Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/Lucy Thomas

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Overview[edit]

Lucille "Lucy" Thomas was interviewed by Gertha Couric on February 14, 1939, as part of the Federal Writers' Project. She was a black washwoman.[1]

Lucy Thomas
BornUnknown
DiedUnknown
OccupationWashwoman in Eufala, Alabama

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Thomas's date of birth and names of parents are unknown. No information is known about her childhood.[2]

Career and Adult Life[edit]

Thomas lived her entire adult life in Eufaula, Alabama. She never married or had children, and her date of birth is unknown. Her “high-class” job (compared to other women she knew) employed her with wealthy white people. On Mondays, Thomas went through multiple, arduous steps to wash and starch her employers’ clothes and towels. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays were dedicated to ironing, a process which required just as much labor. On Fridays, Thomas packed the clothes, returned them to their owners, and received her payment, sometimes eight dollars on a good week. Saturdays were for rest and Sundays were for church. Thomas's work was complicated in winter and rainy seasons. Her hands would often split due to cold water in the winter. Rain would require drying by the fireplace inside instead of outside. This job was easier for many women in the North and a few in the South due to the popularity of washing machines, but Thomas did not believe this was the case.[3] Thomas implies that domestic violence is a significant reason why she never married. Thomas's acquaintance, Carrie Bell's, husband killed Mr. Will Britt. It is unknown why the murder was committed. Thomas's death date is unknown.[4]

Social Issues[edit]

African American Washwomen in the Twentieth Century[edit]

In the twentieth century, laundry work was strictly for women.[5] Most black women were concentrated in low-paying, exhausting work. More than two thirds of America's laundry workers were African American.[6] Racist ideologies portrayed African American women as "beasts of burden," meant to work the hardest jobs of society, especially as field-workers and washwomen.[7] Washing machines were common in the North, but black washwomen were not allowed to even know about these commodities–let alone use them.[8] During the Great Depression, white employers advertised ways to keep black women in their households: "Keep her longer by not asking her to be a wash-woman...this is a real solution to the 'help' problem."[9] These advertisements often exaggerated features such as dark skin and muscles of washwomen, and supported the belief that black women only belonged in strenuous jobs such as washing laundry.[10]

African American Economic Oppression[edit]

Black people were commonly mistreated during the twentieth century. The Southern economy relied on their oppression to support the economy that benefitted white men. White people were given priority in Southern city jobs, and African Americans were even violently attacked to maintain the economic hierarchy.[11] African Americans were excluded from most jobs, creating racial division across occupations. This racial displacement separation existed for two reasons. When black people worked for white people, the employers could adapt the labor contract to abuse the employees' labor.[12] Even working white women in the North paid black washwomen at rates as little as five dollars a week.[13] African Americans were disenfranchised at the federal level too. The Great Depression's policies further disenfranchised black women by excluding unskilled and domestic labor from various governmental provisions. They often coped with economic issues and violence simultaneously. Many women were in charge of keeping children in school while also providing for their families.[14] The National Recovery Administration established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and social security programs barred almost 60 percent of African Americans from benefits.[15]

References[edit]

  1. Thomas, Lucy. “My Time is Mighty Nigh Out.” Interview by Gertha Couric. Federal Writers Project Papers, February 19, 1939.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Carson, Jennifer Lynn. (2007). “It takes revolution and evolution: New York City’s women laundry workers in the first half of the twentieth century.” PhD diss., University of Toronto (Canada), 2007, ProQuest Database (NR52751).
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Thomas, Lucy. “My Time is Mighty Nigh Out.” Interview by Gertha Couric. Federal Writers Project Papers, February 19, 1939.
  9. Minneapolis Laundry. "Launderers & Cleaners." Advertisement. The Minneapolis Star, September 16, 1935, 29th ed., sec. 25.
  10. Carson, Jennifer Lynn. (2007). “It takes revolution and evolution: New York City’s women laundry workers in the first half of the twentieth century.” PhD diss., University of Toronto (Canada), 2007, ProQuest Database (NR52751).
  11. Trotter, Joe W. Encyclopedia of The Great Depression, 1 vols. “Impact of the Great Depression on African Americans.” New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.
  12. Sundstrom, William A. "Last Hired, First Fired? Unemployment and Urban Black Workers During the Great Depression." The Journal of Economic History 52, no. 2 (1992): 415- 29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2123118.
  13. Trotter, Joe W. Encyclopedia of The Great Depression, 1 vols. “Impact of the Great Depression on African Americans.” New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.
  14. Revels, Tracy J. “Looking for the New Deal: Florida Women’s Letters during the Great Depression.” South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2008.
  15. Trotter, Joe W. Encyclopedia of The Great Depression, 1 vols. “Impact of the Great Depression on African Americans.” New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.