The Forgotten Heroes:

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Women in the 1930s
By: Tati Gervase & Rachel Kidd


Introduction: - Tati & Rachel
The women of the 1930s were the cornerstone of the house, the quiet stronghold of the family, and the constant in society. They often went unnoticed, but they held everyone, and everything, together during one of the hardest decades the United States has ever faced: the Great Depression. Women became more involved in society, supported their families, and fought to have a voice in the nation.

State of Women in the 1930s: -Tati
During the 1930s, women had already gained rights that they had not previously had, but they still did not have the same rights as men. For example, in 1920, the 19th Amendment of the Constitution was put in place which stated, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” (National Archives). In other words, women now had the right to vote, which gained them political equality. However, there were many other areas in which women did not have equal rights, such as the work force and in the home. Many jobs were unequal, and most men had better jobs than women. For instance, “instead of glamorous professions, 36% of working wives entered domestic and personal services, while another 20% were in apparel and canning factories" (Moran par. 26). Even if women did not have equal jobs, they were still “viewed… as un-American money-grubbers, stealing jobs from men who needed them to support their families” (Moran par. 3). They were not trusted to have the jobs they did, and were disrespected because they were “stealing” money from the men who needed it to support their families.

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Unfortunately for men, women had a higher chance of getting jobs because they were able to work for a lower wage. For example, “in 1939, the median salary of a male teacher was $1,953 a year, while female teachers received only $1,394” (Moran par. 26). Consequently, it was more likely that women were in the work field, while men were fired. Furthermore, for the first time in history, most women were now the main supporters of their families because there were more women in the workforce. In fact, “the number of married women in the workforce actually increased by 50% between 1930 and 1940” (Moran par. 26). For some women, these jobs “increased their status and power in the home, gaining them a new voice in domestic decisions” (Ibis Communications par. 3). They now had gained equality in the house, and their ideas and thoughts were listened to, and were not neglected. However, some men were so ashamed of their nonexistent jobs that they left their families. In fact, a 1940 survey revealed that “1.5 million women had been abandoned by their husbands” (Ibis Communications par. 3). Nevertheless, women persisted, and supported their families all on their own, showing new strengths that never before had been presented by women before.


Women At Home and in Popular Culture: -Rachel
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Women during the 1930s were not often featured in the headlines of papers, but they were the stars behind closed doors. “The women, the wives, and mothers were the inspiration of the homes, the persons for whom the men really work” (Ware 14). They worked constantly, their lives often “revolved around their homes” (Ware 4). They took care of demanding children with little to no money because of the economic downturn, and had very little help from husbands who disdained ‘women’s work’, but could not get a real job themselves.

Living the life of a woman during the depression was no easy feat, even if one did not account for the stereotypes she faced. Women were assumed by the man-run society around them to be emotional, scatterbrained, and weak. They were told they “were subject to personal appeals more than reason, weak before the blandishments of fashion” (Cooney 68). However, they were also taken to be “the guardians and transmitters of culture and beauty, appreciators of genuine ‘style’” (Cooney 68). And above all, they were expected to look their best at all times, especially when times were hard and money was tight (Gourley 13). This unattainable standard was an incessant buzzing in every woman’s ear that she wasn't good enough and never could be. However, a wise author once said, “A woman can take more. I always said she could take more pain” (Beyond Suffrage, 16).

Unlike their male counterparts, they often put love, aspirations, and dreams on the back burner to put their families first because of the Depression. These young women were “part of a family economy in which their labor helped the family survive, but gained them no cash” (Cott 447). “Rural women often had triple responsibilities: the household, child bearing and raising, and actual farm work” and because of their busy schedule, they had no time for themselves (Ware 9). Some women were so dedicated to their families that they “postponed marriage to stay home to help their families make ends meet” (Gourley, 13). They worked hard, but only gained the ability to watch as their family survived, and a very honorable sacrifice that usually went unnoticed.


They were the constant in the family, meaning their role stayed consistently traditional in a time of great change. “The man was the breadwinner and the woman ran the household” which resulted in women being taken for granted (Ware 13). Nonetheless, because of the depression, it was extremely difficult for a man to find a job, making his role as breadwinner impossible to fulfill. He was confined to the house, a world that was often a frightening territory. However, a woman’s role as housekeeper stayed as it had always been, even expanded upon, as she had to be frugal with her limited funds. This consistency in the home portrayed itself as a consistency in the ever changing society as well. During this time of fast-paced, whirlwind change, people searched for something stable. They found this consistency in female stereotypes of ages past. After the progressive era of the 1920s, the 1930s was a relative dark age for women’s rights. Radio shows depicted “the misconception that women, like children, needed the protection of a husband or father” (Gourley 23). Women couldn't even get a job outside of her home without being accused of taking jobs from the men as “men’s income supported the family, while women’s did not” (Cooney 6). As degrading as these stereotypes were, they did provide some sort of stability in the whirlwind of change that was the 30s. For more information on the feminist void in the 1930s, click here.

Here is a video about the traditional and typical roles of women in the 1930s.

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Marie Curie

Historical Context: -Tati
Some women showed strengths that inspired the rest of the country and the world. There was an abundant amount of women who pushed past the looming barriers of inequality. For example, Marie Curie was not a woman to sit around the house while her husband followed his dream. Marie Curie "succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, gained her Doctor of Science, and...she took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the first time a woman had held this position" (Nobel Foundation par. 1). She is praised for researches and analyses of the isolation of radium and polonium, as well as promoting radium to lessen injuries and suffering during World War One. As a result of her phenomenal work, "President Harding of the United States, on behalf of the women of America, presented her with one gram of radium in recognition of her service to science" (Nobel Foundation par. 5).

