Cinderella Man - HOOVERVILLES

As Americans lost their jobs, during the Great Depression, they could not make the mortgage payments on their homes. When they lost their homes, families were forced to live in shacks in shanty towns known as Hoovervilles. This image depicts such a home in Ohio. Click on the image for a full-page view. Online via the Library of Congress.


The free-wheeling, money-earning, flagrant-spending decade known as "The Roaring Twenties" ended with a stock market crash. (The link depicts the floor of the stock exchange just after the crash.)

Americans who had plenty suddenly had little, or nothing. Out of work, out of food, out of their homes, people were scared of the future.

Herbert Hoover, while wrapping up his presidency and searching for ways to explain the country's continuing economic woes, had a point when he wrote:

The courage and enterprise of the people still exist and only await release from fears and apprehension.

But those "fears and apprehension" continued. Franklin Roosevelt, taking over as President in 1933, struck a nerve when he said in his first inaugural address:

The only thing we have to fear is - fear itself.

For anyone born after World War II, it is inconceivable that such a time ever existed. The ongoing personal tragedy, fear and utter despair, which crippled the country, are nearly unimaginable today. But for those who experienced the reality of constant unemployment, insufficient food, homelessness and lost family wealth, the memories are still vivid and painful.

Photographs from the National Archives, which document the struggle, open a window - at least to some extent - into those difficult years.

Uprooted, out-of-work families packed up everything they owned and moved to California. Travel wasn't easy since Interstates did not yet connect the country. Destitute mothers had few, if any, options to provide for their children.

Fathers left their families "at home" while they went to the industrial north to find work. Their "bachelor cabins" were nothing more than shanty towns. But there was also "No Work" for people in the north. The once-bustling docks of New York City were mostly quiet.

By 1932, the worst year of the depression (follow the link to see the dramatic downturn in U.S. rates of production), nearly 25% of the American work force was unemployed. Without means of transportation, people had to walk miles just to see their families.

Living in squatters' camps (called "Hoovervilles"), dislocated families tried to stay together. Even Central Park, in New York City, was turned into a Hooverville.

Before the days of the FDR along the East River, and the Westside Parkway along the Hudson, an artist (like Russian emigre Raphael Soyer) could draw images, along the water's edge, of human hopelessness. Employment agencies in New York City were inundated with applications from well-dressed, out-of-work people.

The "land of plenty" had become the land of hard times.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2005

Updated Last Revision: Jan 02, 2017

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"HOOVERVILLES" AwesomeStories.com. Jun 01, 2005. Jan 19, 2020.
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