During the Great Depression many people were homeless. Sometimes the homeless people grouped together in makeshift shanty towns where they built small shacks out of anything they could find including cardboard, wood scraps, crates, and tar paper. These shanty towns often sprung up near soup kitchens or cities where people could get free meals.
Why were they called Hoovervilles?
The shanty towns were named "Hoovervilles" after President Herbert Hoover because many people blamed him for the Great Depression. The name was first used in politics by Charles Michelson, the publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee. Once newspapers began using the name to describe the shanty towns, the name stuck.
Who lived there?
People who had lost their jobs due to the Great Depression and could no longer afford a home lived in the Hoovervilles. Entire families sometimes lived in a small one room shack because they had been evicted from their homes and had no place to live.
What were they like?
Hoovervilles were not nice places. The shacks were tiny, poorly built, and didn't have bathrooms. They weren't very warm during the winter and often didn't keep out the rain. The sanitary conditions of the towns were very bad and many times the people didn't have access to clean drinking water. People got sick easily and disease spread through the towns rapidly.
How big were the Hoovervilles?
Hoovervilles throughout the United States varied in size from a few hundred people to over a thousand. Some of the largest Hoovervilles were in New York City, Seattle, and St. Louis. The Hooverville in St. Louis was so big that it had its own churches and an unofficial mayor.
Many homeless people during the Great Depression became hobos. Rather than live in Hoovervilles, hobos traveled the country looking for work. They had their own terms and signs they would leave for each other. Hobos often traveled by secretly hopping trains for a free ride.
Many homeless people got their food from soup kitchens. When the Great Depression first began, most soup kitchens were run by charities. Later, the government began to open soup kitchens to feed the homeless and unemployed. They served soup because it was cheap and more could be made by adding water.
Other Things Named after Hoover
During the Great Depression, many items were named after President Hoover including the Hoover blanket (a newspaper used for a blanket) and Hoover flags (when a person turned their empty pockets inside out). When people used cardboard to fix their shoes they called it Hoover leather.
The End of the Hooverville
As the Great Depression came to an end, more people were able to get work and move out of the Hoovervilles. In 1941, programs were put into place to remove the makeshift towns throughout the United States.
Interesting Facts About Hoovervilles During the Great Depression
The Bonus Army of veterans built a large Hooverville in Washington D.C. that housed around 15,000 people.
President Herbert Hoover lost the election in 1932 to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Some shelters were well built structures made from stone and wood, others were merely holes in the ground covered with cardboard.
People were constantly moving in and out of Hoovervilles as they found jobs or better places to live.