Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2015/Fall/Section 020/Gertha Couric

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Gertha Couric
Born1882
Eufala, Barbour, Alabama
Died1970
OccupationOwner and manager of a Tea-Room, Hostess of multiple hotels, Interviewer for the Federal Writers Project
SpouseWilliam M. Couric

Overview[edit]

Gertha Couric was a successful female business owner, hotel hostess, and writer for the Works Progress Administration during the early twentieth century in Alabama. As a widow, she maintained a career in hotel work throughout the Great Depression in order to feed her children.

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Gertha Couric was born in 1882 in Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama. She was the daughter of Edgar T Long and Mamie Rhodes.[1] As a child, she grew up wealthy in her grandmother’s house. Here she developed a taste for traditional Southern food and learned the formal dining customs of the area. Couric lived with her husband for the majority of her young adult life preceding her career. Couric and her husband had two children. On September 12, 1918, Couric’s Husband, William M. Couric, died at the age of 35.[2]

Career[edit]

The insurance money yielded from Couric’s husband’s death allowed her to open a tea-room in Eufaula. Because she was a woman, her community doubted her ability to manage a business. It was uncommon for a woman to own a business at the time. However, the tea-room became highly successful. During Prohibition, she was tolerant of alcohol and allowed patrons to consume and store liquor in her establishment. She did this in order to “’never hear anything and never tell anything,’”[3] which was a quality of her idea of an ideal hostess. The tea-room remained an establishment for the social elite to gather for years until Couric had to sell it due to hard economic times. She regretted this deeply. Couric then began work as a hotel hostess in order to provide for her children. She moved establishments on many occasions due to her unhappiness with coworkers. When she broke her ankle, she retired and began work with the Writers’ Project of the Works Project Administration. [4]

End of Life[edit]

Couric died at age 88 on April 13, 1970, in Eufaula, Alabama.[5]

Prohibition in the United States[edit]

Prohibition in the United States was a federally imposed ban on the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol. It was implemented after the passage of the 18th amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920.[6] Jeffrey A. Miron and Jeffrey Zwiebel explained in “Alcohol consumption during Prohibition,” that, “even though consumption per se was not illegal, purchasing alcohol during Prohibition involved doing business with criminals.”[7]

Motives Behind Prohibition[edit]

The dry wave of Prohibition was brought about by strong moral support from the churches as well as community movements.[8] These groups believed alcohol use and drunkenness to be linked to increased criminal activity. This movement had roots tracing back to the nineteenth century, where anti-alcohol ideology was called temperance. Temperance supporters promoted the idea that alcohol ruined individual’s lives, morals, and work ethic. This belief led to the passage of the 18th amendment of 1920.[9]

Illegal Activity and Police Enforcement[edit]

The enforcement of Prohibition caused an increase in illegal activity. Harry G. Levine and Craig Reinarman stated in “From Prohibition to Regulation: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy,” that, “new institutions and cultural practices appeared: bootleggers and speakeasies, hip flasks and bathtub gin, rum runners smuggling in liquor...”[10] The enforcement of Prohibition was not widely effective and these institutions prevailed, unchecked.[11]

The passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1933 repealed Prohibition. The increased prevalence of the illegal alcohol industry as well as a lack of support for anti-alcohol ideology caused the repeal. The Great Depression also instigated this legislation due to the economic benefit of the inclusion of the alcohol industry in the economy.[12]

Women in the Workplace During the Great Depression[edit]

During the Great Depression, women became more engaged in labor out of necessity. Unmarried women and widows were especially disadvantaged because they lacked the financial support of a husband. During this period women could not acquire the same jobs and pay as men.[13] Women were excluded from socioeconomic opportunity at times and were considered highly inferior.[14]

Prevalence of Women in the Work Force[edit]

Despite the social prejudice, many women were able to obtain work. Elaine S. Abelson stated in “Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934,” that, “women constituted more than 25 percent of the total labor force in the United States in the 1930s – over ten million women were working out of the home at the beginning of the decade, and over three million of them were married.”[15] These women’s jobs were far less secure and they received a lesser income than their male counterparts. The prevalence of women in need of jobs and the social discrimination against them contrasted during the Great Depression.[16]

Notes[edit]

  1. Ancestry.com, “Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974.”
  2. Hand, Woodrow, “Gertha Couric-Hotel Hostess-WPA Worker,” Eufala, 31 January 1939.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ancestry.com, “Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974.”
  6. Miron, Jeffrey A. and Zwiebel, Jeffrey, “Alcohol consumption during Prohibition,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 81, No. 2.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Merz, C, “The Long Drama of the Prohibition Dispute: During Eighty Years Since an Early Dry Wave Swept the Country There Have Been Four Major Phases in a Recurrent Contest,” The New York Times (1923-Current file) (Jul 3, 1932).
  9. Levine, Harry G. and Reinarman, Craig, “From Prohibition to Regulation: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy,” The Milibank Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3, (1991).
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Levine, Harry G. and Reinarman, Craig, “From Prohibition to Regulation: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy,” The Milibank Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3, (1991).
  13. Hobbs, M., “Rethinking Antifeminism in the 1930s: Gender Crisis or Workplace Justice? A Response to Alice Kessler-Harris.” Gender & History, Vol. 5, Issue 1 (Apr. 1993)
  14. Mcadoo, L. S., “Woman’s economic status in the South,” The Arena (1889-1909) No. 6 (Jun 1899).
  15. Abelson, Elaine S., “Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934,” Feminist Studies. (2003).
  16. Ibid.

References[edit]

Abelson, Elaine S. “Women Who Have No Men to Work for Them: Gender and Homelessness in the Great Depression, 1930-1934” Feminist Studies 29, no. 1: 104-106. (2003).

Ancestry.com. “Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974 [database on-line].” Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Hand, Woodrow. “Gertha Couric-Hotel Hostess-WPA Worker.” Eufala, 31 January 1939. In the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Hobbs, M. “Rethinking Antifeminism in the 1930s: Gender Crisis or Workplace Justice? A Response to Alice Kessler-Harris.” Gender & History, Vol. 5, Issue 1 (Apr. 1993): 4-15.

Levine, Harry G. and Reinarman, Craig. “From Prohibition to Regulation: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy.” The Milibank Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 3, Confronting Drug Policy: Part 1 (1991): 161-494.

Mcadoo, L. S. “Woman’s economic status in the South.” The Arena (1889-1909) No. 6 (Jun 1899). Boston, Mass. Merz, C. “The Long Drama of the Prohibition Dispute: During Eighty Years Since an Early Dry Wave Swept the Country There Have Been Four Major Phases in a Recurrent Contest.” The New York Times (1923-Current file) (Jul 3, 1932). ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times.

Miron, Jeffrey A. and Zwiebel, Jeffrey. “Alcohol consumption during Prohibition.” The American Economic Review, Vol. 81, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Third Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1991): 242-247. American Economic Association.