The Invisible Girls of the Depression

The Invisible Girls of the


In the course of the Depression, ladies made up 25% of the work pressure, however their jobs have been extra unstable, momentary or seasonal then males, and the unemployment fee was a lot larger. There was additionally a determined bias and cultural view that “ladies did not work” and in reality many who have been employed full time typically known as themselves “homemakers.” Neither males within the workforce, the unions, nor any department of presidency have been prepared to simply accept the fact of working ladies, and this bias precipitated females intense hardship throughout the .

All About  

The 1930’s was notably laborious on single, divorced or widowed ladies, but it surely was more durable nonetheless on ladies who weren’t White. Girls of shade needed to overcome each sexual and racial stereotyping. Black ladies within the North suffered an astounding 42.9% unemployment, whereas 23.2%. of White ladies have been with out work based on the 1937 census. Within the South, each Black and White ladies have been equally unemployed at 26%. In distinction, the unemployment fee for Black and White males within the North (38.9%/18.1%) and South (18%/16% respectively) have been additionally decrease than feminine counterparts.

The monetary state of affairs in Harlem was bleak even earlier than the Nice . However afterward, the rising Black working class within the North was decimated by wholesale layoffs of Black industrial employees. To be Black and a girl alone, made retaining a job or discovering one other one practically unimaginable. The racial work hierarchy changed Black ladies in waitressing or home work, with White ladies, now determined for work, and keen to take steep wage cuts.

Survival Entrepreneurs

Firstly of the , whereas one research discovered that homeless ladies have been most probably manufacturing unit and repair employees, domestics, garment employees, waitresses and beauticians; one other advised that the sweetness business was a serious supply of revenue for Black ladies. These ladies, later often known as “survivalist entrepreneurs,” grew to become self-employed in response to a determined want to seek out an impartial technique of livelihood.”

Changed by White ladies in additional conventional home work as cooks, maids, nurses, and laundresses, even expert and educated Black ladies have been so hopeless, ”that they really provided their providers on the so-called ‘slave markets’-street corners the place Negro ladies congregated to await White housewives who got here day by day to take their choose and bid wages down” (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:246). Furthermore, the house home service was very tough, if not unimaginable, to coordinate with household duties, because the home servant was normally on name ”across the clock” and was topic to the ”arbitrary energy of particular person employers.”

Inn Keepers and Hairdressers

Two occupations have been sought out by Black ladies, in an effort to tackle each the necessity for revenue (or barter gadgets) and their home duties in northern cities throughout the Nice Despair: (1) boarding home and lodging home retaining; and (2) hairdressing and sweetness tradition.

In the course of the “Nice Migration” of 1915-1930, 1000’s of Blacks from the South, largely younger, single males, streamed into Northern cities, on the lookout for locations to remain briefly whereas they looked for housing and jobs. Housing these migrants created alternatives for Black working-class ladies,-now unemployed-to pay their hire.

In line with one estimate, ”not less than one-third” of Black households within the city North had lodgers or boarders throughout the Nice Migration (Thomas, 1992:93, citing Henri, 1976). The necessity was so nice, a number of boarders have been housed, main one survey of northern Black households to report that ”seventy-five p.c of the Negro properties have so many lodgers that they’re actually accommodations.”

Girls have been normally on the heart of those webs of household and neighborhood networks inside the Black neighborhood:

“They ”undertook the best a part of the burden” of serving to the newcomers discover interim housing. Girls performed ”connective and management roles” in northern Black communities, not solely as a result of it was thought-about conventional “lady’s work,” but in addition as a result of taking in boarders and lodgers helped Black ladies mix home tasks with a casual, income-producing exercise (Grossman, 1989:133). As well as, boarding and lodging home retaining was typically mixed with different sorts of self-employment. A few of the Black ladies who saved boarders and lodgers additionally earned cash by making synthetic flowers and lamp shades at house.” (Boyd, 2000)

As well as from 1890 to 1940, ”barbers and hairdressers” have been the biggest segments of the Black enterprise inhabitants, collectively comprising about one third of this inhabitants in 1940 (Boyd, 2000 citing Oak, 1949:48).


