52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1


Josie Muro married Sam Serrapede on March 2, 1930. Their daughter Emily Leatrice was born on April 18, 1931. At some point after Emily’s birth the family moved from Bath Beach, Brooklyn to Dyker Heights. To better understand what their lives were like during the Great Depression, we are going to take a look at the everyday life of the 1930s using articles from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the postings after this one. Our goal is to see how family stories match up to the events reported in the news of the day. There is great benefit to using the newspapers of the time period under review: we get to “hear” the voices of the era. Since the publications of any time period lack the kind of filters a contemporary author might put in, we have a more direct contact with the past and the mindset of that time. We are also going to use reading material from current sources that provide additional information and insight into what we find in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and our family stories.

What comes to mind when you hear the words, “The 1930s” or “The Great Depression of the 1930s”? Be honest as you think on this question. Uncle Sammy and I will share our thoughts after this brief overview on events leading up to the Great Depression.

Overview on what caused the Great Depression

The Roaring ‘20s are commonly thought to have been an era of great prosperity. They are depicted in movies as times when women and men mingled more freely than previous generations. Money was easy to come by and everyone had a good time. But that is what has come down in popular culture. The income inequalities and differences between the haves and have-nots were masked by the low unemployment rate throughout the decade.

There was hardship among farmers who lost their overseas markets at the end of WWI. Bad weather, drought and dust storms also affected the ability of the farmers to make a living. Food prices declined adding to the hardships they had to sustain.Today we hear that the stock market was at an all time high during the 1920s. That activity was fueled by many people who bought stock using borrowed money. When the market crashed in 1929 investors became paupers overnight because they had no real money of their own to repay the loans. It became commonplace to see people out in the street as debtors came to cart away their possessions and padlock their homes. As people no longer had purchasing power, the need for consumer goods dropped. In turn, factories had to cut staff and cut back on production.

President Hoover was in the White House at the start of the Great Depression. He thought that the Federal government could create jobs via a Federal Works Program but wanted the states to pay for the programs. He also believed that it was up to the states and private charities to ease the plight of the unemployed. The public thought otherwise and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt to office in 1932. A great part of Roosevelt’s appeal was in his campaign to bring help to the majority of people he said had been forgotten. He promised a “New Deal” for Americans that would ensure them employment and a better quality of life in the future.

Roosevelt’s administration initiated Public Works Programs that put civilians to work in different departments of the Federal government such as the Parks Department. Even so, there were opposing political forces that halted some New Deal programs. It was America’s entrance to WWII that created the need for manufactured goods and workers to do the jobs to produce them.

The Great Depression in Brooklyn, NY


Breadline at McCauley Water Street Mission under the Brooklyn Bridge, New York. Library of Congress (through Photogrammar).

The McCauley Water Street Mission was started in the late 19th century by Jerry McCauley, an Irish immigrant and a reformed convict. It is still in existence today and is known as New York City Rescue Mission. NYCRM continues McCauley’s outreach to the poor, homeless and displaced. During the Great Depression the Mission distributed food at a location near the Brooklyn Bridge.


Hooverville in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY. NYC Municipal Archives photo.

The homeless and unemployed who were turned out of their homes took to creating makeshift housing on the city dumps. These shantytowns were called “Hoovervilles” after President Hoover who did not support Federal assistance to the Americans after the stock market crash. The site of the Hooverille in Red Hook, Brooklyn is now a park.


(To be continued…)


Credits for all photos and sources used appear at conclusion of part 2.



18 thoughts on “52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1

  1. Interesting reading. I like the way you’re bringing in the social history of the time.
    I’ve decided to get back to researching my family history this winter and I think I’ll make a social history file for each era.
    Thanks for the inspiration

    • Exactly. This is especially apparent in the online community. Many people complain that they have to pay a minimal fee to download a song or subscribe to a service. Yet they will clock up hours on stupid cell phone calls and text message charges and pay for that. I think one reason why families got through the Depression and WWII is that the sense of civic duty was strongly ingrained as part of good morality and character. This needs to be brought back as a mandatory course in schools along with required service for every student whether private or public school.

  2. Very interesting, a bit of history we don’t hear much about over here in the UK. I couldn’t comment on your previous post about how your stories started with the baby book your mum wrote in but I thought it was lovely.

  3. This is great, Emily. I also love how you bring in the details of the social history. My mother was born in Brooklyn in 1930, and they were quite poor. But she never talks about it. My aunt once mentioned how a relative who was more prosperous would bring them food. It’s hard to imagine.

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