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

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Mary Wright Hill
BornMary Wright
March 6, 1881
Asheville, North Carolina
DiedNovember 26, 1946 (age 65)
Athens, Georgia
NationalityAmerican (mixed race)
Other names"Martha," Mary Reid, Mary Dedawyler
OccupationPrimary School Principal

Overview[edit]

Mary Wright Hill was the first Black woman to be a primary school principal in Athens, Georgia. The Federal Writer’s Project interviewed Hill on July 27th, 1939 to document her life. [1]

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Mary Wright Hill was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 6th, 1881. Both of her parents were from Greenville, North Carolina. Her mother’s family was French and her father’s family was African American and Native American. Although Hill was of mixed race, her community saw her as Black. Her father was a contractor for brickwork and moved his family to Atlanta, Georgia when Hill was young to find more work. Her family was middle class and had steady income, so Hill and her five siblings all went to either Atlanta University or the Tuskegee Institute. Her dad died when she was seven, and during high school her mother became blind. Although Hill had dreams of being a doctor, she had to drop out of college to begin working to support her mother and siblings.[2]

Professional Life[edit]

Hill’s first job was as a teacher at an all Black primary school in Oxford, Georgia. She was thirteen and made $30 a month. In 1906 Hill became the first Black woman school principal in Athens, Georgia. She was the school principal for thirty-three years and made $135 a month at the time of the interview. The school improved a lot while she was principal. Before she was principal the school was very small and had no running water. At the time of the interview, the school had more rooms, running water, and better quality toilets. Hill also had the school’s water tested by the state government to make sure her students would not get sick.[3] Hill did work besides being a principal too. She volunteered to teach illiterate black adults when she first began working and taught social service work for ten years. She additionally learned basic pediatric care to take care of her students because many would come to school sick. Many community members questioned Hill’s leadership role at school due to both her race and gender, but her successes made her respected in the community.[4]

Personal Life[edit]

Hill married three times and had two daughters, both from her first husband. Her oldest daughter, Viola, lived in Atlanta and was a stay at home mom. Her younger daughter, Namette, got a job with the Works Progress Administration (a jobs program of the New Deal) as a social worker after she got a divorce. Hill’s husband at the time of the interview was an interior decorator who ran part of his business from their home. The Great Depression did not affect her that much because neither her nor her husband lost their jobs.[5] Hill retired in 1943 and died on November 26th,1946 at the age of 65 in Athens, Georgia.[6]

Social Issues[edit]

Education Under the Great Depression[edit]

The Great Depression created mass unemployment and poverty throughout the United States. Due to the scale of poverty and unemployment, the New Deal focused on jobs programs. Schools did not get a lot of government assistance in the 1930s since most government resources were put to these jobs programs.[7]

Education for African Americans[edit]

Black primary school in the 1930s

Many Black schools in the early 1900s provided technical education focused in agricultural and domestic work. The most famous school for vocational training was the Booker T. Washington Institute, which some of Hill’s relatives attended.[8] Jim Crow schools for primary and secondary education had fewer resources than the schools for white students. Many schools had poor building structures, bad water sanitation, and no plumbing. The buildings were built on bad soil, so the buildings were also unsafe for students and staff.[9] Many individuals within the African American community pushed to create education programs on their own because of government assistance for education programs. Despite economic hardship, by creating programs for both children and adults, the education for Black Americans grew in the south during the Great Depression. Between 1890 and 1930, the African American literacy rate rose from 30 to 74 percent in Georgia thanks to various community programs.[10]

The New Deal[edit]

African Americans and the New Deal[edit]

African Americans were already more poor than White Americans in the early 1900s, and they were not able to receive the full benefits of the New Deal. This time period was when many African Americans were the “last hired and first fired”. Many African Americans entered the depression before the stock market crash in 1929 and stayed in the depression longer than most white Americans.[11]

Education Programs in the New Deal[edit]

The federal government has not always had a large role in primary and secondary education. It was not until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 that the federal government began to have a bigger role in education policy. There were not many education programs in the New Deal. Georgia’s New Deal programs concentrated on agriculture. President Roosevelt saw Georgia’s agricultural conditions as its main issue, and therefore had programs focusing on assisting farming communities.[12]

Notes[edit]

  1. Mary Wright Hill. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Principal of a Grammar School for Thirty-Three Years. Federal Writers Project. Athens, Georgia. 1939.
  2. Mary Wright Hill. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Principal of a Grammar School for Thirty- Three Years. Federal Writers Project. Athens, Georgia. 1939.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. LaCavera, Tommie. “Among Clarke County’s notable women were first black female education administrator; vocal opponent of women’s suffrage.” Online Athens: Athens Banner-Herald. October 30, 2001. Accessed March 01,2016. http://onlineathens.com/stories/103001/ath_women.shtml#.VtcjnowrL-k.
  7. Zilversmit, Arthur. 1997. Review of Schools in the Great Depression. History of Education Quarterly 37 (2). [History of Education Society, Wiley]: 240-241. doi: 10.2307/369381.
  8. Irons, Peter. “Jim Crow’s Schools.” American Federation of Teachers. Accessed March 01, 2016. http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2004/jim-crow-schools.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Trotter, Joe. “African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on.” In Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, Edited by Robert S. McElvaine, 8-17. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.
  12. Mazzari, Louis. “New Georgia Encyclopedia.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/new-deal.

References[edit]

LaCavera, Tommie. “Among Clarke County’s notable women were first black female education administrator; vocal opponent of women’s suffrage.” Online Athens: Athens Banner-Herald. October 30, 2001. Accessed March 01, 2016. http://onlineathens.com/stories/103001/ath_women.shtml#.VtcjnowrL-k.

Fass, Paula. 1982. “Without Design: Education Policy in the New Deal.” American Journal of Education 91 (1). University of Chicago Press: 36-64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085258.

Irons, Peter. “Jim Crow’s Schools.” American Federation of Teachers. Accessed March 01, 2016. http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2004/jim-crow-schools.

Mary Wright Hill. Interview by Sadie Hornsby. Principal of a Grammar School for Thirty-Three Years. Federal Writers Project. Athens, Georgia. 1939.

Mazzari, Louis. “New Georgia Encyclopedia.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/new-deal.

Trotter, Joe. “African Americans, Impact of the Great Depression on.” In Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, Edited by Robert S. McElvaine, 8-17. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.

Zilversmit, Arthur. 1997. Review of Schools in the Great Depression. History of Education Quarterly 37 (2). [History of Education Society, Wiley]: 240-241. doi: 10.2307/369381