Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2016/Spring/Section 023/Hazel Hoff

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Mrs. Hazel Hoff[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Hazel Hoff was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The year of her birth is unknown. In 1939, Hoff was district manager for one of the most well-known cosmetic corporations in America.[1] It is unknown which company she worked for, but it's likely that Hoff worked for one of the two most influential cosmetic companies of the time: Max Factor or Elizabeth Arden. Hoff traveled across the South, supervising branches of the franchise. Mrs. Leola T. Bradley interviewed her in Athens, Georgia for the Federal Writer’s Project.

Biography[edit | edit source]

[5. 1]Mrs. Hoff waves farewell from her hovel in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Home Life[edit | edit source]

Hoff's husband, John, brought her the paper one morning, and out of it fell a love note from his mistress of two years. Hoff kept her knowledge hidden until she discovered that he was truly in love with this woman. Unable to part with the unnamed woman, John left his job and family to be with her.[1]

Taking only what he would need for a month’s support, John left behind almost everything for Hoff and their children, which kept the family out of financial hardship for the time being, but more trouble was soon to follow. That year, Hoff lost two sons, and the stock market crash took away what little money they had in savings. After many failed attempts to get a job, Mrs. Hoff finally became a district manager and began to earn a livable wage, but the depression left them well below the poverty line. Unable to support a family, Hoff sent her children to live with their grandmother. Her husband tried to come back to them several times, but enjoying her new-found independence, she never took John back.

Interview with the Federal Writer's Project[edit | edit source]

As district manager, Hoff traveled often and met hundreds of new people each week. Ultimately, she ended up in Athens, Georgia for her interview. Packing her trunk in the local hotel room, as she usually did at the end of her stay in a new city, Hoff was looking to get a bus back to Chattanooga, Tennessee when there was a knock at the door.[1]

Bradley, the interviewer asked that Hoff tell her life story, so Hoff spoke about her travels. Her life was made more somber by the fact that she moved around so much. She cheerily showed off her wares, but lamented how her work made friends so fleeting. It seems that on every trip she would establish relationships with new people, only to leave and lose them.

Perspective on the State of the U.S.[edit | edit source]

One key point that Mrs. Hoff mentions is how the Great Depression affected everyone during this time. It affected society culturally, socially, politically, and economically. “I went through some terrible times as a result of the depression, but then there are only a few people who didn’t. My story may not be as good as plenty of others you might get."[1]

In context, one realizes that these were wild times. Nothing seemed right with the world, and desperation drove people to great lengths. Economic problems strained relationships, and many couples were driven to unsuccessful divorces.

Mrs. Hoff wonders aloud what her life would have been like if not for the depression. Makes you wonder… what would the world be like if not for the Great Depression?

The Depression negatively affected the culture by creating an environment that wasn’t conducive to art or cultural development. Without prosperity and the money that came with it, there was no room for artistic expression. The population was far too focused on surviving the hard times. The Great Depression did, however, even out the social structure of the time. All the positive changes of the late 1930’s were as a direct result of hard work and genuine human achievement. With the stock market crash leveling the playing field, suddenly no one had a great ancestry of wealth to fall back on any longer. Class boundaries dissolved, and the “old money” hierarchy of the 1920’s disappeared.

A knock on the door from Hoff's son, looking to wish his mother a safe trip home, abruptly ends the interview.

Issues: Cultural, Social, Political, Economic[edit | edit source]

The Beginnings of Femininity and the Feminist Movement[edit | edit source]

In many ways, men and women experienced the great Depression differently. For centuries, men had been socialized to be the breadwinners of the household, and many were emasculated and made to feel worthless when they lost their jobs. Meanwhile, no housewife lost her job during the Great Depression; in fact, the American woman began taking on more responsibilities as families juggled roles to make ends meet. Suddenly, women's empowerment took off as a social movement, only to gain momentum with the impending world war.

