The Invisible Women of the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, women made up 25% of the work force, but their jobs were more unstable, temporary or seasonal then men, and the unemployment rate was much greater. There was also a decided bias and cultural view that “women didn’t work” and in fact many who were employed full time often called themselves “homemakers.” Neither men in the workforce, the unions, nor any branch of government were ready to accept the reality of working women, and this bias caused females intense hardship during the Great Depression.

The 1930’s was particularly hard on single, divorced or widowed women, but it was harder still on women who weren’t White. Women of color had to overcome both sexual and racial stereotyping. Black women in the North suffered an astounding 42.9% unemployment, while 23.2%. of White women were without work according to the 1937 census. In the South, both Black and White women were equally unemployed at 26%. In contrast, the unemployment rate for Black and White men in the North (38.9%/18.1%) and South (18%/16% respectively) were also lower than female counterparts.

The financial situation in Harlem was bleak even before the Great Depression. But afterward, the emerging Black working class in the North was decimated by wholesale layoffs of Black industrial workers. To be Black and a woman alone, made keeping a job or finding another one nearly impossible. The racial work hierarchy replaced Black women in waitressing or domestic work, with White women, now desperate for work, and willing to take steep wage cuts.

Survival Entrepreneurs

At the start of the Depression, while one study found that homeless women were most likely factory and service workers, domestics, garment workers, waitresses and beauticians; another suggested that the beauty industry was a major source of income for Black women. These women, later known as “survivalist entrepreneurs,” became self-employed in response to a desperate need to find an independent means of livelihood.”

Replaced by White women in more traditional domestic work as cooks, maids, nurses, and laundresses, even skilled and educated Black women were so hopeless, ”that they actually offered their services at the so-called ‘slave markets’-street corners where Negro women congregated to await White housewives who came daily to take their pick and bid wages down” (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:246). Moreover, the home domestic service was very difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate with family responsibilities, as the domestic servant was usually on call ”around the clock” and was subject to the ”arbitrary power of individual employers.”



Inn Keepers and Hairdressers


Two occupations were sought out by Black women, in order to address both the need for income (or barter items) and their domestic responsibilities in northern cities during the Great Depression: (1) boarding house and lodging house keeping; and (2) hairdressing and beauty culture.

During the “Great Migration” of 1915-1930, thousands of Blacks from the South, mostly young, single men, streamed into Northern cities, looking for places to stay temporarily while they searched for housing and jobs. Housing these migrants created opportunities for Black working-class women,-now unemployed-to pay their rent.

According to one estimate, ”at least one-third” of Black families in the urban North had lodgers or boarders during the Great Migration (Thomas, 1992:93, citing Henri, 1976). The need was so great, multiple boarders were housed, leading one survey of northern Black families to report that ”seventy-five percent of the Negro homes have so many lodgers that they are really hotels.”

Women were usually at the center of these webs of family and community networks within the Black community:

“They ”undertook the greatest part of the burden” of helping the newcomers find interim housing. Women played ”connective and leadership roles” in northern Black communities, not only because it was considered traditional “woman’s work,” but also because taking in boarders and lodgers helped Black women combine housework with an informal, income-producing activity (Grossman, 1989:133). In addition, boarding and lodging house keeping was often combined with other types of self-employment. Some of the Black women who kept boarders and lodgers also earned money by making artificial flowers and lamp shades at home.” (Boyd, 2000)

In addition from 1890 to 1940, ”barbers and hairdressers” were the largest segments of the Black business population, together comprising about one third of this population in 1940 (Boyd, 2000 citing Oak, 1949:48).

“Blacks tended to gravitate into these occupations because “White barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians were unwilling or unable to style the hair of Blacks or to provide the hair preparations and cosmetics used by them. Thus, Black barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians had a ”protected consumer market” based on Whites’ desires for social distance from Blacks and on the special demands of Black consumers. Accordingly, these Black entrepreneurs were sheltered from outside competitors and could monopolize the trades of beauty culture and hairdressing within their own communities.