“Blacks tended to gravitate into these occupations as a result of “White barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians have been unwilling or unable to model the hair of Blacks or to supply the hair preparations and cosmetics utilized by them. Thus, Black barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians had a ”protected client market” based mostly on Whites’ wishes for social distance from Blacks and on the particular calls for of Black customers. Accordingly, these Black entrepreneurs have been sheltered from exterior opponents and will monopolize the trades of magnificence tradition and hairdressing inside their very own communities.

Black ladies who have been looking for jobs believed that one’s look was a vital issue find employment. Black self-help organizations in northern cities, such because the City League and the Nationwide Council of Negro Girls, confused the significance of fine grooming to the newly arrived Black ladies from the South, advising them to have neat hair and clear nails when looking for work. Above all, the ladies have been informed keep away from sporting ”head rags” and ”mud caps” in public (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:247, 301; Grossman, 1989:150-151).

These warnings have been notably related to those that have been on the lookout for secretarial or white-collar jobs, for Black ladies wanted straight hair and lightweight pores and skin to have any probability of acquiring such positions. Regardless of the laborious occasions, magnificence parlors and barber outlets have been essentially the most quite a few and viable Black-owned enterprises in Black communities (e.g., Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:450-451).


Black ladies entrepreneurs within the city North additionally opened shops and eating places, with modest financial savings ”as a way of securing a residing” (Boyd, 2000 citing Frazier, 1949:405). Referred to as ”melancholy companies,” these marginal enterprises have been typically categorized as proprietorships, though they tended to function out of ”homes, basements, and previous buildings” (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:454).

“Meals shops and consuming and ingesting locations have been the most typical of those companies, as a result of, in the event that they failed, their house owners may nonetheless stay off their shares.”

“Protestant Whites Solely”

These companies have been a necessity for Black ladies, because the desire for hiring Whites climbed steeply throughout the Despair. Within the Philadelphia Public Employment Workplace in 1932 & 1933, 68% of job orders for ladies specified “Whites Solely.” In New York Metropolis, Black ladies have been compelled to go to separate unemployment workplaces in Harlem to hunt work. Black church buildings and church-related establishments, a standard supply of assist to the Black neighborhood, have been overwhelmed by the demand, throughout the 1930’s. Municipal shelters, required to “settle for everybody,” nonetheless reported that Catholics and African American ladies have been “notably laborious to position.”

Nobody is aware of the numbers of Black ladies left homeless within the early thirty’s, but it surely was little question substantial, and invisible to the largely white investigators. As an alternative, the media selected to deal with, and publicize the plight of White, homeless, middle-class “white collar” employees, as, by 1931 and 1932, unemployment unfold to this middle-class. White-collar and college-educated ladies, normally accustomed “to common employment and secure domicile,” grew to become the “New Poor.” We do not know the homeless charges for these ladies, past an informed guess, however of all of the homeless in city facilities, 10% have been advised to be ladies. We do know, nevertheless, that the demand for “feminine beds” in shelters climbed from a bit over 3,000 in 1920 to 56,808 by 1932 in a single metropolis and in one other, from 1929 -1930, demand rose 270%.

“Having an Tackle is a Luxurious Now…”

Even these beds, nevertheless, have been the final cease on the trail in direction of homelessness and have been designed for “habitually destitute” ladies, and prevented in any respect price by those that have been homeless for the primary time. Some quantity ended up in shelters, however much more weren’t registered with any company. Sources have been few. Emergency house reduction was restricted to households with dependent youngsters till 1934. “Having an tackle is a luxurious simply now” an unemployed school lady informed a social employee in 1932.

These newly destitute city ladies have been the shocked and dazed who drifted from one unemployment workplace to the subsequent, resting in Grand Central or Pennsylvania station, and who rode the subway all night time (the “5 cent room”), or slept within the park, and who ate in penny kitchens. Sluggish to hunt help, and fearful and ashamed to ask for charity, these ladies have been typically on the verge of hunger earlier than they sought assist. They have been, based on one report, typically the “saddest and most tough to assist.” These ladies “starved slowly in furnished rooms. They offered their furnishings, their garments, after which their our bodies.”


The Emancipated Girl and Gender Myths

If cultural myths have been that girls “did not work,” then people who did have been invisible. Their political voice was mute. Gender position demanded that girls stay “somebody’s poor relation,” who returned again to the agricultural homestead throughout occasions of hassle, to assist out across the house, and got shelter. These idyllic nurturing, pre-industrial legendary household properties have been giant sufficient to accommodate everybody. The brand new actuality was a lot bleaker. City flats, no greater than two or three rooms, required “maiden aunts” or “single cousins” to “shift for themselves.” What remained of the household was typically a strained, overburdened, over-crowded family that usually contained extreme home troubles of its personal.

