The Empowerment of American Women during the Great Depression in Comparative Perspective


Maria Luz Arroyo Vázquez 
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain

This paper examines the significant progress that women made during the Great Depression and will focus its attention on the Roosevelt era, a period in which women not only reached key posts in the administration but also managed to acquire a new dignity and social status. Besides, it will try to explore the echo that some of these significant women had across other countries, giving as an example the Spanish case. Roosevelt’s four terms in office (1933–1945) were a clear example of a time when women participated actively in public life. Women were appointed to relevant government positions and played key roles in the development of the Roosevelt Administration. Roosevelt himself and his federal government fostered these expanded roles for women who worked as heads of Federal agencies, as political advisers, in the New Deal’s relief programs, etc. Behind these appointments, we have to highlight the support and compromise of relevant women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Mary Bethune and Molly Dewson, just to mention some of the most inspiring figures during this era. Women worked in two main areas: Democratic Party politics and social welfare. As Susan Ware points out, there was “a network of professional contact and personal friendship that linked the women in top New Deal positions”. In summary, this paper tries to acknowledge and pay tribute to those women, who proved their talent and self-worth and to the ones who were deeply committed with the defence of social reforms and participated actively in politics and social welfare legislation during the Roosevelt era.

Bethune, M. 1939. What Does American Democracy Mean to Me?

Colman, P. 1993. Woman Unafraid: The Achievements of Frances Perkins. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International.

Cook, B. W. 1999. Eleanor Roosevelt: The Defining Years, Volume Two, 1933-1938. New York: Penguin Books.

Foner, E. 2005. Give me Liberty! An American History. New York: Norton.

Goodwin, D. K. 1994. ‘La pareja que cambió América. La historia nunca contada de Eleanor & Franklin’, El Semanal: 13-27.

Height, D. 2003. Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir. New York: Public Affairs.

Lash, J. P. 1971. Eleanor and Roosevelt. New York: Smithmark.

Martin, J., et al. 1997. America and Its Peoples. New York: Longman.

McCluskey, A. T., et al. 2001. Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

McElvaine, R. 1993. The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. New York: Times Books.

Morse, J. 2007. Women’s Rights in the United States.

Parrish, M. E. 1992. Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression 1920-1941. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Perkins, F. 1946. The Roosevelt I Knew. New York: Viking Press.

Rauch, B. 1944. The History of the New Deal. New York: Creative Age Press, Inc.

Robnett, B. 1997. How Long? How Long? African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roosevelt, E. 1992. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. New York: Da Capo Press.

Schindler, B. 1987. ‘Madame Secretary and Mr. President: Frances Perkins and Franklin Roosevelt’, in H. D. Rosenbaun and E. Bartelme (eds) FDR The Man, The Myth, The Era, 1882-1945. New York: Greenwood Press, 341-352.

Ware, S. 1985. ‘Women and the New Deal’, in O. Graham (ed) Franklin D. Roosevelt: His Life and Times. Boston: A Da Capo Paperback, 458-460.

Ware, S. 1982. Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Ware, S. 1981. Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Published : 2015-11-15

Arroyo VázquezM. (2015). The Empowerment of American Women during the Great Depression in Comparative Perspective. Review of International American Studies, 7(2). Retrieved from

Maria Luz Arroyo Vázquez
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain  Spain

María Luz Arroyo is currently a Lecturer at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia of Spain (UNED) in Madrid. She has published extensively in Spanish on twentieth- century U.S. history, with particular research interests in the New Deal, American Women, and diplomatic and cultural relations between the United States and Spain. English publications include “European Views of the New Deal: the Case of Spain, “Journal of Transatlantic Studies 3.2 (2005) and “The Long Silencing of the Spanish Memoirs of U.S. Ambassador Claude G. Bowers: A Case of Forbearance or Political Repression? in Political Repression in U.S. History edited by Cornelis A. van Minnen and Sylvia L. Hilton, Vu University Press, Amsterdam, 2009. Her current research areas include: U.S.-Spanish relations, U.S. foreign policy and American Women History.

The Copyright Holder of the submitted text is the Author. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the RIAS websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in RIAS.