Black women who were seeking jobs believed that one’s appearance was a crucial factor in finding employment. Black self-help organizations in northern cities, such as the Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women, stressed the importance of good grooming to the newly arrived Black women from the South, advising them to have neat hair and clean nails when searching for work. Above all, the women were told avoid wearing ”head rags” and ”dust caps” in public (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:247, 301; Grossman, 1989:150-151).

These warnings were particularly relevant to those who were looking for secretarial or white-collar jobs, for Black women needed straight hair and light skin to have any chance of obtaining such positions. Despite the hard times, beauty parlors and barber shops were the most numerous and viable Black-owned enterprises in Black communities (e.g., Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:450-451).

Black women entrepreneurs in the urban North also opened stores and restaurants, with modest savings ”as a means of securing a living” (Boyd, 2000 citing Frazier, 1949:405). Called ”depression businesses,” these marginal enterprises were often classified as proprietorships, even though they tended to operate out of ”houses, basements, and old buildings” (Boyd, 2000 citing Drake and Cayton, 1945/1962:454).

“Food stores and eating and drinking places were the most common of these businesses, because, if they failed, their owners could still live off their stocks.”

“Protestant Whites Only”

These businesses were a necessity for Black women, as the preference for hiring Whites climbed steeply during the Depression. In the Philadelphia Public Employment Office in 1932 & 1933, 68% of job orders for women specified “Whites Only.” In New York City, Black women were forced to go to separate unemployment offices in Harlem to seek work. Black churches and church-related institutions, a traditional source of help to the Black community, were overwhelmed by the demand, during the 1930’s. Municipal shelters, required to “accept everyone,” still reported that Catholics and African American women were “particularly hard to place.”

No one knows the numbers of Black women left homeless in the early thirty’s, but it was no doubt substantial, and invisible to the mostly white investigators. Instead, the media chose to focus on, and publicize the plight of White, homeless, middle-class “white collar” workers, as, by 1931 and 1932, unemployment spread to this middle-class. White-collar and college-educated women, usually accustomed “to regular employment and stable domicile,” became the “New Poor.” We don’t know the homeless rates for these women, beyond an educated guess, but of all the homeless in urban centers, 10% were suggested to be women. We do know, however, that the demand for “female beds” in shelters climbed from a bit over 3,000 in 1920 to 56,808 by 1932 in one city and in another, from 1929 -1930, demand rose 270%.

“Having an Address is a Luxury Now…”

Even these beds, however, were the last stop on the path towards homelessness and were designed for “habitually destitute” women, and avoided at all cost by those who were homeless for the first time. Some number ended up in shelters, but even more were not registered with any agency. Resources were few. Emergency home relief was restricted to families with dependent children until 1934. “Having an address is a luxury just now” an unemployed college woman told a social worker in 1932.

These newly destitute urban women were the shocked and dazed who drifted from one unemployment office to the next, resting in Grand Central or Pennsylvania station, and who rode the subway all night (the “five cent room”), or slept in the park, and who ate in penny kitchens. Slow to seek assistance, and fearful and ashamed to ask for charity, these women were often on the verge of starvation before they sought help. They were, according to one report, often the “saddest and most difficult to help.” These women “starved slowly in furnished rooms. They sold their furniture, their clothes, and then their bodies.”

The Emancipated Woman and Gender Myths

If cultural myths were that women “didn’t work,” then those that did were invisible. Their political voice was mute. Gender role demanded that women remain “someone’s poor relation,” who returned back to the rural homestead during times of trouble, to help out around the home, and were given shelter. These idyllic nurturing, pre-industrial mythical family homes were large enough to accommodate everyone. The new reality was much bleaker. Urban apartments, no bigger than two or three rooms, required “maiden aunts” or “single cousins” to “shift for themselves.” What remained of the family was often a strained, overburdened, over-crowded household that often contained severe domestic troubles of its own.

In addition, few, other than African Americans, were with the rural roots to return to. And this assumed that a woman once emancipated and tasting past success would remain “malleable.” The female role was an out-of-date myth, but was nonetheless a potent one. The “new woman” of the roaring twenties was now left without a social face during the Great Depression. Without a home–the quintessential element of womanhood–she was, paradoxically, ignored and invisible.

