Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 026/Georgia Crockett Aiken

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Georgia Crockett Aiken was interviewed for the Federal Writer’s Project in 1939. She worked as a schoolteacher and housekeeper for most of her life, and was a strong believer in women’s involvement in politics.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Private Life[edit | edit source]

Aiken was born near Goldsboro in 1872 to a family of 10 children. Her father worked in a wholesale merchandise store, and her mother worked as a seamstress. They were able to make enough money that Aiken could continue going to school through the ninth grade. At that point, she was able to successfully take the teacher’s examination. She started teaching soon after. Aiken had nine siblings: four brothers and five sisters. However, her whole family, including her parents, were dead by the time she was 60 years old. She had one niece - one of her brother’s daughters - who lived in the North though contact between them was extremely limited.

Aiken moved to Wilson, N.C. in 1908. Soon after, at the age of 35, she married John Aiken. Aiken was a stable owner, and had steady business renting out horses and buggies. Before his death soon after their marriage, they bought a small piece of land and a home together. They had no children.

Aiken voted in every single election that she was able to after the establishment of women’s voting rights through the 19th Amendment in 1920. She was a strong believer for women’s involvement in politics and, more generally, that women deserve to and are capable of playing a large role in their communities.

There is disagreement over Aiken's race. Some sources state that the Federal Writers Project's interview with her in 1939 misquoted her race as white, when she was in fact Black.[2]

Professional Life[edit | edit source]

Aiken began teaching in the fall of 1889. At the time she was only 17. She was the only teacher at a small elementary school of thirty students. She made $25 a month (about $715 in 2020) [3], despite her dedication to her teaching. Epitomizing this, she would arrive early at the school in spite of freezing temperatures in order to build a fire for her students before they arrived. After moving to Wilson, Aiken finished high school, receiving a first grade certificate, which significantly increased her salary. She taught a total of 48 years.

Due to the rise of the automobile, her husband’s business (which belonged to her after his death) became unable to sustain her. Aiken sold all of the stable equipment in order to keep herself afloat, and eventually began working in housekeeping. She worked in housekeeping, charging boarders rent, until her death in 1939.

Social Contexts[edit | edit source]

Working as a Teacher; Working Class Women during the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

A crowd around American Union bank during the height of the Great Depression.

Across the board, teaching was a sex-segregated industry throughout the Great Depression (D’Amico, 2015). The large majority of public school teachers at the time were women. Furthermore, most public school teachers were paid very little when compared to teachers working in higher education, which all were mostly men. “Higher education was considered to not be a good “match to women’s inherent natures”[4].

The Great Depression had mixed effects on female teachers during the time. Teaching jobs were less affected by soaring unemployment rates during the Great Depression compared to other jobs traditionally filled by men such as manufacturing work. Because of this, more women applied to teaching schools and positions during that time. However, the effects of the Great Depression did reach the teaching industry in many places across the country. In general, women found themselves moving into less desirable jobs and industries simply in order to remain employed[5]. The strong sentiment among men to avoid “women’s jobs”[6] ensured that downward mobility in the job market for women remained an option. Thus, teachers who found themselves out of work often found new jobs as waitresses and domestic workers. During the Great Depression, most women moved from job to job constantly to remain afloat financially.

Marriage During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The effects of unemployment on marriage was very present during the Great Depression. Marriage rates fell where the effects of the Great Depression were most extreme, and “marriage rates fell by 20 percent from 1929 to 1933”[7]. During the Great Depression, husbands grew more easily irritated at their wives and rates of abuse among heterosexual relationships rose.[8]

Women's Suffrage during the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

North Carolina Equal Suffrage Association headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In 1920, after pressure from the women’s suffrage movement, the 19th Amendment was passed, which declared that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”[9].However, this amendment did not clear the way to equal voting rights for all women. Women of color were frequently turned away from the polls and subjected to various types of voter suppression throughout and even after the Great Depression[10][11].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Combs, Stanley, and Edwin Massengill. “Women Are Best.” In Federal Writers’ Project Papers, #3709. The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: UNC University Libraries, 1936–1940. http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/03709/
  2. Henderson, Lisa Y. “Women Are Best.” Black Wide Awake. WordPress, August 2019. https://afamwilsonnc.com/tag/hired-help/.
  3. Webster, Ian. “CPI Inflation Calculator.” in2013dollars. 2020 Official Data Foundation, 2020. https://www.in2013dollars.com/.
  4. D’Amico, Diana. 2015. “‘An Old Order Is Passing’: The Rise of Applied Learning in University‐Based Teacher Education during the Great Depression.” History of Education Quarterly 55 (3): 319–45. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/doi/full/10.1111/hoeq.12124
  5. Helmhold, Lois Rita. 1988. “Downward Occupational Mobility during the Great Depression: Urban Black and White Working Class Women.” Labor History 29 (2 (2007)): 135–72. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1080/00236568800890091 6: Mcelvaine, Robert S. “Gender Roles And Sexual Relations, Impact Of The Great Depression On.” Encyclopedia.com, 2020.
  6. Hill, Matthew J. 2015. “Love in the Time of the Depression: The Effect of Economic Conditions on Marriage in the Great Depression.” The Journal of Academic History 75 (1): 163–89. https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1662805153?pq-origsite=360link
  7. Hill, Matthew J. 2015. “Love in the Time of the Depression: The Effect of Economic Conditions on Marriage in the Great Depression.” The Journal of Academic History 75 (1): 163–89. https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1662805153?pq-origsite=360link
  8. Campbell, Alexia Fernández. 2016. “American Marriage in the Time of the Recession.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/11/american-marriage-in-times-of-recession/506840/
  9. Bleiweis, Robin , Shilpa Phadke , and Jocelyn Frye. “100 Years After the 19th Amendment, the Fight for Women’s Suffrage Continues.” Center for American Progress. ABC News Internet Ventures, August 18, 2020. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/news/2020/08/18/489651/100-years-19th-amendment-fight-womens-suffrage-continues/.
  10. Smith, Terrance. “Timeline: Voter Suppression in the US from the Civil War to Today.” ABC News. ABC News Internet Ventures, August 20, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/timeline-voter-suppression-us-civil-war-today/story?id=72248473.
  11. Schuessler, Jennifer. 2019. “The Complex History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/arts/design/womens-suffrage-movement.html