Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 026/W. W. Skelton

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W. W. Skelton
Calhoun, Texas
ResidenceRed Bay, Alabama
OccupationSawmill Worker, Surveyor

Overview[edit | edit source]

W. W. Skelton was a white surveyor in Red Bay, Alabama. He was interviewed for Federal Writers Project in on 18th July, 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

M. M. Skelton was born in Texas and raised in the Calhoun County located in rural area. He came from a family of seven children. His father was a sawmill man. He received little education, and he started working at a young age.

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

Skelton didn’t settle down before he got married in his thirties. He moved around a lot and experienced different lives. He was always energetic and talkative when recalling his early days. When he was saw milling in Mississippi and Alabama, he made money and instantly spent all of them. He worked in a mill in Mississippi with 600 men, nearly all black men. During then, Skelton’s hands were mutilated. He got his fingers sliced off in a hardwood mill. He took a needle, a thread, and whiskey to finish sewing by himself. Skelton did not tell anyone about his injury or got any compensation because he knew the chance is too small. When timber was almost all cut down in South Mississippi, he was tricked and brought his family to Vina, Alabama. In earlier days, he had a free and easy life running telephone wires in Texas. He made a fortune, but did not seize the opportunity to buy a house which had rapidly increasing value since he had no plans and skills for money management. His truck business led him into financial predicament. He did not have ample knowledge to manage money, which led them into business fraud and financial difficulty for several times. 

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Education in Rural Area in 19th and 20th Centuries[edit | edit source]

American education paid little attention towards rural areas in 19th and 20th century. “School reform movements of the mid-19th century were targeted at the particular problems brought on by the Industrial Revolution.” Urban school administrators were the ones promoting the school improvements. They depended on bureaucratization in large cities like New York. Old rural areas continued to decline in the face of thriving science and Industrialization. In early 20th century rural area, “the average American child attended only a few years of formal schooling, in which only the most basic grammar and mathematical skills were taught.” The school houses were one-room buildings with students randomly ranged in age of 5 to 20 years old. 20th-century schools were focusing on occupational and community skills for city residents during rapid modernization in urban region. The “general southern backwardness in education” and the rural schooling structures and procedures outflanked by city school superintendents lead to the dilemma of Southern rural area education. There had actually been an increase in the labor participation rate of children at the end of the nineteenth; in 1900 almost a fifth of youths ten to fifteen in Southern United States were enrolled in the labor force.

A White Sawmill Worker in 20th-Century Southern United States

Healthcare of Workers during Industrialization[edit | edit source]

Industrialization was a highly productive and exceptionally dangerous time in America. The problem with American workers’ healthcare and safety was given little attention in the 20th century. “A number of surveys taken about 1900 showed that only about half of all workers fatally injured recovered anything and their average compensation only amounted to about half a year’s pay.” While workers injured on the job or their heirs might sue employers for damages, winning proved difficult. Where employers could show that the worker had assumed the risk, or had been injured by the actions of a fellow employee, or had himself been partly at fault, courts would usually deny liability. “Because accidents were so cheap, American industrial methods developed with little reference to their safety”. The accidents mainly occurred in risky businesses like “logging and lumbering and electric power line”.

References[edit | edit source]

Skelton, W. W. “I’ll be an Old Man Tomorrow.” Interviewed by R. V. Waldrep, July 18, 1939, Folder 83, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

DeYoung, Alan J. 1987. “The Status of American Rural Education Research: An Integrated Review and Commentary.” Review of Educational Research, 57(2): 123-148. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543057002123.

Fishlow, Albert. 1966. “Levels of Nineteenth-Century American Investment in Education.” The Journal of Economic History, 26(4): 418-436. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2115900.

“The 1900s Education: Overview.” Encyclopedia. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-education-overview.

Aldrich, Mark. 1997. Safety First: Technology, Labor, and Business in the Building of American Work Safety, 1870-1939. United Kingdom: Johns Hopkins University Press.

“History of Workplace Safety in the United States, 1880-1970.” EH.net. Accessed October 13, 2020. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/history-of-workplace-safety-in-the-united-states-1880-1970/.