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Lesson Plans - "But What Does It Matter to Me?" The New Deal in Essex County


"But What Does It Matter to Me?" The New Deal in Essex County


Two 84-minute classes


Julia Brotherton            
PRIMARY SALEM in History CORE THEME ADDRESSED: American Political Thought:  The Constitution and American Democratic Institutions


SALEM in History Topic Addressed: The New Deal:  Expanding Government in Time of Need

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers


This lesson comes after students have thoroughly studied the Great Depression and New Deal programs and are quite familiar with the "Alphabet Laws."  The essential question is  "How did some New Deal programs affect people in Essex County, particularly in Beverly?"  Using the "jigsaw" lesson format described below, students will read and answer questions about primary documents written in Salem/Beverly in the 1930s (a couple about turning Derby Wharf into a National Historic Site, one about the NRA and Salem Teachers' College, one about the building of Beverly's Hurd Stadium, one about the building of the Salem-Beverly water filtration plant, and several about local businesses that signed onto the NRA) concerning implementation of New Deal programs in Salem and Beverly. 

A secondary objective of this lesson is for students to review the structure of our federal system of government, from the local to the state to the national level.  To this end, students will be asked as homework to complete a chart of basic information about each level of government.  They will actually do this assignment first in order to ensure familiarity with basic facts before examining the documents.

Following discussion of the documents themselves, students will attempt to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the New Deal in our area.  Follow-up/assessment will be a graded writing assignment, given as homework, that asks students to write an answer to the lesson's essential questions about the effectiveness of some New Deal programs in Essex County.  Students will also be asked to research either a current federal and or a current state law or program and to discuss its effects on their own lives.

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1) How did the Federal Government expand its powers during the Depression? 
2)In what ways were some New Deal programs implemented in Essex County, particularly in Beverly?
3) What can we learn from selected primary documents about the effectiveness of actions of an expanded Federal Government in easing the hardships of the Depression for Essex County residents?

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  • Students will be able to list and describe the three major levels of government (local, state, and federal) in the United States.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast the purviews of the local, state, and federal levels of government.
  • Students will be able to analyze specific primary documents about Essex County in the 1930s and draw conclusions about effectiveness of  certain New Deal programs.
  • Students will be able to explain how the Federal Government expanded its powers during the Great Depression in order to attempt to ease the hardships of life during the Great Depression.


  • Students will be able to analyze a primary document with the aid of guiding questions.
  • Students will be able to make generalizations after analyzing specific primary documents and assess the validity of those generalizations.


MA FRAMEWORK STRAND: U.S. History I (review), U.S. History II


The Age of Reform:  Progressivism and the New Deal, 1900-1940


(Review)USI.14:  Explain the characteristics of American democracy, including the concepts of popular sovereignty and constitutional government, which includes representative institutions, federalism, separation of powers, shared powers, checks and balances, and individual rights.

(Review) USI.15:  Explain the varying roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local governments in the United States.

USII.11:  Describe the various causes and consequences of the global depression of the 1930s, and analyze how Americans responded to the Great Depression.
A. restrictive monetary policies
B. unemployment
C. support for political and economic reform
USII.12:  Analyze the important policies, institutions and personalities of the New Deal era.

       B. President Franklin D. Roosevelt
       F. the Works Progress Administration


Grades 8-12  History and Geography
General Economics Skills


History and Geography:
6.  Distinguish between long-term and short-term cause and effect relationships.
7.  Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.
8.  Interpret the past with its own historical context rather than in terms of present-day norms and values.
9.  Distinguish intended from unintended consequences.
10.  Distinguish historical fact from opinion.

General Economics Skills:
7.  Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments.
16.  Define and use correctly gross domestic product, economic growth, recession, depression, unemployment, inflation, and deflation.
25.  Explain the basic economic functions of the government in the economy of the United States.

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By the time Franklin Roosevelt took office as President in March of 1933, Americans had been suffering from the effects of the Great Depression for over three years.  Unemployment rates were at their height in 1932, and many had lost their homes when unable to keep up with rent or mortgage payments.  President Hoover had instituted some programs aimed at alleviating the deleterious effects of this worst depression in American history, but as a believer in individualism and the "trickle down" theory, he did not condone direct handouts to those in need.  His perceived lack of action to ease the suffering lost him the 1932 election.   Although Roosevelt was vague during the election about what exactly he would do to help people once he took office, many Americans held high hopes that Roosevelt's arrival in the White House would bring much-needed relief 1. The institution of "New Deal" reforms in the spring of 1933 would mark the beginning of a dramatic expansion in the role of the federal government in people's lives.

One of the Roosevelt Administration's earliest programs was the National Recovery Administration (NRA).  Designed to be voluntary, the program used an elaborate code system to set wages, hours, and prices.  Businesses signing on to the NRA displayed the trademark "Blue Eagle" in their newspaper advertisements and shop windows 2.  Another New Deal program was the Emergency Relief Appropriation of 1935, "the broadest relief effort in American history" 3, which set aside federal funds for a number of relief projects including work programs for the unemployed.  The Works Progress Administration was one of these programs.  Under the directorship of Harry Hopkins, the program offered employment to people in a broad range of industries including the arts and construction. 

