Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of History

Content Description

1 online resource (v, 369 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Lawrence S Wittner

Committee Members

Dan S White, Richard F Hamm


Activist, Great Depression, Radicalism, Youth, Youth protest movements, Student movements, Nineteen thirties

Subject Categories

United States History


During the Great Depression, young radicals developed a vision of and for America that they tried to implement. That vision was molded by their understanding of recent historical events, in particular the Great War and the global economic collapse, as well as by the events unfolding both at home and abroad in the 1930s. Young people came together, forming youth organizations under the leadership of radical activists to make their vision of a free, equal, democratic society based on peaceful coexistence a reality. At first, youth organized on a sectarian basis, but by 1935, two umbrella groups- the American Youth Congress and the American Student Union- were established on an inclusionary basis as part of the popular front and charged with implementing a comprehensive program designed by and for young people. Their attempts were ultimately unsuccessful: young people were not granted all the freedoms adults enjoyed, racial equality was not achieved, young people did not become entrenched members of the policymaking milieu, a socialist economy was not adopted, and the world dissolved into war. And yet, young activists enjoyed some success. Their voices, at least for a time, were heard on a number of important issues, including free speech, academic freedom, racial justice, and peace. Rather than judge their attempts, it is more helpful to understand what they thought about those attempts: what were their goals, how did they seek to realize them, and why did they think adults should listen? Looking at the Depression decade from the perspective of young activists highlights the promise of America as they understood it: this was not just a period of time between the two world wars, it was an historical moment when anything seemed possible.