Voices of the Great Depression

Books & Media

Brinkley, Alan. “Prosperity, Depression, and War, 1920-1945.” In The New American History. Edited by Eric Foner, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1997.
In a review of the work of various historians, the author notes significantly different perspectives on the Great Depression and the New Deal and the underlying assumptions which allow for differing interpretations of the era.

Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty, editors. The Reader’s Companion to American History. Entries on: “Great Depression,” pp. 279-281; “Dust Bowl,” p. 303; “Hundred Days,” pp. 527-528; “Internal Migration,” p.565, “Liberalism,” pp. 653-654; “Marriage,” p. 701; “New Deal,” pp. 783-786; “Unemployment,” 1095-1096. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.,1991.
Entries give succinct summaries of essential information about the economic and social implications of the Great Depression, and of the creation of a new political vision of government as embodied in the New Deal. The historical importance of Roosevelt’s legislative agenda in his first term in office is featured.

Kennedy, David M. “Strike! Labor’s Historic Drive to Unionize,” in Oates, Stephen B. and Errico, Charles J., editors. Portrait of America: Volume II, From Reconstruction to the Present. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
This chapter provides essential information to show how the labor union movement became a credible economic and political force in the 1930s by focusing on significant labor leaders, political leaders, labor-management confrontations, and legislation.

Levine, Lawrence W. and Levine, Cornelia R. The People and the President. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2002.
This book excerpts sections of Roosevelt’s weekly radio program that came to be known as his “Fireside Chats” and follows up with written responses of Americans to this uniquely personal form of direct political appeal. Sections of the book provide Americans’ responses to the First Hundred Days, efforts to help the weak, to bring order to the chaos wrought by economic depression, and responses to the help offered by government in various New Deal programs.

May, Elaine Tyler, “Depression: Hard Times at Home,” in Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books, 1988.
May examines how the depression and New Deal policies reinforced gender stereotypes by failing to alleviate wage differentials or discriminatory lay-off policies, and she examines how the media portrayed independent women as potentially ruinous to the the stability of the American family.

Mindsparks. The Way We Saw it: the Great Depression in Illustration and Art. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith, Inc.,1997.
This booklet provides a series of political cartoons and photographs, with commentary, to help in teaching about the causes and consequences of the depression, as well as to address differing perspectives on the New Deal and the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

National Archives and Records Administration. The Great Depression and the New Deal: a Supplemental Teaching Unit from the Record of the National Archives. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC Clio, Inc., 2001.
NARA has complied letters, photographs, telegrams, and newspaper articles and provides lesson plans to allow classrooms to analyze New Deal programs from multiple perspectives.

Watkins, T.H. “Under Hoover, the Shame and Misery Deepened,” in Oates, Stephen B. and Errico, Charles J., editors. Portrait of America: Volume II, From Reconstruction to the Present. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Hoover’s struggles to resolve his political beliefs with the growing realities of the country’s depression are chronicled.

Zinn, Howard, and Anthony Arnove. Voices of a People’s History of the United States. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2004.
Primary sources in this volume include poems, excerpts from novels, speeches, biographies, and song lyrics to portray labor union organizing, lynching, communist political action, the Bonus Army, and the Dust Bowl as significant to the people’s experience of the decade.


An Idaho woman remembers her acts of charity toward “drifters,” who were people unemployed, homeless, and migrating during the economic depression of the 1930s.

Three farmers mimic the “Spirit of ‘76” to promote “farm holidays” when farmers attempted to raise commodity prices by preventing crops from transport to markets on roadways in the Midwest.

Black sharecroppers are forced off their land by the policies of the Agricultural Adjustment Act that attempted to raise prices for farm products by subsidizing farmers so that they would plant less.

Photograph shows example of the National Recovery Administration’s attempts to publicize its Blue Eagle logo campaign to reduce competition and interrupt the deflationary cycle of supply and demand.

Audio and text of speech excerpt in which Herbert Hoover asserts that the Great Depression should be ending soon.

In testimony before Congress, a socialist advocates the eight hour workday and other reforms that would have the government take an active role in reforming the economy.

Union steelworkers’ declaration or labor rights modeled on the Declaration of Independence

A real estate lobbyist urges the federal government to refrain from building public housing.

A journalist pretends to be a hobo in order to urge more fortunate, compassionate Americans to view the unemployed beggar as a “con artist.”

A family is interviewed about their experiences losing the family business, having to move in with relatives, having difficulty finding work.

Eighteen quotes from Herbert Hoover that illustrate his lack of understanding about the severity of the economic depression.

In an interview, an Iowa family discusses their fall from prosperity to subsistence living.

Video clips illustrate WPA programs for men, women, and schoolchildren.

A young man recalls how CCC workers constructing a flood-control dam were reckless and irresponsible in their leisure time. Another reflects upon work and leisure in Worthington, Massachusetts: how the family survived selling sugar, butter, and turkeys, and how his mother made their clothes.

New Deal website offers photographs of various New Deal programs as offered by government media sources.

Photo gallery of work of photographers Rondal Partridge and his mother Imogen Cunningham, the former as an employee of the National Youth Administration. Some photos accompanied by essays on topics such as hitchhiking, peace marches, farm work, and aviation factory work.

Audio recordings of Terkel’s interviews for his books including a section entitled “Hard Times” about survival during the Great Depression.

This section of the extensive National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) website contains excellent worksheets to guide students in careful analysis of primary sources including artifacts, cartoons, written documents, maps, photographs, posters, and sound recordings.

Eleven photographs from the National Archives illustrating effects of impoverishment, (children picking sugar beets, abandoned house, freight rider, and New Deal themes (CCC camp, TVA power generation plant).

Summary, transcript, timeline, maps related to film about teenagers riding on freight trains during the Great Depression.

Contains 150 photographs and other documentation recalling the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Lake Gilbert, New York.

In a Fireside Chat dated May 7, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt outlines the New Deal programs legislated by Congress and the intended benefits of each.