Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Melinda Grumble
This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories
Melinda Grumble worked on Pearson’s Game Preserve in Saluda, North Carolina with her husband, son, and grandson during the Great Depression. She was interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project in 1939.
Grumble was born in 1860 in Saluda, North Carolina. In 1879, when she was nineteen, she met and married Samuel Grumble, a fellow North Carolinian. Shortly after the wedding, they moved into a four-room cottage in Saluda near Pearson’s Game Preserve where they earned $15/month as guides and caretakers. Their marriage was rocky, often filled with arguments, both physical and verbal. Grumble described Samuel as being abusive and a drunkard, while Grumble was described as being “too mean to live.” Their unhappy marriage resulted in eleven children, most of which had long since left the house.
Their son, Henry, was the only one who remained at home. He was a “hideous” thirty year old who could not hear or speak well. Henry was also prone to fits, most likely seizures. Grumble attributed Henry’s condition to Samuel’s physical abuse of her while she was pregnant with Henry. The true nature of Henry’s condition was unknown and untreated due to the family’s inability to afford medical care. Grumble also claimed Henry was the only reason she stayed with the volatile Samuel for so long. She stated that she had reported Samuel many times to the local authorities for abuse, but he always talked himself out of any potential charges. In 1936, Samuel went so far as to hit her in the head with a fence rail. That incident greatly affected her health, giving her a sickly appearance.
Another one of their children, Dora, brought her own son, Harry, to the Grumble’s cottage sometime before 1939 so that she could work. Dora ended up leaving Harry in her parents care for an indefinite amount of time. According to Grumble, her grandson was also wary of Samuel. Harry helped Melinda care for Henry as well as the garden where they grew much of their food, but he took care to stay out of “Pap’s” way. 
Grumble spoke about the domestic violence and strained family dynamic openly during her interview for the FWP. It is clear from her statements that she only felt the need to stick around because of their son Henry. Hers was not a unique experience. During the Great Depression, women felt as though many of their choices were not their own. They needed to remain unmarried, married, or without children due to the “economic crisis and to help their families”. Families “couldn’t afford to maintain separate households,” and thus stayed together unwillingly. Additionally women who worked on the land, like Melinda Grumble, were expected to do as much work as the men while still taking full responsibility for running the household. The power found in completing traditionally male tasks, however, conflicted with society's view of women. Because of this discrepancy, the image surrounding the roles of women remained fictionalized, with women solely fulfilling the role of a helpmate.
The issue of the family’s economic situation is made clear throughout the interview. The Grumbles couldn’t provide all of the care that Henry required, but also were unable to afford to hire anyone else’s services. Additionally, the family relied on their garden to provide a source of food that would otherwise have to be purchased. Their situation is similar to that of others who lived during the Depression, particularly in the South. North Carolina was considered to be part of a “low-income belt of the South” that was prone to “sickness, [and] misery”. With income so low and the sickness rates so high, many families that needed health care were forced to do without. The idea of need, however, transcended the South as the nation struggled with the economic downfall, trying to make ends meet. All over the country, families “didn’t go hungry, but [they] lived lean”. Often, southern families used their land as a means of obtaining food. If the soil was fertile enough to cultivate for a garden, women and children would scavenge for things to plant. Consequently, families often did without, whether in the case of food or health care.
Federal Writers’ Project
On June 7, 1939, writer Adyleen Merrick interviewed Grumble as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. The Federal Writers’ Project was created by FDR to employ previously out of work writers and have them record life histories. In recording their life histories, the FWP “tried to broaden the definition of who and what was American” during the Great Depression.
Quotes were included, mainly from Melinda, throughout the account. It is clear that she is first being asked about her marriage, then her son, Henry. After that, she seemed to be simply recounting pieces of her life story. Melinda’s was the prominent voice in the collected story, as the majority is quotes about her take on her life. The voice of the writer was not missing completely, however. The interviewer set the scene by including detailed descriptions of the setting that lend an almost novelistic quality to the account. Melinda, the primary responder, is described as if Merrick and Crawford were observing her from a distance. In this description, she was said to have eyes “wide with misery and suffering” as she struggled with pails of water. Right away, the interviewer had begun to paint her in a sympathetic light. Hirsch observed that the writers in the FWP were attempting to capture a sense of “romantic cultural nationalism”. In describing Grumble’s struggles, Merrick goes beyond simply recounting history to fostering empathy in the reader, ‘romanticizing’ the difficulties of the Great Depression. Additionally, the final quote by Melinda tied back to the scene they described at the beginning, reminding the reader that the account took place over a short amount of time.
- Merrick, Adyleen. Untitled. Federal Writers Project. University of North Carolina. Southern History Collection. 7 June 1939. Print.
- Bindas, Kenneth J. Remembering the Great Depression in the Rural South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2007. Print. p. 24.
- "Explorations: Children and the Great Depression." Digital History. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/children_depression/depression_children_menu.cfm para 7.>.
- Bindas, Kenneth J. Remembering the Great Depression in the Rural South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2007. Print. p. 25.
- Bindas, Kenneth J. Remembering the Great Depression in the Rural South. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. 2007. Print. p. 24-25.
- Carlton, David L., and Peter A. Coclanis. Confronting southern poverty in the Great Depression: the report on economic conditions of the South with related documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996. Print. p. 59.
- "Women and the Great Depression." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013. <http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/great-depression/essays/women-and-great-depression>. para 2.
- Carlton, David L., and Peter A. Coclanis. Confronting southern poverty in the Great Depression: the report on economic conditions of the South with related documents. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996. Print. p. 48.
- Hirsch, Jerrold. Portrait of America: a cultural history of the Federal Writers' Project. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Print. p. 19.
- Merrick, Adyleen. Untitled. Federal Writers Project. University of North Carolina. Southern History Collection. 7 June 1939. Print. p. 1.
- Merrick, Adyleen. Untitled. Federal Writers Project. University of North Carolina. Southern History Collection. 7 June 1939. Print. p. 20.