Universities of the 1930s, declared one observer, were "loafing places for rich men's sons." In Making a Middle Class Paul Axelrod challenges this popular perception, arguing that while students who attended university during the Great Depression were relatively privileged, the majority were neither terribly affluent nor completely sheltered from hard economic times. Nor were they all men.
Using a rich array of archival and quantitative sources, and oral testimony from ex-students across Canada, Axelrod explores the characteristics and significance of university life during a trying decade. He describes who went to university, what they were taught, how they amused themselves, how they responded to the pressing political issues of the day, and what became of them after graduation. Axelrod argues that these students shared the aspirations of middle-class communities elsewhere. Dreading the prospect of downward social mobility, they craved the status a university degree and professional credentials might produce. Accordingly, they forged an associational life on campus that challenged the control of paternalistic authorities, perpetuated the values of middle-class culture, and helped them cope with the stresses of the time. Women composed almost one-quarter of the student population -- and faced discrimination inside and outside the classroom. How they coped with this, how they adapted their own expectations, and how they contributed to campus and community culture are extensively discussed. Through the prism of the student experience, Making a Middle Class furnishes fresh insights into the social history of higher education, the history of youth, the history of the middle class, and the history of the Depression.