Federal Writers' Project -- Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section 061/Idella Posey

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Idella Posey
BornIdella Hemphill
February 28, 1896
Birmingham, Alabama
DiedSeptember 22, 1966
Birmingham, Alabama
SpouseThomas Gayle Posey (m. circa 1921)
ChildrenWilliam Posey, Mary Violet Posey

Overview[edit | edit source]

Idella Hemphill Posey was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project by Nettie S. McDonald. She lived in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Gayle Posey, and children, William and Mary Violet Posey. Unlike many others during the Great Depression, the Posey family lived comfortably and did not feel the effects of unemployment that many around them were facing.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Women in a home economics class in 1911.

Idella Posey was born on February 28, 1896 in Birmingham, Alabama.[1] She grew up with an uneducated mother and knew nothing about her father except that he came from fine people.[2] Unlike many around her, she was motivated to get an education. At age 13, she moved in with her uncle, a Christian minister, and Aunt Netty who lived in Morris to work for them and attend school. She started in the fourth grade but quickly advanced several grade levels in that year. Once she had moved out, she only visited home once because her stepfather did not treat her well. After Posey completed her education in Morris, a teacher encouraged her to continue her education at a Presbyterian college in Maryville, Tennessee. Her mother supported this and did her best to help pay her $25 fee. Posey’s motivation paid off and she graduated with a degree in home economics.[3]

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

In 1921, Idella Posey married Thomas Gayle Posey and they moved to Byar, Oklahoma.[4] After their marriage, Posey gave birth to two children, William and Mary Violet Posey. While in Oklahoma, Gayle worked in the oil industry and made $175 a month. When Posey’s uncle passed, they moved back to Alabama to care for her Aunt Netty until her death. After Aunt Netty’s death, they moved to Birmingham, Alabama where Gayle learned the trade of installing weather-stripping, after losing his job, and Posey continued her role as a housewife.[5] While raising her children, she continued to uphold her belief in the importance of education and sent them to school, despite Gayle not sharing this belief. Posey used her education in home economics to provide balanced meals for her family at low costs. Posey stayed in Birmingham until her death on September 22, 1966, at the age of 70. [6]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Women in the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the The Great Depression, unemployment was rampant with many industries experiencing historically deep levels of layoffs. Many of the industries that experienced the deepest layoffs were those typically associated with males. Service industries, where women primarily worked, were made up of jobs that experienced less layoffs during the Great Depression. Because of this, many women became the breadwinners within their families, and their wages were necessary for their family’s survival. However, “critics, over-looking the sex-typing of most work opportunities for women, lambasted laboring women for robbing men of much-needed jobs. Even women's colleges formally charged women not to pursue careers after graduation so that their places could be filled by men.”[7]

Federal laws that were created to pull the country out of the depression, discriminated against women workers. Instead, they aimed to cast women into traditional housekeeping roles by barring them from working, teaching them household skills, and paying them less than men. These barriers forced women to take on the role of staying home and caring for the household. Within the household, women were tasked with handling the shortages of money and resources. They expanded their gardens to increase food production, purchased the cheapest foods, reused clothing items, and found extra sources of income through working, trading, and taking on boarders.[8] Many of these household skills were taught to women in home economics courses.[9] Despite being pushed into a role at home, women around the nation became politically and economically active during the Great Depression by continuing to seek out employment and supporting labor unions.[10]

Although unemployment caused tension between men and women at this time, marriages formed during the Great Depression were more likely to last than those formed beforehand. However, many women did not get married during this period due to the financial burden of starting a household. [11]

Education Reform in the Early 1900s[edit | edit source]

In the early 1900s, the average American child only attended a few years of schooling. Within schools, only basic grammar and mathematical skills were taught. In rural areas, classrooms were not separated by age and most of the teachers had little formal training. Teaching mainly relied on methods of memorization and repetition. Americans soon became concerned that the schools were not preparing students for the rapidly changing society within the United States. Educational and political leaders worked to improve the school system by placing an emphasis on improving productivity and efficiency within schools. Programs were created to help students with special needs, the length of the school year was increased, and higher quality teachers were hired.[12]

“Despite the push to improve the nation's educational standards during the early 1900s, very few students advanced beyond grade school.”[13] Rates of education were increasing but not at a high rate. These efforts were also halted by the emergence of the Great Depression. With citizens not able to pay their taxes, the education budget was cut. There was a reduction in the hours schools operated, an increase in class sizes, and a decrease in teachers’ salaries. This increase in class size was a result of the difficulty the youth were having with finding employment. With work unavailable, youth instead began to seek out an education. Due to this increase in education seeking youth, the public began to realize the importance in maintaining and improving public education. When the depression ended, there was an overall upward trend in education.[14]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. “All U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current Results.” Ancestry.com. Accessed October 18, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/124081371/idella-posey
  2. "Folder 51: McDonald, Nettie S. (interviewer): The Poseys :: Federal Writers Project Papers" https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/979
  3. Durbin, Nancy E., and Lori Kent. "Postsecondary Education of White Women in 1900." Sociology of Education 62, no. 1 (1989): 1-13. https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/stable/2112820?origin=crossref&seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents
  4. 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 (03, 2015): 163-189. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1662805153?accountid=14244.
  5. Rosenbloom, Joshua L., and William A. Sundstrom. "The Sources of Regional Variation in the Severity of the Great Depression: Evidence from U.S. Manufacturing, 1919-1937." The Journal of Economic History 59, no. 3 (1999): 714-47. https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/stable/2566322?seq=8#metadata_info_tab_contents
  6. “All U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current Results.” Ancestry.com. Accessed October 18, 2020. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?dbid=60525.
  7. “Impact of The Great Depression on Women.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/women-impact-great-depression
  8. “Impact of The Great Depression on Women.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/women-impact-great-depression
  9. Durbin, Nancy E., and Lori Kent. "Postsecondary Education of White Women in 1900." Sociology of Education 62, no. 1 (1989): 1-13. https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/stable/2112820?origin=crossref&seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents
  10.  “Impact of The Great Depression on Women.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/women-impact-great-depression
  11. 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 (03, 2015): 163-189. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1662805153?accountid=14244.
  12. “The 1900s Education: Overview.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-education-overview
  13. “The 1900s Education: Overview.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/culture-magazines/1900s-education-overview
  14. “Education 1929-1941.” CENGAGE. https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/education-1929-1941#IssueSummary