The Great Depression


June, 2006

In 1910, George Phillips moved to his newly built house at 364 LaVerne Ave. with his wife Agnes and their 11-year old son Don. George worked for Western Union as an electrician. In the 1920s, Agnes gained fame as an activist in favor of establishing a sanitary system in Homestead Valley.

In the 1930s, Don worked as a traveling field representative for Stewart-Warner Corporation, a radio manufacturer. Agnes’ letters to him give us a little insight into what life was like during the great depression.

November 1932 (just before FDR was elected president): “Well the air is sizzling with politics these days and I think the whole nation will be glad when the fight is over. One hears nothing but tariff, gold standard, soldier bonus, printing press currency and farm relief, morning and night, yet in spite of meetings, addresses, radio speeches and tons of literature, there are some of our voters who seem to have no interest in anything except to get beer back by Christmas. To me, today when men are discouraged and hopeless, only asking for a chance to earn their bread, and they promise them Beer, it seems the refinement of cruelty. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a church choir break out some night into a refrain: ‘Keg of lager made for me, Let me put my faith in thee’.” [Prohibition ended a year later, on Dec. 5, 1933 – ed.]

In March 1934 George had taken a 10% pay cut at Western Union. In April 1934 Agnes writes: “How fortunate the Phillips have been compared to others who have known so much want and misery during the depression. It takes the gut out of a man to have to be grateful for 18 hours of work per week at 50 cents per hour, and the limit is 3 days of 6 hours each.”

In April 1934 Agnes comments on the Roosevelt dynasty which is “headed for a fearful fall and we will all share in the bumps.”

In May 1934, Agnes complains that although she and Don have used 5-cent airmail stamps on their letters to and from Seattle, she recently discovered that there is no airmail service on the west coast and a 3-cent stamp would get a letter to its destination as fast as a 5-cent airmail stamp. She claimed this is a dirty trick of Postmaster General James Farley.

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.