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  FATHER COUGHLIN, HUEY LONG, & UPTON SINCLAIR; VOICES FOR THE DISAFFECTED IN 1930s AMERICA

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INTRODUCTION

The Great Depression of the 1930s, more than any other major event in America's history,  caused those who experienced it to question capitalism, democracy, and traditional American values. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, which gradually, and somewhat seamlessly, changed the economic, and to some extent the social, dynamic of American life, Black Friday and the subsequent economic and social responses of the 1930s prompted people to soul-search, question authority, and to look for an encompassing answer to the economic and social issues.

The introductory student of History might say that in hindsight, with 20/20 vision intact, the answer to the poverty and joblessness of the 1930s seems simple: FDR Inauguralgovernment dole to get the people back on their feet, and people back on their feet mean greater production of goods, and production of goods means money in the pockets of everyone. Seasoned students of History know that it is never that simple, and it wasn't.  Franklin D. Roosevelt's words of reassurance during his 1933 inaugural speech FDR First Inaugural Speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" offered some reassurance that not all was lost. QuickTimeAudio   However, initial attempts of the Roosevelt Administration to provide short-term relief during the first Hundred Days session of Congress largely failed (PWA, NRA, &c), whereas measures for longer-term results, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority [see my TVA project for details],  and the Banking Act of 1933, which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), went unnoticed by the increasing numbers of unemployed and those with meager sustenance for whom the economic rug had been, or was just, pulled out from under them.

JoblessThese disaffected men, women, and children of the 1930s  continued to search for a solution to the wide-spread effects of the Great Depression on their lives, but few had an answer and fewer still could find a job. Clearly, FDR's "New Deal" promise and continued reassurance put and kept him in the White House for most of the decade, but the alphabet soup that was served from the New Deal pot challenged the core stew of American values: rugged individualism, the pioneer spirit, and "one nation under God." Some Americans never lost hope and thus looked for solutions closer to home. Bob Hastings, in his autobiography, A Nickel's Worth of Skim Milk, writes of how some simple home economics and traditional values helped his family get through the Depression:

Looking back, I find it amazing what we did without. A partial list would include toothpaste (we used soda), toilet paper (we used the catalog), newspaper or magazine subscriptions, soft drinks, potato chips and snacks, bakery goods except for bread and an occasional dozen of doughnuts, paper clips, rubber bands, and restaurant meals. We had no water bill [they used a dug well on their urban property], sewer bill, telephone bill, no car expenses--gasoline, tires, licenses, insurance, repairs--no laundry service, no dry cleaning (we pressed woolens with a hot iron and a wet cloth), no bank service charge (no bank account), no sales or income tax. We sent no greeting cards except maybe half a dozen at Christmas (Hastings 14-15).

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