Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/L. A. Crane

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L.A. Crane
Born1906
Watkinsville, Georgia
DiedUnknown
NationalityU.S.A.
EthnicityAfrican American
OccupationDressmaking, Beautician

Overview[edit]

African American Woman Preparing a Meal in 1939

L. A. Crane was interviewed by the Federal Writers' Project on April 5th, 1939.  She was an African American beautician from Athens, Georgia, and was interviewed in her home-based business: Poro Beauty Shoppe. [1]

Biography[edit]

Family History[edit]

Crane's family was owned by the Fulbright family in Oconee County, Georgia, before the Civil War. According to the Federal Writers' Project interview, her grandfather was half white, half black.[2]

Early Life[edit]

Crane was born around 1906[3] near Watkinsville, Georgia on her father's farm. Her father and mother were unnamed in the Federal Writers' Project interview.[4] She lived on her father's farm until she was around five years old.[5] She was then sent to live with her aunt in Social Circle, Georgia for about seven years.[6] Crane’s Aunt had no children, and she died around 1918.[7] After her Aunt’s death, Crane was sent back to her parents and then was sent to the boarding school, Union Baptist School, in Athens, Georgia.[8]

Crane met her husband while at school. Her husband, L.C. Crane[9] , had a mother who was an “octoroon”.[10] His great-grandfather was Native American.[11] When Crane met her husband, he had just returned from World War I.[12] They were married when Crane was sixteen years old and they were married on Christmas Day.[13] The exact age of Crane’s husband is unknown.[14] According to the 1940 census, her husband was only a year older than her.[15]  According to the Federal Writers’ Project interview, her husband was in his early twenties when they married.[16]

Adult Life[edit]

After marriage, the couple bought a house, 180 Lyndon Avenue in Athens. Also after marriage, Crane’s husband received a government plan that would help him get the education needed to pursue the career he wanted. Under this plan, the Smith-Huggins Fund, they both went to school in Nashville, Tennessee. The school they originally attended had a falling out between school authorities and government officials, so Crane and her husband transferred to Tuskegee Institute. There, she and her husband were able to work and study through the vocational school, which gave them the opportunity to save the salary they were making.[17]

During their time in college, the couple also rented out the house they recently bought and saved the money from that rent as well. Crane finished her dressmaking degree in 1925. Right before finishing college, the bank they had been saving their money in failed and lost all of their money. Given they received their diplomas soon after, they went home in search of jobs. Crane’s husband found an agriculturist job first, and Crane found a job selling “Pure Food Products”. This was her first time earning her own money. It is unknown when Crane found an occupation in sewing, but she sewed for five years after attending Tuskegee. She sewed for both African American and white clients, and she made between one to three dollars and fifty cents for making dresses.[18]

After some successful time in the sewing field, cheaper dress shops with ready-made clothing began opening, so Crane decided to drop dressmaking as her business. She eventually became a hairdresser, exclusively for African Americans. She took a course at a Chicago school which specialized in hairdressing for African American hair specifically. After doing so, she was able to pursue the profession and did so for most of her adult life. She continued her sewing profession as long as she could balance it with her hairdressing and eventually phased sewing out of her life.[19]

She kept up a shop in Athens for 8 years, until eventually moving her successful business to her own home, “The Poro Beauty Shoppe”. The motto of her store was “It blazed the trail and it still leads” refering to the beautician school she attended in Chicago. The store was successful, sometimes with an income of sixty-five dollars a month. Being an African American woman in the early 20th century, U.S. Crane recognized the need for cheaper hairstyling for African American women.[20]

It is unclear whether Crane ever had children, but she focused on her career and sometimes spoke to high schoolers who were interested in hairdressing.[21]

African American Women Working in a Lumber Yard, early 1900s

Social Issues[edit]

Poverty for African Americans in the Early 20th Century[edit]

