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Children/Teens During the Great Depression

Started by Johanna, December 07, 2023, 08:04 AM

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I'm looking for the best resources for daily life of children and teens during the Great Depression.   Has anyone read any good memoirs or first hand accounts?  I also heard of people using magazines from the time period they're researching.   Where do you find those?


A large public library would be able to help you with your research in both of those areas--they'll be able to help you research those memoirs and if they don't have physical archives of magazines and newspapers, they should be able to connect you to digital ones.

Also, the WPA sponsored a lot of art, photography, and writing during the Great Depression, and I wonder if the Library of Congress might have archives you could explore?

Good luck! Sounds like it will be fascinating.
Harold Underdown

The Purple Crayon, a children's book editor's site:

Debbie Vilardi

Harold has given you some great starting points. There are also books written during that time. A Google search turns up exhibits and presidential libraries on the era as well as one museum. Films of the era are another potential resource, though the depiction may not be accurate. Also consider university libraries. Any place with a history department will have scholarship on the times and may even have primary sources. You may also find a professor or two who specialize in the period. Just keep searching and follow up on any leads, including the bibliographical resources in the works you find. Good luck.
Twitter: @dvilardi1

David Wright

Gotta love this line from

"Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur, a medical doctor, argued in 1932 that the economic Depression could actually be good for children. Families with less money to spend, Wilbur concluded, would be forced to depend upon each other and live a more wholesome home life."

Good luck in your research :)


Harold and Debbie have given you some great leads. (The Secretary of the Interior, maybe not so much.) Don't forget oral interviews--find older people and ask them. It could be fun for them and helpful for you.
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When I'm doing historical research, I use my library's research database. It's free with your card. Specifically, I log onto their subscription of It goes back way before the Great Depression. From there, you can narrow newspaper searches to geographic locations and time periods, by key words, and by proper and common nouns. Have fun!
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Debbie Vilardi

I hadn't considered that you really need info for a specific location. Local historical societies are great for this. What you'll find for the city of Brooklyn, New York, and a small town in Nebraska would be quite different. So start local to your location with colleges, libraries, etc., and branch out.  (BTW, I did some of this for a short story that got published--it included research on various aspects of Brooklyn and Chicago for the Depression.)
Twitter: @dvilardi1


Your location (as well as the rural-urban divide) will matter a lot. I had family in the greater NYC metropolitan area at that time whose experience was quite a bit different (they took on many part time jobs to get through it) than my family who farmed and ranched in rural Idaho at the same time. (Food was never an issue, though they almost lost the farm.) Depression or not, the living circumstances were wildly different to begin with, and then the concerns of families each each place during the Depression would be different, too. So I second the suggestion to look local for your sources. If possible, speak to someone who lived during that time. They will have been children and have a child's perspective (ie perhaps their parents shielded them from adult worries). But it will give you insight into what children then experienced, and coupled with research, you should be able to get a good idea of how things felt and what went down back then.

Debbie Vilardi

Just remembered there are autobiographical picture books by James Stevenson. Might be worth a look for you.
Twitter: @dvilardi1


Thank you so much for your replies!  When researching and writing a story in another time period, do you recommend researching first or as you go/write?  If researching first, when would you feel you have enough information to start writing?

Debbie Vilardi

I do both. Research info you know you'll need. Let's say your story is set in a school in a specific town. You can research what it looked like, how it was heated (if that's a factor for the season), how the teacher and students of different ages might have dressed, whether students were required to attend or might help on the farm, etc.,some days but attend others, ages/genders of likely students, curriculum materials, and the like. Knowing this beforehand will help you get started. 

But as you write, you'll also come upon things that you may need to find out. Would lighting have been electric or gas? Was transport to school provided or did kids walk miles? Those are things you may not realize you need at the outset in the example I used above. I research them as I get to them.

Sometimes you have to just stop researching and start writing and see what happens. If you have an outline, you should have some idea of what you need to know. If not, it may come up as you go and it could stop you in your tracks, bu you can put in a placeholder and set a time for doing the further research. You don't have to do it immediately.

For example, Mary scuffed her (Mary Janes?) along the wooden floor as she approached Ms. Hansen.
Twitter: @dvilardi1

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