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

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November 6, 1930


Over April-November 1930 unemployment nationwide grew from 2,500,000 to 4,000,000. In response President Hoover ended all new immigration from abroad and appointed a commission on unemployment relief to help better coordinate local relief efforts. During the late fall of 1929 and the winter of 1929/1930 the U.S. Army in a limited number of instances had authorized the lending of cots and blankets to local relief organizations when desperate need had been demonstrated.

Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley responded with a telegram of his own the next day. He stated that although he had no legal authority to grant the governor's request he would do so regardless on account of the "acute distress due to unemployment." Chicago was an immense railroad hub and as such large numbers of jobless men were riding boxcars into it in hopes of finding work. Unfortunately little was available. Consequently the new arrivals joined the throngs of other unfortunates in soup lines and found shelter wherever they could. Local organizations and authorities were scrambling to find means to prevent large numbers of the homeless unemployed from freezing to death during the upcoming winter. Cots with blankets in public buildings afforded an alternative.

Points to Consider

What was the governor asking the U.S. secretary of war to do?

Where were the cots with blankets going to be located?

What does this communication say about the scope of the unemployment problem in Chicago in the fall of 1930?

If the U.S. Army had the equipment requested, was it morally required to supply it? Why or why not?

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