Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Culture of 1930s

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Culture of 1930s

A decade marked by widespread unemployment, poverty, and economic disparity, American culture in the 1930s actually flourished with a variety of new entertainment. Swing dancing, radio shows, fireside chats, and sound in movies helped stimulate the American public. Beginning in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in a wave of political programs known as the New Deal to help relieve the anxieties of Americans. Keep on reading to see how American culture changed throughout the Great Depression Era!

Five Major Cultural Events of the 1930s

New Deal (1933-1939)Programs implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate the economy and aid with the Great Depression
Dust Bowl (1930-1936)A severe drought swept from Texas to Nebraska and killed people, animals, and crops. The Dust Bowl exacerbated the effects of the Great Depression, and many families lost their farms and sought new jobs.
Great Depression (1929-1933)The worst economic downturn began with the stock market crash of October 1929. The U.S. saw a drop in industrial production, widespread unemployment, runs on banks, and increasing poverty and homelessness.
Summer Olympics in Berlin (1936)
Prohibition is repealed (1933) The prohibition law had been expensive and failed to force the nation into sobriety. The law lost the citizens' support and the 21st Amendment was passed in 1933 which ended prohibition.

Prohibition: A law in the U.S effective between 1920-1933 that banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

Cultural Trends of the 1930s

American Culture 1930s, Jitterbugging in Memphis, Tenessee, StudySmarterJitterbugging in Memphis, Tennessee 1939. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The rapid onset of poverty in the 1930s ushered in major cultural shifts for America. The culture of the thirties became defined by New Deal programs that provided relief to Americans while allowing American culture to flourish. For example, several pieces of legislation under the New Deal supported actors, artists, writers, and musicians.

New technological advancements such as radio and sounds in movies popularized radio shows and film. The music genre, swing jazz, became one of the most popular genres of music throughout the thirties, with swing dancing becoming a pastime.

During these eight years, the FAP [Federal Art Project] artists created thousands of easel paintings, murals, sculptures, posters, and graphic arts; hundreds of art educators taught classes in the fine and practical arts, and community art centers introduced art to rural communities and inner-city neighborhoods."

-Victoria Grieve, The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture, 2009

In the quote above, historian Victoria Grieve explains the extent of the Federal Art Project, which was a public program under the New Deal that supported artists throughout the Great Depression.

Pop Culture of the 1930s

American Culture 1930s, Louis Armstrong, StudySmarterLouis Armstrong Source: Wikimedia Commons

Music

American music tastes directly reflected the economic crisis that spread throughout the country. In an attempt to forget economic hardships, Americans turned to music and dancing. With African Americans flooding the cities in the Great Migration, they also brought jazz, blues, and gospel music. The music quickly became popular in the North, and performers drew massive audiences.

Swing music (swing jazz) dominated the 1930s and was played on the radio every night. In 1935, the Federal Music Project (FMP) was created to "employ professional instrumentalists, singers, concert performers, and music teachers." 1 Due to the country's economic state, the FMP was designed to support musicians and educate the public on musical opportunities.

Great Migration- The 20th-century migration of African Americans from the South to larger cities in the North

American Culture 1930s, Looking West on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California, StudySmarterLooking West on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hollywood

Golden Age of Hollywood

The effects of the Great Depression left the country grasping for a break from reality, which for many came to be found in Hollywood. At the beginning of the Great Depression Era, Hollywood studios took a hit from the economic downturn like other businesses. In the latter part of the 1920s, sound was introduced into film, and in the thirties, the movies grew in popularity. Throughout the despair of the Great Depression, the fantasy produced by the film helped the public keep faith in the government.

Did you know? More than 7,500 movies were released during Hollywood's Golden Age! Millions of Americans watched at least one movie a week during this period.

Radio

American Culture 1930s, Lobby Card for Jack Benny 1935, StudySmarterLobby Card for Jack Benny 1935. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The new technological advancements in the media industry led to the popularity of radio and movies. Radio could be listened to in the comfort of the home and was a popular form of entertainment for the entire family, even in poor households. In the 1930s, the radio became the dominant place to get important information. Many families sought entertainment through comedy radio shows like the Jack Benny program and Amos n Andy. While the radio was used for entertainment, it also became a critical tool for spreading news and political messages.

Did you know? In 1938 Orson Welles broadcasted War of the Worlds (by HG Wells) and caused hysteria and panic amongst listeners who believed there was an actual alien invasion!

