The Great Depression and Work-Relief
Harry Hopkins seemed to be at the peak of his career in the late 1920s. He ran a prestigious organization, had a national reputation as a social work administrator, and took an active role in shaping standards for his profession. He had worked his way through personal tragedy and, while relations with his family would always remain problematic, he had arranged his private life to suit his public pursuits. Yet he was merely on the threshold of a career about to skyrocket. The Great Depression set the stage for Hopkins to display the talents he had refined during the past fifteen years. The enormity of the disaster forced him to draw on his entire reserve of energy and imagination, yet he never transcended the bounds of “the American Way,” remaining committed to democracy and capitalism. If he did not feel as suspicious of the poor as most Americans did, Hopkins still shared in the general attitude that government handouts without some rather strict rules would enfeeble recipients. The federal programs that Hopkins eventually set up in order to alleviate destitution may have seemed radical to the business elite, but, at least before 1936, they operated within a culturally conservative ideology, emphasizing self-reliance, personal industry, and the sanctity of the traditional American family. Like Roosevelt, Hopkins often spoke in defense of the newly destitute American worker, but his solutions to the economic disaster always fell well within the traditional format for public assistance.
KeywordsGreat Depression Unemployed Worker American Worker Protestant Work Ethic Relief Program
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