Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 2/QuayCorn

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Quay Corn was a white farmer who lived in Hendersonville, NC, and led a very simple life in relative poverty. He was interviewed by Frank Massimino on June 19th, 1939 for the Federal Writers' Project. [1]


Quay Corn was born on October 8th, 1898 in Hendersonville, North Carolina to Vandalia and Walter Corn, and was the oldest of five siblings. He married Mae Bell Sims in 1920 at the age of 21, and over the course of their marriage, had a total of seven children. Corn was primarily a ploughman on land that he owned, and used this job to support his family until they were able to support themselves. For an unknown period in the 1930s during the Great Depression, he worked for the Works Progress Administration, but eventually lost the job due to a dispute with his supervisor. The dispute started after one of Corn's co-workers called him lazy for having extra workers to work his land while being employed by the WPA. Eventually, the unnamed supervisor heard about these accusations, and Corn was fired. While he worked for this New Deal organization, his wife and children took over the work on the farm, and they were forced to make several personal sacrifices to maintain the land. Caring for the land they owned took all of the Corns' time, and as a result, their church attendance went down, particularly during the 1930s when there was no other income for the family. After his employment at the WPA, Corn returned to farming and largely remained in poverty, but was able to support his family regardless. Corn remained in Hendersonville until his death on November 20th, 1990, where he was buried next to his wife at the Ebenezer Baptist Church Cemetery. [2]

Social Issues[edit]

Living Conditions of Farmers During the Great Depression[edit]

During the 1930s, many people in the United States were unemployed and living in poverty, and farmers often had worse living conditions than workers in city environments. These farmers were unable to maintain a steady income due to poor crop returns during the time, and it was a struggle to keep their families fed and clothed. Without the assistance of government programs such as the Works Progress Administration, many farmers would not have been able to afford certain necessities for their children, such as clothing, shelter, and education. [3] The ploughmen who chose to continue farming also contributed to the development of the Dust Bowl in the North American Southwest, which then resulted in even further reduced crop yields over time. During this time, this occupation switched from mainly growing cash crops to subsistence farming, and that even further reduced the amount of income that these ploughmen were earning, due to the lack of extra harvest specifically for selling. [4]

Development of Gender Equality on the Farm[edit]

During the time of the Great Depression, farmers were often required to work full time jobs so that they could make enough money to keep their families from starving, which meant that the women often had to tend the fields while they were gone. While this was not necessarily by choice, since the wives were forced to take care of the farm while their husbands worked elsewhere, it still allowed for a limited gender equality that continued to stretch into the 1940s. As time went on, women were given more responsibilities on the farm because the man was not there to do those things himself, and this led to an increase in equality during this period.[5] This trend continued when the US joined World War II in 1941, where women were making the income that sustained their families while the men were fighting overseas. This was a direct improvement from conditions in the 1930s, where instead of working to take care of their farms, these women were working for actual wages.

Reduction in Religious Service Attendance[edit]

The widespread poverty around the United States during the 1930s meant that many people's waking hours were spent attempting to earn wages and survive, and that did not leave much personal time for church services. While families always attempted to keep religion as part of their normal routines, oftentimes it was impossible to attend worship because they were so busy with everything else. This led to a reduction in the amount of people who maintained a regular church schedule, but it also led to an increase in the involvement of churches around the United States. Preachers and priests all over the United States took a more progressive role in their communities by raising awareness for the living conditions of their flock, specifically by sending letters to government officials and organizing events that assisted these rural populations.[6] This was a key part in the passage of certain New Deal legislative acts, particularly the ones that focused on farmers and ploughmen. One particular program was the Civilian Conservation Corps, which focused on helping young men as well as preserving natural beauty in the United States [7]


  1. Folder 610: Massimino, Frank (interviewer): John Leard: Ploughman." Federal Writers Project Papers. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/618.
  2. Folder 610: Massimino, Frank (interviewer): John Leard: Ploughman." Federal Writers Project Papers. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/03709/id/618.
  3. THOMAS, JERRY BRUCE. "Appalachia, Impact of the Great Depression on." In Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, 56-60. Vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed September 24, 2018). http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3404500044/GVRL?u=unc_main&sid=GVRL&xid=d2cf 81a3.
  4. Gisolfi, Monica Richmond. "From Crop Lien to Contract Farming: The Roots of Agribusiness in the American South, 1929-1939." Agricultural History 80, no. 2 (2006): 167-89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3744805.
  5. Romer, Christina D., and Richard H. Pells. "Great Depression." Encyclopædia Britannica. February 28, 2018. Accessed September 25, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Depression/Political-movements-and-social-change
  6. Flynt, Wayne. "Religion for the Blues: Evangelicalism, Poor Whites, and the Great Depression." The Journal of Southern History 71, no. 1 (2005): 3-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27648650.
  7. Morain, Tom. "The Great Depression Hits Farms and Cities in the 1930s." IPTV. February 12, 2018. Accessed September 25, 2018. http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath/great-depression-hits-farms-and-cities-1930s.