Definition of “Social fabric”



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29 April 2003-04-29AP U.S. History

Essay : “Analyze the ways in which the Great Depression altered the American social fabric in the 1930s”



Definition of “Social fabric”


Social fabric is the social relationships between family members, between men and women, between races. It is also the basic beliefs and values of the community, and the way that society is organized.

Family Ties

Strengthened due to hardships. Family members needed to pull together, earning money however they could, and pooling their dollars. Outside entertainment too expensive, so families stayed at home, entertained themselves, sat around the radio, talked. When forced by mortgage defaults to leave the small family farm, the family travelled together by car, camping, sharing experiences with similarly unlucky people, helping them, developing a sense of camaraderie (“Grapes of Wrath”, John Steinbeck).


Both marriage and birth rates declined during the Depression. This is a common phenomenon during times of hardship, as people become depressed, and the cost of families becomes more than they can bear.

Gender issues


25% unemployment. Men’s sense of worth, their traditional role of “bread winners”, was undermined. In a time of crisis, with few jobs available, women (like blacks) tend to be last hired, first fired. Advances made by women in the 1920s, in part, lost in the hard times of the 1930s.

Race relations


Blacks were last hired, first fired. Very difficult time period for blacks.

Black economic independence had been Booker T. Washington’s road for black salvation, but how can a blacks be economically independent at a time of 25% unemployment, a figure which no doubt was much higher for blacks alone.

KKK had witnessed a revival in the 1920s, and people tend to be more prejudiced, and less open to differences when times are tough.

Community Spirit

Voluntarism increased during these tough times. People who had extra resources, extra wealth, often shared them with the less fortunate.

Underlying Values / Beliefs


The traditional belief in rugged individualism (the Jeffersonian / Jacksonian ideals of independent, self-sufficient citizens) was eroded. Unemployment, inability to pay back loans, inability to feed your family, inability to hang on to the small family farm, all meant that more and more people became DEPENDENT upon assistance, hand outs. What assistance ? Some was from charities and private sources, such as soup kitchens and flop houses. A lot was in the form of Federal government programs to provide employment. Examples of the latter were the Civilian Conservation Corps, designed to“hand outs” needed. FDR’s New Deal provided government jobs, partly to achieve development goals, but primarily to provide employment for the otherwise unemployed, destitute and hopeless.

Self-respect suffered. If you can’t support your family, and you are forced to live in a shack in a “Hooverville”, it is difficult to look yourself in the mirror and feel pride.



Attitude Towards Foreigners, and Foreign Issues


This starts to get close to a “Foreign Policy” answer, so I must be careful not to get off the Question. But the Depression made Americans very insular, very concerned with themselves, and disinterested in the world at large. Thus isolationism was reinforced. Is this “social fabric” ? Yes, it is an attitudinal change, a value statement (“America first, the world later”), and thus in some way connected to “social fabric”.

Bonus Expeditionary Force


One example of extreme tension in the nation’s social fabric was the march in 1932 on Washington D.C. by impoverished war veterans of who were demanding that the government immediately pay them war bonuses promised by Congress in 1926, and scheduled for payment in 1945. Normally war veterans are highly respected in America, but on this occasion, at a time of economic crisis, their march was viewed by the government as a national threat. They were branded as revolutionaries, as communists, and their camp site in Washington was destroyed by federal troops, and 2 veterans were killed. What is the point ? The Depression changed values, changed perceptions, so that a normally revered group were treated with utter disrespect, if not with fear, by their own federal government.

Organization of society


Rural society torn apart due to a combination of factors. Dropping demand and falling farm prices leads to farm bankruptcies, and families being forced to pack up their possessions, and travel the highways looking for work. Rural towns and villages denuded.

Greater roll, and thus greater power for Federal government. FDR introduced the New Deal, intended to provide relief, recovery, and reform. The government, with Congress’s approval (remember the 100 Day Congress which passed ever piece of legislation created by FDR), intruded into areas previously considered inappropriate, or private.

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