The Great Depression: Breadline and World’s Highest Standard of Living

Morris Huberland - Bread Line. late 1930s. Gelatin silver print: 6¾ x 7¼ in.

1937 photo by Margaret Bourke-White – Breadline during Louisville Flood.

The breadlines during the Great Depression are some of the most symbolic characteristics of the Great Depression. The breadlines were unusually long and crowded, despite of the fact that the agency were providing little bread to each individuals. Although most of people on the breadline were capable laborers, the lack of employment opportunities made them unable to make any production and forced them to wait on a crowded line for most of the day-time. It was quite tragic, since many capable workers were forced to accept the little ration provided by the government. Certain city folks found it unbearable and relocated themselves to rural areas to farm, in hope of using their labor to produce actual food.

The two images above are illustrations of the long, crowded breadlines during the Great Depression. The first picture depicts the breadline on a cold day, in which many people wear wearing heavy jackets and hiding their hands in the pockets. They have no other choice other than waiting there. They could not produce food in the city (or not fast enough, since growing vegetation in the backyard cannot guarantee a stable food source),  so they had no choice but to accept their only stable source of food. On the other hand, the second picture portrays the irony of America’s economics collapse. Just several years ago, the Americans were celebrating the lavish lifestyle and liberal behaviors of the Roaring Twenties; however, by the time of the depression, Americans no longer had the money and leisure to enjoy their freedom and the world’s highest standard of living. Nothing remained but the ad board, which ironically depicted their faded prosperity during the age of wide-scale poverty.


The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a massive cultural movement among African Americans that took place in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Nearly one million African-Americans left the south following the end of WWI. They sought new opportunities up north and many found themselves heading to cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago and of course New York City. During the 20’s these cities black population more than doubled, and Harlem, NYC became known as “the capital of Black America”. Though many faced hard times during this era, a great artistic movement began. Cultural poetry, paintings, musical composers, intellectuals and novels began to emerge. Most notably was the production and development of outstanding Jazz musicians, such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. The Apollo theatre in Harlem became the pride of Harlem, and was the only place in the city that hired black performers. In these theatre seats both black and white patrons watched shows together, and it can be considered a place of equality. The Harlem Renaissance was a massive step forward in the movement for civil rights.


Roaring Twenties and the Flappers

The Roaring Twenties are recalled as the crazy age of social revolutions of sexes and behaviors. The social revolutionists from that era, especially the flappers (the young, sexually liberated women), were ultimately violating the religious and social taboos that were once strictly enforced. It was probably beyond the imagination of most Americans before the 1900s.

A video depicting our grannies, the women of Roaring Twenties, is located at the bottom of the post. The video, which has footage taken from the 1920s, illustrates the gregarious and luxurious life-styles of the brave women of the age of breaking former social taboos.

*It is worthwhile to note that Foner has described the reaction from Europe as positively amazed and envious. The actual wording is reproduced here: “Observers from Europe, where class divisions were starkly visible in work, politics, and social relations, marveled at the uniformity of American Life.”

I understand that Foner do not wish to go more depth for this topic, but I find his claim to be single-opinionated and without enough supporting evidences. Certainly, some Europeans probably had admired the liberal lifestyles of Americans; however, it’s hard to imagine that conservatives and religious Europeans would give recognition to the flappers. Foner’s claim probably had not given us a very accurate image, or is not well-supported enough to convince certain readers.