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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Labor Unions During the Great Depression and New Deal
A Georgia Automobile Worker and His Family

A few months before the following American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 interview was conducted, the Chevrolet plant in Atlanta had been shut down by a strike. From this interview, what can you tell about the Whelchel family's quality of life? How do they make ends meet?

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The Whelchels live on a side street near the automobile plant, in a brown frame house of seven rooms - seven small rooms, as we found when we made a tour of the house. The lot is narrow but deep, stretching back almost two hundred feet to form a pasture for the cow which supplies the family with milk. The front yard is very small, but sodded with bermuda grass. The houses around the Whelchel's are similar in style and size, all frame structures, with small front yards planted in grass, and a few shrubs here and there. . . .

Mr. Whelchel's various jobs include being a shipping clerk, refinishing furniture for the Western Union Telegraph Company, and working as a lineman for the Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company. He is now on the unloading platform of the Chevrolet Company, having been until a few months ago a buffer, which, Mrs. Whelchel explained, meant that he polished off the scratches from the fenders of new cars. He now works forty hours a week on the unloading platform, making eighty cents an hour.

"No, we'll never get rich at that," she remonstrated, "but it's all right while it lasts. But two weeks off will just ruin you. . . .

"No, we haven't got a car. We had one up to the time we moved over here. We were living in a house up there near the school then, and paying fifteen dollars a month rent. The landlady said we could have the house for a year for that much, but in about six months she told us that in two weeks the rent would be raised to twenty-two fifty." Both Mrs. Whelchel and her husband were angry at this breach of contract, and decided to move rather than pay more rent. They wanted to buy a home, but Mrs. Whelchel knew that they could not afford both a home and a car. "'It's either a home or a car," I said to Sam," Mrs. Whelchel related. "Sam sat there a while, and said, 'I can't live in the car. I'll let the car go and get me a house we can sleep in.' So we found this house and bought it because the terms was reasonable, and it was close to Sam's work." When they moved into their new home it needed much work done on it. The front yard was a series of red gullies. There was no bathroom, and the only toilet was in a shack connected to the back of the house. They fell to and [sodded?] the yard, built a concrete-floored bathroom with shower, and painted the woodwork on the inside. Recently a new sleeping porch has been added, the work being done by Mrs. Whelchel's father. The whole family sleeps on this porch. . . .

There are two boarders with the Whelchels. "Sam kind of lets me do what I want to with the board money," she said, "but I usually pay bills with it." Besides this extra income from boarders, they sometimes sell milk or chickens. "We raised thirty-five chickens once, and sold enough of them to pay for the cost and the feed, and had the rest clear. We ate about twenty of them ourselves." Although Mrs. Whelchel does not sew for others, she does her own sewing. "I sew it all," she said. "Make clothes for the children and for myself too." It was apparent that the dress she was wearing was home-made.
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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.