Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/Annie Allen

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Annie Allen
BornAnnie K. Willis
Circa 1886
Morehead City, North Carolina
Died?
OccupationWPA Sewing Room Worker
SpouseArthur Allen

Overview[edit]

Annie Allen (born circa 1886), also known as Anna Alden, was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) sewing room worker in Miami, Florida, during the Great Depression.[1]

Biography[edit]

Early Life and Marriage[edit]

Annie Allen was born Annie K. Willis in Morehead City, North Carolina, circa 1886. She attended school until she was 16.[2] On May 6, 1905, at age 19, she married Arthur Allen in Morehead City.[3] They had nine children. In 1924, Allen and her family moved to Miami, Florida, where they bought a house. Arthur was a carpenter and a building contractor, but he lost his job, which caused tension in the marriage. Arthur wanted the kids to drop out of school so they could work, but Allen thought the children deserved to get an education. In 1928, Arthur separated from Allen, and two years later they got a divorce.[4]

Life as a Single Mother[edit]

To provide for her children, Allen worked in a Works Progress Administration (WPA) sewing room. She did not make enough money to buy nice clothes or pay for school supplies, which embarrassed her children. Most of her children felt they would be better off working than attending school and dropped out. Only one of her children, James, finished high school and went to college. He graduated from the University of Miami and earned a Ph.D. from an unknown college in New York. Allen was very proud to have a son who went to college. Her oldest child, Edith May, stayed with her and did most of the housework. Two of her daughters, Janet and Ruthie, both married and lived in New York. Her son, Victor, worked at the Miami Country Club and gave her most of his earnings. Another son, Bruce, joined the Navy. Her daughter, Evelyn, worked when she could find jobs. Another daughter, Anna, married and then divorced. Fanny, her youngest child, married before she was 16 and had a child who lived with Allen.[5]

Social Context[edit]

Works Progress Administration (WPA)[edit]

On May 6, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in an effort to shift government aid from direct relief to public works.[6] In an address to Congress, he stated, “The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief.”[7] The WPA was very successful in providing a broad range of jobs, from construction projects to sewing rooms to art projects, that benefited many people.[8]

The Women's Division and Sewing Rooms[edit]

Ellen S. Woodward, the daughter of a US Congressman, was in charge of the women’s division of the WPA. Women were only eligible to work on WPA projects if they were heads of households. The women's division established the sewing rooms on November 1, 1935. By 1938, aside from construction, the sewing rooms were the largest projects in the WPA. They provided over half of the jobs in the women’s division of the WPA. Projects within the sewing rooms included renovating old clothes, making new clothes, creating household and hospital supplies, and other tasks. Products created in the sewing rooms were given to those in need.[9]

Education in the Great Depression[edit]

When the Great Depression hit, financial support for schools was cut. Schools required tax dollars, and businesses needed tax breaks to pay debts. Businessmen's groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Committee for Economy in Government, and the National Economic League fought against universal public education. In some places, schools were closed, teachers were fired, and the remaining teachers' salaries were lowered to save money. This left children without access to education and teachers unemployed.[10]

During this time, many businessmen and educators believed the school’s purpose was to separate out the gifted students, who would attend college, from everyone else. However, class and race barriers prevented some gifted students from moving on to college. Children at public high schools often did not receive educations sufficient to prepare them for college, while wealthy children attended private, college-preparatory schools. Schools were also segregated. Black schools were less common than white schools and were funded much less than white schools, preventing blacks from getting a good education[11]. As a result of these issues, 25 percent of children old enough to attend high school in 1940 did not. Additionally, of those who did go to high school, only 5 percent attended college.[12]

References[edit]

  1. Interview of Annie Allen by Elvira E. Burnell, February 16, 1939, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, SHC Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Interview of Annie Allen by Elvira E. Burnell, February 16, 1939, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, SHC Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. "North Carolina, Marriage Index, 1741-2004." Ancestry. Accessed October 20, 2015.
  4. Interview of Annie Allen by Elvira E. Burnell, February 16, 1939, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, SHC Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. Interview of Annie Allen by Elvira E. Burnell, February 16, 1939, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, SHC Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  6. McElvaine, Robert S. Encyclopedia of the Great Depression. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. 1061-1067.
  7. "Roosevelt to Make Jobs for 3,500,000 Now on Relief; Pushes His Social Program." The New York Times, January 5, 1935.
  8. Marcketti, Sara B. "The Sewing-Room Projects of the Works Progress Administration." Textile History: 28-49.
  9. Marcketti, Sara B. "The Sewing-Room Projects of the Works Progress Administration." Textile History: 28-49.
  10. McConnell, Tandy. "The 1930s: Education: Overview." In American Decades. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale Research, 2001.
  11. McConnell, Tandy. "The 1930s: Education: Overview." In American Decades. Vol. 4: 1930-1939. Detroit: Gale Research, 2001.
  12. "Our Children—of America's 36 Million, Many Need Help." Pathfinder Magazine, February 3, 1940, 1.