(communities develop within shantytowns as migrant families gather)
“…because they had all come from a place of sadness and worry and defeat, and because they were all going to a new mysterious place, they huddled together; they talked together; they shared their lives, their food, and the things they hoped for in the new country.”
- Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
Throughout the 1930s, Hoovervilles came into existence throughout the United States, providing a sense of community in the midst of the migrant workers’ various struggles. According to The History Channel
online, “President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was blamed for the intolerable economic and social conditions, and the shantytowns that cropped up across the nation, primarily on the outskirts of major cities, became known as Hoovervilles.” While the popularity of Hoovervilles grew, the people that fled to them often brought with them a renewed sense of hope, reveling in the idea that they were not alone in their plight.
As Hoovervilles formed, the tight-knit communities within them were based largely on a sense of shared experience, and thus of unity. For instance, in The Grapes of Wrath
it is written that, “the twenty families became one family…the loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream” (264) and “In the evening, sitting about the fires, the twenty were one” (265). Such a strong sense of togetherness helped the migrants to live day to day and endure all that they needed to in order to survive.
Of course, Hoovervilles also presented their fair share of strife in terms of the physical living conditions. In The Grapes of Wrath
, “…there was a huge tent, ragged, torn in strips and the tears mended with pieces of wire” (329). The broken down, raggedy state of the tents and shacks were a reminder that though the spirit of community may burn bright in many of the Hoovervilles, there was much left to be desired with regards to adequate shelter. According to the University of Washington
, the city of Seattle “required that women and children not live in the Hooverville” due to the often harsh living conditions. This practice was taken up by many urban areas over time, in order to add both a sense of stability and safety. Providing an example of the sense of community at hand was the primary Hooverville within Seattle, which “claimed its own community government including an unofficial mayor” from 1931 to 1941.
Above all, Hoovervilles served as homes for weary migrant families, as dilapidated as they might have been. The community ties and connections were often prominent enough that they supported the camp members, unifying them in their westward migration. With such a makeshift society came a call to rally together as one.