Title

THE PERILS OF PROVIDENCE: RHODE ISLAND'S CAPITAL CITY DURING THE DEPRESSION AND NEW DEAL

Date of Completion

January 1982

Keywords

History, United States|Economics, General

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

Providence entered the thirties with a weak economy, a high percentage of foreign-stock residents, a newly emerging Democratic party, and a fairly adequate system of relief. It departed the decade with the same trends evident.^ Private and municipal relief services proved unable to cope wth Providence's economic crisis. Prior to the New Deal, the city sponsored a work relief system financed first by voluntary contributions, then by the city alone, and finally by using state loans.^ The reception given New Deal programs depended on the interests of local groups. Labor criticized work relief measures, while business appeared hostile to the Public Works Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Politicians use New Deal measures to strengthen the Democratic party and sometimes rejected federal aid, as in the case of the Public Works Administration, when they could not control the jobs. Discrimination and political considerations on the local level modified dictates from Washington.^ During the thirties, the Democrats came to control the city. Irish Democratic politicians, realizing that success required expanding the party's base, appealed to blacks, ethnics, and labor. Capitalizing on the depression and reminding voters of benefits they received from the New Deal, Providence Democrats built the foundation for a machine.^ Economic recovery during the thirties had only limited success. Although the National Recovery Administration was often ignored, especially by jewelry firms, it helped pave the way for state labor legislation. There was no massive upsurge in unionization, and Providence did not modify its economic base.^ The occupational status and residential location of the city's inhabitants were affected by the depression in varying ways. Blacks were most likely to decline in job status, followed by Italians. Although some ethinics expereinced limited upward occupational mobility, residential segregation for both ethnics and blacks increased. Least affected were English- or Irish-surnamed workers, and residents of the more affluent outlying neighborhoods.^ When studied on the local level, the New Deal encouraged continuity in Providence's society, economy and polity. Physical improvements were made, suffering was mitigated, and relief became a state and federal function, but the decade accelerated existing trends, such as economic stagnation and the ascendancy of the Democrats. The thirties stood as a way station in Providence's movement toward the present. ^