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Encyclopedia Dubuque

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HOOVERVILLE

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Photo courtesy: Library of Congress
Scavenging for items to sell. Photo courtesy: Library of Congress

HOOVERVILLE. "Hooverville," was coined by Charles Michelson, publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee, as the name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. The "towns" were named for the president at the time, Herbert Hoover, because he allegedly let the nation slide into depression. Some of the men who were forced to live in these conditions possessed building skills and were able to build their houses out of stone. Most people, however, resorted to building their residences out of box wood, cardboard, and any scraps of metal they could find, together with a stove, bedding and some cooking utensils.

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Homelessness was present before the Great Depression; hobos and tramps were common sights in the 1920s. Economic downturn, however, increased their numbers and concentrated them in urban settlements. Settlements were often formed on empty land and consisted of shacks and tents.

Authorities did not officially recognize these Hoovervilles. Occasionally they removed the occupants for trespassing on private lands, but they were frequently tolerated out of necessity. Most of the unemployed residents of the Hoovervilles used public charities or begged for food from those who had housing during this era.

The following pictures from Dubuque were taken by photographer John F. VACHON. The local Hooverville was located near the river.

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Cow kept by people living in shantytown.
Shacks in the 1940 in shantytown.