“…Neighborliness has been Stretched Beyond Human Endurance.”

In reality, more than half of these employed women had never married, while others were divorced, deserted, separated or claimed to be widowed. We don’t know how many were lesbian women. Some had dependent parents and siblings who relied on them for support. Fewer had children who were living with extended family. Women’s wages were historically low for most female professions, and allowed little capacity for substantial “emergency” savings, but most of these women were financially independent. In Milwaukee, for example, 60% of those seeking help had been self-supporting in 1929. In New York, this figure was 85%. Their available work was often the most volatile and at risk. Some had been unemployed for months, while others for a year or more. With savings and insurance gone, they had tapped out their informal social networks. One social worker, in late 1931, testified to a Senate committee that “neighborliness has been stretched not only beyond its capacity but beyond human endurance.”

Older women were often discriminated against because of their age, and their long history of living outside of traditional family systems. When work was available, it often specified, as did one job in Philadelphia, a demand for “white stenographers and clerks, under (age) 25.”

The Invisible Woman

The Great Depression’s effect on women, then, as it is now, was invisible to the eye. The tangible evidence of breadlines, Hoovervilles, and men selling apples on street corners, did not contain images of urban women. Unemployment, hunger and homelessness was considered a “man’s problem” and the distress and despair was measured in that way. In photographic images, and news reports, destitute urban women were overlooked or not apparent. It was considered unseemly to be a homeless woman, and they were often hidden from public view, ushered in through back door entrances, and fed in private.

Partly, the problem lay in expectations. While homelessness in men had swelled periodically during periods of economic crisis, since the depression of the 1890’s onward, large numbers of homeless women “on their own” were a new phenomenon. Public officials were unprepared: Without children, they were, early on, excluded from emergency shelters. One building with a capacity of 155 beds and six cribs, lodged over 56,000 “beds” during the third year of the depression. Still, these figures do not take account the number of women turned away, because they weren’t White or Protestant.

As the Great Depression wore on, wanting only a way to make money, these women were excluded from “New Deal” work programs set up to help the unemployed. Men were seen as “breadwinners,” holding greater claim to economic resources. While outreach and charitable agencies finally did emerge, they were often inadequate to meet the demand.

Whereas black women had particular hard times participating in the mainstream economy during the Great Depression, they did have some opportunity to find alternative employment within their own communities, because of unique migration patterns that had occurred during that period. White women, in contrast, had a keyhole opportunity, if they were young and of considerable skills, although their skin color alone offered them greater access to whatever traditional employment was still available.

The rejection of traditional female roles, and the desire for emancipation, however, put these women at profound risk once the economy collapsed. In any case, single women, with both black and white skin, fared worse and were invisible sufferers.

As we enter the Second Great Depression, who will be the new “invisible homeless” and will women, as a group, fare better this time?



References:

Abelson, E. (2003, Spring2003). Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934. Feminist Studies, 29(1), 104. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Boyd, R. (2000, December). Race, Labor Market Disadvantage, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Women in the Urban North During the Great Depression. Sociological Forum, 15(4), 647-670. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

Why Technical Writing Jobs Are Among the Best Writing Options in an Economic Depression

I think technical writing is one of the best writing niches in an economic depression. The reason is simple. Think of all the things people quit doing in an economic depression. First of all, they stop buying and shopping. That takes a chunk out of the incomes of copy writers in general because when people start to save their money, there is less to do for most copy writers since main purpose of commercial copy is to sell something.

SIDEBAR: That actually may work well for the top echelon elite copy writers with well-established track records since, in an environment that does that forgive any mistakes, the employers would not like to take any chances with rookie writers. The business owners and direct marketers would play safe and hire only the “proven entities.” Thus, veteran copy writers may actually see an increase in their incomes. But during a recession a great majority of average copy writers may see a drop either in their business volume or the rates they are charging.

Same goes with journalism. At this writing, print journalism is in a deep decline. There are almost no daily newspapers in the United States that are turning a profit simply because people, especially the generation under thirty, are not purchasing and reading newspapers. Especially not when the average weekday edition sells for 50 or 75 cents these days and jumps all the way up to $5 for weekend editions! People don’t have that kind of money to spare in a recession for an item that you throw away within 24 hours.

