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The Depression and New Deal

A History in Documents

Robert S. McElvaine

Publication Date - June 2003

ISBN: 9780195166361

192 pages
8 x 10 inches

A fascinating telling of the time of the Depression through a collection of primary sources and documents.


The Depression and New Deal is a collection of primary sources documenting American life during the longest and deepest economic collapse in American history. From the prosperity and rampant consumerism of the 1920s, the book moves forward to cover the double shock of the stock market crash and dust bowl and then on to the recovery efforts of Roosevelt's New Deal. Some of the most revealing testaments to the times-including songs by Woody Guthrie, articles from sources as diverse as Fortune magazine and the communist periodical New Masses, murals and posters sponsored by the Works Progress Administration, excerpts from literary classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and selections from Eleanor Roosevelt's "My Day" column-have been assembled to provide a well-rounded portrait of the age.

The battle among conflicting political and economic forces is brought to life with political cartoons, Roosevelt's "Forgotten Man" radio address and first inaugural address, Supreme Court decisions, newspaper editorials, text from the National Labor Relations Act, and many other documents. Some of the most compelling elements of this history record the impact of the depression on ordinary people. The experiences of Americans of both sexes, all ages, and various racial and ethnic groups are explored through documents such as Farm Security Administration photographs, interviews, letters to the Roosevelts, and the memoirs of a "southern white girl." A special section of Hollywood film stills demonstrates how the changing values of the nation were reflected in popular culture. Renowned historian Robert McElvaine provides expert commentary linking the documents into a fascinating and seamless narrative.

Textbooks may interpret history, but the books in the Pages from History series are history. Each title, compiled and edited by a prominent historian, is a collection of primary sources relating to a particular topic of historical significance. Documentary evidence including news articles, government documents, memoirs, letters, diaries, fiction, photographs, and facsimiles allows history to speak for itself and turns every reader into a historian. Headnotes, extended captions, sidebars, and introductory essays provide the essential context that frames the documents. All the books are amply illustrated and each includes a documentary picture essay, chronology, further reading, source notes, and index.


  • Captures American life during the longest and deepest economic collapse in American history
  • Documentary evidence including news articles, government documents, memoirs, letters, diaries, fiction, photographs, and facsimiles allows history to speak for itself
  • Amply illustrated including a documentary picture essay, chronology, further reading, source notes, and index

About the Author(s)

Robert McElvaine is Professor at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. His previous works include Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the 'Forgotten Man' (UNC Press, 1983) and The Great Depression: America, 1929-41 (Times Books, 1994)


"The latest volume in the excellent Oxford University Press Pages from History series does an admirable job of communicating the profound emotional and psychological impact of the Great Depression on the collective psyche of the American people.... Utilizing a wealth of primary sources, McElvaine charts the course of the Depression, permitting the documents he has gathered to tell the bulk of the story....A vivid reconstruction of a seminal era that will allow readers to become personally involved in the Depression experience."--Booklist

"Every aspect of the economic collapse is portrayed, including breadlines, riding the rails, the ban panic, the dust bowl....The important voices are here, too.... A balanced, inclusive picture of the period through the senses of the people who lived it."--School Library Journal

"A strong collection of primary source materials.... Government documents, articles, speeches, letters, memoirs, song lyrics, cartoons, photographs, and posters are annotated by a specialist in this period."--Horn Book Guide

"Engaging, insightful, and provocative....What really sets this work above the others is the careful selection of incredibly interesting documents accompanied by straightforward, astute explanations of their significance."--OAH Magazine of History

"Almost all history teachers believe that the best way for students to 'catch' history is to read prime sources, not just textbook summaries. [This] fulfills that purpose superbly!The author's commentaryis readable, helpful, and connects the documents well.I'd buy the whole set for middle or high school libraries."--Library Materials Guide

Table of Contents

    What is a Document?
    How to Read a Document

    Chapter 1: The New Era and Its Undertaker: The Twenties, the Crash, Herbert Hoover

    Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied
    Herbert Hoover's Optimism
    "When a horse Balks"

    Chapter 2: Stormy Weather: Depression Life

    City Breadlines
    Rural Hardship

    Chapter 3: "A War Against the Emergency": The New Deal

    Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address
    The First Fireside Chat
    "The Social Economics of the New Deal"
    An Open Letter to President Roosevelt
    The Social Security Act

    Chapter 4: "And I Welcome Their Hatred": Business and the New Deal

    The American Liberty League
    Defending the New Deal
    Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S.
    Franklin D. Roosevelt Campaigns against Big Business

    Chapter 5: Which Side are You On?: Labor Organizing in the Thirties

    The National Labor Relations Act
    A Call for Industrial Unionism
    Finding Common ground
    "Dis What de Union Done"

    Chapter 6: Production For Use, Not Profit: The Left

    "Whither the American Writer?"
    "I Have Seen Black Hands"
    "End Poverty in Civilization"
    "Ballad of Roosevelt"

    Chapter 7: The Quick Fix: Panaceas

    "Cure for Depressions"
    Lecture on Social Justice
    Share Our Wealth

    Chapter 8: "Woman Can Change Better'n a Man": Women, Men, and Children in the Depression

    Birth Rates
    "Boy and Girl Tramps of America"
    "Will Women Lose Their Jobs?"

    Chapter 9: "The Negro Was Born in Depression": Race and Ethnicity in the Thirties

    A New Pattern of Life for the Indian
    Getting By
    The Mexican-American Dream
    Mary Tsukamoto's Story

    Chapter 10: Down on the Farm: The Rural Depression

    Rebellion in the Corn Belt
    "Dust Bowl Diary"
    Woody Guthrie on the Dust Bowl

    Chapter 11: Art for the Millions: Culture in the Thirties

    Superman: New Deal Hero
    Joe Louis Uncovers Dynamite
    Federal Patronage of the Arts

    Chapter 12: Cinema in the Depression

    Chapter 13: The Mother and the Father of the Nation?: Attitudes Toward the Roosevelts

    A Pre-Election View
    A Letter from Wisconsin
    Memorandum on "Court Packing"
    "My day"
    Praise for Eleanor Roosevelt

    Chapter 14: "Social Values More Noble than Mere Monetary Profit": The Great Depression and American Values

    "Forgotten Man" Radio Address
    Memories of a Southern White Girl
    The Changed Social Life of a Migrant Camp
    "Middletown in Transition"
    "A Spirit of Charity"
    "Over the Rainbow"

    Further Reading
    Text Credits
    Picture Credits

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