Slavery ended with the 13th amendment after the Civil War. After this change, the large slave populations left in the South faced poverty due to their lack of property ownership from slavery.[22] Over time, African Americans migrated to northern states, along with their poverty, increasing some city populations by 9.3%.[23] This caused the number of residential areas, stores, and restaurants in the North to increase for the new population, regardless of their socioeconomic status.[24] Poverty influenced African American life well into the 1930s. By this time, 80 percent of men and 95 percent of women lived below the poverty line.[25] African American employment did not alleviate the poverty due to poor payment when compared to the standard living

wage at the time.[26]

Female Employment in the Early 20th Century[edit]

In the early 1900s more opportunities arose for women to become employed. This was partly due to the women’s rights movement, which sparked strikes like women textile worker’s strike in Lawrence Massachusetts.[27] World War I opened up more jobs in the absence of men fighting in the war.[28] More women began to finish school, which began to shift the inequality in employed women versus men.[29] In clerical sectors of occupation, women made up 15% in 1890 and then over 50% in 1930.[30] Men tended to have better positions such as management, while women held low-level positions.[31] Even when in equal-level jobs, women tended to be paid much less than their male counterparts, African American women suffered even more-so in salary inequality.[32] In 1921, a white male teacher salary could be $85 a month while a white female would earn $66 and an African American female would earn $33.[33]

  1. Interview of L.A. Crane by Sadie B. Hornsby, April 14, 1939, folder 194, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Ibid.
  3. 1940 U.S. Census, Clarke County, Georgia, Population Schedule, Athens, m-t0627-00656, p. 10A, 9-15, dwelling 180, L.C. Crane and L.A. Crane; digital image, Ancestry.com, accessed September 27th 2018, http://ancestry.com.
  4. Interview of L.A. Crane by Sadie B. Hornsby, April 14, 1939, folder 194, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. 1940 U.S. Census, Clarke County, Georgia, Population Schedule, Athens, m-t0627-00656, p. 10A, 9-15, dwelling 180, L.C. Crane and L.A. Crane; digital image, Ancestry.com, accessed September 27th 2018, http://ancestry.com.
  10. Interview of L.A. Crane by Sadie B. Hornsby, April 14, 1939, folder 194, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. 1940 U.S. Census, Clarke County, Georgia, Population Schedule, Athens, m-t0627-00656, p. 10A, 9-15, dwelling 180, L.C. Crane and L.A. Crane; digital image, Ancestry.com, accessed September 27th 2018, http://ancestry.com.
  16. Interview of L.A. Crane by Sadie B. Hornsby, April 14, 1939, folder 194, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  17. Interview of L.A. Crane by Sadie B. Hornsby, April 14, 1939, folder 194, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ronald W. Walters. "THE IMPACT OF SLAVERY ON 20TH-AND 21ST-CENTURY BLACK PROGRESS." The Journal of African American History 97, no. 1–2 (2012): 110-30. doi:10.5323/jafriamerhist.97.1-2.0110.
  23. Ibid.
  24. May 9, 1999 (page 168 of 266). (1999, May 09). Indianapolis Star (1923-2004)Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1900741809?accountid=14244
  25. Ronald W. Walters. "THE IMPACT OF SLAVERY ON 20TH-AND 21ST-CENTURY BLACK PROGRESS." The Journal of African American History 97, no. 1–2 (2012): 110-30. doi:10.5323/jafriamerhist.97.1-2.0110.
  26. id.b
  27. March 28, 2009 (page 9). (2009, Mar 28). People's Weekly World (1990-2013)Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1915423293?accountid=14244
  28. Weeden, Kim A. "Revisiting Occupational Sex Segregation in the United States, 1910-1990: Results from a Log-Linear Approach." Demography 35, no. 4 (1998): 475-87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3004015.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ellis, M. (2013). RACE AND PHILANTHROPY IN GEORGIA IN THE 1920s: The case of Walter B. Hill, supervisor of negro rural schools. American Educational History Journal, 40(1), 93-109. Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1449497151?accountid=14244
  33. Ibid.