And when it comes to online journalism, the alternatives are so many, it’s again hard to make upfront money as an online journalist in this new environment where every blog is a potential source of free news and commentary.

But technical writing has less (what the economists would call) “demand elasticity” in economic depressions simply because people still need to learn how to operate systems, how to take medication, what to do with their lives, health, property, and money. And it is a technical writer’s privilege to describe how a savings account works, the advantages of a new training program that one can take while the economy gets better, or how a new time-saving productivity software should be configured properly. Main purpose of technical writing is to instruct, explain, and tutor. And the need for that will never diminish in times good or bad.

Accutane Side Effects: Should Depression Be A Concern?

Medical professionals and acne-pestered adolescents have no doubts about the effectiveness of the severe acne drug isotretinoin. It’s the looming possibility of side effects such as depression and fetal damage that makes people uneasy when considering using this medication.

Accutane (isotretinoin) is one of Hoffman-LaRoche’s most popular and controversial pharmaceuticals. This week, a study published in the Archives of Dermatology vindicated isotretinoin from causing depression. In this report, Christina Y. Chia, MD, from Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center, St. Louis, and colleagues examined whether patients with moderate to severe acne treated with isotretinoin experienced an increase in depressive symptoms compared with patients treated with a topical antibiotic, topical retinoid, and an oral antibiotic.

Dr. Chia found that “The use of isotretinoin in the treatment of moderate-severe acne in adolescents did not increase depressive symptoms. On the contrary, our study shows that treatment of acne improves depressive symptoms”.

Five years earlier, in 2000, the isotretinoin-depression link still appeared misleading. That time, the Archives of Dermatology posted study, headed by Dr. Susan S. Jick, from the Boston University School of Medicine, which found no evidence that isotretinoin increases the risk for depression, suicide, or other psychiatric disorders.

Even though isotretinoin finds ample support among dermatologists and psychiatrists, a host of parents, politicians and medical professionals hail isotretinoin as a medical misfortune.

For instance, Dr. David J. Graham, the Associate Director for Science and Medicine in FDA’s Office of Drug Safety, recently warned that Accutane should be taken off the market.

And while there are few studies with any negative observations about isotretinoin, Dr. Douglas Bremner’s research at of the Emory University School of Medicine has linked isotretinoin treatment with changes in brain function. At the conclusion of this study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Bremner concurred with Dr. Graham’s view that isotretinoin proves too dangerous for human use.

Dr. Bremner explains that to invoke depression, isotretinoin must influence the brain. During the investigation, brain function of the subjects was measured using positron emission tomography (PET) before and after four months of treatment with isotretinoin. Isotretinoin treatment was associated with decreased brain metabolism in the orbitofrontal cortex- the area of the brain known to mediate symptoms of depression. Yet, there were no differences in severity of depressive symptoms between the isotretinoin and antibiotic treatment groups before or after treatment.

The pessimistic effects of isotretinoin also caught the attention of Diane K. Wysowski PhD. Dr. Wysowski noted that in June 2000, isotretinoin ranked among the top 10 drugs linked to depression and suicide attempts in the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System database. In 2001, Dr. Wysowski examined isotretinoin’s depression inducing potential and posted her findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Wysowski concluded that more studies of isotretinoin are needed. She also advised patients and their parents to immediately report mood swings and symptoms that are suggestive of depression such as sadness, crying, loss of appetite, unusual fatigue, withdrawal, and inability to concentrate to their prescribing physician. These protective measures can avoid more serious side effects and permit appropriate treatment, including consideration of drug discontinuation and referral for psychiatric care.

While dissension among researchers still exists about whether or not isotretinoin causes depression, one idea most of them can agree on is that more research on the side effects of isotretinoin are desirable. If you are not in the mood for being an isotretinoin guinea pig, Geoffrey Redmond MD, author of The Good News about Women’s Hormones, suggests using hormone therapy and/or using Retin-A if isotretinoin seems too chancy for you.

