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Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

A Concise History of the Great Depression in Washington State

The New Deal Gas and Grocery, 1935, in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The Great Depression and the New Deal changed everyday life for people in both overt and subtle ways. Click image to enlarge. (Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry.)

By James Gregory and Jessie Kindig


The Great Depression first shattered and then rebuilt the economy of Washington State, leaving it with roads, bridges, dams, and a new electric grid that set the stage for rapid industrial growth. It rearranged the state's politics, ending decades of Republican rule, setting up a powerful labor movement, a new Democratic Party, and a new set of political priorities. It ended prohibition and launched new cultural institutions. It saw the creation of parks and trails and the realization of a long struggle to create the Olympic National Park. By the end of the 1930s, Washington was a different place, its future beginning to come clear even before World War II turned the state into an aerospace center and industrial powerhouse.

Here is a concise history of these events in eleven brief chapters, each of them introducing related essays, films, photographs, and documents.

  1. Economics and poverty
  2. Hoovervilles
  3. Unemployed Citizens League and Poverty Activism
  4. Strikes and Unions
  5. Politics
  6. Public Works
  7. Radicalism
  8. Civil Rights
  9. University of Washington
  10. Everyday Life
  11. Culture and the Arts