This page contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and answers regarding social issues
in the 1930s time period. The questions are organized by sub-category as best as possible.
Q: What can you tell me about racism in the US in 1930?
A: I am Canadian not American so with reference to
racism in the U.S. in 1930, I would suggest that
you research your answer at the Library. However,
generalizing from my experience, that was a tough
country to live in especially if you were black. The
Ku Klux Klan was in existence and performed some
pretty hateful acts against the blacks and of course
other minority groups. The southern states were
perhaps the most volatile, and in some cases they
More: Racism is a plague of almost any country.
What we dont understand, we fear and what we fear
we seem to hate. Mankind has not evolved very far
in the last 2000 years.
Q: Can you compare discrimination in the 30s and now (1990s/2000).
A: I do not believe that minorities were
out of work any more than the WASPS. The 30's
threw many people out of work - my dad being one of
them. We lived on City Relief which would help with
food and clothing. I personally lived in a mixed neighbourhood
comprising of blacks, Jews, Italians, Germans
and Orientals. We were all in the same boat - no money
but we played together and I do not remember any
particular group being discriminated against. I am sure
that there were those that felt discriminated against but
as previously stated, these were rought years and most
people were struggling for an existence.
I do not research
my answers but base them on my personal experiences of
the time. I offer no information on the 1990s as I am
sure you have your own opinions on that.
Q: Can you describe class distinctions back in the 1930s?
A: For those who
were in the Stock Market in 1929 and managed to
survive the Crash, I would imagine that their life
continued as usual. However, for the most part
there was a huge amount of unemployment and
in the city where I came from there was what they
called City Relief. They helped the poorer families
with supplies of food and clothing.
were issued pogey pants and boots every six months
My dad never worked during the 30's but went looking
every day. Anyone who had money I guess stayed in
with their own class but for the most part there were
so many in the poor class.
We had good times as kids
played in the street, used our imagination a lot for games
had little or no money to spend - Yet believe it or not we
were happy. I am sure the parents worried a lot about
making ends meet - but they met the challenge. I do not
recall any particular incidence of Class Distinction. I would
guess that it existed as it does now and has through all
Q: Can you talks about sports and blacks?
A: History records that blacks experienced a lot of
discrimination in sports and in many other fields
of life in the early years of the century. A young
black man (Jesse Owens) won the footrace in Germany in the
mid 1930's and Adolf Hitler refused to give him
the medal he deserved.
Blacks entered into the
sport of major league baseball in 1947 and again they had a hard time
because of their race. They did however prove to
be excellent sportsmen and over the years have
come into their own as far as acceptance is concerned.
Sports have become a multi billion dollar business and
the name of the game is to hire the best regardless of
the color of their skin. The dedicated sportsmen learned
to ignore the slurs and kept focused on the individual
Q: How were blacks and handicapped people treated?
A:The blacks were most certainly a
suppressed race and worked mainly picking cotton or as
migrant workers on farms. As you have no doubt read, these
were extremely lean years and whites were thrown into
unemployment and traversed the land eking out a living as
best they could. The KKK was ever present in the thirties
and I am sure the blacks suffered under their hands.
This was an era of the "survival of the fittest" and there was not
a lot of money available for special treatment of the handicapped
or people with mental illness.
There were some facilities for the mentally challenged but the
treatment was antiquated such as the use of shock treatment.
The mentally handicapped were
mostly institutionalized and it came to light years later that
many were sterilized so they could not reproduce.
Q: Were blacks worse off than today?
A: I must state that blacks were most definitely treated much
worse in 1930's than they are today. In the 30's blacks were
mistreated by the Ku Klux Klan and murders committed which
probably still remain unsolved. The blacks were mainly servants
to the whites and this was more prevalent in the southern states.
They had to fight every inch of the way to obtain an education
and to be able to vote in federal elections. Their road has been
long and hard.
Yet today you see a much freer attitude toward
blacks. They star in movies, have many shows on TV (Cosby
for instance) They can vote and attend universities. They do not
have to sit at the back of the bus or be refused service in eateries.
The situation has much improved in the last 70 years. I am sure
there are those who still hate, at least resent, the blacks and the
struggle will always be there but they have come a long way and
hopefully this will continue.
Q: Did rapes occur and how were they handled?
A: I cannot give you official legal advice regarding
rape in the 30's. The rape of a young girl would naturally
be dealt with more severely than that of an older woman.
The courts most definitely frowned on this and if proven,
would come down very hard on the culprit.
Women were hard pressed to come forward and make accusations
as it was definitely a man's world back then. They usually
felt too ashamed to press charges. There was no DNA as
there now is in 2000. I would say if it did get to court and
was a proven fact, a guy could face 10 years. I have no
research to back this up and rely strictly on memory of the
More thoughts: Back then if a woman was
raped it was hushed up. Those that were brave enough to charge
the man fought a losing battle. The guy would get friends to
testify in court that they had "been" with her. This was not in all
cases but it did happen. Sort of a "good old boys club."
Q: What was the role of women in society back then, and what sorts of things did they do?
