Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Odessa Lester Anderson

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Odessa Lester Anderson
Eatoton, Georgia


Odessa Lester Anderson (born 1902) was an African-American maid that worked in an all girls residence hall in Eatonton, Georgia. She was interviewed by Sadie B. Hornsby in 1939 for the Federal Writer's Project. Anderson died at and unknown date.[1]


Early Life[edit]

Odessa Lester Anderson was born the second of eleven children in 1902 and grew up on a family farm in Eatonton, Georgia. When one of her older brothers was drafted to World War I, Anderson was required to quit school and take over his job on the farm. She made it through sixth grade and at age 14 while working at a sawmill with her mother, she met and married her husband Jim.[2]

Adult Life[edit]

During their marriage, Jim secured a job as a butler. Jim and Anderson then relocated to Devereux, GA and lived on their employer’s farm. Anderson served in the owner’s house when there were guests. During this time, Anderson and Jim had two sons and a daughter. After working in Devereux for two years, Anderson and Jim moved to another farm, but after six months there they separated. Anderson decided to divorce Jim because he was using all of their money to fuel his alcoholism. After Anderson and Jim separated, Anderson split up her family by sending her two sons to live with a relative in Shelby, North Carolina, so she could work to save money while her daughter lived with her. During this time, Anderson was promised a job at the Georgia State Teachers College. Anderson was hired and relocated back to Eatonton, GA to earn $16 a month working for an all-girls residence hall. Anderson was in charge of forty-nine rooms. Over the years Anderson was employed there, she made several connections with the students she worked for. Several times Anderson was paid by the students to do odd jobs, and through those instances Anderson was able to build relationships with the girls who lived there. Anderson worked in the hall during the school year, but would switch over to the main campus during the summer months and clean the women’s restroom in the educational buildings. Anderson was fed by the Hall, and lived off campus with her daughter in a one bedroom house. Odessa’s job at the residence hall seemed to be the most stable portion of her life, but after more than 12 years of employment there, she died at an unknown date.[3]

Social Issues[edit]

Black Women and Education[edit]

During the early 1900s there was attention brought to educating black women in America. Several young black girls attended grade school, but were required to drop out in order to work. There was an emphasis on taking responsibility of one’s education, and because of this, women of color pushed for education of African American girls. Nannie Helen Burroughs, Mary McLeod Bethune, and several others took educating women of color as their responsibility during their lifetime. Burroughs was responsible for receiving an endorsement for the establishment of an African American girl’s school in Washington, DC. Burroughs dedicated her whole life to being an educator and civil rights activist. In her school, black women were taught to be activists within their communities. Bethune, the former national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt established an African American school for girls as well. Bethune had the support and endorsement of white northerners because of her work on the presidential campaign. One of them being James Norris Gamble, the founder of Proctor and Gamble.1 Having the support from names like Gamble and Roosevelt allowed Bethune to overcome a variety of obstacles faced by the African-Americans.[4]

Selective Service in Georgia[edit]

In mobilizing rural Georgia for World War I, the Selective Service Act of 1917 was used to register men for the draft. The Selective Service Act required men aged twenty-one to thirty to register. However, planters in Georgia were upset about this requirement because they had healthy black men working for them that they did not want being drafted.[5][6] This issue was furthered by giving federal authority to the states to decide who was eligible to be drafted. Specifically, in rural Georgia Selective Service policies were in the hands of white men. Because of this, planters would either not allow or refuse to tell the black sharecroppers that worked for them to register Ignorant to registering for the draft, several African American men were charged with delinquency, because their white employers. The court system recognized that because of their employers, several black men were tried, and in this case the white employers were blamed.[7]

Divorce of Black Couples[edit]

The division of labor between men and women in the late 1800s originally encouraged independence in women, allowing women to support themselves. It is thought that demographics, education, and low-earnings drove the divorce rates of black couples higher than white couples.[8] In this case, quality of life wasn’t the best for families experiencing economic struggles during the Great Depression, and promoted separation. However, divorce was more uncommon as not marrying for black couples. Marriage rates were noted to drop between black couples because the gains of marriage were so little for black couples. The wage ratio of the black men to black women versus white men to white women considers that black women had no expectation for black men to provide for their families.[9]


  1. [“I Maid for the Co-Eds,” in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Thomas, Veronica G., and Janine A. Jackson. "The Education of African American Girls and Women: Past to Present." The Journal of Negro Education 76, no. 3 (2007): 357-72. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40034578.
  5. "Selective Service System Gets New Georgia Members." 1997.Atlanta Daily World (1932- 2003), Mar 13, 2. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/491786736?ac countid=14244
  6. Shenk, Gerald E. "Race, Manhood, and Manpower: Mobilizing Rural Georgia for World War I." The Georgia Historical Quarterly81, no. 3 (1997): 622-62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40583749.
  7. Womack, Todd, and Edward A. Hatfield. "World War I in Georgia." World War One in Georgia - World War I Centennial. July 28, 2005. http://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/world-war-one-in-georgia-2.html.
  8. Ruggles, S. “The rise of divorce and separation in the United States, 1880-1990” Demography (1997) 34: 455. https://doi.org/10.2307/3038300
  9. Raley, R. Kelly, Megan M. Sweeney, and Danielle Wondra. “The Growing Racial and Ethnic Divide in U.S. Marriage Patterns.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4850739/