Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section010/Sadie Duggett

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Sadie Duggett was interviewed by Ned DeWitt in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on June 24, 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Sadie Duggett was born on a small farm in Georgia to a lower class family. Her parents had nine children, but they were always well fed. Duggett grew up in her farm kitchen and enjoyed cooking and eating from a young age. She also peanut-picked to make side money. In Georgia, many girls marry young, and though she had many potential suitors, Duggett did not want to grow up to be a housewife. Duggett’s family went to the county seat every year for farm business, and one year, when she was about 13 years old, she decided to try city cooking. Not enjoying it, she made a bet with the owner that she could make the food edible and then proceeded to do so. She was quickly offered room and board for a job at the cafe.

Middle Life[edit | edit source]

A family-style cafe during the Great Depression.

Duggett worked in the cafe for six to eight months but had to quit because of harassment. She worked in Atlanta for a period and then moved to Louisiana, gaining cooking skills along the way. When the oil booms started, Duggett heard of a boom town in Texas so she pitched a tent there and started her own cafe. Duggett struggled financially with starting her own business. She cooked pancakes for the oil field workers, working sixteen hours a day. Her cafe began to thrive and she built a shack of lumber and began serving a variety of foods. Duggett sold her cafe when the boom died down and moved to another town, where she had to compete with multiple other cafes. She started a family style cafe and eventually hired Lovie, who she grew attached to in a tough-love motherly way. Lovie followed Duggett to all the new boom towns. She used her wit to sell her first unsuccessful business to a potential buyer. Sadie moved to Oklahoma City in the spring of 1930 to start a new café and attempted to get into hotel real estate but did not end up buying property. She also took in boarders and rented out rooms in her house. Sadie later married Dan Duggett.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Oil Fields[edit | edit source]

An oil field salvage lot in Oklahoma in the 1930s.

The Great Depression took a huge toll on the oil business during the early 1920s. Oil prices and oil stocks collapsed during this time, negatively impacting the economy. During the mid-1920’s, new oil supplies began to arrive in the United States from Venezuela and the Soviet Union. This provided finances for the state; “The discovery of a new oil field and the resulting rush to the area is termed an oil boom, and the affected towns within the oil boom area are termed oil-boom towns” (Weaver). There were huge booms for oil production in many southern states, starting in Oklahoma in 1926 and spreading to Texas in 1927. The Texas Oil Boom began with the discovery of a large petroleum reserve in Beaumont, Texas. Petroleum became the main driving force of the economy, even more so than agriculture. In 1933, President Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act to help stabilize the economy, allowing him to regulate fair wages and prices. This transformed the oil industry to heavily regulated production.

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Oil field workers' homes.

Marriage outcomes, rates, and economic conditions changed greatly during the Great Depression. Many women had to marry in order to provide for themselves and ease the financial burden of their families. Many women delayed their marriages, but many more got married; although they may have been for love, a big part was possibly financial security and for stability. Studies show that marriages formed in harsh economic times are more likely to survive than ones in more prosperous times.

Unemployment[edit | edit source]

Unemployment was a huge problem in the Southern United States during the Great Depression, and many self-employed in an attempt to make money. As Professor Robert Boyd says, “Those persons who become self-employed in the informal sector as petty traders or personal-service providers in order to escape the rigors of joblessness often belong to disadvantaged groups” (Boyd 2012). The unemployment rates were not as high for women because the industries they worked in were not as greatly impacted by the stock market. Many women took jobs in domestic services, such as cooking or secretarial work.

Food Industry[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression, food in the home, as well as food service, was quite different than it is today. Many people could not afford “normal” foods so had to eat different, less expensive versions of these foods. Food repurposing techniques were used, as the 25% unemployment rate introduced the danger of malnutrition or starvation. Recipes often used during the time include water cocoa, boiled milkweed, ketchup sandwiches, gopher, and bacon grease sandwiches.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Bowlus, John. "What Can We Learn from the Great Depression about Oil's Future?" Energy Reporters. April 05, 2020. Accessed October 20, 2021. https://www.energy-reporters.com/policy/what-can-we-learn-from-the-great-depression-about-oils-future/.
  • Boyd, Robert L. “Race, Self-Employment, and Labor Absorption: Black and White Women in Domestic Service in the Urban South during the Great Depression.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 71, no. 3 (2012): 639–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23245192.
  • “Food Waste: The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl: 1929-1941” http://exhibits.lib.usu.edu/exhibits/show/foodwaste/timeline/thegreatdepression.
  • Hausman, Joshua K., Paul W. Rhode, and Johannes F. Wieland. 2019. Recovery from the great depression: The farm channel in spring 1933. The American Economic Review 109, (2) (02): 427-472, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/recovery-great-depression-farm-channel-spring/docview/2172118147/se-2?accountid=14244 (accessed September 30, 2021).
  • Hill, Matthew J. “Love in the Time of the Depression: The Effect of Economic Conditions on Marriage in the Great Depression.” The Journal of Economic History 75, no. 1 (2015): 163–89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24550598.
  • Weaver, Bobby D. “Oil-field Culture,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=OI003