Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Anonymous Shrimp Fisherman

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search


The anonymous shrimp fisherman (birth date unknown) was born in New Orleans sometime near the turn of the twentieth century; he is one of his parents’ four children. His father used to be a longshoreman but became an alcoholic so he could no longer perform his work duties; his mother died in childbirth. He dropped out of school in seventh grade to become a shrimp fisherman. Over the course of his life he worked a wide variety of jobs. He worked primarily as a shrimp fisherman but also was employed as a garbage man and longshoreman, and served all over the world on an ocean fishing vessel. He had a poor opinion of black workers because he believed companies hired them over white workers like his brother, who was unable to find work and could not provide for his family. He almost married a woman who was unable to bear a child because her brother abused her. The man that woman ultimately married helped him find a job as a longshoreman. The various issues present in his life like alcoholism, racial tensions and domestic abuse he treated with indifference. He saw them part of the way of life in Louisiana in the 1930s and made no effort to change them. After an interview he gave, which is the sole source of information about him, there is no more known information about the fisherman.

Anonymous Shrimp Fisherman
New Orleans
OccupationShrimp Fisherman, Garbage Man

Social Issues[edit]


Alcoholism, until around the 1940s, had been treated as a personal failing, not a disease that could be treated. Addicts were viewed as products of their immoral behavior or unhealthy environment instead of sufferers of a disease. Religious overtones were prominent in this thinking as well, with alcoholism being viewed as the devil’s work on earth by many.3 Because of this belief that drinking alcohol was inherently immoral, treatment methods focused on the universal banning of alcohol like Prohibition.1 The few individualized treatment methods that did exist were typically Freudian or eugenics-based in nature and were both expensive and ineffective for alcoholics. Physicians and the medical profession were uninterested in dealing with the unprofitable and unglamorous job of alcoholism treatment.3 Therefore, people who were truly addicted were unable to get personalized help, and because of this lack of help, drinking and the joblessness and violence associated with it remained a problem in society. In the late 1930s and early 1940s groups like Alcoholics Anonymous grew in popularity. Two former alcoholics founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. They sought a faith-based approach to treatment that avoided the hell and brimstone preaching of earlier religious approaches. The central tenet of their system was that men could change their sinning ways by confessing their flaws and surrendering themselves to God. They also treated alcoholism as a disease, which was a major change in thinking from the ‘moral failings’ approach of past alcohol treatment efforts. The ‘alcohol is a disease’ concept still informs our thinking today.3 Despite their questionable scientific validity, Alcoholics Anonymous gave personalized care to addicts and represented a paradigm shift in treatment. They focused only on addicts, not on alcohol consumption in the general population, and while they did not cure alcoholism in society, they helped improve addicts' quality of life.1 Alcoholics Anonymous provided both a community and a religious grounding for alcoholics seeking treatment; however, for most of the 1930s this program was absent from alcoholics’ lives.

Quality of Maternal Healthcare[edit]

Healthcare for mothers during childbirth in the early 1900s was severely lacking. Because of the lack of trained doctors in impoverished areas of the US, infant and mother mortality was relatively high during childbirth. Hospitals in certain areas were deficient in medical care, and often were little more than a room with a few beds in it. Physician regulations were patchy and infrequently enforced, leading to a highly variable level of care for expectant mothers. The government provided little financial or medical support for poor farmers' wives, so very few of them could afford a properly trained doctor or midwife.2 All of these factors lead to high infant and maternal mortality. Poor sanitation caused potentially life-threatening infections, and complications during delivery were often handled by someone poorly trained and consequently more likely to result in death. Maternal mortality in Louisiana in the 1930s ranged from 10 mother deaths per 1000 births in 1930 to 6.2 deaths per 1000 births in 1939. The decade followed a steady downward trend in deaths, but the numbers were still an order of magnitude higher than maternal mortality in the 21st century.4 5 Families had to live with the constant threat of death or serious injury during the childbirth process, and many children grew up during the 30s without a mother as a result.


1. Mann, K. "One Hundred Years Of Alcoholism: The Twentieth Century." Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2000, 10-15. Accessed October 1, 2015.

2. Loudon, Irvine. "The Geography and Politics of Maternal Care in the USA: Introduction." In Death in Childbirth: An International Study of Maternal Care and Maternal Mortality, 1800-1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

3. Travis, Trysh. "Part One: Addiction and Recovery." In Language of the Heart a Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

4. Federal Security Agency. United States Public Health Service. Vital Statistics Rates in the United States 1900-1940. By Forrest E. Linder and Robert D. Grove. Washington, D.C.: U.S. United States Government Printing Office, 1947.

5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maternal Mortality and Related Concepts. By Donna L. Hoyert. DHHS 2007-1417. Washington, D.C.: U.S. United States Government Printing Office, 2007.