Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/John Mayo

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

Family moving away because of economic hardship

Overview[edit | edit source]

John Mayo was born March 26, 1893 in Washington, North Carolina. William Vaughn of the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed Mayo in January 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

John Mayo was born and raised in Washington, North Carolina. Both of his parents were educated and his father was affluent. At the age of eleven, Mayo decided to forego a public high school education to work with a lawyer. He earned little pay but gained invaluable experience. Mayo’s work as a child would lead to him become a lawyer later in life.

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

In 1923, Mayo married Miss Martha Siler. He bought a new home and invested all that he had into it. By 1931, he and Martha had two boys. Furthermore, he was a strict believer in education, and believed abortion was a sin in a time period where abortions were in high demand. When the Great Depression hit North Carolina, Mayo “lost everything that I ever possessed except my good wife and children.”[1]

Occupation[edit | edit source]

In 1923, Mayo was offered a position as a real estate agent working in Ashville, North Carolina. He earned $400 per week, and earned more through the stock market. Due to the thriving economy during the Roaring-Twenties, companies like Mayo’s, did not worry about managing their budgets. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Mayo’s investors saw the forthcoming results and left the company to Mayo. He filed for bankruptcy and he soon after lost his home. He also lost the $5,000 he invested in the stock market and lost an additional $10,000 in government bonds. He moved to Washington, NC, to work in real estate but failed as the Depression followed. After, Mayo and his family moved into a friend’s law firm. He read law books and used his experience in law as a child to eventually pass the BAR exam in 1931. Soon after, he was elected as Judge of the Recorders Court.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Abortion[edit | edit source]

During Mayo’s interview, he stated, “voluntary abortion, for either married or unmarried, I believe a sin” (Mayo, 6). He also believed it was a sin for families to have too many children to support or bring one into poverty. He lived by this belief, as three sons were the most he could comfortably support and send to college. Abortion was illegal during the Great Depression, yet was a growing problem. As couples did not have the money for a raise kids, the demand for “back-alley butchers” abortions increased. The “doctors” were conducting highly illegal procedures and used unsanitary medical tools. Women would often fired from work if they became pregnant because firms saw pregnancy as a burden. However, the Depression “helped legitimate contraceptives. American society increasingly accepted birth control during the 1930s. Condoms sold briskly in drug stores and gas stations.”[2]

Economic Depression[edit | edit source]

John Mayo reported that his real estate firm had gone bankrupt and his home had been foreclosed. However, this was common among many families as they literally lost everything. Almost everyone in the United States felt the wrath of the Great Depression as family’s incomes plummeted. The crash of the stock market in 1929 was pivotal as it caused a nationwide panic to sell all assets. People withdrew their money from banks, and thousands of banks nationally filed for bankruptcy. Unemployment rates rose to 25% at the height of the Depression as the country saw decreases of 50% in international trading.[3] In 1930, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Unemployment insurance we shall come to in this country just as certainly as we came to workmen’s compensation."[4] His economic ideas for reform propelled him to presidency as unemployment insurance was implemented in 1932, and social security in 1935.

Education[edit | edit source]

During his interview, John Mayo said that education is very important to him and his family. His children attended school regularly, and were all planning on attending college. North Carolina legislation prioritized education during the Great Depression as it kept 100% of the public schools open. Schools had to cut costs significantly by disbanding sports programs, closing their cafeteria or cutting “less essential [classes] like music or foreign languages.”[5] Children had to bring their own food from home, which usually wasn’t more than a biscuit. In addition to cutting costs, North Carolina passed a law in 1931 requiring children have a six-month school year—in 1933, legislation extended it to eight months.[5]

Federal Writers’ Project[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was a part of the Works Administration Program, which was a New Deal program enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt in July 1935. The project intended to supply jobs for writers during the Depression, while documenting lifestyles throughout the time period. Daniel Fox describes these interviews as “informative and readable accounts of the history, culture and people of the state or city are the best expressions of the intellectual and social ideals of Project Writers.”[6] Many of the interviews are now a part of the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Many writers belonging to the FWP would alter their respective interview by amending the way people talked to capture their tone or not. William Vaughn, John Mayo’s interviewer, did not alter the interview aside from changing people’s names to maintain their anonymity. Furthermore, he does not include his interview questions to make the interview seem more like a personal narrative. Despite the fact the Federal Writers’ Project supplied jobs, there are issues in its historical production. Daniel Fox describes one of the problems, “the relation of the individual writer to the bureaucratic tangle, the political snarl and the ideals of the Project administrators cannot be ignored.”[7] Due to each individual writer having complete control over their interview, each writer would have a personal touch to their work. The discrepancies in works were far different than the original ideals the Project administrators had thought of when they had created the FWP as their views and the writer’s views differed on a personal basis.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mayo, John. “Joseph Mandell.” Interviewed January 25th, 1939. Medium.
  2. Reagan, Leslie. “Expansion and Specialization.” When Abortion Was A Crime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. 134-159. Medium.
  3. "The Great Depression" EyeWitness to History. 2000. Medium www.eyewitnesstohistory.com
  4. Witte, Edwin. “Development of Unemployment Compensation.” Yale Law Journal. Volume 55: Issue 1 (1945). 21-52. JStor. Medium. http://www.jstor.org/stable/792816?seq=2
  5. 5.0 5.1 Davis, Anita. “Public Schools In The Great Depression.” NCPedia. The Tarheel Junior Historian. Spring 2010. Medium. http://ncpedia.org/public-schools-great-depression
  6. Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers Project.” American Quarterly. Volume 13, Issue 1 (1961). Pp 3-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710508. Medium. November 1, 2013
  7. Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers Project.” American Quarterly. Volume 13, Issue 1 (1961). Pp 3-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2710508. Medium. November 1, 2013