Exam preparation materials

Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1940

Things to Know

1. Politics of prosperity: period of Republican ascendancy — Harding, Coolidge, Hoover; political scandals, economic policy (“business of America is business”), election of 1928 and Al Smith.

2. Social and cultural aspects of prosperity: “Roaring Twenties” vs. conservativism — background of Red Scare, immigration policy, KKK, Scopes trial, religious fundamentalism; writers of the “Lost Generation”; consumer culture.

3. The coining of the Depression: problems in agriculture and other indicators of economic weakness — stock speculation and stock market crash; Hoover’s response to the onset of the Depression.

4. Roosevelt and the New Deal: New Deal — conservative or revolutionary; major New Deal legislation and agencies; New Deal and the Supreme Court; did the New Deal end the Depression?





Agricultural Adjustment Administration (1933)


Civil Aeronautics Authority (1938)


Civilian Conservation Corps (1933)


Civil Works Administration (1933)


Federal Communications Commission (1934)


Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (1933)


Federal Emergency Relief Administration (1933)


Federal Housing Administration (1934)


Farm Security Administration (1937)


National Labor Relations Board (1934-1935)


National Recovery Administration (1934)


National Youth Administration (1935)


Public Works Administration (1935)


Rural Electrification Administration (1935)


Securities and Exchange Commission (1934)


Tennessee Valley Authority (1933)


Works Progress Administration (1935)

Key Terms and Concepts

Ohio Gang

Teapot Dome scandal

Secretary of the Treasury Andrew


Budget and Accounting Act

Bureau of the Budget

Dawes Plan

Veterans Bureau

Bonus bill

Hawley-Smoot Tariff

A. Mitchell Palmer

National Origins Act of 1924

Sacco and Vanzetti

Charles Lindbergh

T. S. Eliot

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Theodore Dreiser

Sinclair Lewis

Ernest Hemingway

Gertrude Stein

Harlem Renaissance —

Langston Hughes

Marcus Garvey

McNary-Haugen Bill

Reconstruction Finance Corporation

bank holidays

Harry Hopkins

Huey Long

Father Coughlin

Francis Townsend

John Steinbeck

Indian Reorganization Act

Social Security Act

Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins

Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO)

Alf Landon

Important Definitions

Bonus Army: Unemployed World War I veterans who came to Washington in the spring of 1932 to demand the immediate payment of the bonus Congress had voted them in 1922. The veterans were forcibly removed from Anacostia Flats by federal troops.

court packing proposal: In the wake of Supreme Court decisions that declared key piece of New Deal legislation unconstitutional, Roosevelt proposed increasing the number of justices. If a justice did not retire at age seventy, the President could appoint an additional justice up to a maximum of six.

deficit spending: The English economist John Maynard Keynes proposed that governments cut taxes and increase spending in order to stimulate investment and consumption. The effect was to increase the deficit because more money was spent than was taken in.

Hoovervilles: Shantytowns that the unemployed built in the cities during the early years of the Depression; the name given to them shows that the people blamed Hoover directly for the Depression.

Lost Generation: Term coined by Gertrude Stein to describe American expatriate writers of the 1920s; include T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Stein herself.

100 Days: Period from March to June 1933 when Congress passed major legislation submitted by Roosevelt to deal with the Depression.

Return to Normalcy: Campaign theme of Warren Harding during the election of 1920; it reflected the conservative mood of the country after the constant appeals to idealism that characterized both the Progressive Era and Wilson’s fight over the League of Nations.

Roaring Twenties: Popular image of the decade as a period of prosperity, optimism, and changing morals; symbolized best by the “flapper.”

Share the Wealth: Program of Huey Long that proposed the redistribution of income of the rich to give every American a guaranteed annual income of $2,000 to $3,000, old-age pensions, money for a college education, and veterans benefits.

Sick Chicken Case: In Schechter Poultry v. U.S., the Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act as unconstitutional. The decision encouraged Roosevelt to consider ways to change the makeup of the Court.

Readings on Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1940

Allen, Frederick Lewis. Only Yesterday (1931).

Graham, Otis L., Jr. An Encore for Reform: The Old Progressives and the New Deal (1967).

Leuchtenburg, William. The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 (1958).

_____. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 (1963).

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Roosevelt (3 vols., 1958-1960).

Ware, Susan. Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s (1982).

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