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Historical Voices

The Great Depression and World War II

Herbert Hoover was born to Quaker parents in West Branch, Iowa on Aug. 19, 1874. During his presidential campaign, Hoover's speeches were filled with promises of continued prosperity; however, soon after his inauguration, the stock market crashed and an economic depression ensued. Although Hoover's administration established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, through which $500 million of assistance was allocated to "trickle down" to the unemployed, he is best remembered for his assertion that social services should be provided to individuals not by the federal government, but by local and state organizations. As the depression deepened, Hoover lost the 1932 election to Franklin Roosevelt, whose policies Hoover openly criticized.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was the thirty-second President of the United States. He was President from 1932 until his death and is therefore the longest-serving President in history. During his first term as President, FDR called Congress into a special session and in the first "hundred days", as well as throughout 1935, proposed and passed a sweeping program aimed at providing economic relief and reform. Although his measures' successes were questionable, Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936, and despite attacking the Supreme Court as well as angering Congress during his second term, won again in 1940. Throughout his tenure, Roosevelt hoped to avoid war and achieve peace through the creation of the United Nations. Nevertheless, he continued to provide aid and supplies to the anti-German allies, and when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941, neutrality became impossible.

The Dustbowl describes a period of U.S. History beginning in the Great Plains in 1931, and the storms in which dry, drought devastated earth swirled around farms. By January, 1935, the New Deal recognized the problem with the creation of the Drought Relief Service to coordinate relief activities, the most important of which was a program to buy cattle which would otherwise have starved. In April, President Roosevelt signed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which provided $525 million for drought relief. Throughout the drought, farm families had to choose between their property and starvation, and more and more began to flee the worst-hit lands, especially in Oklahoma. Heading west on Route 66, they followed the mythology that California might be the solution to all troubles. To be sure, California agriculture was in a boom, and owners of the huge farms needed pickers, but the work was intermittent, brought low pay and seldom provided housing. People lived in "Little Oklahomas," squatter camps of rough-made shacks, or as often simply pulled off the road and threw up a tent. The stench of the camps, the hunger, the squallor, caught the attention of the New Deal's Resettlement Administration, which built a few model camps, the best at Arvin in Kern County. But the vast majority of migrants continued to suffer in terrifying conditions through the end of the decade.