Lesson Two: Hometown Children and the Depression

As students study letters in the Dear Mrs. Roosevelt feature, they will understand some of the problems faced by the children who wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt during the Depression. The feature text also emphasizes that Mrs. Roosevelt helped young people through various lobbying efforts and through her advocacy for the establishment of the National Youth Administration in 1935.

Other agencies helping youths in some way, and which Mrs. Roosevelt supported, included the Civilian Conservation Corps (1933), the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (1934), the National Recovery Act (1934), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (1938). (Professor Cohen's essay contains more information on these agencies and activities.)

Classroom Procedures:
This lesson is designed to have students determine if children living in their community during the Depression faced problems similar to those described in the letters. Further, it asks the students to assess the extent to which the New Deal programs cited above helped their hometown or community. After students have analyzed the letters and are familiar with the function of the New Deal agencies, divide them into groups. Each group will tap the community's resources to accomplish the tasks. Resources might include:

  1. The local newspaper: Most newspapers maintain archives that students can access by calling for an appointment time. Even if the newspaper's files are not indexed, they can find plenty of information about the 30's by scanning daily or weekly newspapers of those years. Also, they can glean additional details about the period by looking at advertisements, the want ads, even obituaries from these editions. The idea is to scour as many newspapers as possible to get a thorough understanding of how their community's Depression experience was similar to those described in the Dear Mrs. Roosevelt feature. Students should take notes or make copies of relevant articles so that they can more accurately share their findings with the class.

  2. A local museum or historical society: Ask the Student groups to visit these sites to learn how New Deal programs were implemented in their hometown and how the children made it through the Depression. Even in small towns, such organizations have librarians or curators who are passionately interested in local history and will gladly assist students in finding needed information. Students should record their findings for later use.

  3. Local residents who lived through it: Ask the groups to identify and interview some people who can relate their first-hand experiences during this difficult period. Some students may have great-grandparents who are willing to share their experiences from the 1930's, while others could contact a senior citizen home in the community. Perhaps a town historian can suggest the names of individuals in the local community who would be willing to share their wealth of memories from that period in history.
    • Students might consider sharing several of the Web site letters with the seniors, asking them to what extent their experiences were similar or different.
    • Tape recording the interviews would help the students organize the information for sharing with classmates.

  4. Other possibilities: Each community has its own unique resources.
    • Sometimes high school yearbooks yield information. Many schools were built as WPA projects during the 1930's and are still serving the community today.
    • Perhaps the town has celebrated a centennial and collected historical information for that occasion.
    • The library may have a special section on community history.
    • Another rich source of information is the National Association of CCC Alumni, a group of former CCC Camp workers. Find out if there is a local chapter in your area.

  5. Pulling local elements together: After all groups have gathered and recorded information from their respective sources, plan an information-sharing day. The goal is for students to reveal in what ways New Deal organizations helped their own town cope with the Depression, and how the experiences of their community compared to those described in letters to Mrs. Roosevelt. The format for sharing could take many forms, though each should be related to the defined tasks of the lesson. Students might:
    • Create a 30's scrapbook, describing and displaying copies of articles and pictures collected in their research. The scrapbook may contain oral histories collected during student interviews with local residents. (See the Resources page for more information about collecting and writing oral histories. This might be an interdisciplinary lesson that combines skills from both Social Studies and English classes.)
    • Stage a press conference with guest speakers (especially some of the senior citizens who were interviewed), using a question-answer format to share information.
    • Role-play local citizens whom they learned about during their inquiries.
    • Write and perform skits depicting local events related to the Depression Era.

Send us your work in either electronic or paper form, and we'll help you showcase your accomplishments on our Student Contributions page. Our Online Resources page contains a list of links to model student-generated Web sites on related topics. And our Discovery Guide provides suggestions about where to get started researching New Deal projects in your community.

  • If you already have a student-generated Web site on a related topic, tell us about it and we'll link to you.
  • If not, write to us and we'll send you information about sharing your projects with the New Deal Network.