Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Alberta Grisham

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This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories

Dust Bowl wind causes soil pile-up against barn in Kansas

Overview:[edit | edit source]

Alberta Grisham grew up in the early 1900s. In 1939 she was working as a waitress in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Grisham was interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal project that aimed to capture life during the Great Depression.

Biography:[edit | edit source]

Childhood and Education[edit | edit source]

Alberta Grisham began her life in Kansas but did not live there long. Because the Grisham family made their living off of farming in Kansas, their financial situation was heavily impacted by the weather. When the Grishams were no longer making money from farming, they had to find a new source of income. To do this, the family left Kansas with an unknown destination. Therefore, Grisham spent her childhood traveling aimlessly across the United States with her parents searching for work. Her father was the dominant figurehead in the family and was never content settling in one place, so although Grisham mentions wanting to get a job and education at points in their journey, it was not worth the argument with her father. The family’s longest stop on their journey was in Cole, Oklahoma, for seven years. Grisham received the bulk of her education in Cole. She describes spending the rest of her childhood traveling in similar conditions to the Dust Bowl: dusty and crowded.

Adult Life and Employment[edit | edit source]

Grisham met and quickly married a man named Garret at eighteen years old. They lived in Ocean View, California]], where Garret worked until their son, Sid, was born. While Grisham tried to convince herself that they could make things work, Garret did not have a good work ethic and could not keep a job to support the family. Soon enough Grisham took her son and left Garret to live with her family in North Carolina. At some point Garret came to Grisham and convinced her to move to Piney Grove, Missouri with him. Grisham obliged until she discovered that Garret still could not keep a job, then she left him again in search of a new life and new opportunities in North Carolina. As a middle-aged woman in 1939, Grisham was struggling to keep a job as a waitress in Hendersonville, North Carolina and earn enough money to support herself and her child.

Social Issues:[edit | edit source]

Econocmic Situation[edit | edit source]

The Grisham family lived during the time of the Dust Bowl. The Dust Bowl was brought on by a drought in the late 1920s and early 1930s and poor farming practices in the western United States. The climate during the Dust Bowl was dry and windy. The heavy winds of the Dust Bowl caused erosion in the western United States that was detrimental to agriculture.[1] According to Donald Wilhite of the Oklahoma Historical Society, “it is estimated that by 1935 wind erosion had damaged 162 million acres over 80 percent of the High Plains”.[2] The Dust Bowl only worsened poor economic conditions brought on by the stock market crash in 1929 that caused the Great Depression in the United States (Moore 2).[3] Kansas, where Grisham and her family lived, was heavily affected by the Dust Bowl. Since the Grishams made their living off of farming in Kansas, the conditions brought on by the Dust Bowl forced them to move. Grisham spent her childhood traveling with her parents, looking for jobs for her father. The economic hardships Grisham faced in her youth continued into her adulthood.

Gender Stereotypes[edit | edit source]

Grisham grew up the early twentieth century when the eldest male (usually the father) was the most dominant member of the family. Grisham illustrates this in her interview by explaining how she and her mother always went along with her father’s decisions to keep traveling, despite their desire to settle. Women were still seen as domestic heads of the household at this time. It was not until after she was married that Grisham defied this stereotype. Her husband’s lack of work ethic nearly forced her to find a job and support herself. “…Departing from the home to take a job represents at least a step toward enclosing the gap between male and female spheres, and creating a new and different kind of life for women.” [4] This shows that the gender role transition that occurred during the Great Depression changed women’s roles from solely being in the home to also being in the workforce. In a sense, Grisham represented this revolution of women’s role in society.

Federal Writers’ Project:[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was one of many New Deal projects that began in 1965, when Franklin Roosevelt was president. The purpose of this agency was to provide unemployed writers with jobs during the Great Depression. As a result of the Federal Writer’s Project, the controversial American Guide Series that aimed to capture the essence of American life during the Depression was formed.[5]

Historical Production[edit | edit source]

Several issues of historical production were evident in the Federal Writers’ Project. Daniel Fox, author of “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project,” said “their impatience with the past, or antiquarian-like fascination with certain aspects of it, frequently distorts the relative importance historical events”.[6] This being said, an issue with the Federal Writers’ Project was that writers often failed to emphasize important events in the past. Another issue with the Federal Writers’ Project was its ambiguous goal, so the purpose of many pieces was unclear.[7] Writer’s bias in historical events’ significance was not an issue with Grisham’s life history because she was the only one speaking in her interview. This meant that the writer was not able to put his opinion into the publishing of the interview that we know of. However, it is difficult to know the purpose of Grisham’s interview and if the questions she was asked were designed to guide her to a certain answer since the interviewer’s questions were not published. It is believable that Grisham’s lacked many flaws in historical production because it is part of the Southern Collection, which is one of the more accurate collections of the series.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Shindo, Charles J. "The Dust Bowl Myth." The Wilson Quarterly 24.4 (2000): 25-30. JSTOR. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
  2. Wilhite, Donald A. "DUST BOWL." DUST BOWL. Oklahoma Historical Society, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. pg. 3
  3. Moore, Sam. "U.S. Farmers During the Great Depression." Farm Collector. Ogden Publications, Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
  4. "Gender and Individualism in American Culture." (n.d.): 632-43. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. pg. 689
  5. Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writers' Project." American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. pg 3
  6. Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writers' Project." American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. pg. 5
  7. Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writers' Project." American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. pg. 4