Collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940Show Featured Items
Women and Work
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.
Mrs. Elizabeth E. Miller
Name: Mrs. Elizabeth E. Miller (Grammy Miller)
Age: 90 years old
Family: 4 boys, Clarence, John, James, George and 1 daughter who died in infancy
Location: Mountain and Lake View Farm, West Newbury, Vermont
Date: November 4 and 16, 1938
Interviewer: Rebecca M. Halley
Interview Excerpt: "Did you ever have to do work that the men usually did?"
"One fall we had a five hundred and fifty pound dressed hog hanging in the yard. The men went off to Wells River to take up another hog they had dressed at the same time and left it hanging there and the caldron kettle half full of water. They aimed to get back and take the hog down to cellar before it froze. It would never do to let pork that was going to be salted freeze. I was all alone with the children and I waited until almost twelve. My husband didn't come and so I took a lantern and a saw and a knife and went out to fetch in that hog...I cut up that hog and loaded it piecemeal onto the sled. The worst part was getting it through the front door, but I managed. I had it all done before my husband got home. He asked who had brought the hog in. I said, 'I did.' He asked who helped and I said, 'Alone.' I wasn't wasting many words on him. He was struck dumb."
Mrs. Mayme Reese, Housewife
Name: Mrs. Mayme Reese
Birth: Born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1881
Family: Two married sons, one single son and one married daughter
Location: 1 St. Nicholas Terrace, New York City
Date: September 20, 1938
Interviewer: Dorothy West
Interview Excerpt: "What kinds of things did you used to do when you got together with other women?"
"Did you ever hear about quilting parties? We used to have quilting parties at least twice a year. One time we would meet at one house and one time at another; you'd keep on that way until the quilt was finished....
"In the fall when they had the county fairs, sometimes we'd take our quilts out to fair-grounds for exhibition. Each lady picked out her best quilt--the prettiest color, the prettiest pattern and the best stitches--and took it to the fair to try to win the prize. No, it didn't make any difference if your prettiest quilt had been quilted by three or four other people. You see you already had the pattern and you'd already put the pieces together so that much was your own idea."
Mrs. Marie Haggerty, Maid
Name: Mrs. Marie Haggerty
Age: 72 years old
Location: 63 Austin Street, Worcester, Massachusetts
Date: February 20, 1939
Interviewer: Mrs. Emily Moore
Interview Excerpt: "When you worked as a maid, did you mainly do housework?"
"But my dear, it wasn't housework I did...I was a nurse maid or a second girl--never just an ordinary girl out to service...You got hired by your looks and even if you looked honest, they would test you out. Why, once I was making up a bed, and right beside the bed was a five dollar bill. I knowed nobody dropped that for nuthin', so I didn't know if I should pick it up and tell them, or what, but my face burnt like fire, for I knowed I was gettin' tested."