Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Carr, Kay


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, millions of Americans suffered from long term unemployment and subsistence poverty while the federal government's New Deal attempted to address the problems of poverty. But the rural poor were affected by a kind of chronic poverty that would prove more difficult to address with government-run relief efforts. Because traditional methods of relief from poverty were embedded in the socioeconomic culture of rural America, it was not always possible to apply the same federal relief methods in the countryside as in the urban areas of the nation. The rural poor stood to benefit from modern social relief services and, for a brief period, it seemed as if those services would become available for their benefit. However, as I argue in this dissertation, economic conservatism hindered the potential effectiveness of the two-year federal emergency relief program. From 1933 to 1935, the United States federal government backed the unprecedented expenditure of billions of dollars in direct emergency relief. Abiding the advice of prominent social workers, the government created an emergency relief program to address the alarming needs of impoverished Americans. These programs affected those who suffered the effects of long term unemployment and those trapped in rural poverty. The federal government created social welfare policies that had the power to ease the misery of those forced to subsist at the bottom. Government benefits and impoverished beneficiaries met through social work. For a brief span of time, the New Deal emergency relief period of early 1933 to mid-1935 offered an opportunity for social workers to promote a nationalized system of social welfare. This is an understudied aspect of American history, and is the focus of this dissertation.




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