New Successful Treatments for Depression Disorders

Ketamine, known as Special K on the streets, has become a surprise weapon in the war against depression. Pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop drugs that improve upon it, or can be paired with it. NeuroRx has made progress with its drug, Cyclurad which, when paired with ketamine, has the potential to treat bipolar depression which doctors have struggled to treat successfully.

History of Ketamine

Ketamine was first developed in 1962 as a fast-acting anesthetic that is still used widely in operating rooms and for pain management. Beginning in the 1970s ketamine became popular as a recreational drug, known for putting users in a “K-hole,” likened to an out-of-body, near-death experience.

Due to abuses, in 1999 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration banned nonmedical uses for ketamine and designated it a Schedule III controlled substance.

According to an article in Bloomberg Business, around the same time, researchers at Yale, including Dennis Charney, who’s now dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, stumbled upon the drug’s promise as a mood stabilizer. “We were not thinking at the time that ketamine would be an antidepressant,” Charney says. When patients started reporting that they suddenly felt better, the scientists were surprised.

The group’s findings, published in Biological Psychiatry in 2000, were largely ignored. The study was tiny, and because of ketamine’s reputation as a party drug, scientists were reluctant to follow up. “They didn’t believe you could get better from depression in a few hours,” Charney adds. “They’d never seen that before.” Standard antidepressants such as Prozac and Wellbutrin take weeks or months to kick in. As many as 30 percent of depressed patients don’t respond to conventional antidepressants, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Ketamine as Treatment

Six years later, Charney, who’d gone on to work for the National Institutes of Health, initiated a replica study with 17 patients. Within a day of getting one ketamine infusion, 70 percent of the subjects went into remission. Since then, scientists at institutions including Yale, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Baylor College of Medicine have performed dozens more studies that corroborate the findings. Additional studies show that ketamine works by producing long-lasting changes in the brain, reversing neural damage caused by stress and depression and potentially decreasing inflammation and cortisol levels.

Ketamine has continued to gain widespread attention in scientific literature and the media based on the increasing popularity of off-label administration to treat acute depression. Dr. Keith Ablow has sung its praises in his blog for FoxNews, “I have now treated approximately one hundred patients with intravenous ketamine. The results mirror those of research trials on the treatment; more than two thirds of my patients have experienced dramatic recoveries. Their profoundly low mood, lack of energy, decreased self-esteem and even suicidal thinking very frequently yields entirely to the ketamine infusions. And while the results from ketamine may last weeks or months, that is often more than enough time to allow other medications and psychotherapy to permanently rid patients of their suffering.

The ketamine success stories I have witnessed include patients once hobbled by depression and out of work for years who returned to their jobs within weeks of treatment, patients whose anxiety made it nearly impossible to leave the house who can now go on vacations that require travel, and young people who were driven to cutting themselves by underlying stress and self-loathing, but have now stopped cutting and started creating their futures.”

Future Outlook

The FDA’s approval of ketamine for depression hinges on multiphase clinical studies, which are unlikely to happen. Pharmaceutical companies usually pay for clinical trials and can’t make money off a decades-old generic drug. “You can get a few years of exclusivity for a new use, but generally you need more than a few years to recoup the research and development costs of bringing a drug to market,” says Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania who’s consulted for various drug companies developing ketamine-like products.

Instead, companies are spending millions to develop similar, patentable drugs. According to Bloomberg Business, Janssen is seeking approval for a nasal spray made from esketamine, a variation of the ketamine molecule that’s about 20 percent more potent, says Manji. The spray could come on the market in a few years. Cerecor, based in Baltimore, is developing a pill that replicates ketamine’s effects. In June, the startup filed to go public and raise as much as $31.6 million. Pharmaceutical giant Allergan spent $560 million in July to acquire Naurex, an Illinois-based biopharmaceutical company whose main products are two clinical-stage ketamine-like drugs called rapastinel and NRX-1074. Both are designed to modulate the same receptor as ketamine, alleviating depression without inducing hallucination.

