Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 018/Odessa Lester Anderson

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Overview[edit]

Odessa Lester Anderson (b. 1902) was an African American maid born in Eatonton, Georgia. For most of her life she was employed in private residences, until she was hired to clean a dormitory at Georgia State Teachers' College, now called Georgia State University.

Odessa L. Anderson
Born1902
Eatonton, Georgia
Died?
NationalityAmerican
OccupationDomestic Servant
Years activeUnknown

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Anderson was born in 1902. She was the second youngest of 11 children. All of her brothers fought overseas in World War 1. She grew up working on a farm, tending to cotton and peanuts. As a child, Anderson walked five miles to school, which was located in a single room schoolhouse, called Half Acre. She attended up until the 6th grade before dropping out. Anderson grew up going to the Baptist church. [1]

At age 14, Anderson married Jim. He worked at a sawmill with her mother. After marrying, Jim and Anderson moved to Devereaux (state unknown), where Jim was employed as a butler at Breezy Hill Farm. On special occasions and holidays, Anderson helped inside by cooking and cleaning. Otherwise, she worked in the fields at the farm. Jim and Anderson lived there for two years. During their marriage, they had three children, two boys and a girl.[2]

Adult Life[edit]

After living in Devereaux for two years, the family moved to Athens, Georgia. Jim had become dependent on alcohol. He was unable to provide for his family, so Anderson left him. She took the children with her. Anderson was employed as a maid for a white woman, cooking and cleaning for her, while making $2.50 a week. This was not enough money for Anderson to support all three children, so she sent her two boys to live with her sister in Shelby, North Carolina. Anderson kept her daughter with her in Athens.[3]

While working for the white woman, Anderson met a janitor at Georgia State Teachers’ College, who promised to get her a job. He soon told her about an available dormitory maid position. Anderson applied for the job and was hired. While working in the dormitory, Anderson cleaned the rooms, and ran errands for the residents. Over the summers, she cleaned bathrooms in buildings on campus. Anderson enjoyed this job, because the college girls kept her entertained.[4]

        There is no more known information about Odessa Lester Anderson's life.

Domestic Service in the United States during the early 1900's[edit]

Throughout the 19th century, many women were employed in domestic work.[5] By 1900, 28.7 percent of working women were employed within the home as domestic servants.[6] In the early 20th century, the composition of domestic service in America shifted to primarily African Americans. Job opportunities opened up for women, because many men were off fighting, during World War I and World War II. [7] White women were able to get jobs that were traditionally occupied by men. [8] However, fewer opportunities were available to African American women.[9] This led to an overrepresentation of African American in domestic service in the United States.[10]

Consequently, by 1920, the average servant was most likely to be an elderly African American person, supporting a family.[11]

However, the population of servants declined by 400,000 between 1910 and 1920.[12] A significant change that occurred in this field of employment in the early 1900’s was the percentage of live-in servants.[13] The cost of employment for day workers was cheaper for employers, and it limited their personal involvement with them.[14] The majority of servants were daytime workers, commuting to their employers' homes in the morning and commuting home in the evenings. Wages rose to account for room and board. Thus, servants made more money. This was a benefit of being a live-out servant.[15] Living out allowed physical and social freedom for servants, because they were not bound to their employers' homes.[16]


The Effects of World War I on African Americans[edit]

American history reveals that during wartimes, social and political opportunities arise for oppressed groups.[17] Such opportunities arose for African Americans during World War I. During the beginning of the 20th century, African Americans experienced racial oppression. Jim Crow laws were prevalent in the South, instituting racial superiority of whites.[18] African Americans experienced racial oppression in nearly all social institutions.[19] They faced discrimination in employment, as well as segregation in schools and public accommodations.[20] They also experienced denial of suffrage.[21]

