Student Life in the Great Depression

An exhibit concerning student life during the Great Depression (1928-1938) was recently erected outside of the University Archives in the main hallway.

Students dressed up for an event in Lincoln Hall. Found in the 1936 Illio.

Students dressed up for an event in Lincoln Hall. Found in the 1936 Illio.

Like the rest of the nation, the University of Illinois certainly suffered the effects of the Depression.  Jobs were especially scarce and students were even forced to sell personal items in order to make  money.  Elston Herron of The Y wrote in 1931 that “students are selling everything from needles to threshing machines, from electric refrigerators to shoe laces.  And they aren’t making any bones about admitting that they’re selling things.  The day has passed when fellows were ashamed, for some foolish reason, to admit that they were trying to make a little money in ways other than writing back to the old homestead.”

Many students worked all summer in order to save up tuition money for the next school year.  They were aware of their family’s economic situations and worked their hardest to be as self-sufficient and sustaining as possible.

Football program cover, 1929.  Found in Record Series 28/5/811

Football program cover, 1929. Found in Record Series 28/5/811

Instead of being brought down by the Depression, students used it as opportunity and motivation to better themselves.  They knew competition for jobs after college was high and they had to push themselves if they wanted to succeed.  Despite the extra work load required to make ends meet, student activities flourished; they gathered for parades, football games, dances, clubs, theater, and fraternity and sorority events.  Although their banks may have been broken, their spirits were not.

If you want to learn more about student life during the Great Depression, please visit the exhibit outside of the University Archives.

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