In depths of Depression, News saw business opportunity
Despite the widespread suffering caused by the Depression, the News of the 1930s focused almost exclusively on how Yale students’ job prospects might be limited, failing to cover the downturn’s effects on city residents.
In the 1930s, Yale students lived in one of the University’s newly constructed residential colleges, complete with lavish amenities including squash courts and printed-menu dinners served by uniformed waitresses. Thanks to the technological advancements of the day, students could listen to jazz over the radio, call friends on the telephone and drive to a theater to see a motion picture. Many students at Yale could afford to be unaware of the Great Depression happening outside their University’s gates. As millions of Americans – including thousands of New Haven residents – lost jobs and waited in breadlines, Yale students could attend football games, boat races and intramural matches. Nowhere is this disconnect clearer than in the Yale Daily News’ coverage of the Great Depression throughout the 1930s.
A search through the News’ archives reveals that rather than reporting on the economic despair in New Haven, the News offers only a few mentions of the nation’s economic woes, each in Yale-centric articles that rarely discuss those experiencing the horrors of the Depression. For most Americans, the feeling of endless economic growth that came to mark the 1920s quickly disappeared on Oct. 29, 1929. Across the nation and around the world, economic boom turned to bust, and the city of New Haven was no exception. Hungry children cried while their parents wandered the streets looking for work, and local businesses closed after financial ruin. But for Yale University, the 1930s were a time of rapid growth and expansion with the construction and incorporation of its new residential college system. And for the News and its readers, the market crash of 1929 was not a national tragedy but a business opportunity.
In an article titled “College Men Should Profit from the Recent Stock Market Activities, Says R.W. Babson,” the News offered financial advice to Yale undergraduates less than two months after Black Tuesday on Dec. 17, 1929. While bank runs and failures were reaching an all-time high, the piece urged Yalies to use the “liquid funds” and “savings” available to them to invest in the market. The piece did not mention those for whom the crash was devastating. At the end of the piece, the writer offered advice on investments, recommending “a portion of funds [remain] in sound first mortgage bonds of either near or distant maturity,” at the same time as the homes and property of millions were being foreclosed.
Later, the News printed a joke about suicide in the Dog Daze column published Jan. 10, 1930. “Dog Daze” was a satirical column running from 1929 to 1930 that covered topical subjects ranging from University happenings to foreign affairs. The Jan. 10 piece said that “eight thousand victims of the market crash [are] still looking for a good high place to jump from.” That piece makes up over half of the News’ coverage on the market crash in 1929. A keyword search for “market crash” between October 1929 and January 1930 returns only three results in the News’ archives. Though the archive may be missing some articles, it demonstrates that the News on the whole published few articles on the topic.
The News’ questionable coverage continued through the decade. There are only eight mentions of “breadlines” or “bread lines” in the archived News’ pages throughout the entire decade, and while the News ran many stories about the Depression and federal relief efforts, no stories focus explicitly on the Depression’s effect on New Haven. One article, titled “How About a Job?” published May 17, 1932, complains about the decreasing value of a Yale degree in an increasingly competitive job market. The piece asks if “the ability of the average Yale man is greater than that of other young men,” and laments that “the depression is dealing harshly with [Yale men]” because employers hire more graduates of public universities than of Yale University. A story titled “Yale and Unemployment Relief,” published Oct. 5, 1931, explored how University expansion helped employ New Haveners during the depression. Scores of articles were written about the Yale Hope Mission’s efforts to support New Haven during the Depression. The tone of the paper throughout the era applauds the University, rather than shedding light on the condition of the city or its residents.
Without additional historical knowledge of the economic crisis of the 1930s, the News’ archives alone do not indicate the gravity of the Great Depression. The News lacked significant coverage of the Depression’s effect on the lives of people outside of campus, particularly in the city of New Haven. The News now has a city desk devoted exclusively to covering New Haven events and affairs, in the hope that the mistakes of the 1930s do not repeat themselves in the present day.