Fireside Chats

American Culture 1930s, President FDR in 1933 fireside chat, StudySmarterPresident FDR broadcasting his first fireside chat in 1933. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt began broadcasting political messages over the radio. The radio messages became known as "fireside chats" and focused on Roosevelt's New Deal policies. Fireside chats became popular as the program embodied an informal talk with the president. The objective of the talks was to calm fears and have an informed American public.

1936 Summer Olympics

One of the most well-known cultural events of the 1930s was the 1936 summer Olympics hosted in Germany. The Nazi party was determined to show its power on the world stage and built large gymnasiums and tracks and televised the Olympics for the first time. Adolf Hitler used the Olympics to display the Nazi's political power and his superior racial ideology. Due to the intense political atmosphere, nations discussed a boycott of the Olympics. The Germans guaranteed Jewish athlete participation in response to international pressure, with only one such athlete competing on the German team.

Did you know? The only Jewish athlete to perform on the German team was a female fencer, Helen Mayer! Mayer, a tall blonde, was finally chosen to represent the Germans after extreme pressure from the International Olympic Committee.

Art in the 1930s

American Culture 1930s, American Gothic by Grant Wood 1930, StudySmarterAmerican Gothic by Grant Wood 1930. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1935 the Federal Art Project provided work for artists throughout the Great Depression. Artists throughout this era looked to the movement of Social Realism that sought to depict the daily life of ordinary people. The art movement highlighted the stark differences in social classes and the injustice that often impacted many communities. The realism movement also saw a rise in the popularity of photography. Photographers sought to capture the detrimental impacts of the Great Depression, specifically in the country's rural areas. For example, Dorothea Lange's photograph of the Migrant Mother is one of the most famous photographs of the era.

American Culture 1930s, The Migrant Mother, StudySmarterThe Migrant Mother photographed by Dorothea Lange. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Art Movements in 1930s America
American RegionalismDepicted both rural and urban America
PrecisionismDepicted industrial America

Daily Life in the 1930s

American Culture 1930s, Unemployed and Huts Manhattan, StudySmarterUnemployed and Huts Manhattan (1935). Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Great Depression altered almost every aspect of the country's socio-economic landscape. Millions of people had lost their jobs, and those who continued to work often dealt with pay cuts or shorter work schedules. With the loss of income, many people spent time at home playing board games, listening to the radio, or playing cards with neighbors. Regardless of socio-economic status, almost every American saw drastic changes in their daily lives.

Did you know? One of the most popular board games during the Great Depression was Monopoly! Elizabeth J. Magie created the game (in 1904) to help teach the public that capitalism was evil, and even today, we continue to play this popular game!

Many American households adopted the principle of frugality by keeping personal gardens, patching up old clothes, sharing food and dinner with others, and community "thrift gardens." Even white-collared Americans were seen tending to their gardens. To aid with the cost of food, neighbors, and churches arranged potluck dinners for the community to share. Frugality became an integral part of American culture and was applied to almost every facet of life during the era as the public adopted the motto:

Use it up, wear it out, make do or do without." -Great Depression-era motto.

American Culture 1930s, Women working at home during Great Depression, StudySmarterWomen worked at home during Great Depression in 1939. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most prolific societal changes was women entering the workforce throughout the decade. Due to the harsh economic impact, many families were forced to add an additional income. Though the idea of women (especially married women) entering the workforce was highly criticized, the number of female workers increased. Married women were often banned from working due to the belief that they posed an unnecessary source of competition for men. The women who did work stayed in clerical jobs, a socially acceptable position during the era.

Did you know? During the 1930s, the number of working women in the country rose from 10.5 million to 13 million!

Thrift Gardens: During the Great Depression, cities and towns allowed vacant lots to be used for community gardens. Detroit, Michigan's thrift gardens, produced enough food to sustain 20,000 people in one year alone.

American Culture 1930s - Key takeaways

  • American culture during the thirties became defined by New Deal programs that provided relief to America while allowing the culture to flourish.
  • New technological advances, such as radio, allowed for families to be entertained at home with comedy shows and fireside chats:
    • FDR used fireside chats to teach the public about New Deal programs and keep them informed.
  • Americans adopted a principle of frugality, patching up worn-out clothing, planting gardens, and planning potlucks.
  • Women began entering the workforce (mostly holding clerical positions) throughout the Great Depression. Married women were often banned from working due to the belief that they posed unnecessary competition for men.

