As bad as the economy has gotten in the past few months, the hardships many are encountering pale in comparison with the challenges endured by those who lived through the Great Depression. Between 1929 and the early 1940s, Americans suffered the longest, most devastating economic period in history. Self-sufficiency was the key to getting through those tough times, survivors say, and the importance of saving was the greatest lesson.
Continue reading for first-hand accounts from those who saw the country come back from the brink of economic ruin before, as well as those who are witnessing the extreme economic uncertainty for the first time.
Nobie Thomas, 93, Rome, Georgia
I remember living through the Great Depression. It was terrible, but we made it. I was in my teens. I was living in Rome, Georgia. It was considered part of the Atlanta metro area.
There was no work. And even if you did find work, it didn’t pay much of anything. Everything was dirt cheap but that didn’t help anyone because you still had to get the money to get anything. And nobody had money. A lot of people were coming here to Georgia because the standard of living was so that you could make it on less. But there was no relief.
No one had money to buy food. We did a little better than some other people because my father was a farmer, so we had food. He planted corn. We had chickens, so we always had plenty of eggs. We had a cow so we had plenty of milk and butter. If we had anything extra we helped other people.
Things started to get better in the late ’30s. At that time, men could find jobs again. Women didn’t work back then — they stayed home — so it was mostly the men who were out of work.
We had money in the bank. Any time we had anything extra, we’d put it in the bank. But we could only take it out on certain days of the month. So even if we had money, we couldn’t get to it. Banks were failing.
I think things are going to get worse than they were in the Great Depression because [costs are] so high. I think people need to prepare. I think people should save. They should have already been saving money.
The Great Depression changed me. Even after things got better, I would remember that time, and I would never waste. If I spend a dollar, I want a dollar saved.
Charlotte Ricks, 99, Landover, Maryland
During the Great Depression, I was in my 20s.
I lived in North Carolina. We didn’t have a lot of things like we have now. We had to walk many miles a day to school and back. A lot of people were out of work. We didn’t have homes. We didn’t have food. That was the [Herbert] Hoover administration. Then [Franklin D.] Roosevelt came in and he kind of brought the nation back to health again. Jobs were created. He brought welfare and people got food stamps.