The Year Was 1935

Dust Storm, Baca County, Colorado, 1935 (From Library of Congress Collection at Ancestry)The year was 1935 and the United States was in the midst of the “Great Depression.” The unemployment rate was 20.1 percent, meaning roughly one in five workers was out of a job. In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt states that “A large proportion of these unemployed and their dependents have been forced on the relief rolls.” He is concerned that, “To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers.”

To address these concerns, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is created. The WPA ultimately employed more than 8 million workers and built 116,000 buildings, 78,000 bridges, more than half a million miles of roads, airports, and parks. Other projects that are of particular interest to family historians include the indexing of many government records, most notably the creation of the Soundex indexes to the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 federal censuses. Other projects included indexes to vital and naturalization records, inventories of archives, and oral histories. 

But relief was not available to everyone. There were still 5 million people out of work, and for farmers in the drought stricken Midwest, the “Dust Bowl” years were coming to a peak. On 14 April, “Black Sunday,” a swirling cloud of dirt darkened clear skies and turned day into night. Images from the Dust Bowl can be found through the Library of Congress and through Ancestry by searching the photos and maps section for “dust bowl.”

In Florida, a Category 5 hurricane surprised residents of the Keys, and then moved on to make landfall again in the Big Bend area of Florida. The Labor Day Hurricane claimed more than 400 lives and retained its hurricane strength for more than a week moving up past the Canadian Maritimes. 

Another government program popular with genealogists also began in 1935. The Social Security Act of 1935 sought to “provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws. . .”

Europe was creeping closer to World War II and in Germany, Chancellor Adolph Hitler passed the Nuremberg Laws in September, which began stripping Jewish people, and those whom they deemed Jewish by ancestry or marriage, of their rights as German citizens.

Benito Mussolini led Italy to invade Ethiopia in defiance of the League of Nations, who in turn imposed sanctions.

The United States, battered by the Depression, turned to an unlikely hero in the boxing ring as the ten to one underdog, James J. Braddock, took on Max Baer in the World Heavyweight Championship on 13 June. Braddock, who had been down on his luck and out of work with millions of other Americans, earned the nickname “The Cinderella Man” as he defeated Baer.

Popular movies of 1935 included Top Hat, Mutiny on the Bounty, David Copperfield, and Bride of Frankenstein. Fibber McGee and Molly debuted on NBC Radio, and Parker Brothers released the board game of Monopoly which quickly became the best-selling game in America.

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7 thoughts on “The Year Was 1935

  1. My fathe. bonrin 1906r told many Great Depression stories. Not all farmers were in desperate situations. Most farmers dipicted in the most popular depression photos were farm workers not land owners. My father and mother lived in NE and came from sucessful middle class land owners. They married in 1929. The first 3 children were born 1930, 31, 32. They had just started farming and owned their farm when the Great Deprssion hit. They struggled, lost the farm, but were able to continue to live on it, and buy it back. The farm was “paid for” by 1942. During the depression my parents paid the hospital bills for the children’s birth with chickens, eggs, and meat. In spite of thier struggles, my father always told humorous stories about those days. In an interview at age 90 he said. ” Some times it is good for people to get knocked down and have to work thier way back up. It builds character”

  2. In the article “The year was 1935, you summarized the projects of the WPA, but I don’t see any mention of the WPA project of the transcribing of the information on tombstones to help update cemetery records.

  3. I really enjoy your “The Year Was” column. It is so great to add them to my family history pages. Enjoyed this 1935 one as that was the year I was born in the dusty NE corner of South Dakota and remember the many stories my Dad told. He built roads and stock water dams with the WPA.

  4. IN 1935 I WAS FIVE YEARS OLD, BUT I STILL REMEMBER THE DARKNESS OF THE DAY THE DUST CLOUD CAME ACROSS THE TEXAS PANHANDLE AND MY HOME TOWN OF PAMPA, TEXAS. WE WERE AT MY GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE AND YOU COULD NOT SEE THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET. IT WAS EERIE.

  5. In the 24-7 Family History Circle>> The Year Was
    1935, I was delighted to read a comment from Martha Thomas regarding Black Sunday while she was living in Pampa, TX. I remember the day also living in the same town. Quite a coincidence!! I was 12.

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