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        Minnesota | Activity 9.6: Iconic Images of the Great Depression

        Students analyze three images of Minneapolis during the Great Depression to determine what life was like during that time period in American history. They answer questions about each in a class discussion setting.

        Lesson Summary

        Students analyze three images of Minneapolis during the Great Depression to determine what life was like during that time period in American history. They answer questions about each in a class discussion setting.

        This lesson is part of "Great States: Minnesota | Unit 9: Great Depression and the New Deal" where students will explore how the Great Depression and its resultant expansion of the federal government affected Minnesota. 

        Time Allotment

        10 minutes

        Learning Objectives

        Standards: 

        6.4.4.21.2: Describe political and social impact of the Great Depression and New Deal in Minnesota, including the increased conflict between big business and organized labor. 

        Supplies

        Directions

        1. Tell the students that they will be looking at images of Minnesota during the Great Depression and answering questions related to those images. Explain that the Great Depression was a period in US history following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Unemployment, poverty, deflation, and falling wages were rampant. People lost confidence in the economy, and they rushed to withdraw all their money from banks, which many banks could not cover—causing bank closures. The Dust Bowl greatly impacted agriculture and mining, logging, and construction also suffered.

        2. Explain that the Great Depression did not affect Minnesota as quickly as eastern cities. It wasn’t until the end of 1930 that the impact was felt. But by January of 1931, unemployment in Minneapolis alone was estimated as 35,000. Debates lasted years over what role the local government should play in stimulating the market and creating more jobs. Business owners were opposed to their workers unionizing after the Market Crash of 1929. Any more money, time off, or other benefits given to workers meant the owners’ profit margins would take a hit. Cities like Minneapolis were centers of conflict between bosses and workers.

        3. Show the image, Open battle between striking teamsters armed with pipes and the police in the streets of Minneapolis.


        4. Tell students that this image takes place in June of 1934, in the midst of the Minneapolis general strike that lasted from May to August. The strike shut down most of the public transportation in the city. Fighting broke out on many occasions between the Minneapolis police and strikers.

        5. Ask students the following about the strike image:

          1. What do you think strikers are feeling in this photo?

          2. What does this photo tell you about Minneapolis in 1934?

        6. Show the image, Employment Bureau, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Gateway District.


        7. Explain that this is a photo of a group of unemployed men gathered in front of an employment agency in Minneapolis’ “Gateway” District. It was taken by photographer Russell Lee in June of 1937 and belongs to the Library of Congress’ Office of War collection. The area was named the “Gateway” District in high hopes that it would revitalize the area at the turn of the 20th century. It was the center of the city’s hotels, office buildings, and some business depots, many of which fell on hard times during the Depression. Throughout the country, unemployment rates reached 25 percent and were even higher for unskilled and older men. Lines would gather anywhere offering possible jobs. The signs on the Employment Bureau’s window are advertisements and pay rates for jobs.

        8. Ask students the following about the image:

          1. Why were these men at the agency?

          2. What pay rates can you see on the signs and window?

        9. Show the image, Unemployed men sitting in public square in the Minneapolis "Gateway" district. Minnesota.

        10. Explain that this image shows a group of men, without work, sitting in a public square. It was also taken by photographer Russell Lee in June of 1937 and belongs to the Library of Congress’ Office of War collection. The men are sitting in an empty fountain. When the Depression hit, buildings and infrastructure in Minneapolis suffered from a lack of maintenance. While there were men looking for jobs, no one had the money to pay for the maintenance work.

        11. Ask students the following about the image:

          1. What do can you tell from these men’s expressions, body language, and attire?

          2. In what ways do you think situations like those shown in these images influenced government policy to improve economic conditions?

        Answer Key

          1. Frustration about work conditions, disappointment that police are not on their side, fear for safety.
          2. Minneapolis in 1934 saw a lot of turmoil. The strikes pitted groups against each other.
          1. They needed work. During the Great Depression, unemployment was very high.
          2. Rates are $0.50–0.55 an hour. Some are monthly pay of $30–$35 a month.
          1. Answers will vary. Sample responses: Some men look bored without work to do, some look solemn and staring down at their hands, one man is looking farther away, as if waiting for news from the Employment Bureau. They’re dressed in suits to impress any potential employers.
          2. Answers will vary. Sample answers: New Deal, food programs, welfare, etc.

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