A New Deal Everyday: Civic Authority and Federal Policy in Chicago and Los Angeles,1930-1940
thesisposted on 20.06.2014 by Thomas F. Dorrance
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This dissertation is a comparative history of local politics in Chicago and Los Angeles during the Great Depression. The project shows how New Deal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, National Recovery Administration, and Works Progress Administration delegated administrative authority to the local level, creating a space for each city to develop their own versions of the New Deal within a loose and evolving set of federal guidelines. In Chicago and Los Angeles, New Deal agencies took shape within a political context that utilized private sector leadership as a way to insulate federal programs from partisan politics. The New Deal changed but did not sever the links between civic leadership and public policy. Initially, New Deal programs reaffirmed established hierarchies of private influence as control over early New Deal policy fell to the cohort of individuals and organizations who benefitted the most from preserving local practices. As the decade progressed, the proliferation of federal programs inspired new waves of civic activism attuned to the ways in which federal programs operated on the ground. Local operatives made the New Deal through their efforts to gain influence and control over federal programs, rather than through their expectations of what a centralized government might provide. The New Deal era was a time of great upheaval in local politics as individuals confronted the limits of industrial capitalism by exploring a diverse array of programs to use the federal state to sustain local community. New Dealers in Chicago and Los Angeles employed a common language of anti-government politics to justify a diverse array of conservative and progressive visions for federal programs that were designed to stabilize the local economy, promote industrial growth, and create new opportunities for social advancement. The dissertation outlines the ways state power and local activism converged in the shaping of federal programs to argue that local struggles for control over New Deal programs, rather than the promises of federal legislation, fundamentally shaped the ways individuals conceived of the role of the state in addressing social inequality and advancing claims to economic citizenship.