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AMERICAN DEPRESSION: SECRET GIFT LETTERS
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The Great Depression is one of the worst economic down turn to have ever occurred in America. The condition occasioned by a number of issues drove many American families to the lowest levels of poverty ever. This made them vulnerable to lack of basic commodities like food, clothing and shelter. As the effects of the great depression continued to bite most families were more than willing to not only accept donations but also go a step further in asking for the same. To help in understanding the actual scenario of this era, this will examine assistance appeal letters written to Mr. B. Virdot as a response to his advertisement, which ran for only one day in a local daily. It pools ten of letters from those families, which expressed their interests in the advertised Christmas assistance offer.
American Experience during the Great Depression
Discussed here below are some of the lessons that can be learned on the experiences of American families who could not withstand their lacking in basic commodities.
From the ten letters read, it is evident that Americans experienced tough moments during the Great Depression. As these letters were read, it became apparent that nearly no families during this trying era could meet their needs as anticipated. Most of the families who forwarded their letters expressed their sufferings in failure to meet daily needs. Most of them acknowledged that depression was to blame for their predicaments.
Large families whose sole breadwinner was the husband characterized the era of depression. Most letters attributed their predicaments to the failure of these husbands to secure sufficient wages through employment. The era of the Great Depression brought about job loss since most organizations downsized their workforce after failure to meet their wages costs. Depression also led to escalation of the cost of basic needs and reduction in wages, which made most families as represented in the letters beggars.
The humongous response received in form the letters after a single advertisement served to reveal that nearly all the families found it hard meeting basic needs. One should ask himself that if after a single advertisement that much response was obtained, how about if it was a periodical one.
What comes out clearly from these letters is that there is a sudden shift from what was once an affordable life to a struggling one. This point out most of these predicaments like lack of food and clothing came about at the time of depression.
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From the letters, it also became clear that most Americans were hopeful that things would look up after the Depression. They exuded confidence that the conditions they were undergoing would soon diffuse after acquiring jobs.
Mothers whose husbands could no longer provide the basic needs wrote most of the letters. It portrayed a non-traditional scenario whereby a woman who used to sit and be a homemaker had to find ways of obtaining basic needs. In this era, husbands were responsible for earning income, which could be used by the entire family in meeting basic requirements. Depression era created a different dimension of this situation by putting inevitable responsibility on mothers to look for food and shelter. In most of the assistance request by these mothers, they blame most of their sufferings on the inability by their husbands to provide due to failure to secure steady jobs and business.
Finally, during this depression era, most families reduced their expenditure to basic needs. Some went further to cut on needs like shoes, posh shelter and Christmas celebration.
Although the letters displayed some of the features characterizing the Great depression, some aspects of it that makes it inappropriate for sufficient use by a historian. It will not be sufficient to understand the facts and details of the depression by reading these letters. First, the letter lack peer review, which is a prerequisite of all scholarly sources. There is no evidence or proof to argue that these letters are not emotional expressions of women seeking to benefit from a philanthropist. Lack of credibility of these sources makes them inappropriate for use as scholarly source.
Another limitation of these sources in providing accurate information to understand the Great Depression is evident in its narrow scope. The letters are limited to families in Ohio, which may not be sufficient to understanding the situation of the entire country. As recorded in other sources, The Great Depression cut across the land. Thus, limiting the study to Ohio with an objective of understanding the entire concept of the Depression is not enough to make a conclusive judgment.
Furthermore, the letters lack in content necessary to understand amicably the Great Depression. The letters are limited to the undesirable consequences of the depression without mentioning other aspects like causes, dates and how it ended. With the same limited scope, the letters do not give details of how the Depression affected other sector apart from households. Nevertheless, they can be useful when used as part of other sources because they are from first-hand victims of the Great depression.
Gup, Ted. A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--And a Trove of Letters--Revealed the
Hidden History of the Great Depression. Westminster: Penguin Group, Inc, 2010.