Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 021/William Smith

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William Smith
BornCirca 1880
OccupationSoil Pipe Worker


William Smith was a soil pipe worker from Anniston, Alabama. [1]


Early Life

William Smith was born in Ohio in the year 1880, day unknown. When he was seven years old his family decided to move. They travelled southwest from Ohio. Along the way, his mother died in Missouri. Smith and his father continued on the journey past Missouri and made a home in Anniston, Alabama. Growing up, Smith’s family was poor but he speaks of always having what he needed. Smith has no education background[2]


Despite having no educational background, Smith found a job. He worked as a soil pipe worker in Alabama. Smith was not wealthy in this career but he made enough to support his family. Smith recognized his lack of education hindered him on the job front. Smith’s kind boss was responsible for him having a decent job without and education. Smith was married but her name is unknown. He had children but the number of children is unknown. He was able to provide for his family in a ten-room house. Smith and his wife did not have a lot of money. They were not able to afford a car. They were able to provide their family with the necessities like food, clothing and shelter. Smith had a large extended family from children, their children’s spouses and grandchildren. Smith seemed to have a close relationship with his son in law, Mr. Williams. One of Smith’s daughters along with her husband, Mr. Williams, and two kids lived with Smith and his wife. His daughter’s name is unknown. Smith’s death is unknown. .[3]

Social Issues[edit]

Education During the Great Depression

Work is valued over education by many. Around fifty percent of teenagers dropped out of high school so they could work instead. As the economy in the United States continued to decline, there was an increase of around thirty percent of students staying or going back to high school. This pattern continued from 1930 through 1934. The youth in the United States “quickly felt the impact of the economic crash” just likely the adults. The young people that had dropped out of school to go to work were still young enough to return to primary education when they began losing their jobs. Some young were left to walk around as homeless children without employment while others made the decision to go back to school instead.[4]

Even though the number of students enrolled in schools was increasing, the funding for and overall quality of education depended on the area of the United States. According to the American Educational History Journal, “on average, rural schools spent about half what urban schools spent per pupil” so southern states like Arkansas spent less per pupil per year than a place like New York.[5]

Employment During the Great Depression

Employment in Alabama decreased. Steel Plants were a large part of the economy in Alabama. They were falling in capacity. According to the Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, “Steel plants had fallen from 90 percent capacity in 1929 to only 26 percent in 1930.”[6] The Workers Progress Administration, WPA, was created for the United States as a whole during the Great Depression in order to provide employment for citizens. According to an individual employed by the WPA, “the government did not discriminate” between factors like race when employing individuals during the time period that the WPA existed. The more education and experience that an individual had did influence the work and pay that he or she received from the WPA. The types of employment opportunities under the WPA varied, including writing positions in the Federal Writers Project.[7]


  1. Interview of William Smith, January 31, 1939, folder 7, Federal Writers Project, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. ibid.
  3. ibid.
  4. Mirel, Jeffrey, and David Angus. "Youth, Work, and Schooling in the Great Depression." The Journal of Early Adolescence 5:489-504. Accessed March 1, 2016.
  5. Bellows, M. Elizabeth, Michelle Bauml, and Sherry L. Field. "Elementary Schools, Teaching, and Social Studies in Texas." American Educational History Journal 40 (2013): 261-78. Accessed March 1, 2016. ProQuest.
  6. Pasquil, Robert G. "Alabama, the Great Depression, and the New Deal." In Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, 1933-1942: A Great and Lasting Good, 3-11. University of Alabama Press.
  7. Fleming, Thomas. "WPA Helped Many Workers Survive during Depression." Philadelphia Tribune, March 16, 1999. Accessed March 1, 2016. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.