Hard Times in Illinois, 1930–1940
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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February 28, 1934


As the depression worsened increasing numbers of men and boys took to the roads in efforts to forge existences wherever opportunities presented themselves. According to a survey completed by social workers in January 1933 Illinois was the temporary home for 43,000 transients and only California had more with 49,000. These men and boys were not the usual "bums" who rode the rails or hitchhiked the nation's roads. Rather they mostly were displaced industrial workers, artisans, laborers, and the like who a short time earlier had been part of society's mainstay.

The Federal Emergency Relief Commission responded to this phenomenon by establishing camps outside population centers where large numbers of transients gathered. Camps provided food, clothing, shelter, and basic medical services. In return inhabitants were to provide their labor as demand required. For Illinois camps were established outside of Chicago, Rockford, Moline, Danville, Springfield, East St. Louis, and Cairo. For Chicago a camp was put up near Algonquin in McHenry County, just northwest of Chicago. Transient work camps were discontinued in Illinois in November 1935.

Points to Consider

What is a "transient"?

Locate Algonquin on a map.

What kind of work would have been performed at the camp at Algonquin?

Why would it have been desirable to have had library service at a transient camp?

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