Responding to the Great Depression
Virginia had a delayed reaction to the Great Depression. The nature of its economy—the balance between agriculture, industry, and commerce, a diverse farming sector not dependent on one crop, the high rate of subsistence-level farming, and the support of federal money in the Washington and Norfolk areas—immunized the state from the immediate effects of the crisis. For instance, the state's manufacturing did not include the heavy industries of steel and automobiles that sustained huge national losses. A major portion of Virginia's industry was consumer-oriented, producing the sort of necessities that even a poverty-stricken people could not do without, such as food, clothing, and cigarettes. While these buffers eventually broke down, they minimized the depression's effect on Virginia and contributed to its more rapid recovery by 1935. Most available statistics indicate that, compared to conditions in 1929, Virginia was relatively better off than most other states during the depression, with industrial productivity and employment rising rapidly in the last half of the decade.
On Virginia's farms, it was a time for rigid economizing. Practically no agricultural machinery was purchased, and deterioration in buildings and equipment was widespread. Clarence Holt of Albemarle County recalled: "Money for necessities was scarce—for luxuries nonexistent … Dresses were made from chicken feed bags; more under garments carried the trademark of 4X flour than of any department store." There was some discontent in rural areas, notably among the young, who often left home, but there were no riots, protests, or even a significant increase in crime. Indeed, many people were coming back to the farms, where they hoped to find greater security than in the cities.
The unemployed in Richmond endured high rates of illness, debt, and emotional problems. Many turned to begging, excessive drinking, and criminal activity, even prostitution. Caseworkers discovered people fearful of the future, depressed to the point of stealing or considering suicide, humiliated, angry, and feeling unwanted. College and marriage were often deferred.
The Great Depression and Black Virginians
The Great Depression brought undue misery to thousands of Virginians, impoverishing, disrupting, and scarring their lives—in some cases permanently. But economic diversity, fiscal conservatism, a class structure of protected elites and the already poor, and a stoic attitude softened the blow. So, too, did the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt that challenged Virginia leaders' traditional aversion to government interference. For good or ill, the development of the modern welfare state in America found its origins in the depression experience. But even the New Deal did not solve the Great Depression, which eventually succumbed to the massive spending for World War II.
1929 - The Great Depression begins with the crash of the U.S. stock markets.
1931 - Virginia's unemployment rate begins to rise rapidly as the effects of the depression begin to take their toll on the state.
1932 - Governor John Garland Pollard initiates a cut in general appropriations to avoid a budget debt due to the depression.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Heinemann, R. L. The Great Depression in Virginia. (2012, September 14). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Great_Depression_in_Virginia.
- MLA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald L. "The Great Depression in Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 14 Sep. 2012. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 8, 2008 | Last modified: September 14, 2012
Contributed by Ronald L. Heinemann, a professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College.