Marriage During the Great Depression

Yesterday I wrote about how I’m bracing my marriage for a depression. I also admitted that I’m afraid of what’s to come…but that I’m going to face that fear head on and find a way to make all this benefit my marriage.

I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to do that, but I figured knowledge is power so my best bet is to start off arming myself with some of that.

Researching the Great Depression

If only my grandparents were still alive. Both sets survived the Great Depression. They could advise me how they made it, maybe give me some idea what to expect.

But since they aren’t, I turned to the only other place I could think of: the Internet.

I found a neat article on about life during the Great Depression.

Here’s some things I learned:

The Great Depression’s Effect on Marriages

1. Many wealthy people weren’t impacted by the Depression at all. (This might have comforted me if Wayne and I were rich. Maybe we could roll through this depression. But since we’re not…)

2. The article estimated up to 40 percent of the country didn’t “face any real hardship” during the Depression. However, it also sort of contradicted itself by saying most were “touched by it in some way.”

3. At its worst, unemployment was as high as 25 percent.

4. It wasn’t uncommon for couples to delay marriage.

5. Divorce rates dropped. (Cost too much to get one.)

6. When the men couldn’t find work, the women and children did. Because of the more traditional mindsets that prevailed at the time, this didn’t set well with a lot of men. Which leads to my next revelation…

7. The article cited a survey given in 1940 that reported “1.5 million married woman had been abandoned by their husbands” during the economically turbulent thirties.

Personal Accounts

I also came across a plethora of personal accounts in the form of short memoir-like or biographical essays about life during the Great Depression. The stories were all different in so far as characters (some were from a woman’s point of view, others from a man’s) and locations (some were told by people living in the south, others by people in the north or west), but the themes were the same: frugality ruled the day.

The phrase “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” was a household aphorism. ~-From “Frugality: Legacy of the Great Depression” by Judy Busk

Here’s the common threads I gleaned from the personal accounts. (Many of which were similar to things I remember my grandparents telling me when I was growing up.)

1. Nothing was taken for granted. Things were used and reused until they could be used no more.

2. There was no such thing as credit. Either you saved up until you could pay cash for it or you didn’t buy it. (This is one lesson our country really needs to start implementing again. How many marriages would instantly improve if spending was limited to only buying what couples could afford within their means?)

3. Entertainment and recreation focused on simple pleasures. Dates were picnics or walks in parks. Weddings were simple. (Either JOP-style like the ones I wrote about the other day or simple church ceremonies.) Honeymoons were a luxury and were often not taken.

4. Gratitude was not reserved for Thanksgiving. If the husband (or wife) had a job which afforded food (humble as it may be) to be put on the table and a roof placed over their heads, they gave thanks. If they had their health, they gave thanks. Simply having each other was another reason for thanks. Each and every day.

What’s It All Mean?

I’m not sure if any of this has helped me or calmed my fears, but it’s information. I’ve always believed that studying the past can reveal answers for dealing with the present.

If anything, it shines some light on what we can perhaps expect to come. Along with lessons for how to get through it.

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