A 1930's advertisement for American Cosmetics. [2]

Cosmetics[edit | edit source]

The cosmetic companies of the 1930's were part of a completely different industry than the business field we have today. Make-up became a symbol that fostered an environment where women could come to power. It became a cultural phenomenon that was designed with different intentions in mind, which we can see by comparing what make-up covered up then and what it covers up now. Today, cosmetics are used as concealer to hide blemishes and emulate the idea of a perfect human being. We aspire to be like the photo-shopped models on magazine covers, the epitome of sexual attraction. In the 1930's, make-up was a display of wealth and power. Originally only worn by prostitutes, make-up made the transition from a taboo concept to one of the working woman's essentials. In large part due to advertising, this change in the social climate suddenly made make-up the new norm. Cosmetics were used as a status symbol, giving women a tool for the empowerment movement. As Melissa McEuen writes, “female bodies would require extra care in order to maintain the high spirits demanded of them in the sociopolitical culture of the early war years.” [2]

Granted, the vast majority of blush and concealers were made with mercury, lead, and other toxins, leading to further need of cosmetics and widespread usage. It begs the question, should women even wear make up anymore? Perhaps not, but the need for it in this time period became so ingrained in our society that it became almost impossible to separate from the culture of the U.S.

The 'lipstick effect' can also be traced back to the 1930's. In the worst years of the Great Depression, industrial production in the U.S. halved, but sales of cosmetics rose. Studies like this indicate a correlation between the economy an cosmetic sales. The conclusions we draw from this are evident in both the feminist movement and changing social dynamics that come with financial transitions like this one. [2]

Women in the Work Force[edit | edit source]

"Rosie the Riveter" ushered in a new era of progressive values, drawing unprecedented numbers of women to the workforce during World War II. Between the years of 1940 and 1945, the percentage of the U.S. workforce that was female increased from 27 percent to almost 37 percent, culminating in nearly one of four married women working away from home. The government campaign's propaganda star became the most iconic image of the war and succeeded in recruiting thousands of women to work jobs in the munitions industry.

Under the headline, "We Can Do It!" Rosie brought about a new opportunity for recently empowered women to feel as if they were making a difference and spark change in their society. The male-dominated workforce became overrun with women doing the jobs of their male counterparts that were overseas, and inequality in the workforce initiated a whole new list of grievances to which women would rally over the course of the feminist movement and the next 60 years.

Divorce and Depression in a Changing America[edit | edit source]

As Elisha Hanson writes in his book on the propaganda of the New Deal, “The coming of the New Deal brought with it so many changes in policies as well as in attitudes that a depression-weary public had difficulty keeping up with them.” He argues that the New Deal was essentially an effort to sell its philosophy and its program to the American people. [6]

This philosophy probed at the relationship between gender and patriotic duty, attempting to, as Melissa McEuen writes, "illuminate the ways in which archetypes of femininity jostled the lives of actual women at a decisive cultural moment in the American past." [2]

The Great Depression put financial and emotional strain on society as a whole, but also individual Americans. Bankruptcy necessitated an Amendment to allow the Municipal Bankruptcy Act to permit the court to include new refunding bonds specifically because the unprecedented number of divorce cases made fixing damage done by the Depression more difficult. The New Deal helped alleviate financial burdens in the U.S., but not before the paradigm of American culture had been radically shifted to make women more socially and fiscally independent.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hoff, Hazel. Athens, Georgia. "Reverses" Interview by L. T. Bradley. Federal Writers' Project
  2. McEuen, Melissa A.. 2011. Making War, Making Women : Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941-1945. Athens, GA, USA: University of Georgia Press. Accessed March 3, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
  3. 2009. "Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938." Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act Of 1938 1. Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2016).
  4. 1938. “AMENDING THE MUNICIPAL BANKRUPTCY ACT.” Amending bankruptcy act relative to compositions by cities, etc 1. Washington, United States. Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary. (Law and Legislation accessed March 3, 2016).
  5. Ancestry.com. Chattanooga Newspaper. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Card Family. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
  6. Hanson, Elisha. 1935. “Official Propaganda and the New Deal”. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 179. [Sage Publications, Inc., American Academy of Political and Social Science]: 176–86. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1020294.
  1. Ancestry.com. Chattanooga Newspaper. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Card Family. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hoff, Hazel. Athens, Georgia. "Reverses" Interview by L. T. Bradley. Federal Writers' Project