Women of the Depression
Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929-1939
Texas History - Mexican American Studies
6 x 9, 304 pp.
32 b&w photos., Map.
Pub Date: 09/01/1998
Texas A&M Southwestern Studies
Price:        $21.95 s

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Women of the Depression

Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929-1939

By Julia Kirk Blackwelder

Even before the Depression, unemployment, low wages, substandard housing, and poor health plagued many women in what was then one of America’s poorest cities—San Antonio. Divided by tradition, prejudice, or law into three distinct communities of Mexican Americans, Anglos, and African Americans, San Antonio women faced hardships based on their personal economic circumstances as well as their identification with a particular racial or ethnic group.

Women of the Depression, first published in 1984, presents a unique study of life in a city whose society more nearly reflected divisions by the concept of caste rather than class. Caste was conferred by identification with a particular ethnic or racial group, and it defined nearly every aspect of women’s lives. Historian Julia Kirk Blackwelder shows that Depression-era San Antonio, with its majority Mexican American population, its heavy dependence on tourism and light industry, and its domination by an Anglo elite, suffered differently as a whole than other American cities. Loss of migrant agricultural work drove thousands of Mexican Americans into the barrios on the west side of San Antonio, and with the intense repatriation fervor of the 1930s, the fear of deportation inhibited many Mexican Americans from seeking public or private aid.

The author combines excerpts from personal letters, diaries, and interviews with government statistics to present a collective view of discrimination and culture and the strength of both in the face of crisis.

Julia Kirk Blackwelder is professor and head of the history department at Texas A&M University. Her most recent book is Now Hiring: The Feminization of Work in the United States, 1900–1995.

What Readers Are Saying:

" She not only offers the first full-length study of the Great Depression in San Antonio, but does so by probing its impact on the hitherto inarticulate majority--Black, Hispanic, and White women--a probe that perforce deepens our understanding of the Alamo City's complex past. . . . Blackwelder's is a story of struggle, but also of small triumphs. . . . Women of the Depression makes a significant contribution to the history of an important southwestern City." --Southern Humanities Review

“It should be examined by anyone interested in women's studies, in the history of organized labor, or in the study of race, migration, and Integration." --East Texas Historical Association

"One of the first meticulously quantitative community studies to include Chicanas as well as blacks and Anglos . . . raises vital questions about the nature of the female labor force and labor market." --Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“A model study and will stand as a major contribution to the fields of social, urban, western, and women’s history.” --D’Ann Campbell

“From the fascinating data on San Antonio to the accounts of race- and class-based effects of federal legislation and local programs, this book captures and holds the attention of the reader . . . she successfully aregues that San Antonio was perhaps the U.S. city most hard hit by the Depression by demonstrating that pre-WWII San Antonio bore an eerie resemblance to current Third World cities plagued by poverty and associated ills and governed by a political elite oblivious or actually hostile to the needs and rights of nonelite groups.” --M. A. Martindale

“This book moves us to a new level in the history of women in the way it makes the case for understanding distinctions among women.” --Alice Kessler-Harris

“Blackwelder give us poignant portraits of the lives and miseries of San Antonio women, their concerns for their families, their work or lack of it, and their social and economic status. The portraits of poverty, misery, and lack of power are compelling. . . .Her quantitative studies and her portraits of three distinctive groups of women, separated by caste and culture, mark her book as important to anyone studying the lives of Texas women.” --East Texas Historical Assoc


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