Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Christine Poole
This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories
Christine Poole was a schoolteacher in North Carolina in the early twentieth century. Her life story, made available through her interview with the Federal Writers’ Project in January 1939, provides an account of what it was like to be a female educator during the Great Depression.
Next to no information is provided on Poole’s family, her place of birth, or any early life events before her attendance at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Poole, who was a published poet, initially thought she would make a living writing poems. However, Poole and ten other classmates were inspired in an education course by their favorite professor to become educators themselves. Poole, who specialized in history and English, graduated from Meredith College in 1913 and was able to find employment as the principal of a grade school in Beulaville, North Carolina.
Poole lived along with a few other teachers in a boarding house owned by a member of the local school board. During her time in Beulaville, she taught mathematics, which was her poorest and least favorite subject, among other disciplines. Though Poole and the other teachers were paid well, Mr. Richards, the owner of the boarding house, began to make many of the teachers feel uncomfortable due to his increasing drunkenness and questionable behavior towards them. This led Poole to seek housing elsewhere; she was able to find a room for an affordable price and to continue working as principal. However, Mr. Richards spitefully made life difficult for Poole and the other teachers by decreasing the school term and therefore their pay. Poole then decided to seek employment in a new location and eventually was able to find a job at South Fork Institute in Catawba County, North Carolina where she was head of the English department.
Catawba was home to several different Christian denominations that all competed for dominance in the area. Many of the pastors in the area were enrolled in Poole’s classes alongside their own children. Despite having very poor grammar themselves, these pastors often openly doubted Poole’s abilities as a female educator. She was forced to prove her adequacy as a teacher on several occasions despite having authentic certification. Poole spent the remainder of her teaching years at an “eastern high school” where she also participated in extracurricular activities such as the PTA and the theatre. At the time of her interview with the Federal Writers’ Project, Poole mentioned that she worked occasionally as a substitute teacher.
Exploitation of Females in the Workplace
Poole was subject to exploitation in a number of different ways during her teaching career that she depicts in her narrative. Poole’s abilities were doubted and she was forced to deal with superiors who often attempted to take advantage of their female workers by providing less pay or by attempting to force themselves upon some of the female teachers. These were both unfortunately common circumstances during this era despite the growth in prominence of the women’s rights movement. Women were often replaced by male workers during this time due to the decrease in jobs simply because males believed that they deserved the jobs more than women did (Ware para. 5). In fact, as Richard J. Altenbaugh writes, “during the decades following the passage of the nineteenth amendment…most school boards throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries refused to hire married women” (22) despite the fact that many were much more qualified than some of their male counterparts. Poole was lucky to have been able to secure a job during this time because many women in her situation were forced to find work elsewhere following the decrease in available jobs during the Great Depression.
Economic Misfortune During the Great Depression
Despite having a job throughout her life after graduating from college, Poole struggled to make ends meet at several points during her career. She described in her narrative the salaries she earned at each of her schools and detailed how careful she had to be with her money in order to survive. The struggle to make enough money to make a living was experienced by thousands of people in America; from 1929 to 1932 there was a fifty percent drop in national income (Goldschein para. 9). Food was much more scarce than it had been in previous years and Americans were forced to give up many luxuries that they could no longer afford to keep. Many people like Poole who did have jobs “reduced their buying out of fear that their turn to be laid off would come soon” which only worsened the country’s economic situation (McElvaine 73). The lack of money circulating through the economy made affording necessities more and more difficult for working Americans. Just as Poole was forced to live in undesirable conditions and develop frugal spending habits, thousands of other citizens learned to spend sparingly and live without as many possessions.
Federal Writers’ Project
The Federal Writers’ Project was established as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression as a government project to help support writers at the time. It was meant to give insight on the lives of every day Americans from the era. Daniel M. Fox wrote that the histories “cast considerable light on the economic, social, political and intellectual fields of a whole generation of Americans…” (4); Christine Poole’s narrative is an example of one of these life histories. Fox also wrote that these accounts could not be considered entirely reliable, claiming that the authors were not “interested in the interpretation” of the life histories (5). The personal motivations and interests of the authors may have affected which people were selected for interviews and what information would be included in the histories (Fox 7). For example, at no point in the narrative is it described why Poole was interviewed and no transcript of questions asked by the interviewer was provided. Therefore it is unknown whether the account contains the exact words spoken by Poole or if the interviewer himself reworded it. In this specific account, little to no information is given regarding Poole’s past, which makes it difficult to provide any sort of context for events that occurred later on in her life. It is unknown whether this is because she chose not to report on the matter or if it is because the interviewer was not concerned with this information.
- Ware, Susan. “Women and the Great Depression.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
- Altenbaugh, Richard. The Teacher’s Voice: A Social History Of Teaching In Twentieth Century America. Bristol: The Falmer Press, 1992. Web.
- Goldschein, Eric. “10 Lessons From People Who Lived Through The Depression.” Business Insider. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
- McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. New York: Random house, 1984. Web.
- Fox, Daniel M. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
Altenbaugh, Richard. The Teacher’s Voice: A Social History Of Teaching In Twentieth Century America. Bristol: The Falmer Press, 1992. Web.
Fox, Daniel M. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
Goldschein, Eric. “10 Lessons From People Who Lived Through The Depression.” Business Insider. 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941. New York: Random house, 1984. Web.
Poole, Christine. “Christine Poole Speaking.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina Southern History Collection. 1939. Print.
Ware, Susan. “Women and the Great Depression.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.