Horrible working conditions combined with a lack of job opportunities led to the Great Migration.[22] Intrigued by job opportunities and the promise of less severe social oppression, African Americans left the South and migrated north and west. Half a million African Americans migrated to northern cities between 1915 and 1920.[23] The migration continued and between 750,000 and one million southern African Americans left during the 1920s.[24] Arguably the most profound impact of the war on African Americans was the Great Migration, because it began a multi-decade phase of migration to the North, where promises of economic opportunity and better social relations remained.[25]

In 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which called all eligible men between the ages of 21 and 31 to enroll in the military.[26] Shortly after its enactment, over 700,000 African American men enrolled.[27] By the end of the war, over 2.3 million African American men had enrolled for military duty.[28] African American men were barred from the US Marine Corps and the Army Air Corps. They were assigned unskilled jobs in the Navy.[29]

During World War I, American forces were segregated.[30] Due to social and cultural relations, African American men faced war both on the front lines of combat and with their fellow man.[31] They faced policies of segregation, subjugation and hostility.[32] African American men received minimal combat training and were then sent to France as labor troops.[33] These troops experienced poor conditions and harassment from white leadership.[34] The segregation of American armed forces reflected the segregation experienced in American civilian life.[35]


References[edit]

  1. Anderson, Odessa. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Personal Interview. Athens, Georgia, March 14, 1939
  2. Anderson, Odessa. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Personal Interview. Athens, Georgia, March 14, 1939
  3. Anderson, Odessa. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Personal Interview. Athens, Georgia, March 14, 1939
  4. Anderson, Odessa. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Personal Interview. Athens, Georgia, March 14, 1939
  5. Romero, Mary. 1992. “Domestic Service and Women of Color in the United States.” In Maid in the U.S.A., 71-95. United States: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
  6. Romero, Mary. 1992. “Domestic Service and Women of Color in the United States.” In Maid in the U.S.A., 71-95. United States: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
  7. Romero, Mary. 1992. “Domestic Service and Women of Color in the United States.” In Maid in the U.S.A., 71-95. United States: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
  8. “United States Homefront During World War I.” Accessed 10–18, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_home_front_during_World_War_I#Labor.
  9. Romero, Mary. 1992. “Domestic Service and Women of Color in the United States.” In Maid in the U.S.A., 71-95. United States: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
  10. Romero, Mary. 1992. “Domestic Service and Women of Color in the United States.” In Maid in the U.S.A., 71-95. United States: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc.
  11. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  12. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  13. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  14. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  15. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  16. Sutherland, Daniel E. 1981. “Winds of Change: Domestic Service in 1920.” In Americans and Their Servants: Domestic Service in the United States from 1800 to 1920, 182–199. United States : Louisiana State University Press.
  17. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  18. “Jim Crow Museum: Origins of Jim Crow.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm.
  19. “Jim Crow Museum: Origins of Jim Crow.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm.
  20. “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/civil-rights-act/segregation-era.html.
  21. “The Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/great-migration-1915-1960.
  22. “The Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/great-migration-1915-1960.
  23. “The Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/great-migration-1915-1960.
  24. “The Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/great-migration-1915-1960.
  25. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  26. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  27. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  28. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  29. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.
  30. Das, Santanu. 2011. “Not Only War: The First World War and African American Literature.” In Race, Empire and First World War Writing, 283– 300. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
  31. Das, Santanu. 2011. “Not Only War: The First World War and African American Literature.” In Race, Empire and First World War Writing, 283– 300. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
  32. Das, Santanu. 2011. “Not Only War: The First World War and African American Literature.” In Race, Empire and First World War Writing, 283– 300. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
  33. Das, Santanu. 2011. “Not Only War: The First World War and African American Literature.” In Race, Empire and First World War Writing, 283– 300. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
  34. Das, Santanu. 2011. “Not Only War: The First World War and African American Literature.” In Race, Empire and First World War Writing, 283– 300. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press
  35. “World War One and the Great Migration.” Accessed 10–19, 2015. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/BAIC/Historical-Essays/Temporary-Farewell/World-War-I-And-Great-Migration/.