Female welders in Connecticut, 1943. Library of Congress,
The New Deal and World War II Period ranged from 1933-1945. The Great Depression impeded the personal efforts of at least two generations of black people. Many had to work and support their families, requiring them to leave school as young adults. The economic hardships of the era were felt worldwide. The political flux of 1928 resulted in an economic meltdown in the 1930s, and U.S. president elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the first Democrat to win a large number of black voters, who have remained loyal to the Democratic Party since the 1930s. Roosevelt’s New Deal spoke to the needs of American citizens, and during his first one hundred days in office he sought to ameliorate the conditions of banking, unemployment, farm policy and business reform.
Working class and poor African Americans suffered the most. Unlike the educated club women, many working class women did not have the capacity to rely on social networks, prominent families or socially important husbands to ensure their standard of living. Historian Elizabeth Clark-Lewis documented the options working class women had during this period in Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, DC 1910-1940. Her work used the oral histories of 23 black women who migrated from southern states to Washington DC. These women explained the hardships they faced during migration. Their desire for a better life was not a solitary goal but one that would benefit their families. Women looked to other female friends and family members to assist them in their move to the city.4 The history of working class and poor women is often hard to document because of the paucity of written sources. Therefore, the use of oral histories provided a glimpse into the lived experience of women whose stories could have been lost to time, however, they were recorded for posterity.