Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Julia Rhodes

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Julia Rhodes was a wife and mother to eight children during the Great Depression. She was interviewed on October 11, 1938 when she was thirty-five years old.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Rhodes was born around 1904 in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. She originally was from a farm, but as a young child she was moved into town so her family could try to live a better life. As a young girl, since Rhodes was too young to work, she started school, but never liked it and she was not made to go.[1]

At fifteen, still too young to work, she got married to John, a man who worked in the mill, and by sixteen they were having kids. Nineteen years later they had a total of eight kids, aged between nineteen and only a few months old. Her eldest daughter gave up school, to stay home with the young children. Four of her other children attended school. At that time, John worked full time as a weaver, and the eldest son split time working in the mill and going to school. It was tough providing for such a large family, especially because only one of the eight children were old enough to help John support them all. Ambitious with plans to return to the mill, Rhodes was staying home with the young children.[2]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Child Labor[edit | edit source]

Child labor has historically been used in the United States for decades. From factories and mines to selling newspapers in the street, children have been utilized across many industries. Children were employed as affordable and compliant labor.[3] Employers were able to take advantage of child labor because they were able to pay them less than they would pay adult and children are less likely ot rebel against someone in power. Over time, there were many movements and acts established to reform child labor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal considerably reduced the amount of child labor in the United States. Many of the reformations are as follows: "The Public Contracts Act of 1936 required boys to be 16 and girls to be 18 to work in firms supplying goods under federal contract. The Beet Sugar Act required children to be 14 to work in cultivating and harvesting sugar beets and cane. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) set the minimum working age at 14 for employment outside of school hours and 16 during school hours. Furthermore, non-agricultural work in interstate commerce required a minimum age of 16 during school hours and 18 for positions designated as “hazardous” by the secretary of labor." [4] While child labor reform efforts had been taking place since the early 1900’s, these acts and regulations during the Great Depression era made a significant difference in child labor across the country.

Employment[edit | edit source]

Due to the economic downturn of the decade, employment changed a lot for both men and women across the United States. Depression era employees were given reduced pay and hours, and the less fortunate were unemployed.[5] While struggling through uncertain times, families turned to mothers and wives who were increasingly entering the workforce to bring additional income into the family. Though women were entering the workforce at an increasing rate, there were still significant rates of unemployment in the United States. The U.S. saw their largest numbers of unemployment between 1932 and 1933, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 1938 there were approximately 10,390,000 cases of unemployment.[6] There were many Americans who were affected by unemployment during the Great Depression, but many others did what they could to make ends meet. Many people took jobs that were undesirable to them and jobs that they were overqualified for in order to stay employed and be able to make some income. Vera V was another woman affected by the Great Depression. After seeing decreased pay for assembly line work, she lost her job. She then took up work in sewing, but was not making a sustainable living. After being laid off from another job, she ended up taking a bartending job where she did not make any money. Instead, she worked for goods so she was able to live. She worked for meals and for various bills being paid around her life.[7] Many workers during this era had to take pay cuts and lower paying jobs in order to stay financially stable during this difficult time.

Family Dynamics in the 1930’s[edit | edit source]

Over the course of the century, women started having kids at a younger age, and the average size of the American family was dwindling. In the mid twentieth century it began to become increasingly uncommon for families to have upwards of five children, though families of this size were not nearly absent until into the twenty first century. Average family size was at its highest between 1860 and 1920, but slowly declined from there.[8] After that period, children became less of an economic advantage for families, and therefore families slowly began having fewer kids. When women started entering the workforce, they had less time for raising several children. When a woman did have a family to raise, it prevented their family from having an extra source of income which is beneficial in times of economic distress.

References[edit | edit source]

Cain, Maude. “Julia Rhodes.” Federal Writers Project Papers. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, October 11, 1938. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/982.

Hansan, J. "The American era of child labor." Social Welfare History Project. http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/child-welfarechild-labor/child-labor/

Helmbold, Lois Rita. “Downward Occupational Mobility during the Great Depression.” Labor History29, no. 2 (Spring 1988): 135. doi:10.1080/00236568800890091

Konkel, Lindsey. “Life for the Average Family During the Great Depression.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, April 19, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/life-for-the-average-family-during-the-great-depression.

“Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment, 1929-39: Estimating Methods .” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 1948. https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1948/article/pdf/labor-force-employment-and-unemployment-1929-39-estimating-methods.pdf.

Livni, Ephrat, and Dan Kopf. “The Decline of the Large US Family, in Charts.” Quartz. October 12, 2017. https://qz.com/1099800/average-size-of-a-us-family-from-1850-to-the-present/.

  1. Cain, Maude. Julia Rhodes., 25-26.
  2. Ibid., 26-27.
  3. Hansan, J. The American era of child labor.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Konkel, Lindsey. Life for the Average Family During the Great Depression.
  6. Labor Force, Employment, and Unemployment, 1929-39: Estimating Methods. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 52.
  7. Helmbold, Lois Rita. Downward Occupational Mobility during the Great Depression, 135.
  8. Livni, Ephrat, and Dan Kopf. The Decline of the Large US Family, in Charts.