A: The women of the 30's were primarily housewives
and mothers. There were some professional women
but they were in the minority. Being busy raising their
families, cooking, cleaning left women without too
much voice in world happenings. However, women
accepted this as their role so there was no big bid for
The 40's presented a different woman. When the war broke out in 1939 many
of our men were being shipped
overseas and as the war lasted, and young men grew up
they too, were sent to do the fight. We then had a shortage
of manpower and women went out into the workfield in
droves. They worked in many factories related to war
materials, they drove buses and streetcars and overall
they were not too badly paid. When the guys started
returning from the war front jobs were not too plentiful
so women retained their jobs (not war related) and they
began to enjoy the idea of two incomes. I do not know
what role women would play in society today if it had
not been for the war. They may have eventually wanted
their place in the sun. That is anybody's guess.
Q: Can you describe women's rights in the 1930s?
A: There is quite a distinction between today's woman
and the woman of the 1930's. There was always
women around in the early part of the century that
aspired for a better role for women in society. The
major role of women in the 30's would be housewife
and mother. There was a lot of unemployment after
the Crash of 1929 and jobs for men were very scarce
so naturally they were first in line for employment. It
was just the way things were at that time. Men eaked
out a living and women raised the children and looked
after the creature comforts of all.
Women could vote but I cannot hazard even a guess as to how many
exercised their rights. When the war. broke out in
1939 - the role of women gradually changed, and as
the men were shipped overseas to fight, women came
out of the households to work in factories, drive buses
and street cars . This was the inception of women having
a strong presence in the work force as we know it today.
Q: What was the Women's Rights Movement?
A: Women's Right Movement was originated by a
lady named Elizabeth Stanton. on July 13, 1848.
She and four friends, were invited to a tea and
she lamented how women had no status in life.
They had no vote, had to be completely subservant
to men and could not further their education They
could not practice law or medicine. By speaking out
at the tea she incensed her friends indignation at
the plight of women and two days later, they had their
first convention. The struggle has been long and hard
to bring us to today's liberated woman, and we owe
Stanton and all others that joined the fight , for the
freedoms we now enjoy.
Q: Did women work in the factories?
A: In the first place, it was mostly men that worked in factories.
There was not a great deal of employment and men were
given preference. Women would wear cotton dresses and
usually had their hair covered with a kerchief. Topic of
conversation would probably address the bad times and how
hard it was to make ends meet. The usual cronic complaining
about their kids and husbands. Not too much different than
today except that it was not quite so vicious. Single girls would
talk about their crushes on certain boys or flirt with single male
foremen on the line. Hours were long and hard and pay would
average $2 a day. For the most part women had their lines
and men had theirs. You were expected to work hard and no
nonsense because you could very easily be replaced.
Women did not really go into the work force in big numbers
until the outbreak of WW2 in 1939. As guy were shipped
overseas women took jobs in factories, driving buses or
street cars. In the 30's it would be mostly clothing factories
where women would be employed.
Q: Was there a lot of spousal abuse back then?
A: Women of the 30's were pretty suppressed by their husbands
and their major role was to cook, clean and raise the children.
Not too many voiced their opinions on world affairs as this
definitely was a man's world. I am sure that there was physical
abuse as well as mental and many kept this bit of news to
themselves for the sake of the children.
Where would they go
if they left the home? There was very little work for the ladies
and what would they do with the children? These were lean
times moneywise and I am sure that desperation led to some of
If an unmarried girl got pregnant she most often was
sent away to a distant aunt's place until after the birth and the baby
would be put up for adoption. Rarely if a lady was raped, did she
press charges and it would go no where in the court. I am not
by any means suggesting that all women were good soles. Some
abandoned their kids, drank and fooled around with men.
The 30's were to say the least, an ugly decade with no jobs around
very little money, and a lack of identity for most. On a comparative
basis, we live in utopia with the freedom of choice and so much more
opportunity. Yet spousal abuse is still out there and likely always
Q: What was the lifestyle for migrant workers in like?
A: Life was by no means easy for migrant farm workers.
Work was very tough to come by in the 1930s and the
men all over the country went on the move looking for
work on the farms.
To add insult to injury, a drought
occurred eroding the land and high winds literally blew
once fertile land away. They might have been paid
25 cents an hour when there was work available. As
for their children - they had some schooling along the
way depending where they located. Eking out a living
was more of a priority and I daresay education was
Q: Can you discuss bisexuality in the 1920s to 1940s?
A: I must confess that the terminology
used today was nowhere in existence back in those days.
at least not in general conversation as it is today. Homosexual,
lesbian, faggot, gay, bisexual are bandied about today at every
level and people do not think too much about it. I am sure that
all the above existed back then but it was never openly discussed.
Now we have the sexual revolution and talk freely about sexual
To give you an honest answer to your question is virtually impossible
from my point of view. All I viewed in my childhood were moms and pops
and kids. But realistically the human condition was probably the same
then as now but I do not think that bisexuality was more prevalent then
Q: Can you talk about teenage pregnancy and violence?
