near. & # 39; & # 39;

Women were usually at the center of these webs of family and community networks in the black community:

"I & # 39; undertook the largest part of the burden & # 39; & # 39 ;, to help a novice can find temporary housing women played & # 39;. & # 39; connective tissue and lead in & # 39; northern black communities, not only because they considered the traditional "women's work", but also because taking in boarders and the residents helped black women combine domestic work free, income-generating activities (Grossman, 1989: 133). in addition, and supplies for house keeping is often combined with other types of self Some black women who kept boarders and lodgers also earned money by. that artificial flowers and lampshades home "(Boyd, 2000)

In addition, 1890-1940", "barbers, hairdressers & # 39;. & # 39; It was the largest business segment of the black population, and that approximately one third of the population in 1940 (Boyd, 2000 Oak cites, 1949: 48).

"black people being attracted to these occupations as" White barbers, hairdressers and beauticians were willing or style the hair of black people, or to use them by the hair and cosmetics. So black barbers, hairdressers, beauticians and had a & # 39; & # 39; protected consumer market & # 39; & # 39; White on "social distance or the Blacks and the special needs of Black consumers. Accordingly, there were these black entrepreneurs protected from external competitors and not monopolize the disciplines within the cosmetics and hairdressing in their community.

Black women who work search believed that the man's appearance was an important aspect of the job search. black self-help organizations in northern cities, such as the urban League and the National Council of Negro women, stressed the importance of good care for the newly arrived black women in the south, advises that beautiful hair . and clean nails when searching for work of all, the women were told not to wear & # 39; & # 39; head rag & # 39; & # 39; and & # 39; & # 39; dust caps & # 39; public (Boyd 2000 cites Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962: 247, 301; Grossman, 1989. 150-151)

These warnings have been particularly important to those who were looking for secretarial or mental work, the need for a straight black women hair and light skin that is every chance that these positions. Despite the hard times, beauty salons and barber shops were the most viable black-owned enterprises and black communities (for example, Boyd, Drake and Cayton 2000 quotes, 1945/1962: 450-451).

Black female entrepreneurs in the urban North also opened stores and restaurants, modest savings & # 39; & # 39 ;, like living in a restraint device & # 39; & # 39; (Boyd, 2000 cites Frazier, 1949: 405). Called & # 39; & # 39; Depression enterprises "," extremist businesses often qualified enterprises to operate even more of & # 39; & # 39; houses, cellars and old buildings "(Boyd, Drake and Cayton 2000 quotes, 1945/1962: 454).

" Food stores and eating and drinking places were the most common of these businesses, because if you do not the owners still live in their stocks. "

" Protestant whites only "

These enterprises were the need for black women than for hiring preference over whites sharply Depression. The Philadelphia Public Employment Office, 68% of job commands defined in 1932 and 1933, the women "whites only." In New York, black women were forced to go to a separate unemployment offices in Harlem to look for a job. Black churches and church-related institutions', the traditional source using the black community, were overwhelmed by demand during the 1930s. Municipal shelters, is required to "accept everyone," still meant that Catholics and African-American women were 'particularly difficult to place. "

Nobody knows the number of homeless black women in the early thirty's, but there was no doubt significant and invisible to the mostly white detectives. Instead, the media chose to focus on and publish the fate of White, homeless, middle-class "white collar" workers, as, in 1931 and 1932, unemployment spread of this middle class. White-collar and college-educated women, usually accustomed "to regular employment and a stable residence" became the "new poor." I do not know that the homeless proportion of these women, too educated guesses, but all the homeless in urban centers and 10% that of women. However, we know that the demand for "female brain" shelters climbed a little more than 3,000 in 1920 to 56 808 by 1932, one city and another, in 1929 -1930, the demand has increased 270%.

"Having an address in a luxury now …"

Even the number of them, however, were not the last stop on the way towards homelessness and was aimed at "normal destitute" of women, and will always be those who were homeless for the first time. Finally some numbers in shelters, but have not yet registered with any agency. Resources were few. Emergency home was limited relief to families with dependent children until 1934. "Having an address in a luxury now," the unemployed college woman told the social worker in 1932.

