Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Carolyn Bell

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Carolyn Bell was born in 1918 in Moultrie, Georgia. She worked at Sims Transfer Co. and with the Works Progress Administration in Macon, Georgia. Annie A. Rose interviewed Bell for the Federal Writer's Project in 1939, when Bell was twenty-one.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Carolyn Bell was the youngest of five children growing up. Her family moved to Macon, Georgia when she was nine months old. Soon after, Bell's father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the surgery left him paralyzed. Her oldest sister became a substitute parent as her family struggled financially. Even so, Bell attended college, where she met and married Clyde at nineteen. She dropped out of college soon after their marriage and moved in with Clyde’s family. However, neither Clyde nor Bell told their parents until half a month before they planned to marry. This caused Clyde’s parents to act reproachable towards Bell, so she returned to college. Soon afterward, Clyde and Bell moved out together. According to Bell in her interview, the change of setting caused him to be rude to her, and they argued often. She divorced him soon afterward and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to live with her brother and his girlfriend. Afterward, her oldest sister helped her move back home so she could attend business school. When Bell finished school, she obtained a job at Sims Transfer Company, where she made $10 a week. She left this job when she did not receive a raise. When a job opened with the Works Progress Administration, Bell's boss from Sims protested their hiring her, as she was not unemployed. She was awarded the job with the WPA as a typist, for which she made $75 a week. Her date of death is unknown. [1]

Female typist.jpg

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Conservative Women and Education in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

The Women’s Patriotic Conference on National Defense (WPCND) was an organization made up of outspoken conservative women. Their main concern was perceived radicalism in teachers who believed there was more than one answer to every question. At this point, more children were attending primary and secondary schools, increasing the urgency of these women’s message. According to the women associated with the WPCND, the purpose of an education was not to advance a child’s intellect and unique ideas, but to advance their loyalty to America in studying Manifest Destiny and learning about the best ways to demonstrate patriotism. Students were tasked with learning the best ways to increase their appreciation for America without question. Conservative women active in their communities were outspoken in their disproval of the new curriculum, which allegedly threatened the institutions of the US with internal subversion. Throughout the nation, these women accused educators of using anti-American rhetoric to manipulate students. Conservative women, affiliated with the WPCND and smaller organizations with similar groups, actively promoted their opinions concerning the changing curriculum, preferring it stay the same to discourage the cultivation of radical thought. Any originality was condemned as radicalism. The WPCND and other organizations advocated for a traditional, generalized experience for students; they did not want each student’s education to be unique. [2]

Women and Higher Education in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

Even with the largely universal financial hardships brought on by the Great Depression sweeping the nation, female college enrollment was rising in the 1930s. There were two major reasons for the influx of female students: promotion of social unity and eugenics. Higher education was increasingly marketed as a necessity for an educated, active citizen of the nation, especially with the rise of fascism internationally. Literature integral to the decade and advocacy groups especially active after women won the vote just ten years earlier advocated for women to enroll in college. Integrating women into a role of civic duty previously reserved exclusively for men inspired a movement of female empowerment centering around new and existing opportunities for women. This pushed increasing amounts of women to pursue higher education. Eugenics was also involved; it became a widely accepted theory that smarter women had more intelligent children. Intelligence tests were performed and cited as evidence to corroborate this theory. This principle of selective reproduction was originally used to discourage women from pursuing further education, citing a reduction in birthrate from the natural levels as women waited until after their schooling to reproduce. This made the impact of using eugenics much stronger, overlaying these negative claims with the positive. [3]

Female Employment in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

Women in the workplace held jobs with different expectations and pay inferior to their male counterparts. The hours a week women could work were also limited by law. They worked more for necessity than by choice and were expected to stop work once they were married. Some companies explicitly prohibited women from continuing to work. According to a Gallup poll from 1936, more than 80% of Americans agreed that wives whose husbands had jobs should not be employed. [4] This stemmed from a necessity to fulfill the caregiver role in the household, to attend to the children. Therefore, job openings always went to men first. Regardless, new fields of study increased females’ career opportunities, the number of women entering the workforce with an education, and the number of women working. [5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Janice, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Erickson, Christine K. “’We want no teachers who say there are two sides to every question’: Conservative Women and Education in the 1930s.” History of Education Quarterly 46, no. 4 (December 2006): 487-502, 10.1111/j.1748-5959.2006.00029.x
  3. Nash, Margaret A. and Romero, Lisa S. “’Citizenship for the College Girl’: Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Education for Women in the United States in the 1930s.” Teachers College Record 114, no. 2 (2010): 1-35, https://www-tcrecord-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/library
  4. Nash, Margaret A. and Romero, Lisa S. “’Citizenship for the College Girl’: Challenges and Opportunities in Higher Education for Women in the United States in the 1930s.” Teachers College Record 114, no. 2 (2010): 1-35, https://www-tcrecord-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/library
  5. Boushey, Heather. “The Role of the Government in Work-Family Conflict.” The Future of Children 21, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 163-190, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41289634