Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Dr. Arthur Graham Harris

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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]

Dr. Arthur Graham Harris was a Caucasian male who worked as a general practitioner during the Great Depression in Fairfield, North Carolina. He was interviewed by W. O. Saunders an author in the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s.

Doctor at a FSA labor camp

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early live and education[edit | edit source]

Dr. A.G. Harris was raised on a farm in Fairfield North Carolina along with seven other siblings. He was educated and sent to medical school in Richmond, VA by his father. After receiving his medical degree as a general practitioner in 1905 Dr. Harris completed an internship and returned home to Fairfield, NC.

Occupation[edit | edit source]

Initially his life as a doctor was quite profitable. At one point he even declined a job paying four thousand dollars a year. Despite living in a rural area where it was hard to obtain medications and the standard of living was low, Dr. Harris was able to maintain a profitable practice. When his father died around 1915, Dr. Harris took over the operations of the family farm. During this time Dr. Harris was employed by the government that paid him two hundred dollars a month. In addition to the profits from the farm and his private practice made him a wealthy man able to afford luxuries like cigars and automobiles until the1930s. Around the time his government job ended, the market also crashed and he was not able to make money off the farm. Dr. Harris became restricted to the income of his private practice that had become a financial burden with the cost of medication and transportation. The effects of the Great Depression left eighty percent of his town unable to afford health care and reduced him to making less than 700 dollars a year. In 1932 Dr. Harris was unable to afford the cost of fifty dollars a month to maintain his automobile. Eventually he was forced to “lay up” his car in his garage and relying on his patients for transportation to visits and getting medicine. After he put up his car he never used it again and over time it was taken apart and used by neighbors.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

In later years Dr. Harris found a hobby in raising and selling chickens. He was able to afford to send both of his sons through college. His elder son returned home after finishing his education to take over the farm. Dr. Harris was never able to resume the lavish lifestyle he once enjoyed.

Economic Hardship[edit | edit source]

Despite having a top notch education Dr. Harris was not immune to the financial struggles that burdened the country during the times of the Great Depression, a time when “more than 13 million Americans lost their jobs.”[1] The economic crisis impacted nearly everyone and millions were forced to cut back on expenses such as doctor visits in order to afford food and shelter. In addition during the 1930s the average income per year had dropped over two hundred dollars a year.[2] These figures were even worse in rural areas away from the majority of industry and jobs.

Inability to Afford Medical Care[edit | edit source]

In an effort to save money for necessities such as food and a place to live, many were unable to afford medical treatment. Consequently the status of many people’s health had declined severely because of people’s disposition to avoid medical treatment until conditions were severe. Perrott reported that in 1932 “12.4 per cent of disabling illnesses received hospitalization.”[3] Lower rates of patients and deteriorated medical conditions effected those providing medical treatment. Writing in 2002 Thomasson stated “Acute illnesses were increasingly treated at medical facilities as opposed to homes.”[4] The specialization of the medical field resulted in the cost of medical costs being driven up. Proper care became unaffordable for many people during the Great Depression. Dr. Harris was put into an ethically difficult position when these people were not able to afford the care they needed. Forced to either deny helping people or providing free care many medical providers helped those in need for free. Perrot showed the dilemma of medical professionals stating “Business had to continue as usual in spite of the decrease of paying patients and the tremendous increase of free care.”[5] Without funds from his private practice, Dr. Harris was reduced to the earnings of his farm to support himself and his family.

Federal Writers' Project[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was started in the times of the Great Depression as a means of providing jobs for workers in the literary arts. Combined they conducted thousands of interviews documenting the lives of everyday people during the 1930s. These documents can give an idea of what life was like during this era and how the everyday individual lived. It was inevitable that the prejudices and view of the author affected the way that this history was recorded. Although the case of Dr. Author Harris was a well written and unbiased view, his story it is an exception to what many of the stories are filled with. Kirby analyzes the racism recorded through the Federal Writers Project “expressions of racial hostility from whites of every rural class, from landlord to sharecropper.”[6] Although symbolic of the time, writing in this was added to the already tense situation between races. By leaving out the questions being asked authors were direct the topic using guiding questions to record the information how he thought is should be seen. The record of Dr. Harris is written as a story told by Dr. Harris himself and questions by the interviewer are limited to questions about hobbies at the end. The method is recording used in this instance is able to much more accurately show the reality of the interviewees story.

References:[edit | edit source]

  1. Shmoop Editorial Team. "Economy in The Great Depression" Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2013. p.4
  2. “1930s News, Events, Popular Culture and Prices.” The People History. 2004. Web. 18 Nov. 2013 http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1930s.html
  3. Perrott G. S., Sydenstricker E., Collins S. D. “Medical Care during the Depression” Milbank Quarterly 12.2 (1934) 1-15. Web 18 Nov. 2013 http://www.milbank.org/uploads/documents/QuarterlyCentennialEdition/medical%20care%20during%20depress.pdf p.3
  4. Stephanie Kelton. “An Introduction to the Health Care Crisis in America” CFEPS (2007) 1-21. Web 15 Nov. 2013 http://www.cfeps.org/health/chapters/html/ch1.htm p.21
  5. Perrott G. S., Sydenstricker E., Collins S. D. “Medical Care during the Depression” Milbank Quarterly 12.2 (1934) 1-15. Web 18 Nov. 2013 http://www.milbank.org/uploads/documents/QuarterlyCentennialEdition/medical%20care%20during%20depress.pdf p.1
  6. Jack Temple Kirby. “Black and White in the Rural South, 1915-1954” Agricultural History, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Jul., 1984). Web 20 Nov. 2013 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3743088?seq=1&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21103044969411 p.415