Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section003/Pete Fox

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Pete Fox
Location: Paris, Tennessee U.S.
OccupationChain Grocery Manager

Biography[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Pete Fox was interviewed by the Federal Writers' Project in Paris, Tennessee, where he was born in 1905. Fox was gifted in mixing with the public, valued honesty, and lived conservatively. He lived a comfortable life in a boarding home, although he aspired to buy a house of his own. In his leisure time, he enjoyed reading, gathering with friends, driving, and watching picture shows or sports. He attended church occasionally but believed he should more often. Fox led an overall moral life and held true to his values. [1]

Family[edit | edit source]

Fox’s father was a farmer who made a moderate living. His mother, however, was in ill health and had many drug and doctor bills. He had two sisters, one older and one younger, who both had children. Fox was unmarried and did not want to settle down until he was ready and could fully support his wife.[1]

Work[edit | edit source]

Fox attended Cottage Grove High School but dropped out during his junior year, knowing his dad would be unable to place him through college. He left Henry County, Tennessee, where he grew up, to work for a Kroger grocery store in Memphis, Tennessee as a checker. After a short time, he was promoted to manager of a store in a Mississippi town. He spent ten years split between two other Kroger stores and a few years in an express office before getting the opportunity to return home. He became the manager of the Kroger in Paris, Tennessee with hopes to become a supervisor someday. For Fox, all aspects of his life revolved around his work – his true happiness. He was a service-oriented salesman who considered a successful day to be one where Kroger saw an increase in sales. [1]

Historical Context[edit | edit source]

Job Scarcity[edit | edit source]

Job scarcity and economic concerns shaped the lives of many Americans during the Great Depression. The limited job opportunities forced people to alter their leisure activities and daily schedule. For Fox, his life revolved around his job at Kroger. Fox had no time for one of his favorite activities, hunting, because his free time came in the evening. He liked to gather with friends but was cautious of late nights because “keeping fit” for his job was most important.[1] Leisure was also shaped by economic constraints, as the average family did not have excess income to spend on activities. [2]

Kroger Logo 11-6-19.svg

Fox was overjoyed to work for a good company and raved about Kroger, claiming it was the best place to work.[1] He knew how fortunate he was to have job security since “even in these years of severe economic depression, Kroger maintained its strength and its workforce.”[3] Many people were not as fortunate as him and dealt with severe financial struggles due to widespread job loss. Spontaneity was not uncommon and unformed plans to "get a job" were the reality in the market for employment. [4]

Fox acknowledged that chain stores were better able to serve the public because they could deliver lower prices. He hoped people left his Kroger store happier than when they came, focusing on “service with a smile,” an idea from the company's origins of giving “customers every bit of the quality they paid for.”[3] Fox hoped to eventually be promoted to the supervisor position and get an increase in salary, as his current pay was not enough for his future aspirations of supporting himself and his family. This was a foreseeable achievement since he has been promoted before and Kroger had the highest benefits and pay scale in the industry.[3] Fox had to be conservative with his money and tried to save as much as possible. However, he felt lucky to have a job and said there was no position the he “could fill more satisfactorily.”[1]

Cultural Ideology[edit | edit source]

Woman cooking at the stove in the 1930s.

The Great Depression reinforced many aspects of cultural ideology including education, gender roles, and personal goals. People increasingly came to believe in the importance of education as jobs were so difficult to obtain. Fox dropped out of high school to pursue his career for economic reasons, but education was still very much valued. His sister's son graduated high school with honors and Fox wanted to place him through college, if he was able to do so.[1] This idea of bettering oneself through education was carried into life as well. Fox believed people should always want to improve themselves, no matter what. Even in trying times such as the Great Depression, he argued that people should not be content since “success depends on you alone.”[1] The culture of Tennessee reinforced this social expectation that it was responsibility of the state of Tennessee, and its citizens, to take charge on internal improvements.[5]

The traditional gender roles went unchallenged during the 1930s, even for children. Boys typically worked on a part-time basis.[6] Fox saw these boys who were out working and in the stores as “worthwhile and aspiring toward the future.”[1] They were seen as making the future better since they were moral and clean.[1] Young girls were not mentioned by Fox, as their role was quiet. Women seldom challenged the expectations for them: they “married, bore and raised children, farmed, tended livestock, cooked, provided all the other services expected…”[5] Unlike men, women were not typically seen outside of the home.

Family Structure[edit | edit source]

The typical American family structure was not sustainable for many people during the Great Depression. Families were forced to become very dependent on one another. Fox referenced his mom as “a man’s best friend” and wanted to support his “dear old dad”.[1] Due to financial instability, larger family units were very important. In some scenarios, multiple families lived together residences that were intended to be single-family.[6]

The idea that the father should be the breadwinner of the family was challenged during the Great Depression time because “financial strain took a psychological toll – especially on men who were suddenly unable to provide for their families.”[2] Fox believed it was his responsibility, as the only boy, to provide aid for his family: “I feel it my lot and duty to aid to my uttermost ability.”[1] During this time, families were forced to rely on each other for support as a result of constantly changing circumstances. Fox spoke matter-of-factly about needing to help his family, as though it did not phase him. He did not want to marry and have children until he was surely ready to settle down and support them. While speaking about family, Fox said he would want his children to have every advantage in life and the highest education possible.[1] He emphasized that the father of the family should be able to provide for all when speaking about his future.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 Toler, "My Joy in Life"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Konkel, "Life for the Average"
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Laycock, The Kroger Story
  4. Fogleman, Urban Anthropology in Tennessee
  5. 5.0 5.1 Finger, Tennessee Frontiers
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bryson, "Family and Home"

References[edit | edit source]

Bryson, Dennis. “Family And Home, Impact Of The Great Depression On.” Updated October 4, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/family-and-home-impact-great-depression.

Finger, John R. Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Fogleman, Billye S. Urban anthropology in Tennessee. Knoxville, TN: Tennessee Anthropological Association, 1979.

Konkel, Lindsey. “Life for the Average Family During the Great Depression.” History.com. Updated April 19, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/life-for-the-average-family-during-the-great-depression.

Laycock, George. The Kroger Story: A Century of Innovation. Cincinnati, Ohio: Kroger Co. 1983.

Toler, Nellie Gray. "My Joy in Life." UNC University Libraries, n.d. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1254/rec/1.