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1 Introduction Young people between the ages of 18 and 25 experienced the Great Depression rather differently than adults.Their shared experience involved not only concern about finding a job and getting married, but also a deep-seated concern about the future of America for that future was their future. Millions of these young people, who were not even legally considered adults until the age of 21, came together in the 1930s to form organizations dedicated to actively shaping that future. Their vision for America rested securely on their collective idea of what America was supposed to be: a democratic nation based on the equality of man and freedom for all. As the foundation of their ideological outlook, this notion guided their actions. Youth perspectives on the events of the 1930s were often radically different from those of adults and stand in stark contrast to current images of the Great Depression. Understanding those perspectives sheds new light on how the decade of the Great Depression affected America. It was not simply youthful naïveté that drove young people to seek fundamental change to American political, economic, and social structures;it was hope in what they saw as the moment for such change to occur. Bleak images of stark hopelessness had no home in young activists’ vision.Instead, they saw opportunity amidst the economic devastation to develop a free and equal political and social system. And those who came of age during the 1930s took the lessons they learned from their experiences with them into adulthood, helping to forge the movements that would later take up their calls for freedom and equality. 2 Introduction In this study, youth refers to young people who were generally 18–25 years of age and belonged to at least one youth organization. They were activist young people, not young activists. That is, their goal was to implement the egalitarian and democratic vision they shared in order to cultivate freedom and a secure future. They were not activists for specific causes, nor were they simply the younger coterie of adult organizational efforts. They developed autonomous organizations that furthered youth’s agenda. Together, those organizations catalyzed the youth movement, which then took up causes, such as freeing the Scottsboro Boys and supporting the Spanish Republicans, as a means to further the wider objective of reforming America to live up to its promises. To implement such a broad-based and profoundly held vision, young people needed to organize. They did this first at the local level. Being involved in local civic-minded, character-building organizations was widely encouraged and began at an early age, as evidenced by the widespread popularity of organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts of America. Later, young people became involved in organizations of their own choosing, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) or the local branch of the Young Republicans or even the Future Farmers of America (FFA). They joined organizations where their personal interests and inter-personal relationships could be fostered. These local organizations tended to reflect their members in terms of race, class, ethnicity, and gender and up through the 1920s such organizing largely occurred outside the college campus. Activist youth in the 1930s embodied a new zeitgeist. Even as more people were attending college than ever before, students in the 1920s tended to focus on cultural change based on personal freedom rather than political engagement. As historian Paula Fass has argued, in that decade “the young did not get below the surface of American political life to engage in a debate with America’s leaders or to challenge her basic institutions. They did not agitate for change.”1 Instead of serious study, intellectual meditation, and social activism, it was football, petting, drinking , dancing, and fraternities that consumed the college co-eds’ attention. “They had little interest in changing political or social structures,” Fass explains, “because they were also the heirs apparent of American industrial capitalism and the political party system.”2 In a decade of prosperity, the young middle class white college students Fass focuses on had little to object to aside from adult attempts to restrain their behavior to align with strict Victorian moral codes the young saw as terribly out-of-date, impractical , and personally limiting.Yet, their willingness to stand up against Introduction 3 efforts to repress their personal freedoms laid the seeds for the torrent of outspoken resistance on social, economic, and political issues in the 1930s. Relegated to the fringes...


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