Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2013/Spring/Omar Darrow

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

Stringing tobacco

Overview:[edit | edit source]

Omar Darrow (February 16, 1893 – April 1976) was a white woman who lived in Durham, NC and grew up during the time of the Great Depression. She received a degree in music from the Conservatory of Music and taught in public schools. She became a WPA worker and conducted interviews for the Federal Writers’ Project, including writing her own story for the project. She was 46 at the time she wrote her own history in 1939.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Omar Darrow was the youngest of twelve. Her mother died when she was born and that left the children to be cared for by their father. Their father became a wealthy man because he managed two large farms, and several stores. Her father married another woman when Darrow was still a child.

Darrow started attending school at age four, however, her stepmother did not approve of her attending classes. Her stepmother made it difficult for Darrow to go to school, but Darrow was smart and finished high school at the age of fourteen.

Darrow’s passion during childhood was learning to play the piano. Her father did not approve of her taking lessons, considering them a waste of time. She used her own money from the allowance that she gained each week in order to pay for piano lessons.

Adult Life[edit | edit source]

Darrow married Larry Gray in 1907 (she was 14, he was 26). Throughout their marriage they had five children, her first at age fifteen. She continued to go to school and take piano lessons, and eventually received her degree in music from the Conservatory of Music. Darrow used her degree to teach music in public schools to gain some extra money to support her children. She also strung tobacco for some extra money and she sewed all of her children’s clothes. Her husband, Larry, did not hold a well-paying job so Darrow’s father helped support them financially.

Darrow’s father gave Darrow, Gray, and the children a home, which they lived in for several years. The couple sold the home a few years later and received a large sum of money. They soon went bankrupt because Larry was being careless with their money. Larry died in 1919 when he was 38.

Darrow married again in 1938 to Martin, however, the marriage did not last long because he was involved with another woman. Darrow and Martin had a child together; however, Martin never knew about him. The couple separated, but never divorced.

Later in Life[edit | edit source]

Darrow soon went to live with one of her daughters and her son-in-law because she had no other place to go. She spent her time there gardening and fixing up the house.

Darrow died in April 1976.[1]

Social Issues[edit | edit source]

Downturn of the Economy[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression was named so for the severe economic depression that was a result of the stock market crash in 1929. Unemployment rates skyrocketed and providing for a family with no income was very difficult. Many women and even children had to begin work in order to earn money to sustain their families.[2] Darrow was not excluded from these hardships. Her husband was laid off from his job and Darrow had to work odd jobs to continue supporting her family. In order to provide relief for struggling families, Roosevelt established many programs under the New Deal. These programs helped starving families find their footing.

Opinions about Divorce[edit | edit source]

When marriages failed during the Great Depression, the options available were very limited. Divorce was looked down upon during that time and many women did not want to risk anything, as “divorce could be costly in economic as well as social terms”.[3] Many women chose instead to stay with their husbands and endure the suffering instead of finding a way out. When Darrow’s marriage to Martin failed, they did not divorce, but instead chose to separate in order to avoid the social consequences of their divorce.

Access to Education[edit | edit source]

“Higher education remained out of reach for most Americans as the nation's universities saw their student bodies shrink during the first half of the decade”.[4] Many children had to leave school at an early age to help their families bring in some money. Darrow managed to complete school and even go to college to receive a degree in music. This was not without irritation from her stepmother, however, who told Darrow when she was a child “that the next time [she] brought one of [her] books home ... [she] would never see it again”.[5]

Issues of Historical Production[edit | edit source]

The Federal Writers’ Project was created “to provide work relief for writers and to develop writing and research projects approved by the WPA(Works Progress Administration)”.[6] Generally, interviewers were hired by the WPA and were then sent to talk to people that would normally not have their stories recorded in history. However, Darrow took it upon herself to write her own story, as well as interviewing others in the following years.

Darrow’s story was titled “I Love My Home” and it was published in 1939. It contains bits and pieces from her life that she remembers, and is somewhat like a memoir. Her story, just as all stories that came out of the Federal Writer’s Project, cannot be taken as complete truth. There are concerns regarding the accuracy of the histories that came out of the FWP because of writer’s bias, and, in the case of Darrow, the capacity of one to remember the events that occurred.[7] However, Darrow’s writing does contain more insight and emotion that may not be present in other writing since it is written by her instead of another person.

Darrow made a revision to her history in 1971, 22 years after it was originally published; therefore, it can also be assumed that Darrow was conscious of the importance of her story and that her words could be read by anyone.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Darrow, Omar. "I Love My Home." Federal Writers Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print.
  2. Powers, Kevin. "Great Depression." Encyclopedia of American Environmental History. Ed. Kathleen A. Brosnan. Vol. 2. New York: Facts on File, 2011. 644-647. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. pg 647
  3. Pagnini, Deanna and Morgan, Philip. “Racial Differences in Marriage and Childbearing: Oral History Evidence from the South in the Early Twentieth Century.” American Journal of Sociology. 101.6 (1996): 1694-1718. JSTOR. Web. 14 April 2013. pg 1702
  4. Ware, Susan. Women and the Great Depression. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2013, Web. 14 April 2013.
  5. Darrow, Omar. "I Love My Home." Federal Writers Project. University of North Carolina Southern Collection. Print.
  6. Mullen, Bill V. "Federal Writers' Project (FWP)." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Ed. Robert S. McElvaine. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 361-362. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. pg 361
  7. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid are the Federal Writers’ Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers.” Oxford Journals 7 (1979): 6-17. JSTOR. Web. 14 April 2013. pg 8