The 1930s Great Depression, resulting from years of inequities and unsustainable practices and 1929 stock market crash, brought failed banks, 25% unemployment, hunger, labor wars, environmental disasters. Life savings disappeared. Farmed beyond capacity, millions of acres of topsoil blew away in a decade-long drought. Thousands abandoning farms became homeless transients. Starving families boiled grass for food.
Accepting the 1932 Presidential nomination, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed “I pledge…a new deal for the American people…a new order of competence and courage.” Though desperate, people considered “handouts” degrading: “I don’t want no relief, I want work!” Roosevelt’s programs both provided income and lifted morale; they returned taxpayers’ money as wages and materials for jobs benefiting the nation’s infrastructure, conservation, education, health, culture, and more. His New Deal eventually comprised over 70 legislative acts, including 30 new public projects agencies.
The Pikes Peak Region’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps performed work ranging from planting trees in Pike National Forest and Garden of the Gods to building Rampart Range Road. CCC workers received food, lodging, education, skills, a lifelong sense of accomplishment, and $30 per month ($25 sent to their families). The Works Progress Administration (WPA) built Palmer High School, Manitou Post Office, Monument Valley Park’s creek channeling and stonework, and provided activities from swimming lessons to WPA’s Theater Project puppets. Other programs funded local artists’ murals in public buildings. No longer forced to trade paintings for soup bones, Manitou’s muralist felt these projects “convert the artist from precious parlor monkey” to being useful enough to “walk on the sidewalk with respectable people.”
Not everyone approved. Though local regions specified projects they needed, Pikes Peak area governments disliked federal programs (and the small percentage of local funds some required). Spencer Penrose, like many of Roosevelt’s wealthy peers, considered him a “traitor to his class,” yet the New Deal may have saved them from revolution. Some on the political right called the New Deal “socialist;” some on the left, “fascist.” Despite job creation for minorities and women (thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt), many programs bore racial, ethnic, or gender bias. Paradoxically, successes brought challenges: hope’s high expectations.
New Deal innovations now taken for granted include federally-insured banking (FDIC), Social Security, the National Labor Relations Board, and Securities and Exchange Commission. Though flawed, New Deal Indian programs shifted US government policy from cultural suppression and assimilation to tribal sovereignty. New Deal programs employed 8,000,000 youth. Nationally, hundreds of thousands of New Deal-funded artworks, classes, and performances reached millions of citizens. Three billion trees planted, 650,000 miles of roads built were among CCC/WPA achievements. The Pikes Peak Region’s parks, roads, buildings, forests, stonework, and art embody the New Deal’s legacy.
Generously Submitted by Pat Musick, Artist & Historian