Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain

By David E. Kyvig | Go to book overview

12

Continuity and Change: America at the End of the 1930s

By the end of the 1930s, the worst of the Great Depression lay in the past. That, of course, was less evident to people at the time than to those with historical perspective who know that just ahead lay World War II with all its social upheaval and economic revitalization. At the end of the depression decade some people were paying increasing attention to events abroad and worrying about the marching armies of Japan, Germany, and Italy, but most Americans believed that such distant occurrences bore little relevance to their own situation. Life in the United States, they expected, would continue to unfold much the same as it had recently.

Americans could look back two decades to the Great War without having a hint that such a pivotal event would soon be relabeled World War I. Round two of the great conflict would take place between similarly aligned forces but on an even more immense scale. World War II would, like its predecessor, have a significant impact on the United States, transforming its economy and society, elevating the status of its women and people of color, advancing its technology, and propelling it into a position of international leadership. In so doing, the Second World War would alter the course of American daily life and set the 1940s and after distinctly apart from the previous decades.

The two decades following World War I produced notable technological advances, cultural shifts, economic ups and downs, and political changes. By the end of the 1930s, conditions seemed to those at the grass roots to have reached something of an equilibrium. Many of the ad-

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