Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2013/Fall/Junius Allison
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Junius Allison was a North Carolina resident who worked as a high school teacher during the Great Depression. Allison was interviewed by Anne Winn Stevens for the Federal Writers' Project on February 14, 1939.
Junius Allison was a Caucasian woman born in North Carolina. Not many details are provided on her early years, but in 1931 she graduated from an unnamed state college. While in college she was the editor of the school’s newspaper.
Following graduation, Junius Allison immediately began teaching in a “small mountain school nearby,” and was married to George Anderson, a business major one year her junior, in 1933. Contrary to modern traditions, Allison kept her maiden name and the couple decided to continue their respective careers due to the tough economic times. An unspecified time period later, Junius attained a teaching position in Asheville, N.C. as a local high school English and French teacher. She was also the school’s head librarian. While teaching she became deeply involved in extracurricular activities offered through the school. She coached class plays and pageants, arranged class socials, receptions, and banquets. She also directed a literary society, and coached girls’ basketball. During this period Allison earned $118 a month ($5 more than her husband) and received no extra compensation for her extracurricular involvement. The years following her wedding Junius Allison lived with her husband, George Anderson, in a small apartment. When George experienced troubles holding down a job, the two split up. Anderson moved back into his parent’s home and Allison continued to rent out of Asheville. Once Anderson attained a teaching job close to Asheville the couple rejoined one another. However, they decided that they did not have the time to do regular housekeeping in their apartment, so they moved into a small boarding house. Allison and her husband were both activists for schoolteachers in North Carolina. George Anderson was the head of the Classroom Teachers Association and together the couple argued for increased teaching salaries, a retirement fund available for educators, tenure, and the addition of a permanent twelfth grade to high school curriculum.
Women in the Workforce
Origins of the Women’s Movement were seen prior to the Great Depression; however, the collapse of the world economy created a proving ground for women to display their “value” outside of the home. Allison is representative of this new trend in women’s role in society. She strived for her independence by maintaining her maiden name, pursuing her career after her marriage, and participating in and leading a wide array of extracurricular activities within her community. The value of women’s new role in society was seen from two very different perspectives. Many people, specifically women, believed that, “[Women’s inclusion in the workforce were] sharp reminders of women's breadwinner roles [and] were necessary statements about the sameness of women to men." However progressive ideals of gender roles were strongly pushed back against by the more conservative. This conflict was prevalent throughout society, and frequently occurred within households over whether a woman should work in a professional career field. Financial issues further exacerbated marital relations and ironically aided women in gaining independence through the regularization of divorce. Allison experienced her own marital strain when her income exceeded that of her husband’s. Challenging George’s culturally defined notion of what it meant to be masculine, and his traditionalist view of gender roles.
During the Great Depression many states cut funding for education, and families across the nation pulled their children out of school to help increase the family’s income. In this period of uncertainty national leaders seriously considered removing funding from schools. North Carolina legislators disagreed with the nation’s educational cuts. They stretched the state budget, and did not close one school during the Depression. Despite this effort, “Schools ... cut teachers by the hundreds, resulting in larger, sometimes crowded, classes. Teachers who kept their jobs often received salary cuts and sometimes even vouchers—promises of pay later—instead of actual paychecks." Allison experienced the North Carolina education system from both perspectives, as a pupil and a teacher. While Junius Allison lived a much more comfortable life than the average American wage worker, she lived in constant state of uncertainty concerning job security and, like many Americans, worked her hardest to maintain some sense of continuity and financial security.
Federal Writers' Project
The Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was a governmentally sponsored relief project for writers across the country during the Great Depression. Authors employed through this program were expected to travel the country and collect life histories of average American people who would normally not be included in the historical record. As such, “[The Federal Writers' Project] was expected to be a boon to the business community by stimulating travel, and to encourage pride in local histories and heritages." Since the FWP’s purpose was to offer as many jobs as possible to unemployed Americans, there was an inconsistency towards how life stories were written and recorded. In fact, “’writers’ were actually people who simply had typing skills, or in the somewhat cynical terms of Harold Rosenberg… ‘Anyone who could write English’."
Issues of Historical Production
A historical inconsistency in the writing of Junius Allison’s life history was through the interview technique. While this life history is meant to focus on Junius’ life, the author only interviewed her husband, George Anderson. By only recording information of Junius’ life that is relevant to her husband, the author, Anne Winn Stevens, portrayed Anderson’s bias towards his wife’s life. Events that George deem important are not necessarily benchmark events within Junius’ life. This method of data collection is problematic because Stevens was gathering information from a secondary source and was portraying it as Junius’ reflections on her own life. It is unknown why Stevens took such liberties in producing such an unconventional life history, however it is quite likely that time constraints or her possible inexperience may have led to the discrepancies.
- Allison, Junius. Interview by Anne Winn Stevens. Personal interview. 14 Feb. 1939.
- Allison, Junius. Interview by Anne Winn Stevens. Personal interview. 14 Feb. 1939. p.2
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- Gorman, Juliet. “History of the Federal Writers Project.”oberlin.edu. Oberlin College, Web. 19 Nov. 2013. <http://www.oberlin.edu/library/papers/honorshistory/2001-Gorman/FWP/FWPhistory/fwphist1.html>. p.2