1. The Library of Congress, New Deal Programs, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions about Culture of 1930s

The major cultural changes of the 1930s were simplicity and frugality. Throughout the "Roaring Twenties," America saw unprecedented prosperity, economic growth, and a flourishing consumer culture. However, in the 1930s widespread unemployment and an economic downturn changed America's way of thinking. Many American's adopted a principle of frugality that centered on patching up old clothes, sharing food through community gardens, and hosting potluck dinners for neighbors. 

The cultural elements of the 1930s were: swing jazz music, movies, radio, and art. Looking to escape from the realities of the Great Depression the American public sought relief in the uplifting genre of swing jazz. People would go to swing jazz dances or listen to the music on the radio. The introduction of sound in film popularized movies in the thirties and brought America back to the theatre. Thanks to the New Deal, artists found new life through the Federal Art Project and began creating works of art for the government. One of the most popular forms of entertainment during the decade was the radio. Regardless of socio-economic status, Americans crowded around radios to enjoy comedy shows and FDR's fireside chats. 

The 1930s era was known for the Great Depression. The period was marked by widespread unemployment, the Dust Bowl in the midwest, banking panics, and a rapid onset of poverty for many Americans. 

America saw significant social and cultural changes throughout the 1930s. Many of the lower-income class saw crippling levels of poverty. Shantytowns, built from scrap materials, popped up throughout urban areas. One of the most significant changes came from women entering the workforce. Americans sought reprieve from the economic downfall through entertainment such as radio programs, movies, and music. The disparities between the upper and lower class grew even wider with the upper class living lavishly. Many of the upper class disagreed with FDR's New Deal programs which helped fuel class tensions throughout the decade. 

The culture of the Great Depression was different for each social class. For example, most of the upper class continued to live lavishly and threw extravagant parties while the poverty-stricken fought to provide for their families. Most of the middle and lower classes adopted a frugal stance throughout daily life. People patched old clothes, communities planted thrift gardens, and churches planned neighborhood potluck dinners. Though life was difficult, entertainment through radio programs, music, and movies helped ease the hardships Americans faced. 

Final Culture of 1930s Quiz

Question

"President Roosevelt, in his recent address formally opening the new building of Museum of Modern Art in New York, made a statement of the greatest importance with regard to the cultural standards of the American people. He declared that the conditions for the "art and democracy are one and the same." -Letter from Arthur Emptage 


The above letter is referring to which New Deal program? 

Show answer

Answer

Federal Art Project 

Show question

Question

American music tastes directly reflected the economic state of the country. However, in an effort to escape hardships Americans turned to this genre of music. 

Show answer

Answer

jazz

Show question

Question

Name what technological advancement popularized movies in the thirties. 

Show answer

Answer

Sound in film

Show question

Question

The art  movement during the Great Depression that focused on the lives of ordinary people. 

Show answer

Answer

Social Realism

Show question

Question

Americans adopted and applied this principle throughout their daily life in the thirties. 

Show answer

Answer

Principle of Frugality

Show question

Question

Married women were often banned from working due to what? 

Show answer

Answer

They were married 

Show question

Question

Communities often shared food through implementing this strategy. 

Show answer

Answer

Thrift Gardens 

Show question

Question

The purpose of the board game, monopoly, was to...

Show answer

Answer

teach the public about the evils of capitalism

Show question

Question

Hitler's main purpose for hosting the 1936 Olympics was to...

Show answer

Answer

Introduce the Nazi Party on the world stage

Show question

Question

"My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking—to talk with the comparatively few who understand the mechanics of banking, but more particularly with the overwhelming majority of you who use banks for the making of deposits and the drawing of checks. I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, and why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be. I recognize that the many proclamations from the state capitals and from Washington, the legislation, the Treasury regulations and so forth, couched for the most part in banking and legal terms, ought to be explained for the benefit of the average citizen."


The quote above is from FDR's first fireside chat. What is the purpose of this statement?  

Show answer

Answer

To break down the government's banking plan in laments terms for the American public

Show question

Question

Who wrote the Motion Picture Production Code?

Show answer

Answer

Will H. Hays

Show question

Question

Which actor was the final straw for people pushing to censor movies?

Show answer

Answer

Fatty Arbuckle

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not one of the Hays Code?

Show answer

Answer

No Nudity

Show question

Question

What is it called when a character is implied to be queer but not confirmed to be?

