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July 14, 2021

40 Vintage Photos of American Children During the Great Depression Era

The economic collapse of the 1930s was staggering in its dimensions. Unemployment jumped from less than 3 million in 1929 to 4 million in 1930, 8 million in 1931, and 12 1/2 million in 1932. In that year, a quarter of the nation’s families did not have a single employed wage earner. The economic collapse was terrifying in its scope and impact. By 1933 average family income had tumbled 40 percent, from $2,300 in 1929 to just $1,500 four years later.

American children in the 1930s

In the Pennsylvania coal fields, three or four families crowded together in one-room shacks and lived on wild weeds. In Arkansas, families were found inhabiting caves. In Oakland, California, whole families lived in sewer pipes. Vagrancy shot up as many families were evicted from their homes for nonpayment of rent. Free public flophouses and missions in Los Angeles provided beds for 200,000 of the uprooted.

To save money, families neglected medical and dental care. Many families sought to cope by planting gardens, canning food, buying used bread, and using cardboard and cotton for shoe soles. Despite a steep decline in food prices, many families did without milk or meat. In New York City, milk consumption declined a million gallons a day.

The Depression had a powerful impact on family life. It forced couples to delay marriage and drove the birthrate below the replacement level for the first time in American history. The divorce rate fell, for the simple reason that many couples could not afford to maintain separate households or pay legal fees. But rates of desertion soared. By 1940, 1.5 million married women were living apart from their husbands. More than 200,000 vagrant children wandered the country as a result of the breakup of their families.

These amazing vintage photos from San Marcos Daily Record show what American children looked like during The Great Depression era.

Boy giving a horse some hay

Boy holding a pale, feeding pigs

Boy holding a small hammer, kneeling next to a couple wood planks

Boy holding a stick, walking through a forest

Boy kneeling outside, wearing a coat and hat, next to a stuffed or paper-made bunny on Easter

Boy laying down in between two haystacks

Boy looking into an pig's animal pen

Boy playing with a toy slingshot, standing on a river bank

Boy sitting in a saddle, on top of a horse

Boy sitting in child-size chair, holding a tool at a workbench

Boy sitting in front of a mirror, holding a comb

Boy sitting on a pale in front of a workbench

Boy sitting on ground outside, holding two sticks

Boy sitting on wooden steps, petting a cat outside

Boy standing on a wooden fence, petting a horse inside a pen

Boy standing on top of a large rock, holding a camera up to his face

Boy standing outside, holding the handle to a wagon with a dog inside

Boy wearing a straw hat, pulling on a metal line, presumably part of a well

Boy wearing a straw hat, sitting outside with a stick

Boy wearing a swim suit, standing on top of a boat named 22 C 464 Fulton

Boy wearing sunglasses, sitting on porch swing

Child holding a fish outside

Child sitting in water with a woman laying on a walkway above him

Child standing inside an automobile

Children playing on a low hanging tree branch

Little boy looking up at a cat standing on a wooden fence

Little boy sitting in top of a horse with an unidentified individual holding the horse's bridle

Little boy sitting in toy car on carousel at amusement park

Little boy sitting on a pile of cut wood with a dog next to him

Little boy sitting on the ground, wearing a hat and drinking from a bottle

Little boy sitting on tool workbench

Smiling boy sitting on wooden steps and patio with various toys

Smiling girl sitting in a boat on a trailer

Two boys kneeling behind a line of fish in the grass

Two boys playing with a puppy

Two boys pulling a blanket with a dog on top of it

Two boys wheel around a small wagon of wood together

Two little boys sitting on top of a wooden fence, looking down at a turkey

Two little boys standing next to a wagon full of wood, with a dog on top of it

Two little girls standing next to a child-size chair with a doll on it


  1. If these are actually Depression pics, then this was a very wealthy family. This was not what the Depression looked like for most people. Not even close.

  2. these are so lovely, you can tell this child was loved




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