Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105i/Section 22/Finis Evitts

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Finis Evitts was a white tenant farmer born in 1888 or 1889 in Tennessee[1][2]. On November 10, 1938, he was interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project in Puryear, Tennessee[3]. He died on June 4th, 1953, aged 64, in Paducah, Kentucky[4].

Finis Evitts
Born1888 or 1889
Tennessee
DiedJune 5th, 1953
Paducah, Kentucky
Cause of deathUnknown
OccupationTennant Farmer
SpouseLudie Evitts

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Evitts was born in Tennessee sometime in 1888 or 1889[5][6] . He was one of the youngest of nine siblings.[7]

Parents' Death[edit | edit source]

Evitts' father was a devout Christian, and he died due to surgery complications in an asylum when Evitts was six years old. Two years after his death, Evitts' mother remarried to a deaf old man called Ford. Evitts recalls that him and his siblings frequently annoyed Ford: in one instance leading him to kill a mule. Ford ended up leaving Evitts' mother since he did not want to deal with her children. He also ended up selling their house, leaving Evitts' family homeless. Shortly after, Evitts’ mother's lung problems caused Ford to return for an unpleasant interaction with her and the children. Ford left again to never return as he got hit by a car in Paducah, KY sometime after the incident.[8]

When Evitts was 12, his mother died due to her lung problems. His oldest brother and the youngest sister, Mary, took the parenting responsibility. The children didn’t go to school very often, because they lived far away from it. Mary married a man from Stewart county, TN and ended up taking Ben, their youngest brother, to live with her. Meanwhile, the oldest brother (name not mentioned) arranged for Evitts to stay with a man named Duke by Calvert City, KY for around a year. The deal was that Evitts would work and help with chores during the summer on Duke's six acres of tobacco. In return, Evitts got shelter and schooling, but he had missed so much school that he couldn’t keep up. [9]

Paducah is a city in Kentucky that lies close to its bordering state of Tennessee. Evitts spent much of his life with his wife and children living in Paducah.[10]

Homelessness and Financial Instability[edit | edit source]

Evitts didn’t stay with Duke for long because he was unhappy in a large house without his siblings. Calvert City is around where he grew up, as his parents and six siblings were buried there. One of his brothers died of measles in Liverpool. Ben shot himself accidentally at 18 when trying to shoot a rabbit. Details are not provided for any other siblings.[11]

Evitts stayed around Calvert City and worked for various farmers for no more than a year each. Afterwards, Evitts moved to Stewart County to work for his brother-in-law. He was unhappy there, so he returned to Calvert City where he found that his oldest brother had financial problems. Evitts spent his savings from his previous job in Steward County to start a crop with his brother. But their crops failed, leaving them with no money, so Evitts returned to Tennessee for a job.[12]

Marriage and Children[edit | edit source]

When he was 18, Evitts met Ludie, who was 16 at the time, while working in Tennessee. Ludie’s family members were tie hackers. The demand for ties was going down since few new railroads were being built, leaving them financially unstable. Over the years, Evitts tried working in plumber and lumber industries, but then returned to farming. The couple couldn’t make a living in Paducah, KY so they moved to Puryear, TN. There, Evitts worked with a man named Dick and ended up owning two mules, which he had to sell due to Ludie’s bad health. Evitts himself had stomach trouble soon after.[13]

Beginning of July, their first children, a set of twins, were born. They raised 10 children, but the oldest son had some unspecified health problems. The children did not receive consistent schooling. Specifically, Venna did well in school but J.T. had no interest in it and even failed a year. When the boys grew, the family was doing better financially as they had cows, horses, chickens, and pigs. Evitts had more stomach issues and was at Mason’s Hospital for three months. He had to sell a horse to pay off the fees, and some of his other horses died from health problems. Evitts’ sister died around this time as well. Evitts continued to have more stomach troubles, and he went to the WPA to get help. Evitts mentioned his family's guilt about not attending church at the time.[14]

Evitts and Ludie had two daughters Mamie and Venie/Venna (spelling varied by source) and eight sons, Cecil, Clyde, Printis/Prentice (spelling varied by source), Joe, James, Raymond, Preston, and David. The names of his sons are partially uncertain as he had sons named Burmon and J.T. that are mentioned in the Federal Writers Project[15] and the 1940 census[16], but not in Evitts’ obituary in the Paducah Sun[17].

