Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Josh Dover

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

Overview[edit]

Josh Dover was a white male from Duncan Country, North Carolina. Although he lived during the Great Depression, he was only affected by it later in his life. Beth Cannady conducted his interview in 1939 as part of the Federal Writers Project.


Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Dover was born in Duncan County, North Carolina, but grew up in Bullock County on his father’s plantation. Being the oldest of eight, he had to leave school and start working when he was twelve years old. Dover claimed that with an education he could have accomplished greater things. In 1882, Dover and his father renovated an old mill, which he was put in charge of. Three years later, Dover became a miller and a farmer. He then started growing and selling tobacco for significant profit. Dover and his brother Ed worked at the mill together and sawed timber until they had enough to build a two-room house, which they both moved into. He earned a lot of money selling wood, livestock, and tobacco, so he decided to expand his farm. He built barns, carriage houses, hen houses, wood houses, a smokehouse, and five tenant homes.

House on a Tobacco Plantation

Adulthood[edit]

During the fall of 1886, Dover proposed to his second cousin Mavis. He bought his brother’s half of the mill and the farm, knowing Mavis was going to move in with him after they got married in December 1887. Together, they had six children: Davis, Martin, Sally, Josie, Katie, and Becky. Their oldest son, Davis, died at a young age after he fell from a chair trying to get potatoes from on top of a cabinet.

Later Life[edit]

Dover sold his plantation during the fall of 1907 and moved into his house in Stratford. He moved to his house in Stratford instead of selling it, so that his children could attend a better school. However, life was expensive in Stratford, and his family struggled financially. They were momentarily relieved when Dover was hired as the superintendent of the county road building. Dover and Mavis were able to live off the superintendent salary until he lost the job in 1925. After Dover retired, Mavis and him relied on his old age pension. [1]

Lack of Education[edit]

Before and especially during the Great Depression many families had to take their children out of school. Davis, the author of Public Schools in the Great Depression stated, “families usually needed every member working in order to survive”. [2] Of those who did attend school, many had to go straight to completing chores and helping around the house and the farm when they got home. Factors such as race, class, and gender helped determine who was able to obtain an education and who was not. [3] During the Great Depression, only children of upper class families were able to get an education. Josh Dover had to drop out of school when he was twelve years old to start working on his parents’ plantation. One of Dover’s greatest regrets was not getting a proper education. Most children who had to drop out of school due to financial reasons also said that they would have gone back to school if they had the opportunity. [3]

Financial Stability of Farmers[edit]

In the 1920s, agriculture was a productive industry in North Carolina. However, as the 1930s started approaching, the income of farmers started declining. [4] Many farmers had to abandon their plantations and move because of soil erosion, falling crop prices, overproduction of cash crops, and rising farm costs. Farmers grew more cotton and tobacco than people bought, causing the prices to fall. The drastic drop in crop prices caused farmers to lose a lot of money. A New Deal program, called the Agriculture Administration (AAA), helped with farm recovery. The AAA paid farmers to reduce crop yield in order to cause a crop shortage. [4] Unlike most farmers in the 1930s, the drop in crop prices did not affect Dover. He only moved to Stratford so that his children would have access to a higher quality school.

Federal Writers' Project[edit]

The Works Progress Administration initiated the Federal Writers Project in 1935 as part of the New Deal. [5] The administration hired unemployed educated individuals to write about the lives of people during The Great Depression. [6] One of the main complaints about the Federal Writers project was that the writers did not accurately portray the lives of the individuals interviewed. [5] Rapport stated that the writers who participated in the program “begin to think of themselves as creative writers, and, most likely in the innermost adytum, potential fiction writers”. [7] When writing a life story, the writer would modify the interview to make it sound like a short story. Cannady wrote the life story as if Dover was telling it to the reader. She accomplished this by writing it in the first person and by having a quote at the beginning and the end. The long quote of Dover telling his story is probably not a direct quote from the interview. Cannady may have had to modify the information she collected during Dover’s interview. Possible modifications include the addition or removal of information, and the adjustment of its order. Knowing that writers modify the life stories, Rapport stated, “he never viewed either the writers’ projects or the life stories with the seriousness that some others did”. [8] The questionable historical accuracy of the life stories is a common complaint about the Federal Writers Project.

References[edit]

  1. Dover, Josh. Interview by Beth Cannady. Personal Interview. 14 Jan. 1939.
  2. Davis, Anita, ed. Public Schools in the Great Depression. NC-Pedia, 2010. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. p. 19.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tyack, David B., Robert Lowe, and Elisabeth Hansot. "Behind the Schoolhouse Doors. "Public Schools in Hard Times: The Great Depression and Recent Years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1984. 1-25. Print.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bishop, RoAnn, ed. Agriculture in North Carolina during the Great Depression. NC-Pedia, 2010. Web. 19 Nov 2013.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov 2013.
  6. DeMasi, Susan Rubenstein. The Federal Writers’ Project: A Legacy of Words.” Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 49.7 (2012): 1195-1206. General OneFile. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.
  7. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid are the Federal Writers’ Project Life Stories: Iconoclast Among the True Believers.” The Oral History Review 35.2 (2008): 6-17. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. p. 14
  8. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid are the Federal Writers’ Project Life Stories: Iconoclast Among the True Believers.” The Oral History Review 35.2 (2008): 6-17. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2013. p. 11