Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 021/Mary Windsor

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Mary Windsor
Born1913
Hardee County, Florida
DiedUnknown
OccupationHousewife

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Mary Windsor was born in 1913 to a local farmer in Hardee County, Florida. She was raised on a small farm as an only child with her mother and father in Hardee County, one of the most rural and underdeveloped areas in the United States at the time. As a child, Windsor received little education due to the lack of transportation and public schools in rural areas. She enjoyed watching baseball games, attending live performances, and dancing in the city when she was attending school. Windsor attended church as a child with her family.

Adulthood[edit]

At 18 years old, Windsor married Willie, a 30 year old uneducated sharecropper raised on a farm in Florida. Before getting married, Willie had a stable job as a sawmill worker, but he was forced to quit because of a back injury. At the beginning of the marriage, Willie used his savings begin farming strawberries with a partner, but due to disagreements between him and his partner, Willie had failed and lost his savings. This forced Windsor and Willie to reside in a broken down home in Hardee County, Florida. At 19 years old, Windsor gave birth to her daughter, nicknamed “Teeny” for her small size. By the age of 23, Windsor and her daughter were often sick due to the lack of health care in the undeveloped areas of Florida. Willie, with his back injury, was often unemployed and continued to sharecrop without success. As a result, Willie was unable to purchase medicine for Windsor and their daughter. Windsor’s illness prevented her from acquiring a labor job and enjoying urban luxuries, such as movies, live music, and parades. As a result, she was limited to being a housewife and was often alone with her daughter. Despite poverty and persistent illness, Windsor greatly admired her husband Willie.

The date and cause of Windsor's death is unknown.

Social Issues[edit]

Sharecropping During the Great Depression[edit]

The Great Depression led to a rise in sharecropping, or the mode of agriculture in which a landowner allows a farmer to use land in exchange for a portion of the farmer’s crops[1][2]. Sharecropping was a popular profession for lower class Caucasians and African Americans from the end of the civil war to the 1950s[3].


The oppression of sharecroppers by landowners took many forms. Because sharecroppers were uneducated and unable to effectively negotiate, landowners would edit contracts to add fees for certain services and create interest rates on loans to sharecroppers that exceeded 300%[4]. Attempts by sharecropper unionization leaders to improve the living conditions of sharecroppers were sometimes met with violence as reported by the Washington Post, “(Blagden) told of a flogging she and two men had received when they attempted to investigate the disappearance of the colored leader of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.” Sharecroppers during the Great Depression would often have supplies, such as seeds, fertilizer, and machinery, deducted from their share of the crops produced, leaving the sharecropper in debt to the landowner[5]. Even with the passing of the Agriculture Adjustment Act in 1934, which granted subsidies to sharecroppers and farmers in exchange for limiting crop production, sharecroppers would be forced by landowners to use these subsidies to pay off debts[6]. This often left sharecroppers impoverished and starving[7]. A leader in sharecropper Unionization, Sue Blagden stated to Congress, “The deploring conditions of sharecroppers can be described as starving and helpless under present condition”[8].

Sharecroppers were typically illiterate and uneducated, making it difficult for them to effectively unionize and fight for their rights[9]. Sharecropping unions typically failed in their appeals to congress about land owner abuse and were often denied funding from congress[10]. Despite this, these unions, the largest being the Southern Tenant Farmer’s Union, were able to improve literacy and the understanding of legal rights in sharecroppers[11].

Public Education During the Great Depression[edit]

Because public education was not a constitutional right, there was a lack of funding and regulation from the federal government[12]. Subsequently, the infrastructure of the state operated schools was extremely weak prior to the great depression. US public schools were funded using property taxes, and as a result, schools were largely concentrated in cities and large towns and separated from residents located in rural areas without public transportation[13]. Public schools made use of unregulated curriculums, some dating back to the 19th century[14]. Teachers were often paid below the legal minimum wage[15].

The weak infrastructure of US public schools was in danger of collapse following the beginning of the Great Depression. Once the Great Depression struck, many residents were unable to pay the property tax to keep schools in operation[16]. This forced states to either shut down their schools or intentionally inflate the State budget to keep the schools in operation[17]. According to John Norton of Columbia University, “ …2,016 schools, enrolling 110,800 children, failed to open this fall (1934) due to a lack of funds … superintendents estimate 18,290 schools, enrolling 914,500 children, will be forced to close before the six-month term”[18].


References[edit]

  1. "Share Cropping by Another Name." PBS. Accessed March 22, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/sharecropping/.
  2. Slavery of southern share croppers revealedin report. (1935, Dec 07). New Leader, 18, 1. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1308943292?accountid=14244
  3. Wilbur, Walter. 1934. “Special Problems of the South”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 176. [Sage Publications, Inc., American Academy of Political and Social Science]: 49–56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1020121.
  4. Sharecroppers' plight assailed at D.C. session. (1936, Aug 11). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/150758471?accountid=14244
  5. Ibid.
  6. Slavery of southern share croppers revealedin report. (1935, Dec 07). New Leader, 18, 1.
  7. Sharecroppers' plight assailed at D.C. session. (1936, Aug 11). The Washington Post (1923-1954)
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Slavery of southern share croppers revealedin report. (1935, Dec 07). New Leader, 18, 1.
  11. Sharecroppers' plight assailed at D.C. session. (1936, Aug 11). The Washington Post (1923-1954)
  12. English, Colin. Schools for the Miami Area. Tallahassee: State Department of Education, 1940. Accessed March 3, 2016.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Norton, J. K. (1934). Education and the depression. Religious Education, 29, 9. Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1296925193?accountid=14244
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
  17. English, Colin. Schools for the Miami Area. Tallahassee: State Department of Education, 1940.
  18. Norton, J. K. (1934). Education and the depression. Religious Education, 29, 9.