Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section010/Mrs. Nora I. Oates

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Worker winding cotton thread onto large spools.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Personal Life

Nora Oates was born on a Cotton Mill Hill. Oates was a strong woman. Living in the South in the early 1900s, Oates battles socio economic inequality. Throughout her life, earning money was everything. Working built her identity and character. It governed her daily life. Oates always had to work in order to survive. Getting married to a man at the age of 15, Oates had a period in her life where she worked day and night everyday while she was pregnant. She married a man named Clyde Montgomery. Little did she know his health was very bad, so he found himself out of work most of the time. Her child died at a year old from getting very sick. Back then children would have their food chewed up for them and fed to them. Oates believed that is what made him very sick. Eventually, Montgomery was able to get a very good paying job as a motorman for streetcars instead of working at the Mills.

The mills he was working was the underlying cause of why his health was so bad. Oates and her husband were doing very well for themselves so Oates no longer had to work. Ironically, she ended up going back to work because she had no idea what to do with her free time. Clyde Montgomery ended up dying from working in the mills for so long. Oates didn't really show signs of sadness for her husbands death. She seemed to emphasize that after he died she owed $700 dollars in doctor bills afterward. Which she said at the time she was still paying. Oates always owed money no matter how hard she worked. She even says herself that she felt like she could never get ahead. As Oates got older, she started to feel stuck. From the experience of Oates, it is apparent that many people dealt with disparities in the distribution of income as well as the overall quality and luxury within society during this time period. Oates was not able to climb the socioeconomic ladder because her financial status was practically set in place when she was born. This is a sad tragedy. However, it’s like Oates said, “anybody not in debt ain't worth nothing anyhow.”

Professional Life[edit | edit source]

At 10 years old, Oates had began working twelve and a half hour days. She worked in a cotton mill as a doffer on and off for a long time. A doffer was what mostly women were named. They would tie up the full spindles of linen thread and quickly replace this with a fresh empty spindle. She had about a 30 minute lunch break in between these vigorous work days. "I was a doffer and they paid me twenty-five cents a day. I had to get up about five o'clock every morning to get to work at six, and I would work right straight through till six-thirty in the evening, with only thirty minutes for lunch (Brown, Pearl 1)." She started off making 25 cents a day for this work. Eventually getting a raise of 40 cents a day when she was 14 years old. Oates second job was selling corsets. Corsets were for women and were tightly fitted undergarments extending from below the chest to the hips, worn to shape the figure. She would sell spencer corsets to people for prizes and money from the firms.

Oates was very successful with this job. She worked very hard and was able to help pay for many things. "I've worked and paid for seven automobiles with corset money. I've helped pay for a house and three lots with the same kind of money." Even the furniture in Oates house came from prizes given to her by the firms. According to Oates, she wouldn't even leave the house without a case. During the Great Depression, Oates had to sell her house. In doing so she rented a big house in Charlotte, NC, where she began using it as a tourist attraction to make money. Oates explains that it was very profitable and it helped her get through the depression. In addition to all her jobs, she did find herself borrowing money often. It was a main highlight of Oates life.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Child Labor and Conditions

An obvious problem in the South was child labor. Child Labor was prominent and often considered normal back then. Children should not have been doing this kind of work back then. Children worked in horrid conditions in cotton mills and textile mills. A study taken on approximately 207 random textile workers showed the terrible conditions of these mills and how badly it can take a toll on lung function capability. Airborne dust particles were very harmful to workers in there environment. "Exposure to respirable dust is the most important concern in textile workers for the widespread of occupational lung diseases. (BMC public health, 3)"

The most noteworthy being lung disease, it was extremely fatal. Working in these environments would decrease the lung capacity making it harder to function. Thus, making it harder to breath the more and more exposure you had to these tiny particles. Oppression of these conditions and the impact it had on children is obvious. As they grew up, the ones that worked most of there life in these conditions ended up having fatal underlying issues. Similar to what happened to Oates husband, who died of lung disease.



The Great Depression/Psychological affects on Women

Poverty and inequality was something she dealt with on a regular basis. It ultimately endangered women's well-being. "Poverty is one of the most consistent predictors of depression in women, probably because it imposes considerable stress while attacking many potential sources of social support (Deborah, Belle, 2)." In addition, this was the cause of depression for most women. There were many women suffering, some suffering more than others. Economic inequalities within societies are associated with reduced life expectancy and countless variety of other negative physical health outcomes. If many women back than were to be diagnosed now, most poor women would probably be clinically depressed.

The Great Depression caused many to be on the brink of death. Since poverty is the biggest reason for depression. It is a sad thing to realize the psychological affects this had to of had on Women. Already being at a disadvantage, all this did was decrease the will to hope for something better in life. Every women living in the south is a prime example of this, somebody that wanted nothing more than to simply not owe anyone else money and not have to struggle. Ended up stagnant, never able to advance themselves further. Poor women experienced more frequent, more threatening, and more uncontrollable life events than did the general population. Mostly due to deprivation of what they were never able to have.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Oo, Thet Wai, Mya Thandar, Minn Htun Ye, Pa Pa Soe, Zaw Lwin Thant, Kyaw Myo Tun, and Zaw Myo Han. 2021. "Assessment of Respiratory Dust Exposure and Lung Functions among Workers in Textile Mill (Thamine), Myanmar: A Cross-Sectional Study." BMC Public Health 21: 1-10. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10712-0. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/schola rly-journals/assessment-respiratory-dust-exposurelung/docview/2514825508/se-2?accountid=14244.

Moehling, Carolyn M., and Melissa A. Thomasson. “Saving Babies: The Impact of Public Education Programs on Infant Mortality.” Demography. Springer US, February 4, 2014. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13524-013-0274-+5#citeas.

Belle, Deborah, and Joanne Doucet. “Poverty, Inequality, and Discrimination as Sources of Depression Among U.S. Women.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 27, no. 2 (June 2003): 101–13. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-6402.00090.

Suchma, Sharon Margaret. 2013. "Binding Lives: Southern Photobooks and the Great Depression in America." Order No. 3601945, City University of New York. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/disser+tations-theses/binding-lives-southern-photobooksgreat/docview/1468443342/se-2?accountid=14244.

Schild, Darcy. "50 Nostalgic Photos of what the World Looked Like in the 1920s." Insider, Inc, last modified Jan 17, US edition.

Oates, Nora I. "Tourist House Manager." Interview by Brown, Mary P., June 23, 1939, Folder 301, Federal Writers Project Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.