Instead of replacing it NeuroRx is trying to work with it. They claim Cyclurad is able to extend the effect of Ketamine in the treatment of acute depression. Writing in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Prof. Dan V. Iosifescu of the Icahn School of Medicine stated, “In this context, the study [of Cyclurad] represents an important addition to the emerging literature on maintaining clinical response after an initial Ketamine treatment… D-cycloserine has several advantages. It can be administered orally and has demonstrated safety and tolerability for long term use.”

Bipolar depression is a leading cause of disability in the United States. Currently, more than three million Americans have Bipolar Depression. 500 people with this condition tragically end their lives each day. Those with bipolar depression are far more likely to commit suicide compared with patients who have other forms of depression. Between 25% and 50% will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Overall, patients with treatment resistant depression from all causes cost the healthcare system more than $120 billion annually.

Sadness, Depression After Weight Loss Surgery – The Serotonin Connection

It is my nature to be an annoying Pollyanna personality. I am a “look at the bright side, find the silver lining, zippity-do-da” kinda gal. But you know, 2010 is bringing me down with round-the-clock news of the global economic crisis, wars, poverty, natural and industrial disasters. Feelings of sadness or depression overwhelm me at times and I find myself in search of my old comfort food friends: pasta, crackers, sweets.

What I have learned is that there is a very real biological reason I crave those highly processed carbohydrates: My body wants to use them to create the feel-good hormone, serotonin, so that I will not feel overwhelmed with feelings of depression or sadness. In understanding this I can forgive my “weakness” and seek other means by which my body can do a biological balancing act to bring harmony to mood and mind. Today I share that knowledge with you in hopes that you too will understand these feelings and have a means to help your body help you.

It is common for new post-surgery bariatric patients to feel confusion over their emotional state. “I expected I would be happier,” they tell me, “but I feel consumed by an overall sadness. Just sadness. What’s wrong with me?” they ask. I remember feeling the same way in the early weeks and months out of surgery. And nobody had the answer back then, it was just a bump in the journey that we all needed to work past. Patients of all bariatric surgeries including gastric bypass, gastric lap-band, and gastric sleeve report similar experiences.

Ten years and a great deal of study and observation later I have a theory (my theory alone, and I’m not a medical professional) that there is a physiological reason for this post-surgery sadness. Prior to obesity surgery many of us consumed copious amounts of processed carbohydrates including sugar, refined flour, starches and grains. In the body carbohydrates meet up with the amino acid tryptophan and make serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone that stimulates the brain as a comforting mood enhancer. Macaroni & cheese is an American favorite comfort food, and for good reason. It combines enough tryptophan with enough high-carb pasta to produce sufficient serotonin, which relieves symptoms of depression and boosts feelings of contentment.

Enter weight loss surgery and the protein first, limited fat,and low carbohydrate diet. Suddenly the biological process of serotonin conversion is out of order. We no longer have the means to self-medicate our mood with foods that boost serotonin levels, yet we continue to have the cravings because our body is crying for help. It does not know any other way to manage mood. It just makes sense that this extreme dietary change results in an altered mood and in some cases, a state of biological panic or emotional depression

Dr. Judith Wurtman, author of The Serotonin PowerDiet, and former MIT scientist says, “If you’re on a weight loss diet that emphasizes boosting protein and cutting down extremely on carbohydrates, that might explain your craving for high-carb food. When carb cravers eat the high-carb food, they feel better in about 20 minutes.” But after weight loss surgery we cannot eat enough high-carbohydrate food to boost mood and doing so works against the surgical tool. Most researchers agree that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression.

A high protein diet is rich in amino acids including tryptophans. But when we eat a high protein meal there are so many amino acids competing for brain time that there is little opportunity for the tryptophan to enter the brain to trigger the serotonin conversion. On the other hand, a carbohydrate-rich meal triggers the release of insulin, which causes tryptophan in the bloodstream to rise and ultimately boost serotonin levels. Knowing this, it is easy to understand our carbohydrate cravings when we, by way of surgery, eliminate carbs from our diet.

This tells me that we are often sad or depressed because our body, following surgery, is in a state of biological confusion. Rather than suffering feelings of failure or inadequacy we are better served by knowing our body is in distress and seeking treatment options to facilitate healing and biological balance.