Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 60/Mrs Lucy Thomas

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Mrs. Lucy Thomas, or Aunt Lucy, was one of many people who were interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project. Her interview took place on February 14th, 1939 by Gertha Couric.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Mrs. Lucy Thomas, also known as Aunt Lucy, was an African American woman born in the late 1850s in the state of Alabama. She was not of mixed race, which she was greatly thankful for as she felt that mixed race woman/people in general went through many struggles during her time. For most of her life, Mrs. Thomas made a living off of washing clothes for white families; the dirty laundry was always picked up on Monday’s and returned Friday’s. Since it would take her multiple days to do the whole washing process, it was much more difficult to do during the winter time because Mrs. Thomas had no shed to do her washing and it was all done outdoors. Only some people were lucky enough to have sheds in order to do their washing and unfortunately Mrs. Thomas was not one of them; she had to deal with freezing feet and cracked hands due to the cold in the winter. She would make 8 dollars a week for washing clothes and she believed this was good money for her. Later in life, she nursed the sick, but not for money. Mrs. Thomas never married or had any kids because she was never a fan of either men or kids; she was referred to as Mrs. Lucy Thomas or Aunt Lucy simply out of respect of her older age.

Social Context[edit | edit source]

African American Poverty in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

African American woman walking in front of a wooden home.

African Americans have always struggled with poverty as they did not have as many of the resources and opportunities that their white counterparts did. This poverty was only bolstered during the 1930s due to many people being laid off jobs because of the Great Depression.1 Black men were laid off in order to prioritize giving white men jobs,2 so many black families struggled without that source of income. Although, many black women also held jobs and often times they were jobs that white people would not do, so they were not as affected with job loss but black women (especially black washers) were not paid a fair wage.3 In the South, these women had no option but to accept whatever pay they were given, but up North black washing women were able to come together and create unions in order to demand better wages.4

Due to black Southern workers not having the means to demand for more the way black Northerners were often able to, it was common to see black Southerners living in broken wooden homes with dirt filled streets. Clothes were often seen hanging all around their homes seeing as many black women were washers.5

Poster of protest seeming to be led by a Black Woman

Changing Gender Roles of Women in the 1930s[edit | edit source]

Due to large numbers of people being laid off during the Great Depression, women social roles began to change because they were not losing jobs the way men were and men were not willing to take any jobs meant for women.6 Women became the breadwinners in households and through this they started gaining more independence. Marriage rates went to, "a low of 7.9 marriages per 1000 population in 1932, down from 10.1 in 1929.7" because women no longer needed a man to provide for them. Birth rates also went down during this time, "126 per 10,000 23-year-old women in the United States in 1935 (compared with 181 in 1921 and 152 in 1928).8" since not many women were getting married and thus they were not having kids either.

Mixed Race Relations in the United States[edit | edit source]

Mixed race people around the 1930s were only just beginning to be labeled as black instead of “mulatto” as they were often referred to before.9 To white Americans they were seen as no different than a non-mixed black person anymore. Although, due to the years of being differentiated between black and “mulatto”, dating back from 1850 to 1920, the black community still held many of the same ideas and sentiments about mixed-race people. Mixed-race people were often socially isolated from the rest of the black community because darker skinned black people often believed they would not want to associate with them because they were “dirty”.10 These assumptions often led to darker skinned black people staying away from mixed-race people and gossiping about them in general.11 Not only were mixed-race people not full accepted within the black community, they were still seen as any other black person to white people, so they were not accepted anywhere.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Lynch, "African Americans"
  2. "Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression On"
  3. Dayton, "From "heavy Iron Blues to "I Pay My Union Dues"; New York City's Black Women Laundry Workers in the 1930s." pp 5
  4. Ibid., pp 4-6
  5. King Rose Archives, "Black Poverty in the South 1930s"
  6. "Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression On"
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid
  9. Xavier, "The Dangers of White Blacks: mulatto culture, class, and eugenic beauty in the post-emancipation (USA, 1900-1920)"
  10. Adeyinka-Skold, “Learning about Race: The Lived Experiences of Interracially Married U.S.- Born White and European Immigrant Women in the 1930s”
  11. Ibid

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Adeyinka-Skold, Sarah, and Dorothy Roberts. 2019. “Learning about Race: The Lived Experiences of Interracially Married U.S.- Born White and European Immigrant Women in the 1930s.” Sage Journals: Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 5 (3): 340–53. Accessed March 25, 2021. https://doi-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1177/2332649218791260.
  • Dayton, Lindsey Elizabeth. 2009. "From “heavy Iron Blues” to “I Pay My Union Dues”: New York City's Black Women Laundry Workers in the 1930s." No. 1478383, Sarah Lawrence College. Accessed March 25, 2021. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/dissertations-theses/heavy-iron-blues-i-pay-my-union-dues-new-york/docview/305082051/se-2?accountid=14244
  • “Gender Roles and Sexual Relations, Impact of the Great Depression On.” Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Encyclopedia.com. Accessed March 25, 2021. https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gender-roles-and-sexual-relations-impact-great-depression.
  • King Rose Archives. April 17, 2015. “Black Poverty in the South 1930s.” Youtube 1:20. Accessed March 30, 2021. https://youtu.be/ialLE-fZqB8
  • Lynch, H.. "African Americans." Encyclopedia Britannica, at “African American Life During …,” Accessed March 25, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/African-American.
  • Xavier, Giovana. 2015. “The Dangers of White Blacks: mulatto culture, class, and eugenic beauty in the post-emancipation (USA, 1900-1920).” Revista Brasileira de Historia 35 (69). Accessed March 30, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1590/1806-93472015v35n69008