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Bank Failures and the Great Depression in Philadelphia

Students today have experienced the first recession of the 21st century, but they may not be able to compare their emotions and the daily consequences of this economic event to those of the people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The first lesson in the unit  provides a method for students to understand the Depression through the eyes of those who lived through it by examining the perspectives of a Philadelphia bank director, the bank's depositors and the bank's employees. The second lesson allows students to continue to understand the impact of bank failures on the public during the Depression while also allowing them to practice important ELA skills. The sources for the unit are drawn from the collections of HSP's Albert M. Greenfield Papers and Philadelphia Record collection.


20th century




Big Ideas

Historical Context

Perspective on Events

Essential Questions

  • What role do multiple causations play in describing a historic event?

  • What role does analysis have in historical construction?


  • Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.

  • Historical literacy requires a focus on time and space, and an understanding of the historical context of events and actions.

  • Learning about the past and its different contexts shaped by social, cultural, and political influences prepares one for participation as active, critical citizens in a democratic society.


  • Analyze the interaction of cultural, economic, geographic, political, and social relations for a specific time and place.

  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures, and place.

  • Articulate the context of a historical event or action.

Background Material for Teacher

This lesson builds off of material in Closed For Business, which provides more background and sources for studying the Depression in Philadelphia.  In addition, more information can be found in Pennsylvania Legacies, May 2011 issue, Panics! Booms, Bust and Hard Times.

End of Unit Assessment

The lesson plan includes a written paper and class discussion, either of which can also be used as a formal summative assessment for this lesson.


Plans in this Unit

The Human Impact of Bank Failures: The Demise of Bankers Trust Company

Losing Trust In Banks

Grade Level

High School

Standards/Eligible Content

8.2.12.A - D

8.1.12.B, C

1.8.12.A, B

PA Common Core Standards:

CC 1.2.11-12.D


CC.8.5.11-12.A-B. D-F, H, I



The May 2011 issue of Pennsylvania Legacies has been made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. Ranney Moran.

About the Author

This unit was created by Eden Heller, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and  Beth Twiss Houting, senior director of programs and services at HSP, using research of Michael Regan, program director of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship at Temple University. It was modified and updated for SAS by Kimberly L. Parsons, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.



Closed for Business: The Story of Bankers Trust Company during the Great Depression

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