Voices of Economic Survival

Lessons learned from the Great Depression

Then young men went into CC camps (Civilian Conservation Corps) [set up in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt for unemployed men who could receive military-style training and education while getting food, clothing, shelter, and health services.]

We lived in the country, and my father was the type of person who grew everything. We had our own cow [which] gave us milk and butter. We had fruit trees. My mother made jelly and preserves. She made our own bread. So since we were on a farm where we grew everything to eat, we had food. That made a difference. The people who lived in town — when they got laid off, they had nothing. We were never hungry. But we didn’t have any money.

People helped each other. If they had enough to share with somebody, they’d share.

We had one pair of shoes. My sister learned how to sew, and then we had a little more to wear. We didn’t have raincoats and rain hats and umbrellas and things like that.  Men had one suit. And you wore that whenever you’d need to wear a suit.

Today, we’re right back in the hole again, but I’ve already come through this and know what it’s all about. When I try to talk to people about it, people don’t believe it. They tell me, ‘I couldn’t live like that.’ But if that’s all you had, you’d have no choice.

paulinegiles_edited-1Pauline Giles, 89, Cambridge, Maryland

I grew up in Cambridge, Maryland. During that time, I was around nine or ten. As children, as long as we were eating and playing, and had a little candy, we were satisfied, unlike how many people are today. We weren’t thinking about having things to wear and places to go.

Even if our parents were worried, they could do things to keep us happy. I remember they would take cocoa and make candy and fudge. They took sugar and melted it with butter and put peanuts in it and it was peanut brittle. Even though things were hard, people lived more simply than they do today, so we made do.

I don’t think this recession is as bad as the Great Depression, but I think people were happier back in those times. People back then could do more with less. They hadn’t experienced having anything like today – we’ve experienced having some of the good things. And so we’re more likely to miss them. We didn’t have as far to fall back then.

During that time, people learned to make do with what they had. My parents always tried to get a little bit ahead. We didn’t have money to buy clothes, but my mother would sew and she would try to make our clothes like the things that were in the store. She would look at the magazines, and they had catalogs, and she would sit down and take some newspaper and cut little patterns. That was a big savings because we weren’t able to go out and buy those things.  If my parents were worried, they handled it well.

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