Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2013/Spring/Pearl Phillips

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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]

Pearl Phillips was a woman who lived through the Prohibition Era and Great Depression. She was a WPA worker who worked a large majority of her life in order to provide for her unprivileged family. She was interviewed as a part of the Federal Writer’s Project on July 20, 1939 in order to capture her life story.

Biography[edit]

Childhood[edit]

During Pearl’s childhood, her father was rarely at home. According to Pearl, her father was “wasn’t so good anyway.” [1] He spent a large portion of his money on himself, along with using the rest to be with other women. Pearl had six brothers and sisters; some of them were illegitimate children due to her father’s promiscuous ways. Her mother had to provide for the family without her husband most of the time. When her mother was not working at her mill, she washed, cooked, and cared for the sick. However, her hard work was not enough to maintain her family. Sometimes, Pearl and her siblings could not eat because the family did not have enough money for food. In order to provide for the family, her mother had to resort to selling whiskey during the Prohibition Era. She eventually was caught by a Federal officer and tried in court. In order to save her mother’s freedom, Pearl lied and said that it was she, a child, who sold the whiskey. Pearl received three months in the workhouse, but it was better than her mother receiving a much harsher sentence.

Education[edit]

Pearl did not receive much education. She only finished up to the fifth grade. Pearl had dreams of becoming a nurse, but her economic situation along with the state of the economy inhibited her ambitions.

Adulthood[edit]

Pearl Phillips was a woman who worked for the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the largest New Deal Agency. The women of the WPA used sewing machines to make clothing and bedding, in addition to providing supplies for hospitals and orphanages. While the New Deal gave work to millions during the time period following the Great Depression, she made a mere $36.40 a month. Half of her salary had to be used for her rent each month while supporting seven people, which included her brothers, sisters, and boyfriend. [2]

Social Issues[edit]

Educational Opportunities During The Great Depression[edit]

Many families could not consider educational paths for their children during the Great Depression. Schools had to drop extracurricular classes and even stopped providing supplies for students. Students had to provide their own materials while receiving a partial education. Due to the low quality of primary education and high opportunity cost secondary education, many children had to drop out of school to help the family. They would have jobs in which they would “sell newspapers and shine shoes” [3] in order to help support the family unit. Pearl fell victim to these unfavorable conditions. After completing the fifth grade, she had to drop out and help her mother look after her younger siblings.

Unequal Job Opportunities and Pay for Women[edit]

Unfortunately, women have had unequal job opportunities throughout history. Robert Jackson mentions, “Men opposing women’s employment have done the most to keep women in economically marginal positions." [4] Women’s rights did not take full effect until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, guaranteeing equal treatment of women in the workforce. Jackson asserts that, during the Great Depression, “men advanced economic discrimination against women in their roles as husbands, as competing workers, and as employers." [5] The state of the women’s rights during the Great Depression certainly did not aid Pearl or her mother. They both struggled to provide for an extended family with a typical women’s salary.

The Federal Writers’ Project and Issues of Historical Production[edit]

Recording of the Interviews[edit]

The Federal Writer’s Project was a work relief program stemming from the New Deal. The goal of the Project was to “fund written work and support writers during the Great Depression," [6] but it also provided first hand accounts of the lives of American citizens during the late 1930s. The employees would travel around and interview local residents. The instructions given to the interviewers were to record the interview as word for word as possible. [7] However, the interviewers recorded the interview by hand. Information could have been skewed or left out while trying to keep up with the interviewee’s exact words as he or she spoke. Quotes such as, “Mama don’t look nice with that big stomach” [8] suggest main emphasis on the exact words Pearl as she was interviewed.

The Interviewers[edit]

Since the Project was primarily for relief and not for scholarly purposes, its historical accuracy is questioned regarding the consistency of information. Daniel Fox states, “conflicts between work relief and culture resulted in publications of uneven quality." [9] Interviewers ranged from accomplished writers to job-seeking fathers. Interviewers who were accomplished writers could elaborate more on information throughout the interview while providing an easy read. On the contrary, interviewers who were less familiar to the writing field produced lower quality interviews. Travis Jordan, the man who interviewed Pearl, could have been a best-selling author or a middle school dropout. Unfortunately, his information is unknown, resulting in a broad range of quality of the interview.

References[edit]

  1. Phillips, Pearl. “I’ll Have Something Yet.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print.
  2. Phillips, Pearl. “I’ll Have Something Yet.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print.
  3. Jensen, Barb. “Education During the Great Depression.” Yahoo! Voices. 25 Jan 2008. Web. 14 April 2013.
  4. Jackson, Robert. “Down So Long…Chapter 3. Economic Inequality and the Division of Labor.” New York University, Lecture, 1-28. Web. 14 April 2013.
  5. Jackson, Robert. “Down So Long…Chapter 3. Economic Inequality and the Division of Labor.” New York University, Lecture, 1-28. Web. 14 April 2013.
  6. “Federal Writers’ Project.” Wikipedia. 1 April 2013. Web. 14 April 2013.
  7. Soapes, Thomas. “The Federal Writers’ Project Slave Interviews: Useful Data or Misleading Source.” Oxford Journals 5.1 (1977): 33-38. Oral History Review. Web. 14 April 2013.
  8. Phillips, Pearl. “I’ll Have Something Yet.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print.
  9. Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writer’s Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 14 April 2013.

Fox, Daniel. “The Achievement of the Federal Writer’s Project.” American Quarterly 13.1 (1961): 3-19. JSTOR. Web. 14 April 2013. Jackson, Robert. “Down So Long…Chapter 3. Economic Inequality and the Division of Labor.” New York University, Lecture, 1-28. Web. 14 April 2013. Jensen, Barb. “Education During the Great Depression.” Yahoo! Voices. 25 Jan 2008. Web. 14 April 2013. “Federal Writers’ Project.” Wikipedia. 1 April 2013. Web. 14 April 2013. Phillips, Pearl. “I’ll Have Something Yet.” Federal Writers’ Project. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southern Collection. Print. Soapes, Thomas. “The Federal Writers’ Project Slave Interviews: Useful Data or Misleading Source.” Oxford Journals 5.1 (1977): 33-38. Oral History Review. Web. 14 April 2013.