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Women and the New Deal

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Women and the New Deal

The New Deal changed the course of social programs in America. Politicians worked to send men back to work and provide benefits for families. Did the New Deal provide jobs for women? What about women of color? The answer is yes and no. Let's take a closer look at Women and the New Deal!

New Deal Women's Rights

In 1920, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, was passed. Some women were even elected to government positions. We see an increase in women in government positions with the Roosevelt Administration. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) made a point to put women in high-ranking positions. Frances Perkins was the first woman to be a member of the President's cabinet and was the Secretary of State. FDR's wife Eleanor Roosevelt was a human rights activist.

Women were pushed out of the workforce during the New Deal in favor of male workers. Men believed that working women stole their jobs and that women belonged in homes. 26 states even passed laws banning married women from the workforce! They believed that if homes had to prioritize one source of income, that it was the husband who should work while the wife raised the children.

Women and the New Deal Women Typing StudySmarterWomen Working. Source: Wikimedia.

Women and the New Deal Chart

Let's take a look at the chart below and then break it down. It shows the number of women and men who worked in the years 1930 and 1940.

19301940
Women11 million13 million
Men38 million39 million

In 1930 eleven million women held jobs plus thirty-eight million men.2 These numbers slightly increased in 1940 when thirteen million women were employed along with thirty-nine million men.1 The unemployment rate was at an all-time high of 25% as FDR was inaugurated. In 1933 women made up around 25% of the workforce, which led to the misogynistic view that all women should be fired and replaced with men.

The Federal Economy Act (Section 213) of 1932 banned more than one family member from working for the government. If one family member could work, then it would preferably be the husband. The Federal Economy Act was intended to force women out of the workforce so that men could take their jobs.

Women and the New Deal Dollmaker StudySmarterDoll Maker. Source: Flickr.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) almost exclusively hired men because they believed that women could not do labor jobs. What few women were hired often worked in the sewing rooms. The CCC mostly hired white men, with only 10% of its workers being African American men. Workers made 30 dollars but had to send 22 to 25 dollars back to their families.

Many women were forced to remain dependent on husbands because the benefits of the New Deal came from the husbands. Women who were not married qualified for some benefit programs, but often had to endure embarrassing interviews where they explained why they were single. This means that women did not receive benefits because they deserved them just like the men, but that they received them because they had ties to men or their family unit.

New Deal Programs and their Effects on Women

The New Deal had many programs that affected women. The 1938 Fair Labor Act established a minimum wage, the only problem was that men were paid far more than women. A woman with a college education working a blue-collar job made less money than an unskilled male laborer in a factory. This act established the minimum wage and continued the wage gap.

Wage Gap:

The difference between how much men are paid versus women

Women and the New Deal Woman with Child StudySmarterWoman with Child. Source: Wikimedia.

The New Deal did provide some jobs for women. The Civil Works Administration put 275,000 women to work by 1934. The Works Progress Administration had over 300,000 women employed. The New Youth Program had 235,000 college graduate, and high school women working. The top ten professions for women were:

  1. Operators
  2. Domestic and Personal Workers
  3. Teachers
  4. Stenographers
  5. Clerks
  6. Salespeople
  7. Bookkeepers
  8. Farm Laborers
  9. Cooks
  10. Launderers

Women were able to benefit from programs like Food Stamps and the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC). The goal of FSCC was to buy farm goods and distribute them to families in need. The FSCC could increase the value of the farm goods by creating a scarcity of them while helping families in need.

Effect of the New Deal on Women of Color

The African American community was more affected by the Great Depression than white people were, but the New Deal helped them less. FDR needed the support of the racist Southern Democrats in order for the New Deal to work. Many of the programs were handled at the local level, so African Americans were excluded.

Women and the New Deal Woman Sewing StudySmarterWoman Sewing. Source: National Archives.

The 1936 Social Security Act was meant to help single mothers, but married women were able to find a way to benefit from it. African American women, single or married, were excluded because the bill excluded domestic laborers and sharecroppers. Both jobs were primarily African American.

The Wagner Act of 1935 established labor unions, but once again excluded sharecroppers and tenant farmers. While African Americans benefitted from the New Deal, critics state that democrats could've done more to assist the black community.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Women and the New Deal Eleanor Roosevelt StudySmarterEleanor Roosevelt. Source: Wikimedia.

Eleanor Roosevelt was FDR's wife. Eleanor was a human rights activist. She championed the cause of women, African Americans, Native Americans, and religious freedom. At one point, a racist hate group called the KKK had a 25-thousand-dollar bounty on her head. Eleanor, working on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, assisted in getting an anti-lynching bill to Congress, but it was struck down.

An Anti-Lynching bill that labeled lynching as a federal hate crime would not exist until the Biden administration signed it on March 16, 2022.

Eleanor did press conferences with women reporters, wrote her own newspaper, and advised her husband. When Marion Anderson was blocked from singing for the Daughters of American Revolution, because she was black, Eleanor left the club. Eleanor helped set up Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The event has become historically iconic.

Impact Of New Deal on Women

The New Deal benefitted women, but only in their relation to men and the family unit. It would not be until World War II that women were able to make up 50% of the workforce. Many of the achievements that women could accomplish didn't carry on after the New Deal.

The New Deal was more beneficial to white women than to women of color. Women of color were purposefully excluded, even though they needed assistance the most. Multiple Acts purposefully excluded sharecroppers, tenants, and domestic workers because those jobs were mostly fulfilled by black people.

Women and the New Deal - Key Takeaways

  • The New Deal prioritized giving men jobs over women
  • Women were considered valuable because of their relationship with men or the family unit
  • African American women benefitted less from the New Deal than white women
  • Eleanor Roosevelt was a tireless advocate for white women and black women.

References

  1. 1940 Census of Population: The Labor Force (Sample Statistics). p 17 - 18.
  2. 1930 Census: Volume 4. Occupatioins, by States. Reports by States, Giving Statistics for Cities of 25,000 or More. p 6.

Frequently Asked Questions about Women and the New Deal

The New Deal affected women and minorities by prioritizing white men over them. Programs like the CCC would hire white men over black people or women. Only 10% of CCC employees were black. 

Women were affected negatively by the New Deal because they were only valued in their relation to men or the family unit. Women received benefits from their husbands. Single women only received benefits through their children. 

Women were affected by the New Deal during the Depression because it pushed them out of the workforce. The New Deal prioritized hiring white men so women and people of color were given fewer benefits. 

Final Women and the New Deal Quiz

Question

Which amendment gave women the right to vote?

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Answer

19th Amendment 

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Question

Why were women pushed out of the work force?

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Answer

So more men could have jobs 

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Question

____made it so that only one person in a family could work for the government.

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Answer

Federal Economy Act

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Question

Which of the following New Deal programs mostly hired white men?

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Answer

Public Work Administration

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Question

Women received benefits through their relationship with a man or the family unit. 

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Answer

True

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Question

Which act established minimum wage and the wage gape?

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Answer

Fair Labor Act

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Question

Which of the following programs put the least amount of women to work?

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Answer

The Works Progress Administration 

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Question

Which three groups did New Deal programs continue to exclude?

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Answer

  1. Domestic workers
  2. Sharecroppers
  3. Tennant Farmers

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Question

When did women make up 50% of the work force?

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Answer

World War II

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Question

Women of color benefitted less from the New Deal even though their communities were hit the hardest.

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Answer

True

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