Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Molly Godwin
This page is connected with English 105 at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories
Mrs. Molly Godwin (1876-death date unknown) was a wife, mother of four, and grandmother of three who lived in Spray, North Carolina in the late 1930s. She and her husband, Frank, experienced many occupational changes throughout their marriage, but ended up owning the Hotel Colonnade in Spray. Godwin was interviewed by Ida L. Moore on November 22, 1939 for the Federal Writers' Project.
At the age of 23, Molly Godwin wed her husband, Frank Godwin. They settled on a twenty-acre piece of land in a small two-room house in Sampson County, North Carolina. Her first child died at seventeen months, but she gave birth to five other children. As their children began to go to school, they decided to move closer to a better school while staying in Sampson County. Because Mr. and Mrs. Godwin were both raised on a farm, they believed cotton farming would be an economic success. Their new property in Sampson County; however, was insufficient for this crop. Because the land was not adequate for cotton farming, the couple decided to use much of their life savings and move to Richmond County, North Carolina. They unknowingly purchased property that had an overdue two thousand dollar mortgage debt. Unable to pay the mortgage, Mr. and Mrs. Godwin had to leave the property and change occupations. Robert L. Steele, superintendent of Roberdel Manufacturing Company, approached Mr. Godwin about working in his cotton mill in Rockingham in Richmond County. Even though Mrs. Godwin did not want her husband to switch from farm to industrial life, he accepted the job and they relocated again in 1918.
Overall, Mrs. Godwin expressed how moving to the mills worked out best for her children. With the experience they gained working in the mills, they were able to adapt to the industrial changes in society. Her children’s success reflected the adaptation into a more industrial way of life. One of her sons became an overseer in a silk mill in Greensboro, another worked in Durham as a loom fixer, the third son located in Roanoke Rapids as a weaver, and her daughter married a policeman and lived in Roanoke Rapids with three children. In addition to the four living, Godwin had two children who deceased at young ages. One died at seventeen months and the other died at age sixteen.
After living in Richmond County, the Godwin’s moved to Greensboro and took up the hotel business. After seeing an ad about how beautiful Spray, North Carolina was, they moved to Spray and bought the Hotel Colonnade. The original seven boarding hotel was expanded to twenty while under the Godwin’s. The elderly previous owner did not cook adequate meals so the reputation declined. Molly had to work immensely hard to revive the reputation the hotel once had.
Agriculture to Industrialization
The societal change between agriculture and industrialization was evident during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Difficulties arose with being able to provide enough on the farm, so people began to take up jobs in the textile mills. Reactions to the emergence of industrial life varied between regret and satisfaction. Originally Godwin was hesitant to leave the farming life and go to the mill, but changes in the post Civil War period established an economic environment where textile mills flourished in Richmond County, North Carolina. Molly’s husband, Frank Godwin, worked in Roberdel Cotton Mill Manufacturing Company under Superintendent, Robert L. Steele, Jr. His father, Robert L. Steele, Sr. was the founder and president of three textile mills, including Roberdel, and was seen as one of Richmond County’s, “greatest entrepreneur and promoter of the textile industry.” Under Robert, Jr. the installation of one of the first automatic looms in the south was an innovation that revolutionized the weaving industry.
Women in the Workforce
With the development of industrialization, women’s roles were increasingly more important in the work force. During the Great Depression, women “took up the slack” in the economy by not only entering the workforce, but also by keeping up with the numerous unpaid chores in the home. Some women remained only as a homemaker, while others took on the challenge of both entering into the workforce and being able to manage household responsibilities. The total female labor participation rose more in the 1930-1940s than in any other previous decade in the twentieth century. The societal change of paid labor for women initiated a movement that resulted in the many women in the workforce today. Godwin joined the women’s movement by working immensely hard to upkeep Hotel Colonnade. The reputation of the hotel lied in her hands, and she was responsible to prepare adequate food and comfortable living arrangements.
Federal Writers’ Project
The Federal Writer’s Project was developed by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal struggle against the Great Depression. This program established jobs for unemployed writers, editors, and research workers. The Project’s most important achievement was the American Guide Series that included personal histories, geography, architecture, history, and commerce to provide information of what America was like during the 1930s. Specifically dealing with the Southern Historical Collection, Daniel Fox, published in the American Quarterly, explains how the Southern Collection’s writers are very descriptive when writing about the scenery of the cities and towns. He also points out how there was localism and exaggeration that found in some of the essays because of the enthusiasm and sympathy for American life. Some of the personal histories in the Southern Historical Collection are held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The interviewer, Ida L. Moore, illustrated the scenery of the hotel by using descriptive poetic language establishing a romantic tone in the beginning and end of Godwin’s personal history. Moore explained her original plan was to stay the night at Hotel Colonnade, but she developed this interview of Molly and Frank Godwin by sitting down and having dinner with them. The dominant voice in the narrative was Mrs. Godwin’s as she relived her and her husband’s past. The vernacular was sparingly apparent, but the story was still highly understandable.
- Moore, Ida. “Good Name for Feeding.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina Southern History Collection. 1939. Print. p. 1-13.
- Hall, Jaquelyn Dowd, James Leloudis, Robert Korstad, Mary Murphy, Lu Ann Jones, and Christopher B. Daly. Like a Family: Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987. 33. Web. p.33
- United States. Dept. of Interior. National Register of Historic Places—Nomination Form. North Carolina: National Park Services, 1979. Web. p. 5-6
- Milkman , Ruth. "Review of Radical Political Economics." Sage Publications . 8.71 (1976): n. page. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. p.73
- Milkman , Ruth. "Review of Radical Political Economics." Sage Publications . 8.71 (1976): n. page. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. p. 80
- "WPA Federal Writers’ Project." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. para. 1
- Fox, Daniel M. "The Achievement of the Federal Writer's Project." American Quarterly. 12.1 (1961): 3-19. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. p. 12