Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Gertie Deal

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

New England Housewife

Overview:[edit | edit source]

Gertie Deal was a white, American housewife during early twentieth century who was interviewed for the Federal Writer’s Project by Ethel Deal and Dudley W. Crawford. Married with two children, Deal sewed, cooked, and cleaned to make extra money. She believed in women’s voting rights, birth control, and the gospel.

Biography:[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Gertie Deal was a forty year old, white housewife who lived in Newton, North Carolina. She was born in Catawba County and moved to Newton when she was eighteen. Deal was one of ten children; none of which graduated high school, including herself. Her father owned a small store that sold everyday items. Her mother worked at home caring for the children and completing daily chores. Coming from a poor family, Deal and her sisters sold berries by the pound to make money for their clothes. Deal decided to join the church when she was twelve; her father fully opposed it. Visiting her aunt in Newton, she met a young man named Robert Deal. They were soon married; Deal was eighteen and Robert was twenty-one.

Married Life[edit | edit source]

Deal became pregnant with their first child, a girl named Ollie Deal. After buying a home for $1000 they were in debt with many loans. In order to pay the loans, Robert moved so he could work in a factory that paid more. Deal became pregnant a second time with their son, Jonny Deal. During this time, Deal canned vegetables and fruit and bought a pig in order to support the family at home. After Robert came home, they decided to buy a bigger, second home for $4000. Deal sewed for others to make extra money. When Ollie decided to go to nursing school, Deal borrowed money and rented out extra rooms in her home to pay for the $50 fee. Deal sent any extra money to pay for Ollie’s extra expenses such as a watch, a uniform, white shoes, and hose. Jonny grew up to work in the same factory as his father.

Beliefs[edit | edit source]

Deal believed that women should have the right to vote and educate themselves on those they are voting for. She also believed women should work hard. She was a firm believer in birth control and the gospel. Deal’s dream was to visit many places to preach the gospel.

Social Issues:[edit | edit source]

Birth Control During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the early twentieth century, birth control was not common and many women would have multiple children. Because most families were struggling financially, in order to support multiple children, the children had to quit school and join the workforce. Birth control was a controversial topic during the early twentieth century because this meant that women had the right to control how many children she produced. Whether it was for religious or political reasons, birth control was not very popular at the time. However, some claimed that it would be best to control the size of the family for financial reasons. During the early twentieth century, few health clinics provided women with birth control.[1] In Birth Control Politics in the United States, McCann support this, “Thus, contraception was legalized in terms of the …need of families to limit their size to their incomes, and the need of the nation to control the size and ethnic character of its population."[2] Mrs. Deal was very opinionated about the issue of birth control. Deal believed that “…it’s a sin to bring helpless little children into the world without their consent, then after they are born, not provide for them as they should be”.[3]

Women Working During the Great Depression[edit | edit source]

During the Great Depression there was an increase in women deciding to work. For many, this was out of necessity. Those who had to work in factories were paid less than men and those who didn’t work in factories provided domestic jobs such as sewing and washing.[4] Some women needed to work in order to have enough money to survive. Winifred Wandersee states, “…the statistics indicate that most gainfully-employed married women were working because of need…”[5] A woman starting to work was not always a welcomed practice during the early twentieth century. Some men were laid off and their wives became the breadwinner. This also meant that the housework may not be completed and her womanly duties were delayed. This was not an accepted change by many men. As a housewife during the Great Depression Era, Deal was forced to work various small jobs to bring in at least a little income.

Historical Production:[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writer’s Project was created as a part of the New Deal to provide jobs for writers throughout the Great Depression.[6] Life histories were written about normal people throughout this time period in order to collect history of everyday citizens. In How Valid Are the Federal Writers’ Project Life Stories: An iconoclast Among the True Believers, Leonard Rapport explains, “Life stories are to follow the general suggestions and outline contained in “Instructions to Writers”…the stories are to be told as much as possible in the words of the subject.”[7] However, many believe that some of the stories may have been exaggerated in order to be more interesting. In Deal’s life history, her accent may have been enhanced to create a more entertaining story. Rapport continues, “It isn’t as easy to distinguish between the pure gold and the fools’ gold of the writers’ projects life stories."[8] This may or may not be the case with Deal’s life history, but it should be considered when confirming the validity of life histories.

References:[edit | edit source]

  1. McCann, Carole R. Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916– 1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994). p.1-3.
  2. McCann p.3.
  3. Deal, Gertie. Interview of Gertie Deal. Federal Writer’s Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print. p.NC-71.
  4. Ware, Susan. "Women and the Great Depression." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 1997-2005: Web. para.5.
  5. Wandersee Bolin, Winifred. "The Economics of Middle-Income Family Life: Working Women During the Great Depression." Journal of American History 65.1 (Jun 1978): 60-74. Web. p.64.
  6. Abrams, Dr. Douglas. ""The Needy Doing Something Useful: The WPA Goes to Work"." NCPedia. Web. para.2.
  7. Rapport, Leonard. "How Valid Are the Federal Writers' Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast Among the True Believers." Oxford Journals 7 (1979): 6-17. Print. p.12.
  8. Rapport p.15.