The Impact on Women During the Great Depression

Jordyn Small

The Impact on Women During the Great Depression

Throughout much of US and World history, women were looked down upon and seen as
inferior to men. In a majority of early civilizations and settlements, female prejudice was
dictated by a society’s need for male dominance. Societies needed the strength and
sophistication that was typically fulfilled by the male species at the time. In requiring such
notions, the ideology of the inferiority of women passed on from generation to generation.
For the most part, it seemed like women were going in a stable direction, with no hill in
sight. However, when the 1920s approached, new opportunities did as well. Female culture,
movements, and rights flourished throughout the period. When the Great Depression
swept throughout the country in 1929, much of the country was in a state of distress and
saw little improvement or hope. However, women, despite the economic struggles at the
time, were finally starting to see a “light at the end of the tunnel” for gender equality.

Employment during the Great Depression
As the unemployment rates were skyrocketing, the roles of both men and women were
changing in the household. The once “breadwinners” of the homes were beginning to feel
like failures, leaving women all across the nation to take action for their families. Women
were beginning to become employed in schools, hospitals, and other facilities with
positions catered to their specialities.
As men and women both began to hold positions of employment, tension grew between
the two genders, specifically originating from unemployed men. The unemployed men felt
that the women were stealing potential job opportunities away from them and should,
thus, be fired. As the late 1930s approached, the unemployment rates of both men and
women nearly reached equilibrium.

A Revolution of Hope
After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s induction to the presidency in 1933, many of
the changes in the US regarding women came from the “women behind the man.” Eleanor
Roosevelt was a supporter of women’s rights. During his term, FDR allowed for women to
become a part of political affairs. By having twenty-two women as a part of his
administration, Roosevelt was already paving the way for women in the US. Women such as
Frances Perkins and Josephine Roche became instrumental in Roosevelt’s operation of the
New Deal. For the first time, women were given the chance to showcase their talents in a
leadership role.
Eleanor Roosevelt has become a household name in the United States for her political
advocacy. She changed the world for many, including the women of the working-class and
minority groups. Her persistence in the world of politics encouraged young women from all
over the nation to pursue careers of their desires.

Discrimination Against Married Women
As many groups of women were beginning to make their way in the world, one group, in
particular, was discriminated against for their pursuits of employment. Married women
were criticized for holding jobs while already having husbands that were supposed to
provide for them. When Frances Perkins was New York state’s Commissioner of Labor, she
often criticized married women, calling them selfish for taking away job opportunities from
women without the financial support or security of a husband. As the 1930s progressed,
further discrimination against working, married women increased. In the Economy of 1932,
the federal government required that one member of a working, married couple be fired.
Married women ultimately suffered as a result of this law.

Minority Women
Almost half a million Mexican Americans were forced to move out of the United States
during the Great Depression on account of the fact that they were believed to be taking
away jobs from white people. African American women were at a complete disadvantage in
the workplace, not only for their race, but for their gender as well. As more white women
were entering the workforce, less and less African American women were able to work
during the Great Depression. Unlike white women, African American women have been
working since the mid-1800s, as the wage of one parent was not liveable.
With the institution of FDR’s “black cabinet,” new deal programs had black advisors, which
lessened the discrimination against relief to African-Americans seeking help.

Societal Impacts
With the Great Depression allowing women to take positions in the workforce, politics, and
other areas previously not granted to them, the way society viewed them had changed.
Women were starting to be seen as powerful, strong, and capable of things that men were
capable of. The social change that started during the Great Depression carried over into
WWII. While the majority of men were going off to fight in the war, a majority of the women
were expected to stay in the workforce and resume their jobs. The sacrifices of the women
were celebrated in the campaign below, featuring Rosie the Riveter.
Rosie was depicted as strong and confident, encouraging other women to be the same.
Today, Rosie the Riveter is still an icon of female empowerment that is constantly
recognized and celebrated.

Works Cited
“Eleanor Roosevelt and Women's Rights (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks
Service, U.S. Department of the Interior,
“Mission.” Rosie the Riveter Trust,
“Rosie the Riveter Inspired Women to Serve in World War II.” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF
Rotondi, Jessica Pearce. “Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression
Affected Working Women.”, A&E Television Networks, 11
Mar. 2019,
“Women and the New Deal.” Living New Deal, 20 Aug. 2020,

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