Many more federal programs would be instituted during the course of the "New Deal Era" of 1933-1938; the banking and financial systems would be more closely regulated, farmers would be given the opportunity to join federal programs aimed at stabilizing farm prices, industrial workers would be given new weapons with which to fight for their rights against management, and the elderly and unemployed would be offered a form of financial security in times of need.

A number of New Deal programs were instituted in Massachusetts.  Local politics sometimes delayed the implementation of these programs; there was disagreement, for example, between state and federal officials over who would approve and administer the funds for local projects 4.  A perusal of local archives, especially newspapers, indicates that the influence of the New Deal was certainly felt in Essex County in the 1930s.  Before it was declared unconstitutional in 1935, the NRA was apparently embraced wholeheartedly by many local businesses.  ERA, WPA, and PWA (Public Works Administration) projects were begun in a number of areas.  Up until 1933, local charities and agencies had been responsible for the majority of relief efforts; after Roosevelt took office, this responsibility was largely transferred to the federal government.

Expansion of federal power under the New Deal, then, is clearly indicated by examination of the program's effects on localities, specifically Essex County, Massachusetts.  Whether loved, hated, or merely tolerated, the New Deal changed people's attitudes toward the federal government, which gradually became viewed as responsible for maintaining the economic well being of both the nation as a whole and its individual citizens.

1. Paul K. Conkin, The New Deal (Wheeling, IL:  Harlan Davidson, 1967),  28.

2. Ibid., 34.

3. Ibid., 59

4. Harold Gorvine, "The New Deal in Massachusetts."  In The New Deal vol 2:  The State and Local Levels, ed. John Braeman, Robert H. Bremner and David Brody, 3-44 (Ohio State University Press, 1975), 23.

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  1. Photocopies of homework assignment: "Federalism:  A Review:" class set.
  2. Photocopies of each of the following sets of primary documents, one set for each group of five students:

    a)  "Spirit of NRA Apparent Here," plus guiding questions
    b)  "Memorandum" about Derby Wharf, plus guiding questions
    c)  Beverly Evening Times, 1933 articles and advertisements regarding NRA businesses, plus guiding questions
    d) Beverly Evening Times, 1935, 31 December:  "Salem-Beverly Water Supply Board's New $630,000 Filtration Plant Considered Largest Complete ERA Project in the Country," plus guiding questions
    e)  Beverly Evening Times, 1936, 4 January:  "Approve Project For Building of Athletic Field," plus guiding questions
  3. Photocopies:  How effective was the New Deal in Beverly/Salem?  One copy for each group of five students.
  4. Photocopies:  "What Does It Matter to You?" assignment:  class set


Make appropriate number of photocopies of all of the items listed in "Materials" above.

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  • Federalism
  • Relief, Recovery, Reform (in the context of the New Deal)
  • NRA
  • WPA
  • ERA


           1) Several days before implementation of the lesson, distribute copies of "Federalism:  A Review" to all students.  Students should complete this assignment as homework in plenty of time for it to be graded before the first day of the lesson.

            2) On the first day of the lesson, spend time reviewing students' answers to the questions on the homework assignment.  Expand this into a discussion of the roles of the local, state, and federal governments in people's lives.  Questions to ask that should spark discussion should include:  To what degree is your life affected by the actions of the your local government?  The state government?  The federal government?  Under what circumstances would it be necessary for the federal government to increase its influence of the local area?  Answers to the last question should include the idea that the federal government has tended to expand its influence in times of need or danger; the current "War on Terror" might be cited as an example.

            3) Remind students that they have been studying the effects of the Great Depression and the implementation of New Deal programs by the federal government.  Tell them that today, they will be looking at examples of ways in which New Deal programs were implemented in the Salem-Beverly area.

            4) Divide the class into groups of five students each.  These will be called the "home teams" for this lesson.  Distribute one copy of each of the five primary documents with questions (listed in #2 of "materials" above) to the group and tell them to distribute these among themselves so that each group member is responsible for one document and questions.

            5)  Tell students to rearrange themselves into groups so that all students reading the same document are grouped together. If the class is big, groups should be no larger than three students to avoid having groups of five or six trying to work together.   If this is the case, there may be two different smaller groups reading the same document.  These groups will be called the "expert teams" for this lesson.

            6)  Working in their "expert teams," students should read their documents carefully and answer the guiding questions thoroughly.  Students should work together to answer the questions, but all students should write their own answers.  Remind students that they will be responsible for telling the members of their "home teams" what they have learned.

            7) Once all "expert teams" have finished reading their documents and answered their guiding questions, tell students to return to their "home teams" and teach each other what they have learned about implementation of New Deal programs in Salem/Beverly.  Remind students that they should TELL each other what they have learned and that the learning team members should take notes about each document.  Do not allow students to pass around answers to the questions for each other to copy.

