Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Clara Garber

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Clara Garber
BornUnknown
Tennessee
DiedUnknown
EthnicityWhite
OccupationBootlegger

Overview[edit | edit source]

Clara Garber was a white woman from Tennessee who worked primarily as a bootlegger. She was a divorcee and single mother of one. She was interviewed by the Federal Writers Project on December 19, 1939.[1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Clara Garber (birth unknown) was a single, middle-aged white woman from Tennessee. Garber was married and divorced twice. After her divorce, she continued to have a friendly relationship with her second husband, Shin. He was injured during World War II, developed alcoholism and had difficulty finding a job so he frequently depended on Garber financially. She had a son with her first husband, whom she called Sonny Boy. He was struck with infantile paralysis at the age of two and, as a result, was paralyzed, nonverbal, illiterate and wheelchair bound. According to Garber, she was the only one who could understand Sonny Boy. Being his primary caregiver was a big contributing factor that determined her career path. During the Great Depression and American Prohibition, she owned a small, five-bedroom lodge, but her primary business was bootlegging liquor. Garber's death is unknown.[1]

Career[edit | edit source]

It's unknown when Garber became a bootlegger but she noted that she relied on the business for a number of reasons. Being a single mother with no husband to help, she needed a guaranteed income from a business with high demand. Having a disabled son, she needed to be able to work from home and give him most of her attention. Garber needed assurance that she could support the two of them.[1]

Garber never got caught by the police and she was never arrested for her illegal business. She was very particular in the way she ran her business, ensuring her safety from authorities and customers. Garber never sold to anyone who was already drunk, she didn't provide bottles, she would only fill, customers were only able to come to her back door and she never kept more than a pitcher full of liquor on her at a time.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Physical Disabilities in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

Before and during the Great Depression, there was not a lot of visibility or protections for people with disabilities. As a result, it was likely that disabled people would not seek out aid for caretaking or medical needs, among other fundamental assistance.

According to a study published by Disability and Health Journal, “People with disabilities who perceive discrimination are less likely to seek healthcare. This association was higher for people with communication and physical disabilities."[2]

Events that took place during the Great Depression were foundational turning points for the future of disability rights in America. In the 1930s, the League of the Physically Handicapped was created in an effort to create employment positions that were accessible to those who were physically handicapped.[3]

“In May 1935, League members held a sit- down protest at the headquarters of the Emergency Relief Bureau, demanding that workers with disabilities have access to public work relief programs. A month of protests followed, with several arrests of disabled protesters and their supporters. More protests were held in November 1935 and again in the spring of 1936, with the result that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) opened up its programs in New York City to 1,500 workers with disabilities."[3]

While this federal recognition was important, the changes were more performative rather than fundamental reform.

However, World War II was transformative on disability rights in America. Disabled veterans created visibility for the disabled community and influenced the government to make changes.[3]

“One key development in post- World War 2 America was the growth of an energetic movement of parents of disabled children and adults, particularly the parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities, known at the time as the mentally retarded…It ultimately led to significant expansion of the right to universal education that culminated in the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1974, a law that mandated a free and appropriate public education and related services regardless of impairment.”[3]

There were few, if any, resources available at the beginning of the decade, but as the 1940s approached, progressive change was made that redefined disability rights in America.

Bootlegging and Women[edit | edit source]

"Political cartoon criticizing the alliance between the prohibitionists and women's suffrage movements. The Genii of Intolerance, labelled 'Prohibition,' emerges from his bottle."

"Bootlegging, in U.S. history, illegal traffic in liquor in violation of legislative restrictions on its manufacture, sale, or transportation."[4]

As a result of American Prohibition, there was a demand for liquor, creating black markets. Supply was initially smuggled into the country through the Canadian and Mexican borders, as well as shipped in through port cities. However, over time this became more risky and providers began relying on "medicinal" whiskey and making home-made concoctions that were potentially dangerous.[4]

"In 1933 Prohibition was abandoned. The bootlegger did not become extinct, however. In the early 21st century, alcohol was still prohibited in a number of U.S. counties and municipalities, and bootlegging continued to thrive as an illegal business."[4]

Because of the massive hit to employment rate and job security from the Great Depression, there was high motivation to stay in this line of work rather than finding another legal source of income as the Great Depression came to an end.[5]

Both employers and employees confirmed that the long-term unemployed of the time faced much more difficulty in finding work than the recently unemployed: '[T]he longer a man was out of work, the harder it was to get work.'"[5]

During the Great Depression, there was a greater demand for women's labor. Industries were heavily gendered and male-dominated industries were hit the hardest. This put a new pressure on women to become the "breadwinners" for their families. However, the jobs available to women categorically had lower wages.[6]

“Over 25 percent of the National Recovery Administration’s wage codes set lower wages for women, according to T.H. Watkin’s The Great Depression: America in the 1930s. And jobs created under the Works Progress Administration confined women to fields like sewing and nursing that paid less than roles reserved for men.”[6]

Participating in bootlegging was a lot more common for women than many thought at the time. There were a number of laws that restricted the searching of women by police and in general, many people thought women could not possibly participate in such a crime. If women were caught, they were frequently let off with minimal punishment.[7]

"The government feared women bootleggers outnumbered men five to one."[7]

In general, women were much more successful at bootlegging.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Folder 977: Yoe, Della, Aswell, and Lipscomb (interviewers): Clara Garber, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mathy, Gabriel P. “Hysteresis and Persistent Long-Term Unemployment: the American Beveridge Curve of the Great Depression and World War II.” Cliometrica 12, no. 1 (January 3, 2017): 127–52. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11698-016-0158-1.

Minnick, Fred. “How Women Bootleggers Dominated Prohibition.” America's Best Racing, April 9, 2018. https://www.americasbestracing.net/lifestyle/2018-how-women-bootleggers-dominated-prohibition.

Moscoso-Porras, Miguel G., and German F. Alvarado. “Association between Perceived Discrimination and Healthcare–Seeking Behavior in People with a Disability.” Disability and Health Journal 11, no. 1 (January 2018): 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2017.04.002.

Rotondi, Jessica Pearce. “Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 11, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/working-women-great-depression.

Scotch, Richard K. “‘Nothing About Us Without Us’: Disability Rights in America.” OAH Magazine of History 23, no. 3 (July 1, 2009): 17–22. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1093/maghis/23.3.17.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Bootlegging.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 20, 1998. https://www.britannica.com/topic/bootlegging.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Folder 977: Yoe, Della, Aswell, and Lipscomb (interviewers): Clara Garber, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Moscoso-Porras, Miguel G., and German F. Alvarado. “Association between Perceived Discrimination and Healthcare–Seeking Behavior in People with a Disability.” Disability and Health Journal 11, no. 1 (January 2018): 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2017.04.002.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Scotch, Richard K. “‘Nothing About Us Without Us’: Disability Rights in America.” OAH Magazine of History 23, no. 3 (July 1, 2009): 17–22. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1093/maghis/23.3.17.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Bootlegging.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 20, 1998. https://www.britannica.com/topic/bootlegging.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mathy, Gabriel P. “Hysteresis and Persistent Long-Term Unemployment: the American Beveridge Curve of the Great Depression and World War II.” Cliometrica 12, no. 1 (January 3, 2017): 127–52. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11698-016-0158-1.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rotondi, Jessica Pearce. “Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, March 11, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/working-women-great-depression
  7. 7.0 7.1 Minnick, Fred. “How Women Bootleggers Dominated Prohibition.” America's Best Racing, April 9, 2018. https://www.americasbestracing.net/lifestyle/2018-how-women-bootleggers-dominated-prohibition.