The 19th Amendment to the constitution was passed in 1920, granting women the right to vote. It seemed to many, at the time, that the women's rights movement was over. Having obtained the right to vote, the logic went, women now had equal rights. That was far from being the case: women, and especially women of color, were still discriminated against in virtually every sector of society. The 1930s are an especially interesting period because, although discrimination still existed, the Great Depression took center stage. Living through that period while facing discrimination was especially difficult for many women.
Looking for Work
During the depression years of the 1930s there was great pressure on everyone to bring in income. It was especially difficult for women. In large segments of society women were still thought to belong in the home. If women sought work during the depression they were frequently scorned for taking jobs and money away from men. Women who had jobs were often pressured to give up their jobs for 'family men.' Some even blamed women for the depression itself, claiming that if women would give up their jobs unemployment would be nearly eliminated.
On the Job
When women could find jobs they tended to be low level, low paying jobs; nearly all management roles were filled by men. Census reports at the time show that three in 10 working women were in domestic or personal service roles, such as cooks and maids. Of those women working outside personal service fully three quarters were school teachers or nurses. There were no protections at the time for women in the workplace, meaning they could be fired simply for being a woman without unemployment or severance. Working women also had no guarantee of equal wages or treatment.
Although many did their best to keep women out of the workplace, single women during the depression had few options. Women were still actively discouraged from seeking higher education in many places and were not allowed in some schools. When they could go to school it was rarely for professional degrees. In addition to women who were not married, many women were temporarily single because of the depression. Many men traveled seeking work and many of those did not find it or were unable to send money home. There were also no real social programs until Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs began to be passed in the mid to late 1930s.
Women of Color
As difficult as things were for women generally, the situation was especially difficult for African-American women. Women may have earned increased rights in the early 20th century but Afican-Americans had not. The U.S. was still nearly three decades from the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. One report from the Philadelphia Employment bureau states that between 1932 and 1933, 68 percent of the jobs posted stated that they were "white only" job offers.
- America.gov: Women's Rights in the United States; Jane Morse, February 26, 2007
- Loyola University: 1930s, America - Feminist Void?; Mickey Moran
- eNotes: Working Women in the 1930s
- WIC: Women's History in America
- Welfare Information: The History of Welfare
- History Now: Women and the Great Depression; Susan Ware
- Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images