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Topics on Chicago, the New Deal and Great Depression

Presidential Elections

  • How did Chicagoans vote in the 1929 and 1932 elections? Were there significant shifts in voting behavior and why?
  • How did Hoover’s policies as president from 1929 to 1932 affect Chicagoans?
  • Analyze the voting patterns of African Americans during the 1930s to determine the speed and extent to which their vote shifted from Republican to Democratic.
  • Assess the importance of the local Democratic Party and Democratic vote in Chicago to any of Roosevelt’s elections (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944).

Franklin Roosevelt.

  • Analyze the media coverage of Franklin Roosevelt in the Chicago area. Of particular interest would be coverage of him by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Defender. Did it change over time?
  • Study either or both the 1932 and 1940 Democratic National Conventions held in Chicago.
  • Relationship between Roosevelt and Robert R. McCormick (of Chicago Tribune)
  • Analysis of Roosevelt’s “Quarantine Speech” delivered in Chicago (1937)

Eleanor Roosevelt.

  • How did the various communities and constituencies in Chicago respond to Eleanor Roosevelt? What accounts for differences? Given the First Lady’s excellent reputation among African Americans, an investigation of Bronzeville residents perceptions of her would make a good case study.
  • Investigate the various visits the First Lady made to the Chicago area and assess their impact.
  • Analyze the press coverage, particularly from newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Defender of the first lady? Did the coverage change over time? Did it differ from the 1930s (depression era) to the 1940s (wartime)? If so, how?

New Deal Programs

  • Assess the impact of any major New Deal piece of legislation or program on Chicago. Examples include the: National Industrial Relations Act; Banking Acts; National Labor Relations Act; Social Security Act; Securities Act; Federal Emergency Relief Act; Emergency Relief Appropriations Act; Home Owners Loan Act.

Local Politics

  • The assassination of Mayor Anton Cermak
  • The politics of Mayor Edward Kelly
  • Analyze the voting patterns of Chicago residents—do patterns emerge along cultural (e.g. Catholic, Jewish, Protestant), ethnic, and/or class lines?

The Working Class

  • How did Chicago’s working class respond to the Great Depression? Did it increase unionization and/or exacerbate class tensions?
  • Analyze the fight in Chicago to establish industrial unions, which led to the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
  • Study of the Chicago Federation of Labor and its efforts on behalf of working people during the depression, such as its radio station, WCFL, the “voice of labor.”
  • Investigate the causes and consequences of the 1937 Memorial Day massacre at Republic Steel.
  • Examine the role of women within the Chicago labor movement.
  • Examine the impact of the National Labor Relations Act on Chicago area workers and unions.
  • Study of Sidney Hillman, an important labor leader
  • Analyze the power and effectiveness of the Communist Party and/or Unemployed Councils in Chicago during the 1930s.

African Americans

  • Influence of specific New Deal program on African American community (relief programs, such as Federal Emergency Relief Act, WPA and CCC)
  • Conflict and controversy regarding the construction of public housing in Chicago, such as the Ida B. Wells homes
  • Activities of Chicago branches of the NAACP or Urban League. How influential were these groups? What kind of members did they attract? How did that reflect or affect their activities?
  • Election of Democrat Arthur W. Mitchell to Congress (first black Democrat elected to Congress)
  • Career of Oscar De Priest, a prominent black Republican
  • Examine the career and activities of writer Richard Wright
  • Chicago participation in March on Washington Movement (of 1941)

Women

  • Analyze patterns of work for women in Chicago during the Great Depression. Did women leave the workforce in great numbers? Why or why not? Were there patterns in the types of jobs or occupations they held?
  • Assess the role of mothers/wives in Chicago area households. Did the Great Depression establish new roles for mothers/wives? Did family relations change? If so, how and why?
  • Examine women’s experience in work relief, such as WPA
  • Examine women’s reaction to taking relief
  • Response of settlement houses, such as Hull House to the Great Depression
  • Analyze women’s participation in organizations, such as the Communist, Democratic and/or Republican Parties, Unemployed Councils, local grass-roots groups, Associated Catholic Charities, Jewish Charities, and/or labor unions.
  • Investigate the status and activities of female and male teachers during the Great Depression (many Chicago-area teachers were not paid for long periods of time).
  • Study the activities of Chicago-area women, such as Mary Anderson, who held important posts in the federal bureaucracy during the 1930s.

Community

Choose a neighborhood(s) or community(ies) in Chicago and examine the effect of the Great Depression on it.

  • Did the community feel the full impact of the depression? Was it expressed through high rates of unemployment and relief? Rent strikes? Organizing campaigns? Increased voluntarism among local residents?
  • How did the community react to the programs of the New Deal? Was it receptive or not? Were there political dividing lines in the community? If so, how did they play out?
  • Analyze the coping strategies or mechanisms people used to deal with the depression. Does your local study suggest that people tended to react as individuals and withdraw from others, or did they bond together as a community?

Business History

  • Investigate the impact of depression on, labor relations in, and/or relative economic success of a Chicagoland business during the 1930s, such as: Marshall Field’s; Carson, Pirie, Scott; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Montgomery Wards; Republic Steel; U.S. Steel South Works; Western Electric (Hawthorne Works); International Harvester; Pullman Company; Swift & Company; Armour and Company; Chicago Motor Coach Company (found guilty of violating section 7a of NIRA in 1934).
  • Examine the effects of the banking crisis of 1932-33, bank holiday and Emergency Banking Relief act on the local banking industry. (Or, analyze the extent to which the activities of local banks influenced the crisis and the development and/or passage of legislation.)
  • Analyze the effects of the Public Utilities Holding Company Act on Chicago utility companies. (Or, analyze the extent to which activities of local utilities influenced the development and/or passage of the legislation.)

Relief

  • Assess the activities of the Cook County Bureau of Public Welfare.
  • Assess the activities of federal relief efforts, such as the Federal Emergency Relief Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and Emergency Relief Appropriations Act and/or the Social Security Act.
  • Role of Associated Catholic Charities in providing relief
  • Role of Jewish Charities in providing relief
  • Examine the local politics and/or content of any of the WPA Federal One projects, such as the Writers, Theater, or Music Projects. (On the Art Project, see the accompanying essay and documents on Chicago and New Deal art.)
  • Investigate the influence of the Chicago WPA writers project on a well-known writer, such as Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, and/or Richard Wright.
  • Analyze Chicago-area public works projects (bridges, schools, hospitals and other buildings) created under the WPA or other federal public works programs

Foreign Affairs

  • Analyze isolationist (or non-interventionist) sentiment in Chicago during the 1930s.
    Who supported it and why?
  • Examine the local media coverage of events in Europe during the 1930s. Were there patterns of thought? Can Chicago reactions to Hitler, Mussolini, and/or the depression abroad be categorized?