Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Mary Mote

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

Overview[edit | edit source]

Mary Mote (interviewed by the Federal Writer’s Project in 1939).[1] was an educated white woman who lived in Durham, North Carolina. She experienced the hardships of the Great Depression, ending her life by suicide.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Mary Mote was born in Durham, NC. Her mother married a man who had grown children. Mote’s stepsister treated her badly and she had an unpleasant childhood because of that. Mote had to quit school in 4th grade to help her sick mother. Her mother died when she was seventeen. After her mom’s death, Mote went to live with her aunt but did not return to school.

Work and Family[edit | edit source]

Mote found employment in a print shop. She married twice. Her first husband died while she worked there. Later, she met her second husband, Bill, who also worked in the print shop. They married, each one having their own children from previous marriages. Combined, Mote and Bill had eight children. Because Mote and Bill both had jobs, they could earn enough money to support their large family. Unfortunately, they could not save any money. Later, the couple both lost their jobs due to a strike that happened in their workplace. As their situation worsened, Mote and her family had difficulty affording food for the family. Mote attempted suicide because she could not tolerate watching her children go hungry. Her husband Bill later found a WPA (Work Projects Administration) job, earning $18.50 every two weeks. Mote could also obtain some food from a nearby WPA distribution center. She never returned to employment, but she and her children washed the clothes sent from the WPA sewing room to earn some small change. During the hardest times, one of her sons folded papers once a week and earned forty or fifty cents. Another son rose early each morning to pick berries for the family’s breakfast. Mote and her children went to church every week. Mote wished to send her children to school so they could read and write; this way nobody could cheat them out of anything.

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Woman and Work[edit | edit source]

Issues of women’s role both at home and outside became a conspicuous topic during the Great Depression. Mary Mote lost her job in 1939, never returning to employment. Although she found life was hard with just her husband’s salary, she just took care of kids and stayed at home rather than get a job. Before the Great Depression, there was a steady increase of women in the workforce. Statistics showed that by 1930 women’s labor force participation had more than doubled “since their first mass entry in the 1890s.[2]” The Great Depression was a disruptive emergency that changed women’s role at home and work. Women were urged to adapt their roles to meet the nation’s economic need when depression stuck. They were encouraged to leave their jobs and remain at home, taking care of kids. Jobs would be reserved for male “breadwinners”; women who worked were thought to be stealing jobs from males. Situations worsened with respect to payment. Women in almost all kinds of jobs were denied equal pay for equal work “under the provisions of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) code.”[3] In half of the states, women were prohibited to work in any job if they were married.[4] As a result, there was such a “back-to-home” movement in the 1930s that large numbers of working women were going back home and considering “their physical and moral fitness for work.[5]” Also, the working woman was “implicitly depriving another family of income.[6]” In reality, driving women out of work did not insure men’s access to jobs; it only set the stage for the downfall of households supported by women breadwinners.[7]

Issues of High Birth Rates in Poor Communities[edit | edit source]

Mote had eight children and she talked about the high birth rate in her neighborhood. A high birth rate in an impoverished neighborhood worsened their living conditions. Birth rates, especially in North Carolina, were low during the 1930s. In fact, North Carolina “experienced a decrease in those younger than 5 years of age from the year 1930 until the year 1940.”[8]Mote mentioned that people in her neighborhood lived alike and had large families. Some possible reasons are an impoverished family’s separation from birth-control clinics as well as lack of contraceptive information and devices.[9]

Historical Production[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) was a United States government project; it supported writers and funded written work during the Great Depression.[10]The project started in 1935 and continued through 1943. The document about Mote is approximately seven pages of typed, double-spaced text. The writer presented most content as direct quotations rather than interpretive descriptions or opinions. However, the first page and three additional sentences were crossed out in pencil. Based on my analysis of the removed content, the editor apparently did not want to present a story that was too miserable. Descriptive phrases that were deleted, such as “all appearing to be underfed,” implied very poor living conditions. Since the purpose of the Federal Writer’s Project was to “produce publications of lasting merit as a contribution to the culture of the state and local communities.[11]” both editors and officials did not want to emphasize negative impressions of the community. In 1939, however, the FWP changed its focus in response to criticism that they were spending too much public money. Officials decided that productions needed to be more profitable and include recreational stories and scenic attractions.[12].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mary, Mote. " We'll get along some way." Federal Writer's Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print. p.4619-4627
  2. Hapke, Laura. “Daughters of the Great Depression.” Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1995. 5-8. Print. p.6.
  3. Nancy p.440.
  4. Woloch, Nancy. “Women and the American Experience.” McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1994. 438-442. Print. p.440.
  5. Woloch, Nancy. “Women and the American Experience.” McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1994. 438-442. Print. p.441.
  6. Woloch, Nancy. “Women and the American Experience.” McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1994. 438-442. Print. p.442.
  7. Hapke, Laura. “Daughters of the Great Depression.” Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1995. 5-8. Print. p.4.
  8. Anita. Price. Davis. “North Carolina during the Great Depression: a Documentary Portrait of a Decade.” Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. 2003. Web. April 10 2013. p.76.
  9. Woloch, Nancy. “Women and the American Experience.” McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1994. 438-442. Print. p.442.
  10. Wikipedia. “Federal Writers’ Project.” www.wikipedia.com. MediaWiki. April 1, 2013. Web. April 23, 2013. p.1.
  11. Hill, Michael. "Federal Writers’ Project." NCpedia.org. NC Department of Public Research, 2006. Web. April 10 2013. p.1.
  12. Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and the Deal; The Federal Writers’ Project, 1935-1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972. 3-6. Print. p.14.