Show answer

Answer

Queer Coding 

Show question

Question

What is another name for the Motion Picture Production Code?

Show answer

Answer

Hayes Code

Show question

Question

Which group regulated what could be shown in movies?

Show answer

Answer

Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA)

Show question

Question

Which group rates movies today?

Show answer

Answer

Motion Picture Association of America  (MPAA)

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a Hays Production Code? 

Show answer

Answer

No interracial relationships 

Show question

Question

Which Italian movie was brought before the Supreme Court when it was banned?

Show answer

Answer

L'amore

Show question

Question

What was the first movie with an interracial kiss? 

Show answer

Answer

Island in the Sun

Show question

Question

What was the New Deal?

Show answer

Answer

A series of plans and programs put in place by FDR in the hopes of pulling the United States out of the Great Depression.

Show question

Question

What replaced the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA)?

Show answer

Answer

The Wagner Act.

Show question

Question

What was the Wagner Act?

Show answer

Answer

The Wagner Act, or the National Labor Relations Act, helped workers unionize, and protected them from bad faith actions from companies, such as the implementation of company unions and strike breaking practices. The Wagner Act also helped workers fight for higher wages and better working conditions.

Show question

Question

What was the name given to the evening radio speeches FDR gave to the American people?

Show answer

Answer

Fireside Chats.

Show question

Question

What are the three R's?

Show answer

Answer

Relief, recovery and reform.

Show question

Question

Which act separated investment and commercial banking?

Show answer

Answer

Glass-Steagall Act.

Show question

Question

What did FDR's first few months in office come to be known as?

Show answer

Answer

The First 100 Days.

Show question

Question

Which act, still in place today, gives economic security to workers throughout their lives?

Show answer

Answer

Social Security Act.

Show question

Question

Which program did FDR implement that provided millions of jobs in infrastructure and art?

Show answer

Answer

Works Progress Administration, eventually renamed the Work Projects Administration.

Show question

Question

Some people feel FDR could have ended the Great Depression earlier. How do these critics feel he could have accomplished this?

Show answer

Answer

By putting the same amount of money into the economy in the early 1930s as he did into the WWII effort.

Show question

Question

When did the United States recover from the Great Depression?

Show answer

Answer

By the beginning of World War II.

Show question

Question

How many terms was FDR elected for?

Show answer

Answer

Four.

Show question

Question

What is another name for the Fair Labor Standards Act?

Show answer

Answer

Wages and Hours Act.

Show question

Question

What action did FDR take that encouraged some people to reopen their bank accounts?

Show answer

Answer

The Emergency Banking Act.

Show question

Question

Which act provided subsidies to farmers in the hopes of reducing surpluses?

Show answer

Answer

The Agricultural Adjustment Act.

Show question

Question

When was the Swing Era?

Show answer

Answer

The Swing Era was from the mid-1930s to mid-1940s (particularly during the Great Depression). 

Show question

Question

Swing is a more fast-paced type of Jazz. 

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Swing bands can be divided into 3 groups, what are they?

Show answer

Answer

Brass, woodwinds, and rhythm. 

Show question

Question

Swing music and dance grew from African American roots. 

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Bebop came before Swing.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

The "Lindy Hop" and "Charleston" were the two earliest forms of Swing dance.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Though popular with younger generations, the older often viewed Swing as vulgar & sexual.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Swing dances were established in dance schools soon after their birth. 

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Swing bands would always feature a soloist; meaning good showmanship was essential.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

To make it big, musicians had to be commercially exploitable. This often meant they had to be white.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Why did escapism become so popular in the 1930s? 

Show answer

Answer

Evade harsh realities of the Great Depression

Show question

Question

What was the cultural shift that occurred in the 1920s? 

Show answer

Answer

material success, individualism, and self-reliance

Show question

Question

"So long sad times. Go long bad times. We are rid of you at last. Howdy gay times. You are now a thing of the past. Happy days are here again." 


Explain why the lyrics in this song is an example of escapist media. 

Show answer

Answer

This song was released in 1929 as the Great Depression was just beginning. Americans were being hit with harsh circumstances, but this song portrays that there are only happy days ahead. This is an example of escapism because the song is ignoring/avoiding the harsh realities of America. 

Show question

Question

The 1930s is known as the _____________ for Hollywood. 

Show answer

Answer

Golden Age

Show question

Question

Why were the movies one of the most popular forms of escapism? 

Show answer

Answer

Tickets were affordable

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Culture of 1930s quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.