A: I do not believe that statistics were
kept with regard to teenage pregnancies. I assume
you mean unwed moms. There were young girls that
got into trouble but families would keep this hushed
up and sometimes girls were sent away to an aunt
or friend until after the birth. In some cases it was an
act of love and not just having sex and the young man
involved would marry the girl. Birth control was not in
practice and honestly speaking we were not very wise
about sex. It was sort of learn as you go. I would hazard
a guess that the rate is much greater today because of
the open attitude about sex. It is talked about, it is in
practice and if a girl gets caught she can get financial
help from the social pots. With the availability of birth
control methods we should have a lower birth rate amongst
teen but I do not believe that is so.
Teenage violence and murder rates. Boys would gang up
There would be fights in the school yards, a few rumbles on
the street. But - there were no guns, knives, chains or what
have you involved. These were physical fights as boys have
done for many a year. Murder by teens was not very prevalent
and when I think of what goes on today when kids rise up against
parents, the system, use drugs, murder, rob, rape and steal, it
boggles my mind. Conversely there are great young men and
girls out there that are hanging in and trying to make a difference.
With the temptations of today as opposed to the 1930's it is a
much tougher road for young people and though there was darn
little money back then, I wish the kids of today could have the
experience of the kids in the 30's. They were not too sophisicated
did not expect too much but they were kids and behaved accordingly.
Q: How did girls behave on dates?
A: Girls behaved themselves for the most part. They had crushes
on boys and such but were never forward in their behaviour.
A young man would ask for a date with the girl of his choice
and for the most part they were very well behaved on dates
I am not saying that there was no "hanky panky" but this was
the exception to the rule. There was no explicit talk about
sex as there is today.
As for pleasure in the 30's, it was limited because of poor
finances. You could go to a show, or maybe a dance. A lot
of people just loved going to Sunnyside in Toronto. Dates
were simple and just going for a walk was just great. I hope
this is of some help to you.
Q: What were some slang terms of the 1930s?
A: Some slang terms from the early years:
Aw your mother wears army boots.
Tin Lizzy (Ford car)
Flopper Stoppers (bras)
Honestly speaking there was not a lot of slang used (at
least not that I heard). We have created verbal jargon
through the years and I am often surprised to see this
"new language" in dictionaries. Certain terminology has
Q: What were the main religions in the 30s?
A: We had the same churches, primarily Anglican,
United, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. The
congregations in each were devout and attending
was part of Sunday (at least in our household).
churches were not as liberal as they are at present.
There sometimes would be a little animosity between
the different sects. The Roman Catholic service was
usually done in Latin. I think that churches today try
to encourage our young to come out and worship.
Q: Can you describe censorship and communism in the decade?
A: Censorship would be performed by an official examining
anything to be heard, read or looked at and suppress any
thing found objectionable based on moral, political or
Communism on the other hand is a system whereby all
property including industries is owned by the people but
controlled by a totalitarian government on the peoples'
The common denominator here would be that choices
would be made singly or by a group and imposed on the
There was a lot of things occurring in the 1930's that were
totally wrong for people. We had the KKK in the United
States that commited terrible atrocities against the blacks
primarily, but included Jews and anyone else that was not
"pure" as they saw it. This hate mongering had to be
censored but it did not take away the rights of the persons
involved and they retained their freedom of speach.
Communism conversely would not tolerate anything against
the State and if you lived peacefully under this rule, you were
okay. However to rebel would bring about jailing and possibly
Q: What were schools like?
A: Life and school life in the 1930's was no where near
the life of today's children. These were economically
very poor years and there was a lot of unemployment.
all this being the result of the Stock Market Crash of 29.
We went to school, did what we were told, studied the
best we could. If we were falling behind the teachers
would stay after school with us and do remedial teaching.
Most teachers had the respect of their pupils and their
authority was not questioned by kids. If kids were bad in
school the teachers or principal dealt with it and guess
what? Your parents would follow through on punishment
Socially there was no available money around to indulge
children. Many families were quite poor and had to live
on city relief (Supply of clothing and food vouchers to help
out) Summer time was spent playing in your neighbourhood
We played on the street or in the school yard - baseball,
hide and seek. We had fun using our imaginations and we
were not aware of being poor as everyone was in the same
There was no stress such as kids have today and though poor,
we lived fairly decent lives and most certainly went to church or
Q: Can you compare schools back then with today?
A: In the 30's we started out in kindergarten. Now we
have Jr. and Sr. kindergarten. Through grades one
to eight - our days began at 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m
We had to study hard and we most certainly respected
our teachers. They were BOSS and we did as we were
told - or else. We really never thought to do otherwise.
We had two recesses a day and one or two gym periods.
The rest of the time was spent academically.
I find that school today is well into training the children for
the technical world we live in. Kids have far more freedom
in school and in society but I do believe they have far more
stress to deal with, I believe this is due to the fast pace of
the world - the excessive stress of achieving excellence in
something to be competitive in the job market - and last but
not least - kids want to grow up toofast. In the 30's there was
no guns, drugs or knives and children murdering other
High school had two options. 4 year commercial course or
a five year academic course which would allow one to
continue in university. Overall, my feeling is that truly GOOD
students survive any system whether it be the 1930's or current times.
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Last updated: May 5, 2005