How did the experiences of women during the New Deal differ across the full spectrum of American society?

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Eleanor Roosevelt in particular directed a great deal of attention to women in the New Deal. For example, her efforts helped create a women's division within the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which was led by a woman (see the source below). However, only 7% of the jobs created by...

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Eleanor Roosevelt in particular directed a great deal of attention to women in the New Deal. For example, her efforts helped create a women's division within the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which was led by a woman (see the source below). However, only 7% of the jobs created by the Civilian Works Administration (CWA) were given to women. Later, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created more jobs for women (see the source below), but women were still subject to the idea that men were the breadwinners in the family and that the creation of women's jobs was secondary to the creation of men's jobs.

As the source about African Americans in the New Deal (below) states, African Americans were subject to racism in New Deal programs. Racism affected the hiring policies at local New Deal agencies, particularly in the South, though some African Americans found jobs with the CWA. African Americans were given lower wage scales by the National Recovery Administration (NRA). Therefore, New Deal programs benefited white women over African American women, though both groups were subject to sexism.

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Wealthy women did not, on the whole, suffer terribly during the Depression. Women such as Amelia Earhart could continue to pursue a life of relative freedom, in her case as an airplane pilot. Middle class and working class white women were hit hard. When unemployment skyrocketed, social consensus dictated that ordinary women leave the work force to open up the scarce jobs to men, unless they were single or their husbands unemployed. Women, in general, struggled to make ends meet in a world in which a social safety net was only gradually being established. While increasingly unable to get "real jobs," many women worked hard on the economic margins, for example by converting their homes into boarding houses for the many people who had lost their houses to foreclosure.

Poor women suffered the most, many forced to live in shanty towns or "Hoovervilles" when they lost their homes. Many were faced with hunger and malnutrition, as were their children. Black women and women of color, in particular, suffered greatly, earning low pay when they could find jobs and often having to live in substandard conditions.

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Women faced a variety experiences during the Great Depression, depending mainly on their socioeconomic status and race. However, the typical woman in the 1930s, if she was married, was married to a man who had lost his job or taken a pay cut. Thus, typically, women during the Great Depression faced a decrease in income. In this context, women took on important roles as economic planners in their families. Women were often the "budget gate-keepers" in their families, keeping tight budgets, giving up former luxuries like going to the movies or shopping, and even making their own clothing and other household items.

Thus, unlike many men who were emasculated or ashamed when they lost their roles as breadwinners ad supporters of their families, many women actually found themselves taking on more important roles and responsibilities. Housewives did not lose their jobs during the Depression; indeed, they often found their jobs as housewives and mothers were even more important and valued.

This is not to say that women did not suffer during the Depression. For the few jobs that were available, men were favored over women, and minority women were almost always least likely to secure employment. Immigrant American women also faced deportation if they could not secure jobs. Finally, women who lived on farms faced additional difficulties as the Dust Bowl ravaged the West and Mid West. Women also typically did not benefit from the reforms of the New Deal, such as the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, because these laws did not apply equally to women.

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