Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Fall/Noah Abraham Peterson
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Noah Abraham Peterson was born in 1883 in the United States of America. He worked various jobs and spent time in the military before he settled in w:Raleigh, North Carolina where he was interviewed him for the Federal Writers’ Project in 1939.
His father and mother were immigrants from Stockholm, Sweden. His father worked 10 years with railroad companies to make enough money to buy a 40-acre farm where he raised his family. Peterson was the 9th of 11 children in his family where all were given tasks to complete on the farm. When he was in elementary school, his father became bedridden with rheumatism. He stopped going to school to look after his father while his siblings graduated high school and college. After six years of sickness, his father passed away.
After Childhood and Working Life
After his dad’s death, Peterson got engaged to a woman from his church, but the engagement was broken off. Two years later, his mother died and he began looking for work. He took a job at a store and was a very competent employee. After some time working there, he was offered a manager position, but he declined because he felt he didn’t have adequate education to complete managerial tasks. He decided to leave the store to work at railroad shops, lumberyards, and farmlands for a number of years. During this time, he came in contact with his brother who offered him work. The two of them went to Raleigh, North Carolina to be contractors.
Decline of Physical Health
While working in contracting in Raleigh, Peterson got a leg infection that required his leg to be amputated at the knee. The first amputation didn’t rid his leg of the infection so the same leg was amputated again a few inches from the hip shortly after. After his amputations, he volunteered for the army in World War I where he performed tasks to assist the troops. After thirty days at camp, he injured himself while carrying provisions and wasn’t able to continue his service. He was discharged without a financial aid package, but was given a package of food. His brother died in 1934 from the flu.
Peterson suffered from the lack of veteran support after World War One. The severance package he received was not enough to sustain a life especially for a crippled veteran. Many veterans faced the same issue when they were discharged; many of them with injuries and mental distress, and the army did not do enough to help these soldiers assimilate back into society. They were left hung out to dry, however, there were some programs created to facilitate injured veterans into jobs where they could be of use and make a decent salary. Lansing notes, “From the war’s beginning, medical professionals and efficiency experts in Europe looked to rehabilitate these amputees… not just to give wounded soldiers new arms, legs, or hands, but also to retrain them for civilian life”(34). Clearly, attempts were made to help soldiers like Peterson, but these attempts were futile. Peterson wasn’t able to benefit from these jobs and never worked in some of the lumberyards or small shops that employed injured veterans like him.
Immigrant opportunity was a successful social aspect of Noah’s life. His parents were able to make enough money to raise a farm on their own after only ten years of working in America and they were able to sustain a family with eleven children that supported each other. In the late 1800s, many major industries in America advertised to Europeans like Peterson’s parents and urged them to come to the states to indulge in the benefits of the rising prosperity. “Railroad companies advertised the availability of free or cheap farmland overseas in pamphlets distributed in many languages, bringing a handful of agricultural workers to western farmlands” (Eye Witness to History). Peterson’s father, like other immigrants, was given poor paying dangerous jobs like working on railroads, a profession where not many immigrants gained enough money to attain the farmland they were promised. However Noah’s father made and saved enough money from those jobs and was able to take his family out of that niche. He raised a farm with his family and put his children in a successful place in society where they could be educated and have opportunity.
Federal Writers’ Project:
The Federal Writers’ Project was a government program implemented during the Great Depression to give jobs to writers and fund literary production. Writers for the FWP went around the country and interviewed a broad range of citizens to record stories of the lives of the diverse nation. The writers, however, would often write contextualize the interview in a manner that was not true to what the interviewee said. Some stuck to the script and wrote exactly what they heard in verbatim. However, others just took what the interviewee said and tried to generalize it so that it related to a greater population rather than the one individual. Fox states, “Their impatience with the past… frequently distorts relative importance of historical events. This is to some extent a product of the FWP’s attempt to present a total picture of American life in Guide format- a panoramic view of the nation”(5). This may have been done to draw more relevance to the interviews the writers conducted. This way, the productions were more significant because they could better represent the nation, making them more valuable to the FWP.
Production of Noah Abraham Peterson’s Story:
This issue may have risen with the recorded history of Noah Abraham Peterson because his story seemed to fit a cookie cutter mold of a poor worker during the great depression. The questions that Peterson was asked may have been leading him to only talk about his work life and the business side of his history, rather than about his entire life including personal anecdotes. For example, Peterson briefly mentioned how religion was important to him, but if the interviewer let him elaborate more on the topic there may have been more said about his faith and that influence in his life. However, the interviewer could have wanted to keep the interview more general so it could represent a broad population rather than just one man. This way the interview held more relevance to the country and wasn’t just the story of a veteran.
- Peterson, Noah Abraham. “I Was Born That Way.” Federal Writers’ Project. Web.
- Thurber, Evangeline. Pacific Historical Review. California: University of California Press, 1946. Online.
- Lansing, Michael J. Environmental History. Durham: Forest History Society, 2009. Online
- Kraut, A. “Immigration in the early 1900s.” Eyewitness to History. 2000, Online, November 8, 2013.
- Fox, Daniel M. “The achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly. Vol. 13, No.1 (1961): 5. JSTOR. Web. 12/1/13.