Federal Writers' Project -- Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section 061/Tom Alsobrook

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Tom Alsobrook was a white cotton mill worker in Eufaula, Alabama. He had worked in the mills for most of his life in order to pay for a place to live and food. Alsobrook worked with his wife in the cotton mill until they had enough money to have a stable life.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Tom Alsobrook was born around 1867 in Alabama and he moved to Eufaula with his mother when he first started working in the cotton mills.[1] His mother shortly died after they started working and he had to bury her in Eufaula. After his mother died, he married Minnie Lee Prince and they had two sons. Minnie Lee Prince also died so Tom was left with the children. They did not make it for very long as one of his sons, Thomas, was run over by a wagon and the other son, Earnest, died from a bone infection in 1922.[2] The doctors tried to save him but it was too late. Then, Alsobrook started working in the Old Eufaula Cotton Mill where he was only paid fifty cents per day as a sweeper. He was married twice and his most recent wife, Annie Lou Freeman[3], worked with him in order to provide for themselves. Alsobrook mentioned that the mill gave loans for education for college students as well as kindergarteners and that they were able to buy a house from working in the mills. Annie Lou said that mothers did not have to worry about their kids getting an education due to the many opportunities for them locally.[4] After working in the mill for fifty two years, they were able to live in a house and buy enough food. The Alsobrooks had a bank account and they were focused on paying their taxes and they thought buying a farm would reduce their taxes.[5] They spent their lives working in a cotton mill but they finally saved enough money to relax and they realized the contrast in how different generations live.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Employment of Women in Labor[edit | edit source]

Around the late 1800s and early 1900s, women did not have many opportunities for employment. They did not have the right to vote yet and it was hard to change people’s minds about the role of women. People saw them as a housewife that cooks at home for the family so it was difficult for any woman to have a job. Women had to change their character in order to be in the workplace and it took a lot of ambition to continue working for many years. In the workplace, women would not receive the same opportunities as men when it came to learning new skills and men did not see them as equals. Before the 1850s, “there was no "field of employment” for educated women, and opportunities for training practically did not exist.”[6] Social degradation had changed slightly throughout the mid 1900s but it was still difficult for women to hold a job.

White Privilege in Education in the South[edit | edit source]

During the early 1900s, the racial privileges became apparent as white schools received the majority of funding from the government. It was already hard to keep schools open due to the declining economy from the Great Depression and it was hard for children to receive an education, especially African Americans. For a white family, they had more opportunity to get an education than African Americans as they were not seen as equals so they did not have the same privilege as whites. In the South, racism was a big problem as people in Alabama owned slaves and white people had the advantage in almost every aspect of life. “In the early 1900s, education in Alabama still suffered from short school terms, low funding, and racism. In one county, for instance, the average length of the school year was 72 days for white students and only 34 days for African Americans students.”[7] So it shows how racial issues affect one’s childhood and education.

Life Expectancy During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression was a key event in history that changed life expectancy and mortality rates in the United States. Economic growth relates directly to health and life expectancy so due to the unstable economy, public health also decreased. For families trying to make a living during this time, it was not easy. If someone had an illness, it was difficult to pay the medical bills and child mortality rates also increased. Doctors during this era did not have advanced technology or medicine so it was hard for them to cure severe illnesses and this also affected the general health of the public. Life expectancy “oscillated substantially throughout the 1920s and 1930s with important drops in 1923, 1926, 1928–1929, and 1936 coinciding with strong economic expansions.”[8] It shows that the Great Depression affected many poor families and it determined the rate of life expectancy.

References[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Abbott, Edith. "History of the Employment of Women in the American Cotton Mills: II." Journal of Political Economy 16, no. 10 (December 1908): 680-692. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1821966.
  • Downs, Matthew L. “Great Depression in Alabama.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Last modified October 1, 2019. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3608.
  • Granados, J. A. Tapia, and A. V. Diez Roux. “Life and Death during the Great Depression.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no. 41 (2009): 17290–95. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0904491106.
  • Harvey, Gordon. “Public Education in the Early Twentieth Century.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Last modified April 24, 2015. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2601
  • Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill
  • Ott, Julia. 2019. Tax Preference as White Privilege in the United States, 1921–1965. Capitalism 1, no. 1 (Fall): 92-165, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/2443642913?accountid=14244

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  2. Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  3. Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  4. Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  5. Interviewer, Gertha, Couric on Tom Alsobrook. “Fifty-Two Years in the Cotton Mill.” October 13, 1938, Folder 18, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.
  6. Abbott, Edith. History of the Employment of Women in the American Cotton Mills: II. Journal of Political Economy 16, no. 10 (December 1908)
  7. Harvey, Gordon. Public Education in the Early Twentieth Century. Encyclopedia of Alabama. (April 24, 2015)
  8. Granados, J. A. Tapia, and A. V. Diez Roux. Life and Death during the Great Depression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, no. 41 (2009)