Collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940Show Featured Items
The Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s recorded more than 10,000 life stories of men and woman from a variety of occupations and ethnic groups. The following is a sampling of these interviews, which include audio excerpts read by modern actors.
Chris Thornsten, Iron Worker
Name: Chris Thorsten
Birth: 51 years ago, on board a fishing boat moored to a dock in New Orleans
Education: No formal education
Occupation: Iron Worker
Location: Union Hall, 84th Street, New York City
Date: January 31, 1938, 1 PM to 3 PM
Interviewer: Arnold Manoff
Interview Excerpt: "Is your job dangerous?"
"You ain't an Iron worker unless you get killed...Men hurt on all jobs. Take the Washington Bridge, the Triboro Bridge. Plenty of men hurt on those jobs. Two men killed on the Hotel New Yorker. I drove rivets all the way on that job. When I got hurt I was squeezed between a crane and a collar bone broke and all the ribs in my body and three vertebrae. I was laid up for four years."
Mr. Garavelli, Stonecutter
Name: Mr. Garavelli
Age: In his fifties
Location: Barre, Vermont
Interviewer: John Lynch
Interview Excerpt: "Is the dust bad in the stonesheds?"
"It was tough for everybody in the early days. Lots of stonecutters die from the silica. Now they've got new and better equipment; they've all got to use the suctions. It helps a lot; but it ain't perfect. Men still die. You bet your life my kid don't go to work in no stoneshed. Silica, that's what kills them. Everybody who stays in granite, it gets...I don't get so much of it myself. Maybe I'm smart. I don't make so much money, but I don't get so much silica. In my end of the shed there ain't so much dust. I can laugh at the damn granite because it can't touch me. That's me. I ain't got no money, but I ain't got no silica either. My end of the shed don't get so much dust. It's like a knife, you know, that silica. Like a knife in your chest."
Alice Caudle, Mill Worker
Name: Alice Caudle
Occupation: Mill Worker
Location: Concord, North Carolina
Date: September 2, 1938
Interviewer: Muriel L. Wolff
Interview Excerpt: "Do you like working in a mill?"
"Law, I reckon I was born to work in a mill. I started when I was ten year old and I aim to keep right on jest as long as I'm able. I'd a-heap rather do it than housework...Yessir, when I started down here to plant No. 1, I was so little I had to stand on a box to reach my work. I was a spinner at first, then I learned to spool. When they put in them new winding machines, I asked them to learn me how to work em and they did. If I'd a-been a man no telling how far I'd-a gone."