Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 026/Bertie Turner

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Bertie Turner
Born: 1870s
Residence: Alexander City, Alabama
Education: Bachelor Degree
Spouse: Earnest Turner
Children: None

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Alexander City, Alabama.

Although not stated, one could assume Bertie Turner was born in the 1870s in Alabama. She was one of eight children, four girls and four boys. Her mother was blind for 25 years with her father being head of the household and head of their family’s turkey farm. All of the girls in Turner’s family, including herself, became teachers, with two of the boys becoming doctors.

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

Bertie Turner spent her adult life living on her parent’s turkey farm in Alabama with her husband Earnest Turner. She was a teacher until she developed back problems and then became a caretaker out of her home for two older women and a man in their 90s and 80s. The two women were placed in her home by the Department of Public Welfare, but she receives no government assistance. The man was placed in her home by his three sisters because his mind was not right. Waiting on the women took a toll on Bertie’s physical health, never getting a good night’s sleep. At times she only had enough food for the boarders, so she often went to bed hungry. She also missed out on things she would’ve liked to do, like travel, because she had to stay home and take care of the elders in her home. Overall, Turner stated she was very happy because she enjoyed living.

Working Black Women[edit | edit source]

By the 1930s, women had been slowly entering the workforce, but the Great Depression drove women to eagerly find employment in areas like nursing, teaching, and domestic work (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019). All women were discriminated against in the work force by receiving much lower wages and few benefits, but this was especially true for women of color (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019). “Women entering the work force appeared to have a dual purpose- gaining wages to keep their families afloat as well as to be blamed for male unemployment (Ward, Sarah).” Although women weren’t taking predominantly male jobs it was still assumed that they were trying to take away from the head of household concept (Ward, Sarah). The entry of more white women in the workforce made it harder for black women to find decent jobs with decent wages (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019). “In every place where there could be discrimination, black women were doubly disadvantaged. More white women were going into the workforce because they could and because they had to. Black women had been in the workforce since 1865. Black Families had virtually never been able to survive on a single wage (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019).” Farm workers and domestic workers were the two main places black women worked and the two main places employers could pay less without legal repercussions (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019). This was a direct reason why 25% of Americans that received federal relief during the Great Depression were black (Jessica Pearce Rotondi 2019).

Unemployment And Mental Health[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression caused a rise in the unemployment rate but also affected the state of people’s mental health. It was concluded that unemployment tends to make people more emotionally unstable than they were previous to unemployment (Gnam 2009). But the cause and affect scenario can go both ways. Unemployment may worsen mental health, and mental health problems may make it more difficult for a person to obtain and/or hold a job (Gnam 2009). When you lose your job, you lose you source of income but also your work friends, your daily routine, and a sense of self purpose. Unemployment is a shock to your whole system and comes with similar feelings and stresses of a serious injury, divorce, or death in the family (Gnam 2009). The loss of income from unemployment could lead to a decline in the standard of living of the individual or house- hold, which could influence the individuals physical and mental health (Gnam 2009). Being unemployed could also lead to anxiety about the future and feeling that life isn’t under the individual’s control (Gnam 2009). The loss of contact with work colleagues brought and decline in personal well-being (Gnam 2009). Unemployment had a greater effect on prime age working men rather than teenagers, young adults, or women (Gnam 2009). Work stress and financial difficulties had a greater impact on men’s mental health (Gnam 2009).

Before Social Security[edit | edit source]

Family life and working conditions drastically changed during the Great Depression, especially in the elderly population. Those who were retired or close to it watched a lifetime of savings disappear, and they weren’t well enough to work or couldn’t find the jobs that would allow them to rebuild their lost investments (Hoyt 2018). That made many of the elderly completely dependent on their families, but hard times for younger family members often meant little or nothing left to provide for their parents. In 1934, 28 states had old-age assistance laws, but they were very limited and inconsistent from state to state. Some of the restrictions included no payments to older people who had children or relatives who could support them, must have been citizens and residents of the state for 15 years, at least age 75, and many more that resulted in not many people being eligible for the assistance (Hoyt 2018). Sometimes people seemed to feel that it was greedy old people who wanted something for themselves, but it was much more their children (Hoyt 2018). The law said that children must support their parents, their grandparents, their children, their grandchildren, their brothers and sisters (Hoyt 2018). As the Great Depression wore on states began to look to the federal government for help. The Committee on Economic Security reported to President Roosevelt in 1935 that one-third to one-half of the 7.5 million people age 65 or older in the country were dependent on either public assistance or help from their families, and that only a relatively small percentage of that group were receiving any help from the government (Hoyt 2018). By 1935, a majority of legislators agreed that a federal program for old-age pensions and welfare was required, to help the individuals in need, and to retire older workers without impoverishing them in order to make their jobs available to younger people (Hoyt 2018).

References[edit | edit source]

Turner, Bertie. Interview by Cain, Maude. December 30, 1938, Folder 5, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Gnam, Franche. 2009. “Unemployment and Mental Health | Institute for Work & Health.” Iwh.on.Ca. 2009.

Ward, Sarah. 2018. “CUNY Academic Works Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects Graduate Center.”

Jessica Pearce Rotondi. 2019. “Underpaid but Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women.” HISTORY. March 11, 2019.

Hoyt, Jeff. 2018. “Senior Living History: 1930 - 1939 - SeniorLiving.Org.” SeniorLiving.Org. April 19, 2018.