Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section003/Estelle Stancill

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Estelle Stancill
BornUnknown date
Anderson, South Carolina
Other namesMrs. Page
OccupationWPA Worker
SpouseUnknown man

Overview[edit | edit source]

Estelle Stancill was a single mother of six children during the time of the Great Depression. She was forced to join the workforce to feed and support her children, but she was laid off many times. She found solace and comfort in her religion and joined Dr. Ragan’s church to serve the Lord. In May of 1939, she was an interviewee for the Federal Writer’s Project. [1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Childhood[edit | edit source]

Estelle was born to a large family and raised in Anderson, SC. Her father was a tenant farmer, so growing up her family had little to eat. She only attended country school through the fifth grade. [1]

Adult Life and Career[edit | edit source]

Works Progress Administration maid poster

Because of her experience living in a poor family, Estelle married the first man who asked her, a carpenter. Her husband had a serious drinking problem and left her after she gave birth to her 6th child. She moved to Charlotte in 1926 to work in the Elizabeth Mill to provide for her children. However, when the Depression started, the mill laid people off, and she struggled to feed her young kids. In 1931, she began to go to Alexander’s Creek to the tent where Dr. Ragan preached, and she asked him to pray for her to find work during the wintertime. She found work in place of a sick housekeeper for 10 dollars a month; however, when the sick housekeeper recovered, Estelle was out of work again. She tried in every way to get private work, but eventually went to the Welfare and was certified for the Works Progress Administration. She worked at a lunchroom for 28 cents per hour and gave up ten percent of her earnings. Joining the church greatly influenced Estelle’s life and provided her with a new mindset of gratitude and praise. She owed her job opportunities and resilience through hard times to Dr. Ragan's Church.[1]

Historical Context[edit | edit source]

Status of Women in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

Because people were desperate for money during this time, women joined the workforce to feed their families. So many women began working that by the end of the Depression, the amount of women in the workforce increased by 25 percent.[2] While the women were working, their children stayed home. Women had to balance caring for their children and making a living for the household if their husbands passed away or were unable to contribute to the income. Despite the increase of females in the workforce, women faced injustice and received unequal pay. Women who worked in industry were much more likely than men to be laid off or have their hours cut. Private work was hard to come by, so many individuals went to the Welfare and were certified for WPA work.[2] However, the WPA chose to employ far more men than women. In fact, in the peak year of 1938, only 13.5 percent of WPA employees were women. The decision had originally been established that women would make the same wages as men, but in reality, women were often assigned to the lower-paying jobs. The WPA as an organization paid low wages, and it was not able to employ everyone. However, the WPA helped to bolster the hope and self-esteem of workers, especially women. [3]

Role of Religion During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

Hooverville Portrait 1936

Religion was a lifeline and source of hope for people during the hard times of the Great Depression. Because the economic crisis pushed social services during 1932 to the limit, everywhere churches made significant contributions to their communities at large. Between 1929 and 1932, religious leaders tried to understand the economic and social conditions that seemed to get steadily worse. They declared that a revival of religion was the answer that would boost the nation toward prosperity. Clergy across the nation agreed that there was a direct connection between depression and recovery, punishment and redemption, so the nation would have to place faith in the Lord and start praying.[4] After all, for Americans the 1930s will always include scenes of breadlines, apple sellers on street corners, shuttered factories, rural poverty, and Hoovervilles where homeless families sought refuge in shelters made of wood, cardboard, and tin.[5] Churches were the source that helped to alleviate the pain and conflicts of those in the situations above. They undertook various projects such as operating employment bureaus, canvassing for jobs, distributing coal, wood, food and clothing, and running recreational and educational programs.[6] Churches ultimately provided a place for people to express the devastating emotions they experienced, to seek comfort, and to come together. If clergy failed to create that opportunity, church members often found it in fellowship with one another.[4] Some of the services that various churches provided their members included operating soup kitchens, providing temporary shelter, helping with job searches, and providing more personal aid to its members.[6] Joining the churches greatly influenced people's lives and provided them with a new mindset of gratitude and praise. Resilience and strength through hard times could be owed to these church communities that offered their members a source of solace and the opportunity to praise the Lord.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brown, Northrop, interview.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hurt, Avery Elizabeth. “Culture in Times of Want.”
  3. "The Works Progress Administration." PBS.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Green, Alison Collis. “A Spiritual Famine.”
  5. Britannica Educational Publishing. “Society and Politics in the Great Depression.”
  6. 6.0 6.1 “Historic Events for Students: The Great Depression.” Encyclopedia.com.

References[edit | edit source]