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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
The Great Depression Unit

Lesson 1: "...we are in need."

1. Background information for teachers:

 

Before the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, there were no social programs established on a national level to assist those families who were hungry and homeless. Outgoing-President Herbert Hoover had continued to hope that the economy would climb out of the Depression without significant government interference. Those who were suffering had to depend upon the traditional resources of their families and communities. Churches across the nation, along with private charitable institutions like the Red Cross, gave out food and opened soup kitchens. However, the resources of these concerned private groups were limited in the face of the magnitude of the deprivation.

 

As the following documents illustrate, some families approached state officials for assistance during these desperate times. Even after New Deal programs began to pass aid down to the states beginning in 1933, the assistance often was not enough to relieve the continuing want.

 

2. Learning Objectives:
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

 

1. Identify some of the needs of the poor during the Great Depression.

 

2. Compare Great Depression social programs with those established during President Lyndon Baines Johnson's "Great Society" and contrast those programs with the issues raised by the current "welfare reform" movement.

 

3. Develop negotiation skills while prioritizing needs.

 

4. Discuss government role in addressing the needs of the poor.

 

5. Analyze the economic ability of government to respond to requests for aid.

 

6. Synthesize a governmental response to requests for aid from the poor.

 

3. Suggested Activities:

 

1. Make copies of the documents for each student.

 

2. Ask each student to read the documents and to describe the differences in the documents.

 

3.With the students' assistance make a class list of the difficulties that Mr. Gaines is experiencing.

After making the list, allow the students to rank the problems by level of importance or need.

 

4. Ask the following questions for a class discussion:

 

a. Why did Mr.Gaines write his letter to Mr. Peach?

b. What kind of help was Mr. Peach able to offer Mr. Gaines?

c. If you had been the Governor, which of Mr. Gaines's problems would you have tried to solve?

d. Could the state afford to solve the same problem for every citizen who requested help?

 

Look at your class list of Mr. Gaines's difficulties. Place a mark by each problem that you know can be helped today by federal or state agencies. (For example: Textbooks are provided by public schools. Medicare and Medicaid started during Johnson's"Great Society" have been created to offer some assistance to those who are disabled and ill. Agricultural agencies often offer assistance to farmers during non-productive years.)

 

f. What kind of public assistance was available to the people of Alabama by the time of Mrs. Allen's letter in December of 1933?

g. What kind of public assistance was available to the people of Alabama by the time of Mr. Martin's letter in April of 1934?

h. What is the Welfare Reform Movement of 1996? What are some of the concerns that the American public has about the welfare programs? What is the difference between the social programs from earlier time periods and the social programs of today? Do you believe that the American public is less concerned about those who receive social assistance today? Why or why not?

 

5. Answer one of these letters by suggesting places or agencies that are able to help Mr. Gaines, Mrs. Allen or Mr. Martin in your time period.

 

Documents:

 

Document 1: Letter: D. E. Gaines and reply, August 1932, Gov. B.M. Miller, Administrative files SG19919, folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2: Letter: Mrs. A. J. Allen and reply, November - December, 1932, Gov. B.M. Miller, Administrative files SG19919, folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 3: Letter: Jerry Martin and reply, April 1934, Gov. B.M. Miller, Administrative files SG19919, folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.