Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Summer II/Section 09/Ollie Foster Green

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Ollie Foster Green was an impoverished mother of four living in Ohio during the Great Depression. She was interviewed by the Federal Writers' Project in 1939 when she was 28. [1]

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Ollie Foster Green and her twin brother Elmer were born near Columbus, Ohio around 1910-11. Her family moved around a lot during her childhood. Green's father was unreliable and would not work much, so she and her siblings were mostly taken care of by their mother, who supported the family with her work at a hosiery mill. At one point in her childhood, Green's father left the family and did not come back for three years. When he returned, he was often intoxicated. He feigned working at a sawmill nearby but enlisted Green for help with his real job--distilling liquor. Green was a lookout for her father, alerting him if people, especially law enforcement, got close to his secret distillery hidden near a stream. Making alcoholic beverages was illegal at the time due to Prohibition. After some trouble with the law, Green's father ended up leaving the family again. The family fell on hard times but were helped out by the children's grandfather. [2]

Green was sent to school by her family at the behest of a social worker. During the summer, Green stayed with her aunt in Wayne, Ohio. She got a job caring for infants at a local hospital and sent most of her income back to her family. It was in Wayne where Green met Ben Younts, who she went on to marry that fall. Green had her first child, named Zeb Vance, at age sixteen. Younts left Green just before her second child was born. He came back nearly a year later but left once again before the birth of their third child. [3]

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

Green's fourth child was with a man who worked at a local mill and stayed at her family's house. Green's mother encouraged her to marry this man, but she never did. When the man left, Green did not go with him. After having her fourth child, Green was able to get a job at a WPA sewing project in Columbus. She hoped to get the money to pay for her divorce from Ben Younts. She was being courted by another man during the time she worked. Green's account ends here. [4]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Criminality During Prohibition[edit | edit source]

Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, making the sale and production of alcoholic beverages illegal. During prohibition, thousands of Americans became criminals with a disdain for law enforcement and the law itself.[5] Many scholars argue that prohibition was ultimately ineffective and failed to reduce alcohol consumption. In fact, economic analysis indicates that there was no substantial change in alcohol prices or consumption. Additionally, violent crime and organized crime were both shown to increase during prohibition, likely due to alcohol smuggling.[6] Bootleggers, moonshine distillers, and speakeasies were commonplace, and enforcement of prohibition proved to be difficult, if not impossible.[7][8]

Working Women in the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, approximately 25% of women worked. The most common jobs for women were in domestic service.[9] Women's employment rates were not substantially affected by the Great Depression, and working women were subject to wage discrimination, and many suffered periods of unemployment.[10] Women's wages dropped during the depression, making the task of supporting a family as a single mother even more difficult. [11] However, women's jobs were less volatile,[12] and some employers were more willing to hire women than men, as women cost less to employ.[13]

WPA Sewing Rooms[edit | edit source]

Many women worked in the WPA, especially in sewing projects. The WPA was created to mitigate the effects of the Depression by providing people (including women) with jobs. WPA sewing rooms were fairly common in the 1930s, and they became the foundation for the WPA women's division. Sewing rooms had many functions, such as mending garments, producing clothing, creating hospital garments and household supplies, spinning yarn, and collecting old garments for reuse. These rooms proved to be very effective, as they could operate year-round, training the workers was simple, and the goods produced could be distributed to impoverished Americans. The sewing rooms were met with support from local communities, as they provided needed jobs to many poor women. Additionally, the rooms, which were run mostly by women, supported the notion that women could work just as well as men, advancing the feminist movement. The sewing rooms were eventually disbanded in 1941.[14]

  1. Interview, Merrick, Adyleen G. on Ollie Foster Green, March 22, 1939, Folder 634, Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  2. Interview, Merrick, Adyleen G. on Ollie Foster Green, March 22, 1939, Folder 634, Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  3. Interview, Merrick, Adyleen G. on Ollie Foster Green, March 22, 1939, Folder 634, Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  4. Interview, Merrick, Adyleen G. on Ollie Foster Green, March 22, 1939, Folder 634, Federal Writing Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  5. Digital History. "Prohibition." Last modified 2019. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3383.
  6. Miron, Jeffrey A. "An Economic Analysis of Alcohol Prohibition." Journal of Drug Issues 28, no. 3 (July 1998): 741-762. https://doi.org/10.1177/002204269802800310.
  7. Digital History. "Prohibition." Last modified 2019. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3383.
  8. Miron, Jeffrey A. "An Economic Analysis of Alcohol Prohibition." Journal of Drug Issues 28, no. 3 (July 1998): 741-762. https://doi.org/10.1177/002204269802800310.
  9. Canvas. "Women in the 1930s & 1940s." Last modified 2017. https://canvas.santarosa.edu/courses/24761/pages/women-in-the-1930s-and-1940s.
  10. Luz Arroyo Vazquez, Maria. "The Empowerment of American Women During the Great Depression in Comparative Perspective." Review of International American Studies 7, no. 2 (November 2015), The Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities.
  11. Canvas. "Women in the 1930s & 1940s." Last modified 2017. https://canvas.santarosa.edu/courses/24761/pages/women-in-the-1930s-and-1940s.
  12. History. "Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women." Last modified March 11, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/working-women-great-depression.
  13. Canvas. "Women in the 1930s & 1940s." Last modified 2017. https://canvas.santarosa.edu/courses/24761/pages/women-in-the-1930s-and-1940s.
  14. Marcketti, Sara B. "The Sewing-Room Projects of the Works Progress Administration." Textile History 41, no. 1 (July 2013): 28-49. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/174329510x12670196126566.