Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Ollie Foster Green

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

WPA seamstress at Farm Security Administration labor camp in June of 1941

Overview:[edit | edit source]

Ollie Foster Green, a seamstress for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, lived with her impoverished family in western North Carolina and was interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Ollie Foster Green was a white American woman who lived in Columbus, North Carolina.[1] Born in the early 1910s, she had a twin brother named Elmer. As a child, her family moved from place to place. Her mother worked hard to make a living, while her father was frequently drunk and not around. Then, her family acquired an old cabin with one room and a kitchen in the mountains where her mother grew produce and her father had a still for liquor. When her father left the family, her grandfather had them move to an eight-acre farm near Columbus where they grew crops. Her mother also washed clothing in order to earn some extra money. As a family, they would pick cotton or peas. Green walked two miles to attend school with her siblings dressed in clothes made of dyed flour sacks and hats made of fabric scraps her mother had saved. She and her siblings were ashamed of their family’s poverty and would hide their lunch meals before going to school. As a young teenager, Green’s aunt was able to get her a job working in a hospital for new babies and their mothers and she was able to contribute to her family’s income.

Adulthood[edit | edit source]

Green was married when she was sixteen years old to Ben Younts who worked at a mill in Columbus. Green had two children in four years while Ben was absent for much of that time. Without Ben around, she went to live with her mother and family where her brother Elmer helped to care for her children until he, too, got married. She worked on the family farm and met a man named Ivy who boarded at her mother’s house because the family needed the extra money. She had an illegitimate child with him. Ivy wanted to marry Green who said he could provide for her family. Though she wanted to marry him, she was still married to Younts. So that she could save enough money for the divorce papers, she worked as a seamstress for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a government program established 1935 designed to counter the Great Depression. [2]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Economic Struggles for Rural Agricultural Families[edit | edit source]

Prosperity in agricultural work took a turn for the worse during the early 1900s as time progressed and the economy changed. During the 1920s, “farmers’ income had declined steadily during the decade because of overproduction of cash crops, falling crop prices, rising farm costs, poor conservation practices, and other problems.”[3] Working on a farm was not enough to support the Green family, a similar problem experienced by other farmers in North Carolina. Education was compromised when income depended on the amount of people able to work on the farm. Green’s small amount of education could be attributed to her family’s need of her during harvest.[4] To combat this economic issue in agriculture, a migration occurred in the United States from rural towns to urban cities so that people could look for jobs, leading to a decreased agricultural population. Many looked to New Deal programs for a source of income.[5] Green went to work for the WPA.

Independent Women in a Patriarchal Society[edit | edit source]

Though many work programs discriminated against women, the WPA hired a larger percentage of women than others: “Women fared somewhat better with the WPA, in that the maximum of 440,000 women-15.3 percent of the total-occurred in March 1936.”[6] Without having a husband that contributed to their income, everything was more difficult for her as women received lower wages in general. Men were viewed as more valuable and received higher wages. [7] Women in fatherless families during that time experienced similar struggles, as families were dependent upon them for money and care. During the Great Depression, many people complained that women were taking jobs from married men who had families and wanted them to remain within the household.[8] Economic standing became dependent upon marriage, which in turn was dependent on economic situation. Thus, a cycle presented itself. Marriage was even seen as an egress out of economic troubles. Green worked for the WPA to obtain enough money in order divorce Ben Younts in the hopes that Ivy would be able to give her and her children a better life.

Issues of Historical Production[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writer’s Project (FWP) was developed through the New Deal to support writers during the Great Depression by providing jobs for them.[9] Approved in June of 1935, “one of the main missions of the FWP was to take the previously unrecorded oral history of outsiders…and turn that spoken language into written language.”[10] Green was interviewed in 1939 by Adyleen G. Merrick. Issues of historical production arise with the writing-style of the author as vernacular English is used. The whole interview involves Green simply recounting her life, though the language written does not contain proper English as the sound of her voice was valued more than English grammar and rhetoric seen in other document interviews.[11] For example, apostrophes are used at the ends of words instead of a g to signal a dropped pronunciation of the letter. In this way, Green immediately seems less educated because proper spelling and grammar are overlooked.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Green, Ollie Foster. “Husbands Are a Lot of Trouble.” Federal Writers' Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Southern Historical Collection. Print. NC8351-8361.
  2. Davis, Anita. “Keeping the School Doors Open.” Tar Heel Junior Historian. NCpedia. Spring 2010. Web. 14 April 2013. para. 17.
  3. Bishop, RoAnn. “Difficult Days on Tar Heel Farms.” Tar Heel Junior Historian. NCpedia. Fall 2010. Web. 14 April 2013. para. 1.
  4. Davis para. 19.
  5. Bishop para. 5
  6. Rose, Nancy. “Discrimination Against Women in New Deal Work Programs.” Affilia. 5.2 (1990): 25-45. Sage Journals. Web. 10 April 2013. p. 28.
  7. Rose p. 32
  8. Abelson, Elaine. “‘Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them’: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934.” Feminist Studies 29.1 (2003): 104-127. JSTOR. Web. 10 April 2013. p.117.
  9. Dittman, Michael. “The Federal Writers' Project and the Creation of Hegemony.” 49th Parallel 2 (1999): n.pag. Web. 10 April 2013. para. 1.
  10. Dittman para. 2, 9.
  11. Dittman para. 18.