Death[edit | edit source]

At the time of his death, he had 39 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchilden. Evitts died at Riverside Hospital in Paducah, Kentucky on June 5th, 1953. He was 64 at the time of his death, the cause of which remains unknown.[18]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Farmers went through financial difficulties in the beginning of the 20th century as demographics of the country changed from rural to urban.[19]

Transition Away From Agriculture in the Early 1900s Kentucky[edit | edit source]

In the beginning of the 20th century, rapid urbanization and industrialization was causing troubles for farmers all around the country: the percentage of Americans who lived in rural areas was decreasing quickly while the urban base was growing. In 1890, around 80% of Americans lived in rural areas, but the number dropped down to 65% by 1915. As the population grew, especially in dense urban areas, so did the demand for food. But the farmers were not able to meet it as the average farm size was decreasing (from 199 acres in 1860 to 147 acres in 1900) as was the percentage of farmers in the labor force (58% in 1860 to 38% in 1900). In their struggles, many farmers asked the government for aid. The chapter discusses a few ways the congress attempted to help, notably the Reclamation Act, the Weeks Act, The Federal Farm Loan Act, the McNary-Haugen bill and more. This period of transition was followed by the Great Depression.[20]

"For farmers, the 1920's were years of overproduction, debt and depression."[21]

In Kentucky in 1900, 2.1 million residents of the state lived in rural areas, making up 78% of the overall population, meaning that the transition was significantly impacting most of the state, causing poverty. Some common industries in Kentucky were coal mining and hemp and tobacco farming. A state historian, James Klotter, described that regardless of race, gender, or age people in Kentucky struggled to survive in the early 20th century, living in a "more violent" society as Klotter put it. There were many instances of violence caused due to people's desire to improve their living conditions. One notable such example was the "tobacco wars" or "Black Patch Wars" in 1900s, when some tobacco farmers destroyed properties of their competitors. [22]

Socioeconomic Status Differences in Access to Healthcare During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

In the 1930s, momentum was growing for national health insurance, but there was also growing fear of increased government control due to the growing government role under President Roosevelt as he tried to fight the Great Depression. In the rural areas, there was shortage in access to doctors, nurses, physicians and hospitals.[23] According to a study in the Millbank Quarterly, there was variance in the type and scope of healthcare people could utilize based on their socioeconomic status.

"A very large proportion of the total service received by the [wage‐earning families severely affected by the depression] was free...The “chronic poor,” a group which were poverty stricken even in 1929 show... the largest total volume of hospital and visiting nurses' service."[24]

Though people of lower socioeconomic status showed higher rates of disabling illness (defined as any illness that may prevent one from working, going to school, or partaking in any other usual activity), a study found that the people with moderate or comfortable income situations received more physician care, while people who were poorer largely relied on free services, presumably because of the high costs associated with medical services, especially routine physician visits. The study found that people who had become "poor" during the Great Depression paid around twice more for physicians' visits than those were already considered poor before, suggesting that those affected by the Great Depression were not familiar with resources available to them. [25]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. The Paducah Sun, "Finis Evitts Dies", 19.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, "Finis B Evitts".
  3. Clark and Aswell, "So We Played Along".
  4. The Paducah Sun, "Finis Evitts Dies", 19.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau, "Finis B Evitts".
  6. The Paducah Sun, "Finis Evitts Dies", 19.
  7. Clark and Aswell, "So We Played Along".
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. U.S. Census Bureau, "Finis B Evitts".
  17. The Paducah Sun, "Finis Evitts Dies", 19.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Featured Senate Publications, "Committee On Agriculture 1825-1998".
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. UKPDP, "Kentucky History 1900-1910".
  23. Encyclopedia.com, "Public Health 1929-1941".
  24. Perrott, Sydenstricker, and Collins, "Medical Care During The Depression".
  25. Ibid.

Sources[edit | edit source]