These newly destitute urban women were shocked and dazed who It drifted into an unemployment office to the next, resting Grand Central and Pennsylvania station and he rode the subway all night (the "five cents room"), or sleeping in the park and ate a penny kitchens. Slow to ask for help and fearful, and ashamed to ask for charity, these women are often on the verge of starvation before asked for help. There were, according to one report, it is often the "saddest and most difficult to help." These women are "starved to slow furnished rooms. They sold the furniture, their clothes and their bodies."

emancipated woman, not myths

were the cultural myth that women "do not work", they were not invisible. Political voice is silent. Gender role demanded that women continue to be "someone poor relation" who returned at the time of the rural homestead of trouble to help in the home, and were given shelter. They cultivate idyllic, mythical pre-industrial family houses were large enough to accommodate everyone. The new reality is much bleaker. Urban housing, not more than two or three rooms, a mandatory "maiden aunts" or "single cousins" to "shift for themselves." We stayed in the family home is often severe troubles in often tense, overworked, overcrowded households of their own.

In addition, some other African-Americans than they were in the country to return to its roots. And it can be assumed that once a woman has been emancipated and tasting success is "malleable". The female role had been out-of-date myth, but an effective one. The "new woman" of the roaring twenties now left without a social face of the Great Depression. Home without – the quintessential element of womanhood – was, paradoxically, ignored and invisible.

"… neighborhood has been stretched beyond human endurance."

In reality, more than half of employed women never married, others divorced, abandoned, separated or claimed to be a widow. We do not know how many were lesbian women. Some had dependent parents and siblings, who have relied on their support. Less was the children who are living in a large family. Women's wages are historically low for most female professions, and allowed little capacity in "emergency" savings, but most of these women are financially independent. Milwaukee, for example, 60% of those seeking help were self-supporting in 1929 in New York, the figure was 85%. The work to be performed is often the most volatile and at risk. Some months were unemployed, others for a year or more. The savings and insurance gone, they were knocked out of the informal social networks. A social worker at the end of 1931, testified to a Senate committee that "neighborhood has been stretched beyond not only the capacity but beyond human endurance."

due Older women are often discriminated against on the age and the long history of living outside of traditional family systems. When the work was not available, it is often defined as one job in Philadelphia, the demand for "white stenographers and clerks, to 25 (age)"

The Invisible Woman

The effects of the Great Depression in women, then as now, was invisible to the eye. The tangible proof breadlines, Hoovervilles and men selling apples on the street corner, does not contain images of urban women. Unemployment, hunger and homelessness was considered a "male problem", as well as anxiety and despair was measured in that way. Photographic images, news and destitute urban women are ignored, or not obvious. It was considered unseemly to a homeless woman, and often kept from the public, ushered in by the back door entrances, and feed himself.

Part of the problem lay expectations. While homeless men puffed intervals during periods of economic crisis since the depression of the 1890s onwards, a large number of homeless women "own" as a new phenomenon. Public servants were prepared: they were without children, early, excluded emergency shelters. In the third year, more than 56,000 "bed" of a building with a capacity of 155 beds and six cribs submitted depression. Still, these numbers do not take into account the number of women turned away because they are not white and Protestant.

Just as the Great Depression wore just want a way to make money, these women were excluded from the "New Deal" work programs set up to help the unemployed. The men saw "breadwinners" the economy needs more economic resources. While information and charitable bodies finally did appear, they are often not sufficient demand.

because black women are especially hard times to participate in the mainstream economy of the Great Depression, they also have to find alternative employment in their community because of the unique patterns of migration occurred during this period. White women, by contrast, was a keyhole options when they were young and considerable skills, although their skin color alone any greater access to traditional employment was still available.

rejection of traditional female roles, and the desire for emancipation, but these women are low risk when the economy collapsed. In any case, single women, both black and white skin, were worse and were invisible to patients.

As we enter the second Great Depression, who will be the new "invisible homeless" and women as a group, fare better this time?


Abelson, E. (2003 Spring2003). Women who are not men to work for them: Gender and homelessness, the Great Depression, 1930-1934. Feminist Studies, 29 (1), 104. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Boyd, R. (2000, December). Race, labor market disadvantage and Survivalist Entrepreneur: Black Women in the Urban Land during the Great Depression. Sociological Forum, 15 (4), 647-670. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Source by Kathy A. McMahon

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