Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Ed Rutledge

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Edward Rutledge
BornAugust 18, 1912
Fort Worth, Texas
DiedUnknown
NationalityAmerican
OccupationProfessional Knitter

Edward "Ed" Rutledge, a Texas native from Fort Worth, grew up during The Great Depression. Homeless during his teen and early adult years, Rutledge worked many part time jobs before starting his career as a knitter. He was interviewed on December 18th, 1938 by John H. Abner for the Federal Writers Project.

Biography:[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Rutledge was raised an only child by his mother and father, who worked on the farm. Shortly after his childhood his mother died during a family vacation. As a result, his father worked on the farm alone while Rutledge pursued an education at his local high school.[1]

After Rutledge’s father died in February of 1929, Rutledge was left alone with the farm. In an effort to pay off the farm, Rutledge rented it out while working as a waiter. After saving his earnings for six months, the house caught fire and Rutledge was forced to let the lot go. He was also laid off from his cafe job as the cafe went out of business. With no money or belongings, Rutledge, along with his friend Sam Haines, traveled across Texas in search of work. After many failed attempts, Rutledge and Haines traveled to Birmingham, Alabama where Haines found a job as a waiter. Rutledge left Haines and caught a freight train to Atlanta, where after weeks of living homeless, he found a job washing cars in Charlotte.[2]

Homeless[edit]

Rutledge likely spent many nights on the streets while traveling in search of work. Rutledge gives an account of his encounter with a homeless family, sharing his hunger whilst stranded on the highway. Rutledge suggested him and the family continue walking along the road, hoping to arrive upon a farm. Rutledge experienced the harsh realities of the Great Depression and the punishing effects of long term unemployment.[3]

Career[edit]

Rutledge moved to North Carolina, where he earned a job as a grease boy at an automobile repair shop. He explained in his interview that he excelled at his car washing job, improving the company through marketing ideas with the nearby restaurant, while also getting to know the customers. Eventually, through conversation with a satisfied customer, Rutledge learned of the knitting business which would promise years of work with respectable pay. Taking the small savings he had accumulated during his time as a car washer, Rutledge began his training as a knitter. After three months training without pay, Rutledge began saving his earnings, buying a car within the first year.[4]

Rutledge continued with his knitting job on the very same machine for over 30 years. He married in 1935 and had a baby girl a year later. At the time of the interview he had a car and steady income with a house for his family.[5]

There is no known date of his death or life after the interview.

Social Issues:[edit]

Great Depression and Unemployment[edit]

The Great Depression arrived across America in the wake of the Wall Street Crash in 1929. The economy rapidly declined to a halt, where over 15 million American workers were left unemployed with no aid or insurance from the government.[6] This was nearly 25% of the American working population, who were left without a job. 2 million Americans also became homeless due to the high rates of unemployment.[7] Daily life for the poor and unemployed during the Great Depression was difficult, since no businesses were looking to expand with more workers.[8] While unemployment rates stopped increasing by the early 1930s and remained fairly stable throughout The Great Depression, the effects continued to grow. The Great Depression created the first emergence of large scale and widespread long-term unemployment. Within a Massachusetts state census in 1934, 63% of unemployed Americans reported to have been unemployed for more than a year. Other states showed similar results, with high percentages continuing through 1937 and 1938.[9]

For the large American population left consistently unemployed, the extensive months without any source of income resulted in a very poor quality of life. Many Americans were forced to seek food at nearby farms, scavenging on any crops they could find to eat.[10] Fires were often lit in the streets to keep people warm during the winters as the homeless did not have shelter or clothes for warmth.[11] The government was also unable to offer any significant aid for the working class and homeless. Focused on improving for the long term future, the government instead attempted to expand the country’s education system by encouraging children to remain in school rather than enter into the workforce.[12] This effort was intended to limit the number of Americans in the labor force in order to prevent the increasing unemployment rates.

For those already in the workforce and unemployed however, the government did not offer any such help. Instead, many private businesses such as charities and churches supported the unemployed through soup kitchens. These soup kitchens were open to the homeless and unemployed for very cheap or free meals. Soup kitchens and other charitable organizations commonly served 1,500 to 3,000 people each day.[13] It was not until the mid 1930s until state and federal government opened their own soup kitchens to the public.[14] The Great Depression and large scale unemployment continued until the beginning of World War II in 1939 when a need for military goods increased production and opened up industries for new jobs.

