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Written account: Historical empathy

Now in 1935, my family lives on from times of horrendous hardships. It was around the time of December in 1929, when the comfortable lifestyle which my family had always lived, was relinquished, ultimately due to the excruciating effects of the depression in the United States of America. I was a housemother, raising three children, along with my husband. We lived in Chicago. My husband had always enjoyed working in a stable industry which had continuously boomed for many years during the early 1920s. He was a clerical worker at the manufacturing plant for General Motors. He earned an annual wage of around $1700, which equalled around $33 a week. That was also due to him having invested shares in the company. These had also contributed to keeping us afloat and living well for many prosperous years. However, in the onset of the Great Depression of 1929, our lives became a shadow of what they once were. My husband settled for a business degree at the Chicago Chamber of Education in Business and Commerce. He graduated in late 1923 with his degree and was working at General Motors in no less than five months as chief administrator. Life was so much sweeter and worth living after many depressing years during World War One. We had purchased two radios for our home by 1925. My husband and I would often leave the kids at home on Friday and Wednesday nights, where we would catch a picture at the local cinema. We lived a premium social lifestyle. We were also able to acquire many new technologies which really lent a helping hand to me at home. I cannot fathom how quickly it changed. But I can’t say that I hadn’t seen it coming. The days leading up to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (Black Thursday), demonstrated how unstable Wall Street and the banks were through various friends of mine whom had become speculative of a forthcoming disaster, and had not hesitated in withdrawing their financial assets. My husband was rather relaxed and calm on the day of the crash. Clearly, the hype and uproar through the media had not shaken him. Little had he realised how much it would impact on his work. He was told just one month after the crash that he would either accept a 40% pay-cut or walk out of General Motors. He had mentioned to me that many of his friends, who worked in the factory manufacturing the automobiles, had also received severe pay-cuts. Some of the African American workers were also dismissed without the option of taking a pay-cut, in order to allow for the whites to remain on the working roster, in what was a clear act of racial inequality. It had emotionally impacted on my husband who was a fair man and an anti-racist. That, along with the fact that he was suddenly struggling to bring home the bacon, made him more depressed by the day. His shares in General Motors were also now entirely worthless. As my husband's earnings continued to plummet, it became inevitable that he would eventually lose his job. By September of 1930, he was one of the 12,830,000 civilians that were now unemployed in America. We made several efforts to sell our family’s estate, which was highly valued before the depression hit, but it went unsold. I had to take my two

children out of private schooling and have them home schooled in order to save money. Things had only worsened after three years, due to the collapse of the banking system in America. There was no doubt that at this point in time we were relying purely on our savings to get by each week. However, people had withdrawn their savings from banks with the increasing fear of the post-effects of the Wall Street disaster, and 5000 banks had closed by late 1933. These banks closed because they selfishly used their clients' dollars to make their own business ventures in what were undoubtedly very difficult times for everybody. The banks could then no longer afford to pay back their clients and would close one by one, like dominos, and by this time, more than 38 banks across America had gone on 'bank holidays'. We had no option other than to sell our home for a low figure as we had delved heavily into our savings. With no shares or money in the bank to rely on in order to grasp some form of a weekly allowance, my husband and I could only rely on a political reform to save our family's skin. It was at this time in America when the need for a 'new deal' arose. We were disgusted in the mess which Herbert Hoover had cowardly left our country in - our economic state was at an all time low, production in the United States was almost non-existent, and there was around 13 million now unemployed (one in every four workers). It was President Hoover's philosophy that capitalism and the market system would lead to a stronger economy. That has now ruined us for all good. As a result, we witnessed some of the most terrifying scenes we ever had in the history of our country. Desperate men were rioting with each other on our main street, we had to keep the children inside all day. Chicago was almost turning into 'Hooverville'. These people were also participating in violent strikes. The panic wasn't going to stop anytime soon. Now in 1935, things have gradually steadied. My husband has been invited back to General Motors to work as a manufacturer in the factory section. We're earning much less as a family, but we're on the road to repair. We've hired a rental property in downtown Chicago, just a small flat which houses three. We have four. But we're surviving and can only hope for a better America ahead of us. Words: 990