Ask a Librarian

Great Depression

Ithaca Journal, The (NY) - Saturday, April 4, 2009
Author: Tompkins County Public Library

The U.S. has pulled through more than one 'depression'.

Question: Is our country headed for another "Great Depression," and where can I find information about what impact financial depressions have on the country?

Answer: It's impossible to escape - talk of another depression is flooding the media through television, radio and the Internet. For a large part of our population, however, the meaning of the term "Great Depression" is unclear. Many young people are asking what life was like during the Depression and why everyone is so nervous at the prospect of another.

Economically, the Great Depression of 1929 occurred under similar conditions as those we are experiencing now; banks were failing, the stock market crashed, and there was an unbalanced distribution of wealth. Many people lost their jobs and homes as a result of the economic downturn. Adding to these issues was the impact of the Dust Bowl, a severe drought in the Midwest and central states that financially crippled farmers. Many combined households to save money and resources, while others lost everything and were forced to move into already crowded cities in search of affordable housing and jobs.

There is another side to this story, however. The Great Depression was not the first economic struggle the United States faced as an independent nation. Previous depressions occurred in 1807, 1837, 1873 and 1893. America survived every one, in part because communities united to help each other physically and emotionally. During the Great Depression, families and neighbors spent time together listening to dramatic programs and big band music on battery-powered radios, penicillin and Depression Glass were invented, and gas was only 10 cents per gallon. The government stepped up as well, providing relief to the unemployed in the form of economic stimulus programs much like the ones President Obama is planning now. Past programs led to thousands of jobs that improved the appearance and functionality of our country for decades to come. In spite of all the hardships this country faced during the Great Depression, by the 1940s, it once again lifted itself up and moved forward, and so will we.

Check out these books

TCPL has many resources on all aspects of the Depression. Here are few to explore:

*"A Farm Girl in the Great Depression" by Myer, Ruth. (LH-B). The author describes family and farm life during her happy childhood in rural New York during the 1930s.

* "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Great Depression, 1929-1933" by Meltzer, Milton (973.916). Meltzer focuses on the human response to the depression, adding firsthand accounts and photos to his description of the harsh conditions experienced by Americans nationwide. This publication is suitable for both younger audiences and adults.

* "Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1940: How Americans Lived Through the "Roaring Twenties" and the Great Depression" by Kyvig, David E. (973.91 Kyvig). Historian Kyvig illustrates the lives of people in the '20s and '30s, detailing work life, domestic matters and leisure activities of Americans during these two decades of rapid change and progress.

* "Women of Valor: The Struggle Against the Great Depression as Told in Their Own Life Stories" (303.484). Sixteen famous women comment on hardships confronted and battles won in both political and personal areas of their lives during the great depression.

For kids

* "Headin' For Better Times: The Arts of the Great Depression" by Damon, Duane (J700 Damon). The arts flourished during the depression, fueled by government stimulus projects. Damon's book illustrates the variety of formats used and highlights how this important time in history was captured and recorded through the arts. Appropriate for intermediate readers.

* "Out of the Dust" by Hesse, Karen (YA Hesse). Oklahoma-born Billie Jo shares the events of her life and travels during the depression, offering a teenage perspective of what the world was like during this period in history. This Newbery Award winner will be appreciated by all teens.

* "Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression"by Lied, Kate (E Lied). The author relates the story of her parents' and grandparents' experiences working on a potato farm after losing their home in Iowa during the 1930s. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Today's question was answered by Susan Naylor, an adult services librarian at Tompkins County Public Library. Send your questions by e-mail to, or call 272-4557 or visit the library at 101 E. Green St.

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