Knitting Industry[edit]

Leading up to the 1930s and subsequently, the Great Depression, the textiles industry had been continuously increasing as technology improved and consumer markets expanded.[16] Due to the Great Depression and sharp decline in businesses, the textile industry was one of the few industries which saw an expansion during the economic depression. The success of textile industry during this time was caused by its wide range of products which were necessary for common living. Americans were unable and unwilling to by luxury items, instead spending money on necessities such as clothing and sheets.[17] This interest even through the economic depression opened up a previously hidden job market to the American Population. The knitting industry which had previously been viewed as a primarily feminine occupation and hobby, became accepted as a legitimate career for working class men. The influx of workers into the industry helped to introduce the forty hour work week was installed in order to maximize production from workers while also cutting the wages significantly.[18] This business decision opened doors to many unemployed workers who were willing to operate the machinery under low wages. However, in order to further maximize production during the hard times of slow business, many companies within the textile industry, specifically knitting, turned to internal and formal training of employees before hiring. The knitting industry in particular invested in internal training programs in which all employees were required to attend three months of unpaid training before beginning work.[19]

References[edit]

Glover, John George., and Rudolph L. Lagai. The development of American industries: their economic significance. Simmons-Boardman; M. Paterson, 1959. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015022417045;view=1up;seq=270

History.com Staff. “The 1930s.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/1930s.

Margo, Robert A. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 7, no. 2 (1993): 41-59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2138199

Miriam Cohen. "Population, Politics, and Unemployment Policy in the Great Depression." Social Science History 38, no. 1 (2014): 79-87. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed September 27, 2017). http://muse.jhu.edu/article/585189

"Social Security." Social Security History. Accessed October 26, 2017. https://www.ssa.gov/history/acoffee.html.

"United States History." Depression-era Soup Kitchens. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1660.html.

ValueWalk: Life and Times during the Great Depression INFOGRAPHIC]. Chatham: Newstex, 2016. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1771826288?accountid=14244

Notes[edit]

  1. Abner, John A. "Abner, John (Interviewer) Ed Rutledge: The Knitter" December 18, 1939. http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/757/rec/1
  2. Abner, John A. "Abner, John (Interviewer) Ed Rutledge: The Knitter"
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid
  6. ValueWalk: Life and Times during the Great Depression INFOGRAPHIC]. Chatham: Newstex, 2016. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1771826288?accountid=14244
  7. Margo, Robert A. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 7, no. 2 (1993): 41-59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2138199
  8. ValueWalk: Life and Times during the Great Depression INFOGRAPHIC]. Chatham: Newstex, 2016
  9. Margo, Robert A. "Employment and Unemployment in the 1930s." The Journal of Economic Perspectives 7, no. 2 (1993): 41-59
  10. Abner, John A. "Abner, John (Interviewer) Ed Rutledge: The Knitter"
  11. ValueWalk: Life and Times during the Great Depression INFOGRAPHIC]. Chatham: Newstex, 2016.
  12. Miriam Cohen. "Population, Politics, and Unemployment Policy in the Great Depression." Social Science History 38, no. 1 (2014): 79-87. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed September 27, 2017). http://muse.jhu.edu/article/585189
  13. "United States History." Depression-era Soup Kitchens. Accessed October 26, 2017. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1660.html.
  14. "United States History." Depression-era Soup Kitchens.
  15. "Social Security." Social Security History. Accessed October 26, 2017. https://www.ssa.gov/history/acoffee.html.
  16. Glover, John George., and Rudolph L. Lagai. The development of American industries: their economic significance. Simmons-Boardman; M. Paterson, 1959. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015022417045;view=1up;seq=270
  17. Glover, John George., and Rudolph L. Lagai. The development of American industries: their economic significance. Simmons-Boardman; M. Paterson, 1959.
  18. Ibid
  19. Abner, John A. "Abner, John (Interviewer) Ed Rutledge: The Knitter"