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

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Birth Unknown
Death Unknown
Occupation Factory worker, prostitute
Spouse(s) Donald (last name unknown), Allan Craston
Children William (last name unknown), Unnamed baby (died after birth)[1]

Overview[edit]

Elsie (last name unknown) turned to prostitution in the 1930's as a way to provide for herself and her son. In 1939 she was interviewed for the Federal Writers' Project.[2]

Biography[edit]

Elsie was born in an unnamed factory town, where poverty and hunger were widespread. As a child, she worked in a tobacco factory for twenty cents a day. She acquired money from an uncle who died and used it to pay for college. During her two years at college, she met her future husband Donald. Elsie and Donald had a child, William, but Donald died soon after in a car accident. She married another man, Allan Craston. Elsie became pregnant again, but the baby died not long after being born. Craston committed suicide shortly after. Elsie turned to prostitution as a way to avoid further factory work and pay for her son's medical treatment for his meningitis.[3]

Prostitution During the Great Depression[edit]

Prostitution has only been a criminal offense in the United States for about one hundred years. At the beginning of the 20th century, white women in some parts of America were allowed to operate "parlor houses" where men could pay to have sex with prostitutes. The women and services offered in each house were openly advertised, and these brothels were considered safe environments by many women. Because prostitution was legal, many prostitutes demanded equal protection under the law and openly exercised their legal rights. Shortly after the turn of the century, progressive reformers took up prostitution as a social issue (or "disease") that needed cured. The police were urged to crack down on prostitution, and efforts were made to criminalize parlors and other residences of prostitutes. Around the time of the Great Depression, attitudes shifted and prostitutes began to be thought of as "criminal outcasts."[4]

1930's Medical Care[edit]

During the Great Depression in rural areas, many died from diseases considered treatable or even preventable in modern day America due to advancements in vaccinations, antibiotics, and medical procedures. Doctors and hospitals were often many miles away, and few had cars to help with accessibility. Often times, children were born at home. [5] Particularly during the Great Depression, rural areas experienced "a decline in sanitation and hygiene." Specifically, the rural South greatly lacked accessible hospitals and medical professionals when compared to the North at the same time. Ultimately, these inadequacies were to be targeted by President Roosevelt's New Deal through programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority, which helped expand electricity and basic hygiene in the rural South. At the same time, the public began to push for greater measures to be taken in public health care, especially for the impoverished.[6]

Factory Work During the Great Depression[edit]

Factory and mill labor lacked any real regulation, and workers were often exploited. Typically, laborers would work nearly sixty hours a week and earn only around ten dollars, which is less than today's minimum wage. Conditions were unsafe and unsanitary, and breathing ailments would become prevalent. It was not uncommon for workers to be injured or maimed by factory machines.[7] In North Carolina, tobacco and cotton were the two primary cash crops.[8] When prices fell due to the Great Depression, many working in these sectors were left unemployed or working for a fraction of their previous wages. Mill owners needed to decrease costs, and it usually came at the expense of the workers. Many did this by laying off workers, cutting their salaries, and instituting longer daily hours and a seven-day work week.[9]

Bibliography[edit]

Interview of Elsie by Claude V. Dunnagan, June 13, 1939, Folder 372, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers Project Papers, The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bishop, RoAnn. “Difficult Days on Tar Heel Farms.” Tar Heel Junior Historian 49, no. 2 (2010). North Carolina Museum of History.

Blakistone, Tricia. “The Manufacturing Industry in North Carolina during the 1930s.” North Carolina Museum of History https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/session-1-great-depression-and- north- carolina#The%20Great%20Depression's%20Effect%20on%20North%20Carolina's%20 Economy (accessed September 24, 2018).

Davis, B.J. “Walking Out: The Great Textile Strike of 1934.” Tar Heel Junior Historian 49, no. 2 (2010). North Carolina Museum of History.

Encyclopedia.com, s.v. “Public Health 1929-1941,” accessed October 24, 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/public-health-1929- 1941.

Ganzel, Bill and Claudia Reinhardt. “Accidents and Illnesses.” Living History Farm. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/life_03.html (accessed September 25, 2018).

Grant, Melissa Gira. “When Prostitution Wasn't a Crime: The Fascinating History of Sex Work in America.” AlterNet. https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/when-prostitution-wasnt- crime-fascinating-history-sex-work-america (accessed September 25, 2018).

Additional Resources[edit]

  1. Interview of Elsie by Claude V. Dunnagan, June 13, 1939, Folder 372, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers Project Papers, The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Interview of Elsie by Claude V. Dunnagan, June 13, 1939, Folder 372, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers Project Papers, The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Interview of Elsie by Claude V. Dunnagan, June 13, 1939, Folder 372, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers Project Papers, The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  4. Grant, Melissa Gira. “When Prostitution Wasn't a Crime: The Fascinating History of Sex Work in America.” AlterNet. https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/when-prostitution-wasnt-crime-fascinating-history-sex-work-america (accessed September 25, 2018).
  5. Ganzel, Bill and Claudia Reinhardt. “Accidents and Illnesses.” Living History Farm. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe30s/life_03.html (accessed September 25, 2018).
  6. Encyclopedia.com, s.v. “Public Health 1929-1941,” accessed October 24, 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-and-education-magazines/public-health-1929- 1941.
  7. Davis, B.J. “Walking Out: The Great Textile Strike of 1934.” Tar Heel Junior Historian 49, no. 2 (2010). North Carolina Museum of History.
  8. Bishop, RoAnn. “Difficult Days on Tar Heel Farms.” Tar Heel Junior Historian 49, no. 2 (2010). North Carolina Museum of History.
  9. Blakistone, Tricia. “The Manufacturing Industry in North Carolina during the 1930s.” North Carolina Museum of History https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/session-1-great-depression-and-north-carolina#The%20Great%20Depression's%20Effect%20on%20North%20Carolina's%20Economy (accessed September 24, 2018).