Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Almeda Brady

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This page is connected with English 105 at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories

Overview[edit | edit source]

Almeda Brady was a white, female, mill worker who lived in North Carolina in the early 1930’s. She was interviewed on March 7, 1939 by Ida Moore, as part of the Federal Writers' Project.

Female cotton mill worker

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Almeda Brady was born in 1894, in Randolph County, North Carolina. She was the fourth of twelve children in her family. Brady received very little education. She worked as a child, shucking corn and getting firewood. If Brady was not out doing chores or at church, she was at home. Before her marriage, Brady worked at a mill in Ramseur from daybreak till dark.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Almeda Brady married her husband, Arthur, after knowing him for two years. They had four children together. Arthur worked in a furniture factory and made sixty-five cents a day. Almeda would occasionally upholstered chairs for five cents apiece, though Arthur disapproved of her working because he believed she should have been staying home with the children. However, the furniture factory burnt down, so Almeda worked in a mill while it was being rebuilt. After being sick for four days with brain paralysis, Arthur died in 1915. Almeda moved to Greensboro in 1917.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

In Greensboro, Almeda Brady lived in a four room house with her eldest daughter, Arey. Together they raised the grandchildren of Brady’s other daughter, Rena. Brady made fifteen dollars a week working at a mill every day it was open, even into her late sixties. She planned to work at the mill until she was too old, or until she had saved enough money to build a larger house on the property that she grew up on. Brady strived to give her grandchildren the same advantages that her own children had. Virginia, her granddaughter, had piano lessons. Brady had an African American girl working for her one year, but did not hire her longer to save money. The girl would help Virginia with her arithmetic since Brady was not educated enough to do it. All three of Brady’s grandchildren received at least some high school education. Herman, the oldest, went to North Carolina State University with the help of a man from the mill office [1].

Early 20th Century Working Conditions of Mills in the South[edit | edit source]

In the early 20th century, workers in major textile manufacturing states such as North Carolina were exclusively white. However, Edward Beardsley explains how workers were treated more like the blacks at the time instead of the “respectable whites”. In North Carolina, only some whites were seen as “supreme”. Blacks and white mill workers had similar living conditions and social status[2]. Mill workers had major health concerns due to their work environment [2]. The textile industry did not allow the workers, even females, to sit at work. Workers had no time off, causing fatigue to be a major health concern[2]. The only way workers could get a break was if they worked faster to get a few minutes ahead of the machines[2]. Almeda Brady worked in a mill for the majority of her life, even at the age of sixty-five. After coming home from work, she was described in the interview by Ida Moore as being extremely weary, and she complained about her feet hurting.

Women's Roles in the Early 20th Century[edit | edit source]

In the early 20th century, women needed to work out of economic necessity. There was pressure for women to leave the labor market to avoid job competition with men[3]. The Great Depression heavily damaged industries that were dominated by male workers, instead of manufacturing industries where most female industrial workers were employed. Therefore, it was not as hard for women to find jobs (“History of Women” 2). The 1930s brought a change in women’s roles because women were also working to financially support their families. This pressure was heightened even more for Almeda Brady, a widow who was working to provide for her three grandchildren. In 1930, almost 4 million women combined the roles of homemaker and wage earner, and about one million were from families with no male head [3].

Federal Writer's Project[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writer’s Project funded and supported writers during the Great Depression. It was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The Folklore Unit of the project collected “life histories” from a variety of Americans, including Almeda Brady, to provide the nation with a symbol of multi-cultural strength[4]. However, many of the writers were amateurs and had only their notes and memory to rely on, decreasing the validity of the life histories [4].

Ida Moore’s interview of Almeda Brady was written in the form of a short story. Writing the interview in the format of a narrative allowed the interviewers to take creative liberties. The interview either quoted Brady or included descriptive language. Moore rarely quoted herself and did not include the interview questions. The narrative-style of the interview allowed for creative liberties but made it difficult to assess the validity of the interview. Information could have been left out or changed[5].

When Brady was quoted, a strong southern vernacular was used. Writers of the life histories were encouraged to listen for characteristic speech patterns and vernacular language[4]. In the interview of Brady, the vernacular highlights how she was sparsely educated as a child.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Moore, Ida. “Almeda Brady.” Federal Writer’s Project. University of North Carolina Southern History Collection. Print.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Works Cited Beardsley, Edward. Health Care for Blacks and Mill Workers in the Twentieth-Century South. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990. Print
  3. 3.0 3.1 Wandersee, Winifred. “The Economics of Middle Income Family Life: Working Women During the Great Depression.” The Journal of American History 26.1 (1978): 60-74. JSTOR. Web. 16 Nov. 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Federal Writer's Project (FWP) : Southern U.S.A Culture, History & Travel." The Moonlit Road RSS. N.p., 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2013
  5. Dittman, Michael. “The Federal Writers' Project and the Creation of Hegemony.” 49th Parallel. Web. 22 Nov. 2013