            8) Once all "home team" members have learned about each document, distribute the handout "How Effective Was the New Deal in Beverly/Salem?"  Tell groups to choose a recorder who will write the group's answers to the questions and a reporter who will tell the class about their discussion.

            9) Once the groups have finished answering these questions, ask each group's reporter to share one or more of their group's answers.  Use the questions and answers as the basis for a broader discussion of the effects of the New Deal in our area.  Place emphasis on the idea that the students have only looked at a few examples, and that to assess the effectiveness of the New Deal in a definitive way, much more detailed and systematic research would be necessary.

            10)  Take time to distribute and explain tonight's homework:  "What Does It Matter to You?"  Remind students that paragraph-length responses are necessary in order to answer the questions thoroughly.

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"What Does it Matter to You?"  Assignment:  handout

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Students' answers to the assignment will be graded as homework, based on the following general criteria:  thoroughness and depth of thought, accuracy, use of evidence, and conventions (spelling, grammar, neatness).

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Use fewer documents and smaller "home teams" for lower level classes.  In addition, use of at least one visual document, such as photographs of the WPA murals in the Lynn post office or Gloucester's City Hall, might be substituted for one of the more difficult documents (such as the Derby Wharf memo).

In classes whose size is not a convenient multiple of five, home teams can be made larger with some students pairing up on the documents.  In higher level classes, home teams which might be short a student can examine one or more documents together before answering the group questions.   The same modifications can be made when absences affect group size.

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Ask higher-level students to go to their local library to findadditional articles concerning implementation of the New Deal in Essex County.  Students could then write their own guiding questions about the documents.

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Mathematics:  Using information available from certain online resources, students could be asked to calculate the equivalent cost in today's dollars of some of the projects described in the documents.

Art/Art History:  If images of WPA murals are used in the lesson, art students could be asked to analyze the works for technique etc.

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Beverly Evening Times 1933.  2 August, 9 August,19 August, 19 September.

     2 August:  "This Seal is Appearing Everywhere:"  Image and explanation of the NRA "Blue Eagle," beneath which is the "Roll of Honor," a list of Beverly businesses that signed the "N.I.R.A code agreements.

      9 August: Advertisement by a Beverly business displaying the "Blue Eagle" symbol and explaining the importance of effects of signing on to the NRA.

     19 August:  "City-Wide Drive to Enroll Consumers in NRA Planned."  Describes a meeting at which plans to encourage patronage of NRA businesses are made.

     19 September:  Two advertisements for local businesses, each displaying the "Blue Eagle" symbol.
   Source:  Beverly Public Library, Microfiche Collection of Beverly Evening Times

Beverly Evening Times 1935.  31 December "Salem-Beverly Water Supply Board's New $630,000 Filtration Plant Considered Largest Complete ERA Project in the Country"

Article describes the building of the filtration plant, naming places familiar to Beverly residents.  Includes a sketch of the outside of the plant and a photograph of the inside.

   Source:  Beverly Public Library, Microfiche Collection of Beverly Evening Times

Beverly Evening Times 1936.  4 January. "Approve Project for Building of Athletic Field" 

Article explains that costs of the project (which would become Beverly's Hurd Stadium, where Beverly High School football games and graduation are held) will be funded in part by the City and in part with WPA funds.

   Source:  Beverly Public Library, Microfiche Collection of Beverly Evening Times

Camerer, Arno, Director of the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior.  Memorandum 5 December 1935 for the Secretary.  Approved 9 December 1935 by Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior.  Salem Maritime National Historic Site, National Park Service.

A Memo outlining detailed plans for converting Derby Wharf and environs into a National Historic Site.  The project was to be funded in part with WPA funds.

    Source:  Salem in History Follow Up Session, December 15, 2005.

“Spirit of N.R.A. Apparent Here.”  The Log (Salem State College).  October 1933.
        An article in the college newspaper describing numbers and types of jobs acquired by students under the NRA program.

     Source:  Salem in History Follow Up Session, December 15, 2005.


Bailey, Thomas A. and David M. Kennedy.  The American Pageant:  A History of the Republic.  Lexington, MA:  D.C. Heath and Company, 1994.

     A high-school level U.S. history textbook commonly used in Advanced Placement courses.  Contains basic but fairly in-depth information about New Deal programs but includes analysis as well.

 Conkin, Paul K. The New Deal. Wheeling, IL:  Harlan Davidson, 1967.

            Brief and opinionated analysis of New Deal programs.  Does not list and explain all New Deal programs but rather places the New Deal within a larger context and takes a realistic look at its successes and failures.

Gorvine,  Harold. "The New Deal in Massachusetts."  In The New Deal vol 2:  The State and Local Levels, ed. John Braeman, Robert H. Bremner and David Brody, 3-44.  Ohio State University Press, 1975.

       This article tends to focus on events and programs in Boston but also gives a good overview of some of the personalities and politics at work in Massachusetts during the New Deal era.  Includes details about how some programs were implemented at local levels.

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