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Amelia Earhart

However, Marie Curie was not the only woman to follow her dreams. Amelia Earhart was an inspiring woman who flew into the hearts of people across the country, and inspired women and men alike with her fierce determination to follow her dreams. Amelia Earhart knew she wanted to fly after only two and a half hours of instruction. After that lesson, she bought an experimental plane, set a new altitude record, and "was the first woman to have flown over the ocean even though she had only been a passenger. (Amelia Earhart par. 4). When she returned to the United States, she was greeted as a hero and a spokeswoman for female aviators. Afterward, she married her manager, George Putnam, and he publicized her to make her one of the most known women of the country. She continued to set flying records like being the first person to fly from Hawaii to America and setting different speed records. However, when she tried to fly around the world, her plane disappeared and no one is exactly sure what happened to her. This did not stop her from being one of the most well recognized and respected women of that decade to the present day. It is obvious that Amelia Earhart made "a very significant contribution to the history of American women" (National Women's History Museum par. 11). She did this by showing courage, intelligence, and a leadership ability, which resulted in "millions of women suffering through the Great Depression a reason to be proud" (National Women's History Museum par. 11). Women found courage and hope to strive and fulfill their own dreams like Amelia Earhart, which enabled other women to be as strong and courageous like her.
With brilliant women like these two, they started a chain reaction for other women to be like them. Whether it was brave and spirited like Amelia Earhart, or whether it was brilliant and intelligent like Marie Curie, women saw that they did not have to be bound by the chains of tradition and held back by men. These women indirectly encouraged others to strive and follow their own ambitions which helped carve the path for other great and powerful women to come, and for the role of women to completely reverse itself. For instance, women are not traditionally held at a lower standpoint, or wanted to only work in the house. In present day, women are political leaders like Hillary Clinton who was the Secretary of State, or athletes like Larysa Latynina, who holds the most individual Olympic medals. However, there are other women not quite as famous who are teachers, police women, actresses, fire woman, accountants, military, and many more. In consequence of women like Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie who carved a path in the 30s, women have been able to break boundaries and walls that allow them to grow and accomplish their own dreams.
Health and Social Connection: -Rachel
During the 1930s, women daily faced immense pressure from the exaggerated social stereotypes to be beautiful, well mannered, well dressed, good mothers, and dutiful wives, all “under $1,000 a year” (Ware 3). They needed a source of solace, a comfort from the long days of being an unnoticed strong woman. They often found this solace in social situations with other women with the same mental fatigue such as church groups, garden and sewing clubs, even in something as simple as trading recipes. Women had very little time for socializing, however, as the hard times called for desperate measure on their part. Many women attempted to get jobs, however difficult those were to come by. Even if the mother had a job, being able to take care of their families properly was nearly impossible, especially when it came to health care. More often than not, children and their parents went without dental care such as braces or regular checkups. Although the lives of these brave women of the 1930s were rather tumultuous, they made do with what they had, and found a small sliver of comfort in each other’s company.

IB Traits: -Rachel & Tati
The women that graced the decade of the 30s because of their determination to put others first, putting their own rights to the side because they knew they were needed in their former place as housekeeper in a time of great turmoil. Therefore, the trait the best embodies this humble spirit is caring. These women truly put others before themselves, giving up dreams, hopes, and ambitions to be mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters. They knew they were needed at home, so they gave up things that were so important to their own happiness to ensure their family survived. Being caring is not just being gentle and kind, it also includes knowing what is best for someone else, and being committed to ensuring someone else's well being. And that, is exactly what each and every one of these women did.

In consequence of women being forced to work to support their families during the hardships of the Great Depression, they exhibited the IB trait of risk-taking. They did this in many different ways. For example, the wives that were abandoned by their husbands, were expected and needed to support themselves and their children on their own for the first time in history. To do this, they had to go get a job to earn income for the family. Getting a job was nearly impossible, especially since women were seen as hindrances in a work environment, but it had to be done, so these women courageously went against the social 'norm'. Some did it only to support their families, while others used this opportunity to explore the world outside of cooking and cleaning. This is an example of being a risk-taker because women were so unsure of their well being and the well being of their families because of the Great Depression's effects on the economy and the stereotypes they were meant to follow, but they took that risk anyway.


Works Cited
"Amelia Earhart." Explorers & Discoverers of the World. Gale, 1993. Biography In Context. Web. 18 May 2013.

"Amelia Earhart." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 May 2013. Web. 19 May 2013.

Cooney, Terry A. Balancing Acts: American Thought and Culture in the 1930s. New York. Twayne, 1995. Print.

Cott, Nancy F. No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Ibis Communications, Inc. “The Great Depression.” EyeWitnesstoHistory.com. Ibis Communications, Inc., 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 10 Apr, 2013.

"Marie Curie." Polish Culture. Polish Heritage Society of Phildelphia, Nov. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.

Michelle. "Swing Fashionista." Swing Fashionista. N.p., 10 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 May 2013.

Moran, Mickey. “1930s, America- Feminist Void?” Loyno. Department of History, 1988. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.

National Archives. "The Constitution of the United States." The Charters of Freedom. USA.gov, n.d. Web. 17 May 2013.

National Women's History Museum. "Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)." National Women's History Museum. NWHM, n.d. Web. 19 May 2013.

Nobel Foundation. "Marie Curie - Biography." Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media, n.d. Web. 18 May 2013.

"Semnificaţii Istorice Pentru Ziua De 8 Martie." Mediafax.ro. Media Fax, 8 Mar. 2009. Web. 19 May 2013.

Ware, Susan. Beyond Suffrage, Women in the New Deal. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1981. Print.

Ware, Susan. Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Print.