The city of Cleveland prospered in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Huge influxes of immigrants and small town Americans moved to Ohio’s rapidly growing industrial city on the lake and created a “boom.” Industries flourished and the optimism and wealth in the city led to a cultural transformation. Public Auditorium, the Cleveland Public Library, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the orchestra all had new and exciting roles to play in enriching the lives of the citizens of Cleveland. Artists from all over the world moved to Cleveland to work in the emerging art industries, such as lithography, architecture and design. It seemed like Cleveland had no place to go but up. But on October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed. Soon after the Great Depression settled in Cleveland.
The American generation that lived through the Great Depression has been characterized as proud, industrious, self-reliant, charitable and frugal. Nearly 12 million people lost their jobs and needed to rely on the charity of others to feed their families. The need for charity brought shame to the unemployed. In Cleveland, many programs sprung up to exchange labor for food and small sums of money. Community gardens sprung up all over the city and some neighborhoods worked together and created “Man-a-Block Committees” to pay their out of work neighbors to do work within the neighborhood. These programs helped to preserve the self-esteem of many but in the end it was not enough to stop deep poverty from setting in.
In a speech given in 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth... I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people.” Once elected, Roosevelt put together his “New Deal” to address the 3 R’s – Relief of the poor and unemployed, Recovery of the economy, and Reform of the financial system.