Share Your Family's Great Depression Stories With The Non-Consumer Advocate

by Katy on November 29, 2008 · 4 comments




I had written a few days ago about how the current recession is being compared to the great depression of the 1930’s. 

The comments I received were so moving that I wanted to share them with the Non-Consumer Advocate community.

From “Mama:”

My dad was born in 1922 in a family of seventeen children. He told stories about how one Christmas the kids all had scarlet fever. They were laying in fours beds- two for the girls and two for the boys. Grandma was taking care of them, but four died anyway. The oldest daughter died, and her next sister in line, as did two of the younger boys. My dad survived as did his 1yr older brother and 1yr younger brother among others. On Christmas day Grandpa brought in a cornhusk doll to each sister, and a whittled “toy soilder” to each boy.

Dad would also talk about eating “grease” sandwiches with a lot of salt for flavor. Grandma would save lard from cooking and then they would dip bread into it with salt. That was the school lunch for each of the kids.

Dad talked about getting caught stealing a chicken from the neighbors once. Grandma “covered” for him so he wouldn’t get into trouble. They were starving, so stealing a chicken to survive and feed your siblings was something he felt he had to do. Grandma gave the hen back to the neighbor with the excuse it “wandered” over into their yard where the dog killed it.


From “Ginger:”

My Mom also grew up during the Great Depression…she was an awesome seamstress and made all her daughter’s (there were three of us) clothes all through their school years.

Even when my Dad was making good money as an engineer she was very frugal. Once he bought her a brand new Mercedes for Christmas and surprised her with it in the driveway. It was way funny! She was furious with him for the extravagance and made him take it back the next day and trade for a station wagon.

From “Jan:”

My Dad was born in ‘28. He tells me that Grandma used to rent rooms in the house, and men would sleep in shifts. The first shift that slept during the day would work out night & then vice versa. They used the same beds & everything.

She also would open up her parlor to men at night so they could gamble. They would pay her for the wine she would make in the cellar (remember Prohibition?) and pay her for using the room.

Hey-she had 8 mouths to feed & did what she had to do. She was 1 woman you wouldn’t want to mess with!

These stories are all share a different perspective, yet have a common theme of doing what you had to, in order to keep the family going.

I took the time to speak to both of my parents about how their parents had fared during the great depression. The conversations were fascinating.

My father’s family was in retail fur sales and prospered during the depression. They were able to accomplish this by selling low cost furs such as beaver, rabbit and muskrat. (Fewer luxury furs, such as mink, sable and seal.) The Pittsburgh climate was not kind to people who didn’t own proper winter wear. My father pointed out that cars were not heated in those days, and a cloth coat was simply not warm enough.

My mother’s family was in real estate and music promotion for the Cleveland area. My great-grandfather lost his money in the wall street crash, and was then unable to sell his rather mansion-ish house. The servants stayed on for room and board. 

There is a family story, (not necessarily true) of how my grandfather came to the house to pick my grandmother up for a date. The butler answered the door, and told my grandfather that, “Miss Barbara is in the basement shoveling coal.” 

It was a sign of the times.

I encourage everyone to talk to their own family about life during the great depression, and then come share your findings with the Non-Consumer community.

I look forward to reading your stories. 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Magdalena December 1, 2008 at 5:05 am

My grandparents all got throught the depression easily, I suppose. My mother’s family was still on the farm. They had the back part of the house, known as the summer kitchen, and my grandfather worked with his father and brothers on the farm. But there was no plumbing, and I don’t think they had eletric lights at the time. It was a very simple life. My father’s family lived in a fairly populous farming town, and my grandfather was a printer at the newspaper – a good job during the years of unemployment. They lived in half a duplex, and they and their neighbours had big gardens. Since they were Canadians, with family still on the farm right across the border, my grandmother could take the train back home and get butter and eggs from her parents. There were very few border restrictions back then. In both families birthday and Christmas gifts were very plain and utilitarian, although my father remembers getting a wind-up Popeye toy one year.


Amy@FreakishlyFrugal December 2, 2008 at 4:35 am

My great Uncle talks about there simply not being any money and having to rip up the floorboards in one section of the house in order to have something to burn for heat. He also talks about how people were “just different” back then. Neighbors would help you, you would help your neighbors. No one had any money and you just “did what you had to do”.


thenonconsumeradvocate December 2, 2008 at 10:15 am

My father, (the son of the furrier) wrote this to me:

“From the previous days’ piece. Very nice accounts all around. Beaver, however, isn’t one of the cheap furs. Rabbits and muskrats were sheared and dyed and (until the Fur Labeling Act around 1948, which required authentic names for the animals and country of origin) as Northern Seal (a rabbit) and Hudson Seal (the muskrat). Dad”

-Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Natasha Duchene December 28, 2008 at 11:55 am

my granddad lived in rural Nova Scotia, and talked about how people would throw parties for families in need, where everyone would bring a bit of food and then they would play music and square dance all night long. since they lived near the ocean, I think people generally made out better than those in the city, collecting mussels on the beach and keeping a small garden. thanks for sharing these stories and have a happy new year 🙂


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: