Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Aunt Tobe Easterly

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Aunt Tobe Easterly (unknown-unknown) was a Caucasian American woman who was born and raised in Big Ivy, Tennessee. She and her husband were farmers who lived post American|Civil War and during the Gilded Age.


Although her grandparents were from North Carolina and she spent a few years in Texas, Aunt Tobe Easterly resided in Big Ivy for sixty-six years. Aunt Tobe Easterly was a farmer alongside her husband, Patey Easterly. However, as they grew older, their old age prevented the duo from working, despite her constant desire to continue farming. Easterly eventually appreciated her old age because of the monetary support she and her husband received from the government.

Easterly spent a great deal of time caring for her husband and grew bored. She began to be considered the town gossip. Tobe had no intentions of spreading negative gossip and said she was not a “sharp-tongued” woman. Tobe felt it was her job in their small community to spread news and let others know what was going on. She told interviewer James Aswell that “talking is just about my life these days.” In her interview with James Aswell, Aunt Tobe Easterly gossips about the small area she has grown up in and gives insight into the people of Big Ivy.

Big Ivy is an unincorporated area in Hardin County, Tennessee and is located just above the Alabama state border. Throughout the greater part of Aunt Tobe’s life, Big Ivy had been flourishing location for cotton. Despite the stereotypes of black men laboring in cotton towns, Big Ivy was a mainly Republican area populated by only Caucasian people. Aunt Tobe Easterly and her husband suffered throughout the Gilded Age, which was a time period following the American Civil War where cotton and other crop farmers suffered financially [1].

Social Issues[edit]

Social Security

The idea of Social Security began to appear during America's shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, when farming families were not producing as much income as before and specifically elderly farming citizens were suffering. However, according to the Social Security Administration, the Great Depression of the 1930s created an economic crisis in the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced his intentions to create a social security program in June of 1934 and on August 14, 1935, the Social Security Act became law [2]. The Social Security Act began as "a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income." The program assigned United States citizens with a social security number, which is an identification number, and created a payroll tax system [3]. It allowed retired citizens to apply for monthly benefits to receive continued income and promoted general welfare, however, the monthly payments did not go into effect until 1940. Until then, social security paid the applicants in a form similar to a refund payment. In 1939, amendments to the law were made to accommodate spouses and children of retired workers and “survivor benefits” to the families of workers of early death[4]. Other changes were made to the social security program throughout the years including annual increases in social security benefits, the inclusion of disabled people to receive benefits, and Medicare. Medicare provided health care coverage for recipients ages 65 years and older. In 1972, the benefits for elderly and blind recipients and those who are disabled became federalized and the Social Security Income (SSI) Program began, which is a needs-based program. Since this time, many amendments have been made to develop welfare benefits for the United States.

Agricultural Decline

Beginning after the American Civil War, the demand for family farms’ agricultural products was on a decline and an Industrial Revolution was growing. The United States was becoming an industrial economy due to innovations in technology and an abundance of resources such as oil, iron, and timber. This shift was also impacted by the migration towards the western areas of the United States, which allowed vast amounts of land for commercial agriculture. Agriculture was industrialized by equipment innovations, which led to efficient mass production and large profits. While agriculture was still in demand, small family farm crops were not. Many families who relied on their small farms’ crops to turn a profit were losing money because economic attention was turning towards a modernized and commercial production process. These rural citizens were forced to transition from family farming and to let go of their traditions of passing down land from generation to generation. They were no longer able to support their families and had to join the industrial work force. Many found themselves working in textile mills and factories as a new mean of wage earning.


Fisher, T. L. "Measuring the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly." Social Security Bulletin 67, no. 2 (2007): 65-72.

Patrick, L. “Agricultural Problems and Gilded Age Politics.” Austin Community College District. http://www.austincc.edu/lpatrick/his1302/agrarian.html.

Roberts, Charles Kenneth. The Farm Security Administration and Rural Rehabilitation in the South. Knoxville, T.N.: The University of Tennessee Press, 2015.

Wright, Gavin. Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History: Slavery and American Economic Development. Baton Rouge, L.A.: Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

  1. Aswell, James (interviewer): Talking is My Life, in the Federal Writer's Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Social Security: A Brief History. Baltimore, M.D.: Social Security Association, 2000.
  3. Social Security: A Brief History. Baltimore, M.D.: Social Security Association, 2000.
  4. Social Security: A Brief History. Baltimore, M.D.: Social Security Association, 2000.