Lessons from the Depression: Put Yourself Through School


Hy Goldman practiced law in Los Angeles for nearly 60 years, but back in the 1930s he was struggling to get through school during the Great Depression. Goldman, who will turn 100 in November, had to work many hours to pay the $51-per-semester tuition and didn’t have time to savor his education. Now, in his retirement, he takes classes for enjoyment.

MainStreet.com: What do you remember your family going through during the Depression?
My father was a tailor and he had a tailoring shop. We’d been in L.A. since 1915. He did this work for other retail stores. It was a great struggle from week to week just to make a living because business was very hard to get and they paid very little for your efforts, so it was very hard to make a living.

I was 22 years old. I graduated from UCLA and I was going to University of California Berkeley law school, so I was a grown man by that time.

What about going to school? Was it difficult?
I worked all the time when I went to UCLA and to law school. For example, I would never be able to continue on at law school at Berkeley at the University of California if it weren’t for the programs that Roosevelt had. And most of the students worked while they were going to Boalt [Berkeley’s law school]…I used to fall asleep reading because I’d work and then I’d have to study for the next class. It was a very difficult life.

What kind of work did you do?
When I went to Boalt... the general manager in charge of all the food gave me a job. First as a soda jerker, and I was terrible, then I was doing all sorts of things for the restaurants there. The manager of all food at Berkeley was a Greek immigrant, and I managed to get his ear and we became very friendly and he finally told me, he said, “Look, don’t leave law school. Work as much as you want to, wherever you want to, and I’ll pay you for it.” Fortunately, that was what kept me in school. I think everybody, nearly everybody—there were some [students] that were from wealthy families, there were a couple of them that used to come with big Cadillacs (Stock Quote: GM)—most of the students had a difficult time earning a living.

You mentioned you took advantage of President Roosevelt’s programs. Which ones?
The professor would have some sort of project that he was getting paid for by the government, so he needed somebody to get, for example, statements from people to support a position about a certain thing. That was one bit of work I did. So I’d go around and get statements from unemployed people about their situation and give them to the professor, for which I was paid 50 cents an hour.

How would you compare the recession today to the Depression?
They were entirely different, and require some similarities to overcome the situation, but they were so different because it's a different world. We were an agricultural country at the time of the first depression and, for example, there were no chain grocery stores and no chain clothing stores. They were all corner, individual stores. With high tech, and with what our situation is now, it’s entirely different.

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