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Women during the Great Depression who were unheard of

The invisible women of the great depression

By Sonali Shekhar ChoudharyPublished 3 months ago 3 min read

Women made up 25% of the labour force during the Great Depression, but their jobs were less permanent, transitory, or seasonal than men's, and their unemployment rate was substantially higher. Additionally, there was a certain bias and cultural belief that "women didn't work," and many of those who did so frequently referred to themselves as "homemakers." Women suffered greatly because of this attitude during the Great Depression since neither men in the workforce, the unions, nor any branch of government were prepared to embrace the reality of working women.

The 1930s were particularly difficult for women who were widowed, divorced, or unmarried, but it was even worse for women who weren't White. It was difficult for women of colour to get over racial and sexual stereotypes. According to the 1937 census, White women were unemployed at a rate of 23.2% in the North, compared to an astonishing 42.9% for Black women. In the South, the unemployment rate for women of all races was 26%. In contrast, Black and White men's unemployment rates in the North and South, respectively, were lower than those for women (38.9%/18.1% and 18%/16%, respectively).

Before the Great Depression, Harlem's financial status was dire. However, subsequent mass layoffs of Black industrial workers devastated the newly growing Black working class in the North. Being Black and a woman alone made it nearly impossible to hold a job or get another one. The racial labour hierarchy substituted White women who were suddenly in need of work and willing to accept significant wage reductions for Black women who were working as waitresses or in domestic jobs.

Hairdressers and innkeepers


The Unseen Woman

Women were not visually affected by the Great Depression, as they are not today. There were no visible representations of metropolitan women among the breadlines, Hoovervilles, and men peddling apples on street corners. The level of misery and hopelessness was calculated using the notion that unemployment, starvation, and homelessness were "men's problems." Desperate urban women were ignored or barely visible in photographs and news reporting. Being a homeless lady was seen as unsightly, and they were frequently fed privately and led in through back door openings.n northern cities during the Great Depression, Black women looked out two professions to help them with both their need for cash (or barter items) and their domestic responsibilities: (2) Hairdressing and beauty culture, and (1) boarding home and lodge housekeeping.
The issue was partially caused by expectations. Since the Great Depression of the 1890s, there had been recurrent increases in the number of homeless men, but substantial numbers of homeless women living "on their own" were a relatively new occurrence. Because they didn't have children, they were initially turned away from emergency shelters because public officials were unprepared. During the third year of the depression, more than 56,000 "beds" were housed in a single structure with a capacity of 155 beds and six cribs. However, the number of women who were turned away because they were not White or Protestant is not included in these statistics.These ladies were barred from the "New Deal" job programmes designed to aid the unemployed as the Great Depression progressed because they just wanted a way to make money. Men held more claim to economic resources because they were considered to be "breadwinners." While outreach and philanthropic organisations did eventually appear, they were frequently unable to satisfy the need.

Despite the fact that black women during the Great Depression had a particularly difficult time participating in the mainstream economy, they did have some opportunities to find alternative jobs inside their own communities due to the unique migration patterns that had developed during that time. While their skin colour alone gave them more access to whatever traditional job was, white women had a keyhole opportunity if they were young and skilled.

But after the economy tanked, these women's drive for independence and rejection of traditional gender roles put them in grave danger. In any event, both black and white skinned single women fared badly and were victims who went unnoticed.

Who will be the new "invisible homeless" when the Second Great Depression begins, and will women as a whole do better this time?


About the Creator

Sonali Shekhar Choudhary

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