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  Program Introduction

  Closing of the Frontier
  Scientific Racism
  The Children's Bureau
  Recent Social Trends

  The Great Depression
  The Gallup Poll
  World War II
  Suburban Nation
  Sexual Behavior

  The Feminine Mystique
  The Moynihan Report
  Broken Windows
  Middletown IV
  Census 2000



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FMC Program Segments 1900-1930

Recent Social Trends: 1900 to 1930
Herbert Hoover Measures the Nation



BEN WATTENBERG: As the 1920s moved to a close, the American economy was booming. Things looked good for most Americans. The new president, Herbert Hoover, commissioned a vast study called "Recent Social Trends." He hoped that it would do for the entire nation what the Lynds had done in Muncie. 

DAVID KENNEDY: The fact that Herbert Hoover, of all people, commissioned this group of social scientists to write "Recent Social Trends" is a reminder that Hoover comes out of this older progressive tradition of looking to social scientists and looking to reliable data as a way of making political policy. 

BEN WATTENBERG: When it was finally published in 1933, "Recent Social Trends" ran to 1700 pages, 29 chapters and two volumes. To this day, it remains revealing reading. It used statistics to describe how America had changed between 1890 and 1930. 

The president of the American Sociological Society, William Ogburn, was in charge of research. Ogburn, recall, had criticized activist sociologists like Jane Adams. In "Recent Social Trends," he tried to completely separate social science from politics and ideology, with mixed results. 

Among the top social scientists chosen for the study were Robert Lynd, only months after the publication of "Middletown." One of the few women to work on the project was Julia Lathrop's protege at the University of Chicago, Sopanisba Breckinridge. In a chapter on women's activities outside the home, Breckinridge noted a shift we often think started only recently. Between 1900 and 1930, the percent of married women who work doubled, rising from 6 percent to 12 percent. Looking at the American family, William Ogburn noted a familiar-sounding trend: The divorce rate was on its way up. It doubled in 30 years. 

WILLIAM FIELDING OGBURN: "Our culture may be conducive to further increases in divorce unless programs are instituted to counteract this tendency. If present trends continue, one in six marriages of the present year will end in divorce." William Fielding Ogburn, 1933. 

BEN WATTENBERG: The report also looked at the impact of the new immigrants on society. The ideas of scientific racism still influenced the dialogue. 

WARREN THOMPSON: "As soon as any agreement can be reached about the method by which undesirables can be selected from the population, they should be prevented from propagating." Warren Thompson.

BEN WATTENBERG: "Recent Social Trends" was published in 1933, but it was no longer of use to Hoover, who had been voted out of office, held accountable for the onset of what would become America's greatest depression. The worst was yet to come.


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