As well as, few, aside from African People, have been with the agricultural roots to return to. And this assumed {that a} lady as soon as emancipated and tasting previous success would stay “malleable.” The feminine position was an out-of-date fantasy, however was nonetheless a potent one. The “new lady” of the roaring twenties was now left with no social face throughout the Nice Despair. And not using a home–the quintessential component of womanhood–she was, paradoxically, ignored and invisible.

“…Neighborliness has been Stretched Past Human Endurance.”

In actuality, greater than half of those employed ladies had by no means married, whereas others have been divorced, abandoned, separated or claimed to be widowed. We do not know what number of have been lesbian ladies. Some had dependent mother and father and siblings who relied on them for help. Fewer had youngsters who have been residing with prolonged household. Girls’s wages have been traditionally low for many feminine professions, and allowed little capability for substantial “emergency” financial savings, however most of those ladies have been financially impartial. In Milwaukee, for instance, 60% of these looking for assist had been self-supporting in 1929. In New York, this determine was 85%. Their accessible work was typically essentially the most risky and in danger. Some had been unemployed for months, whereas others for a 12 months or extra. With financial savings and insurance gone, that they had tapped out their casual social networks. One social employee, in late 1931, testified to a Senate committee that “neighborliness has been stretched not solely past its capability however past human endurance.”

Older ladies have been typically discriminated towards due to their age, and their lengthy historical past of residing exterior of conventional household programs. When work was accessible, it typically specified, as did one job in Philadelphia, a requirement for “white stenographers and clerks, beneath (age) 25.”

Nervousness Symptoms

The Invisible Girl

The Nice Despair’s impact on ladies, then, as it’s now, was invisible to the attention. The tangible proof of breadlines, Hoovervilles, and males promoting apples on avenue corners, didn’t include pictures of city ladies. Unemployment, starvation and homelessness was thought-about a “man’s downside” and the misery and despair was measured in that method. In photographic pictures, and information stories, destitute city ladies have been neglected or not obvious. It was thought-about unseemly to be a homeless lady, and so they have been typically hidden from public view, ushered in via again door entrances, and fed in personal.

Partly, the issue lay in expectations. Whereas homelessness in males had swelled periodically during times of financial disaster, because the melancholy of the 1890’s onward, giant numbers of homeless ladies “on their very own” have been a brand new phenomenon. Public officers have been unprepared: With out youngsters, they have been, early on, excluded from emergency shelters. One constructing with a capability of 155 beds and 6 cribs, lodged over 56,000 “beds” throughout the third 12 months of the melancholy. Nonetheless, these figures don’t take account the variety of ladies turned away, as a result of they weren’t White or Protestant.

Because the Nice Despair wore on, wanting solely a method to earn money, these ladies have been excluded from “New Deal” work applications set as much as assist the unemployed. Males have been seen as “breadwinners,” holding larger declare to financial assets. Whereas outreach and charitable businesses lastly did emerge, they have been typically insufficient to fulfill the demand.

Whereas black ladies had explicit laborious occasions collaborating within the mainstream financial system throughout the Nice Despair, they did have some alternative to seek out various employment inside their very own communities, due to distinctive migration patterns that had occurred throughout that interval. White ladies, in distinction, had a keyhole alternative, in the event that they have been younger and of appreciable expertise, though their pores and skin shade alone provided them larger entry to no matter conventional employment was nonetheless accessible.

The rejection of conventional feminine roles, and the need for emancipation, nevertheless, put these ladies at profound threat as soon as the financial system collapsed. In any case, single ladies, with each black and white pores and skin, fared worse and have been invisible victims.

As we enter the Second Nice Despair, who would be the new “invisible homeless” and can ladies, as a gaggle, fare higher this time?



Abelson, E. (2003, Spring2003). Girls Who Have No Males to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness within the Nice Despair, 1930-1934. Feminist Research, 29(1), 104. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Educational Search Premier database.

Boyd, R. (2000, December). Race, Labor Market Drawback, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Girls within the City North In the course of the Nice Despair. Sociological Discussion board, 15(4), 647-670. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Educational Search Premier database.

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