San Antonio, Texas during the Depression : 1933-1936



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The city of San Antonio offers a rich field for research, as very little in the vein of serious study has been attempted by historians. Most books on the city are of the "booster" category, extolling the beauty, the romance, the richness, and/or the diversity of the Mecca of tourists and health seekers. The longevity of San Antonio, along with its stature prior to 1930 as the largest city in Texas, has invested a variegated, not always delightful, history. An often-heard joke relates that after Santa Anna captured the Alamo in 1836, he rode out of the sleepy town saying, "Now, don't do anything until I get back." He went on to be defeated and captured at San Jacinto and never returned to San Antonio. Nevertheless, many San Antonians believe that Santa Anna's "order" had been strictly observed for many years. Despite the somewhat jocular attitude, San Antonio has experienced the growth pangs of urbanization. The city has an extremely rich, colorful, and untold political history which beckons but which has not yet enticed any historian to unfold it in a large scale study. Richard B. Henderson has indicated possibilities in his recent biography of Maury Maverick. Personal politics, clique control, and boss rule have, at one time or another, afflicted the "sleepy city." Citizens had neglected many social problems for years before the Depression and for years following it. Thus, citizens had become desensitized to the slums, the high disease rates, and the high death rates. In fact, the city had often used as inducements, to attract new industries to San Antonio, some of the same reasons as for the existence of those conditions. The inducements included the presence of a large, docile, and unskilled labor pool. Such a pool attracted, in the 1920's, marginal or labor-exploiting industries such as garment making and cigar rolling, which by paying low wages for long hours would almost guarantee the regeneration of that pool. There existed in San Antonio few channels enabling a person, especially a minority group member, to move up into a skilled job. The entire, real story of San Antonio is yet to be written. Indeed, some question the sanity of the person who would embark on such a task. However, attention is directed to the thesis of Mary Maverick McMillan which surveyed the history of San Antonio from 1928 to 1933. This thesis is an attempt to continue the Depression story and to relate developments in San Antonio during the acute phase of the Great Depression from 1933 through 1936. I have focused special attention on unemployment and relief. For many and various reasons, cities were either unable or unwilling, or both, to cope with the effects of the Depression. In the light of available knowledge that few cities responded in a dynamic and purposeful manner to relieve the miseries of suffering, the record of San Antonio rates low in accomplishment and in concern. When placed beside other cities, both in and out of Texas, San Antonio cannot look upon its responses to the Depression with pride