Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression

By Robert Cohen | Go to book overview

chapter 2
Education

Teachers, administrators, and government officials wrote and said much about the shortcomings of American education during the Great Depression. They told of school closings, shortened academic terms, cuts in teacher salaries, and harsh retrenchment in many school budgets, especially during the early 1930s. Few school systems were unaffected by hard times. But as the report of President Roosevelt's Advisory Committee on Education revealed in 1938, the Depression's burdens were not equally distributed. Rural, southern, and black schools entered the Depression as the nation's most poorly funded, and they could least afford the declines in school budgets wrought by the economic crisis. The National Education Association estimated that by 1934 rural poverty had closed more than 20,000 schools. In 1935–36, white students attending school in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina received less than half the national average of per pupil spending (which then stood at $74.30), and less than a third of the spending on students in such better-funded states as New York. Black students in Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina received less than a tenth of the national average of per pupil spending.1

That these were hard times for schools, families, and the young becomes even clearer when one looks at the birth rate and grade school enrollments. The Depression decade was not one into which adults were eager to bring children, and the birth rate fell accordingly. Declining birth rates shrank primary school populations. Between 1930 and 1938 the number of fiveyear-old children in the United States declined by 17.3 percent, yielding a 16.1 percent decline in kindergarten enrollments. The number of students enrolled in the first four school grades dropped annually between 1930 and 1934, in the first seven grades between 1934 and 1938.2

The educational picture was not entirely gloomy, however. Because of the tremendous shortage of jobs for the young, the Depression kept students in school longer than their pre-Depression predecessors—in the 1930s they had nowhere else to go. This trend was accelerated by the stu-

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Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: Letters from Children of the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - Ill-Clothes Ill-Hiused Ill-Ted 35
  • Chapter 2 - Education 91
  • Chapter 3 - Social Life 145
  • Chapter 4 - Minorities 195
  • Epilogue - Responses to the Letter 237
  • Notes and Sources 245
  • Index 261
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