Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 52/Irene Doe

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Irene Doe (last name not given) was a young, unwed mother living near Greenville, South Carolina at the time of her interview with Ida L. Moore for the Federal Writers' Project.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Irene Doe grew up in Henrietta, North Carolina with her mother, father, and several siblings. Her father rented the land and they were quite poor. Her father died when she was young, leaving her mother two thousand dollars. Though her mother attempted to run the farm on her own, the children were too young to help, and within two years she had gotten remarried to a man named Mr. Tucker.

Mr. Tucker moved the family, which included Irene's siblings, four of his own children from a previous marriage, and the four children he had with Irene's mother, to Brandon, South Carolina where he fixed looms in a textile mill. He earned twenty-four dollars a week, but spent most of it on alcohol.

Mr. Tucker was severely abusive to Irene, her sisters, and their mother. Irene described drunken shouting, bruises up and down her mother's arms and legs, and several occasions where her step-father tried to take her or one of her sisters to bed with him. Irene said she was "scared to death to go in a room where he was by himself."

Doe speculated that her mother only stayed with him because she and her children were financially dependent on him.

Pregnancy[edit | edit source]

Doe had been going steady with her boyfriend, Bud Simpson, for about a year when her step-father learned of their relationship and strongly disapproved, tormenting her relentlessly and forbidding her from seeing Simpson again. But, she was already pregnant. She managed to hide her pregnancy from him and the rest of her family for six months before she was forced to confess.

When he learned of her situation, Doe's step-father insisted that she move out, but would not allow her to contact Simpson, despite the fact that Irene was sure he would do the right thing and marry her. Instead, she was sent to the Hudgin's Home for Girls, a home for unwed mothers, where she spent six months.

Doe was allowed to return home with her baby, Sarah, because her mother was ill and the family needed Irene's help around the house. She continued to suffer the abuse of her step-father. She was not allowed to leave the house for any reason. He continued his verbal abuse. She even described one incident where her baby was sick, but she was not allowed to seek medical attention for her.

Later Life[edit | edit source]

Nothing is known of Irene Doe's later life.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Maternity Homes[edit | edit source]

Maternity Homes have existed since the late 1800s and were most often used as a way to hide young and unwed mothers away from society[1]. These homes allowed families to escape the shame of their pregnant daughters by providing food and shelter for the young women until their babies were born. The stigma against unwed mothers was severe, especially in religious communities where they were viewed as "fallen women"[1].

Each home took a different approach, with some encouraging the women to keep their babies in order to strengthen their moral character[1], while others coerced the young mothers into giving their babies up for adoption without fully explaining their rights[2]. The reports from the girls who lived in these home are also mixed. Some young women describe an uplifting and encouraging place where they were supported by the staff and formed deep and lasting friendships with the other women there[1]. Others report an abusive experience, where they were manipulated and lied to their entire stay[2].

Women's Work during The Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the era of The Great Depression, "women's work" was thought of as household chores like, cooking, cleaning, child care, and general household management. But, because it was unpaid, it was generally considered less valuable than the typical breadwinning position of men.[3] However, with the economic crisis at the time, women were expected to pick up the slack and their work often meant the survival of the family. From finding ways to mend or remake old clothing, to stretching a limited supply of food, women's work in the home was essential.[4] Although they didn't contribute to income, women's creative ways to save money and their unpaid labor at home maid all the difference.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Morton, Marian J. (1988). "Fallen Women, Federated Charities, and Maternity Homes, 1913-1973". Social Service Review 62 (1): 61–82. ISSN 0037-7961. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30011947. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bernard, Diane; Bogen-Oskwarek, Maria. "The maternity homes where 'mind control' was used on teen moms to give up their babies". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  3. Milkman, Ruth; Milkman, Ruth (2016-08-19). "Women's Work and Economic Crisis: Some Lessons of the Great Depression:". Review of Radical Political Economics. doi:10.1177/048661347600800107. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/048661347600800107. 
  4. "Women in War, Women in Peace". Human Rights Documents Online. Retrieved 2020-10-06.