Scottsdale and the Great Depression

The graceful, even beautiful, lines of Scottsdale Grammar School #2 convey a sense of prosperity. Stability seems to be written right into the school’s symmetrical concrete façade. It is a testimony to the optimism of 1928, the year it was built—a year in which prosperity seemed so assured. As the nation prospered, so did the growing community of Scottsdale, which confidently passed a $50,000 bond to construct this school, the town’s second. But this was only one year before the stock market crash of 1929, an event that would leave the country in a state of financial crisis. Despite all of the growth it experienced during the 1920s, Scottsdale was not immune to the economic hardships of the Great Depression, though desperation took slightly longer to settle in here in Arizona.

In the immediate years after the crash, most of Arizona’s copper mines shut down or had to slow production, decreasing the state’s revenue from $155 million to $15 million between 1929 and 1932. Unemployed miners and Dust Bowl “Okies” were flocking to the Salt River Valley in search of work—sometimes finding employment picking cotton. Nevertheless, work was scarce. Scottsdale’s only bank closed during the 1933 “bank holiday” and never reopened. The chamber of commerce closed as well. Individuals displaced by the economic crisis threw up shantytowns in the empty desert and tried to scratch out a livelihood from the land.

These were lean years. Many parents could not afford to keep their children in shoes but had to send them to school, often on foot or by horse, wearing disintegrating vestiges of what used to pass for adequate footwear. Meager family resources instead had to go to put food on the table. An unprecedented 20% of the Valley’s population (50% of the severely disadvantaged Latino and black populations) received some kind of municipal or federal aid. As funds from local charities and emergency relief programs ran dry, the Valley was increasingly seeking aid from the federal government. But, for many, accepting aid engendered a fundamental identity crisis. Scottsdale had long held itself to embody a pioneering spirit of self-sufficiency, a quality its citizens believed was at the core of being a Scottsdalian, of being an American. Since Scottdale’s founding, it had been a keenly proud community. This meant that some citizens simply refused aid.

Nevertheless, as the struggles of the 1930s continued, the social stigma attached to accepting aid began to fade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Policies gradually began to revive the area. By the mid-1930s, thanks to the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal government was Maricopa County’s largest employer. These programs resulted in additions to Scottsdale Grammar School #2 and Scottsdale High School, improvements to the canal, and new roads. Many of these public works can still be seen across the landscape, reminders of past difficulties and the local and national efforts that sought to overcome them.


edited 12/23/2019:wt

Audio

Shoes A Scottsdae resident describes the hardships that the proud community faced during the Great Depression. Based on an interview with Paul Messinger. Written by Amy T. Long; narrated by JoAnne Handley. Recorded at Scottsdale Channel 11; courtesy of the Papago Salado Association.

Images

Tattered Shoes
Tattered Shoes These children's tattered shoes symbolize the scarcity that accompanied the Depression. Before this time, the acceptance of charitable welfare was considered shameful--an admission that you could not provide for your family. Though this attitude changed due to the widespread poverty in the 1930s, some still refused to accept outside assistance. Source: LC-DIG-fsa-8a21579; Library of Congress Creator: Russel Lee Date: 1936
Picture Day
Picture Day This seemingly ordinary school photo of the students of Scottsdale Grammar School #2 (Loloma) belies the fact that the Depression hit Valley schools hard. In 1931, nearby Phoenix teachers voluntarily took a 5% cut in pay in order to keep their schools operating. Source: Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1928
Wilmouth's Grocery Store
Wilmouth's Grocery Store Proudly displayed in the upper right corner of this Depression-era photo of Wilmouth's Grocery Store is an NRA or National Recovery Act sign. The NRA was Roosevelt's New Deal retail program, and, like merchants throughout the country, this business, then one of only a few shops along Brown Street and Main, showed support for it by pledging to provide jobs and offer fair prices. Source: SCOT-SHS-2013-0367;Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1932
McComb Brothers General Store
McComb Brothers General Store In addition to numerous other local projects, the federal Works Progress Administration distributed food to the community out of the old McComb Brothers General Store, then rented by the Methodist church. Addressing the scarcity of the times, the US Food Administration offered this advice about food: "Buy it with thought; cook it with care; serve just enough; save what will keep; eat what will spoil; homegrown is best." Source: SCOT-SHS-2012-0162; Scottsdale Public Library Date: 1920

Location

Metadata

Amy Long and Laura Keller, “Scottsdale and the Great Depression,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 23, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/20.