Powerful Working Women an account of women's rights and employment during the great depression By: CC Poole


In order to really understand what life was like in the 1930's, one must actually read a first-hand account of someone's life back then. An ideal example was a lady named Georgia Crockett Aiken, white young female who grew up in Wilson, NC. What is known from her life was written about as a life history in the Federal Writers' Project which was dedicated to documenting life during the Great Depression. Her story details the life of a female teacher and shows the struggle of women's employment.

Georgia grew up in Wilson, NC with nine other siblings.


Georgia was born in 1872 and grew up in a large family. Being one of ten siblings, she was privileged enough to receive an education. Her parents both held steady jobs to keep things going in the household. Her father worked in a whole sale merchandise store and her mother sewed for other people. Georgia finished school through 9th grade and then passed a teacher's examination to become a teacher.

She taught at a school five miles out in the country in a one room building teaching thirty children. This was quite common at the time as "In 1931 North Carolina had 6,729 schools; almost one-fourth were buildings with only one room and only one teacher. These teachers taught all grade levels in a single classroom" (Price, para. 5). She taught the first seven grades and earned $25 that first winter. In 1908, she moved to Wilson, NC and began her high school teaching and where her salary slowly increased. To put her salary into perspective, most women at the time were earning even less, "According to the Social Security Administration, women's average annual pay in 1937 was $525, compared with $1,027 for men" (Working, para. 2). $525 a month means that most women were earning at most $17.50 per day while men were earning double the amount of $34.23.

Later, Georgia married husband, John Aiken whom shortly died months after their marriage. She was a widow and had to fend for herself, making ends meet with her job as a teacher.

Female Teachers

As Georgia became a teacher, the demographic was shifting, “The teaching profession grew slightly less female during the Great Depression; women had constituted 85 percent of teachers in 1920, but by 1940 they constituted only 78 percent” according to Boehm (para. 7). She held a steady job for 48 years of her life and was very dedicated and passionate about what she did. She later went back in the midst of her career to further her education in high school teaching. Moreover, she also earned her first grade teaching certificate.

Georgia was a teacher for 48 years. She started out teaching the first seven grades and then later specialized in first grade. She loved being around children especially because she had none of her own. After teaching, she eventually became a housekeeper for two young children.

Women's Rights

Women's suffrage was very much prevalent during the late 1930's and early 40's. While women were recently granted the right to vote, gender equality was thought to take place, however, that was not the case. In Georgia's interview, she stated that many women were not offered high positioned jobs like men even though they were just as capable. She proclaimed, "I think they are just as capable as then men who set themselves up so high and mighty. I wouldn't be the least surprised if women just didn't get more and more of the high positions in the near future"(Combs, 6). No matter how qualified they were for the job, women were still treated so unfairly throughout the 1920s and 30s.

Education also was a huge factor to become employed as one source states “A woman often needed a full education to simply be able to compete with a male who only completed elementary school. This was due to the fact that most companies believed that male workers were more valuable”(How, para. 3). Women were often seen as weak compared to men based on their ability to perform. Men are stronger and have always been the dominant sex, so even with less education, they were still granted first priority in everything. According to author, Lois Scharf, of To Work and to Wed female employment, feminism, and the Great Depression, "Historians have viewed the proliferation of home economics programs during the 1920s as a clear indication of the decline of feminism" (33). He supports this argument by saying that this is due to a reduced support of young educated women against the opponents of female employment. Women advocated for the right to vote for so long, and when granted they were tired and upset about the continued inequality they endured in the workforce.

Women protesting for equal employment and education opportunities.

The Federal Writers' Project

The Federal Writers' Project part of the New Deal implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was very influential yet controversial to many as there had been no other program like it before. The FWP offers insights of what life was like during the Great Depression by interviewing and publishing stories of individuals. Readers learn about the various social issues at the time such as prevalent diseases, famine, lack of education, and more. These detailed narratives make for an interesting read and help inform individuals about this historical time period.

However, the FWP has endured quite amount of criticism as well. Monty Noam Penkower, author of The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts, gives his own opinions of this project. One negative aspect he states is that the FWP "was not geared specifically to aid the professional. Indeed, the great bulk of those employed in the program lacked writing talent. In addition, writers did not perform immediately before the public, and this often led to charges of "'boondoggling'" (O'Neill, para. 2). Basically, he claimed that the FWP was a waste of time and money spent on interviewing individuals because of the lack of talent as well as validity behind the interview. He also goes on to further mention that "The greatest danger encountered by the project, however, was the constant threat of censorship" (O'Neill, para. 2). These issues, along with many more were questioned amongst the FWP's raison d'etre.

Works Cited

Boehm, Lisa Krissoff. "Women, Impact of the Great Depression on." Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004, pp. 1050-1055. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=unc_main&v=2.1&id=GALE%7CCX3404500550&it=r&asid=1caff40efd20aa5147eddc6a0c18d606. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

Combs and Massengill, "Women Are Best." Federal Writers' Project, 25 April. 1939. Web. 30 Jan. 2017

Fields, Sherry L., and Elizabeth Bellows. "The Great Depression and Elementary School Teachers as Reported in Grade Teacher Magazine." The Great Depression and Elementary School Teachers as Reported in Grade Teacher Magazine - American Educational History Journal | HighBeam Research. N.p., 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 Feb. 2017. <https://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-305660519.html>.

"How were women treated in the 1930s?" Reference. IAC Publishing, LLC, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2017. <https://www.reference.com/world-view/were-women-treated-1930s-fb84d6505c2a6024>.

O'Neill, Robert K. "The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts." Rev. of Monty Noam Penkower. Indiana Magazine of History n.d.: 287-88. Indiana Magazine of History. Indiana University Department of History. Web. 19 Feb. 2017. <https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/10127/13965>.

Price Davis, Anita. "Public Schools in North Carolina in the Great Depression." Public Schools in North Carolina in the Great Depression | NCpedia. N.p., 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2017. <http://www.ncpedia.org/public-schools-great-depression>.

Scharf, Lois. To work and to wed: female employment, feminism, and the Great Depression. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980. Print.

"Working Women in the 1930s." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., vol. 4: 1930-1939, Gale, 2001. U.S. History in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3468301237/UHIC?u=sand55832&xid=4a83ab53. Accessed 14 Feb. 2017.

Photo Citations

A school in Alabama during the Depression. Digital image. Nutty History. Dr. Benjamin Hartnell, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017. <http://www.nuttyhistory.com/great-depression.html>.

"Wilson County." The Way We Lived in North Carolina. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://www.waywelivednc.com/maps/countymaps/maps/wilson.htm>.

Children at the Harwood Branch Library in Taos County New Mexico in 1941. Digital image. Eduscapes. Annette Lamb, 2012-2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017. <http://eduscapes.com/history/contemporary/1930.htm>.

Women Protesting for Equal Jobs and Educational Opportunities. Digital image. Fast Company. Fast Company & Inc, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017. <https://www.fastcodesign.com/3067314/how-to-make-the-perfect-protest-sign>.

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