Estelle Stancill Grace Hildebrand

"Praise the Lord!"

Estelle Stancill was a white single mother who lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for most of the Great Depression. The following biography comes from an interview she gave in 1939 to a writer from the Federal Writers' Project, a series of interviews that was aimed at capturing the lives of everyday citizens during the Great Depression. Estelle Stancill encountered gender discrimination and employment insecurity, two issues prevalent in the Great Depression era, yet her faith in the Lord kept her motivated to work and persevere.

Biography

Early Life

Estelle Stancill was born in Anderson, S.C., approximately around 1910. Her father was a tenant farmer, and he could not always provide enough food for Estelle and her numerous siblings. This was likely one reason that she quit her education after fifth grade to help out in the workforce. Estelle married one of the first men she encountered with a stable job, a house carpenter, providing that he could support her and her family. As he came to be an alcoholic, he left Estelle alone after she had his sixth child (Brown and Northrop 4018).

Work History

In 1926, Estelle moved to South Charlotte to work at a cotton mill, known as the Elizabeth Mill. Once the Stock Market crashed in 1929, the mill laid off its workers, and as a newly hired woman, Estelle was one of the first to go. With the help of the church, she found a house-keeping job for a sick woman, but that only gave her temporary work. By this time, Estelle was able to go to the Welfare office and be certified for employment under the Works Progress Administration.

Social Issues in the Public Sphere

Gender Norms in the 1930s

Estelle worked two jobs with the WPA, both of which had minimal pay, hovering around 28 cents and hour (Brown and Northrop 4020). This defied the societal norms during the Great Depression era since men were seen as the providers for the families, and women were expected to take care of the home. Women that were on the streets looking for aid or for "paid employment" were in danger of public humiliation and disgrace. (Ware). This treatment of women would be the result of their acting-out against their expected duties as a housewife.

Estelle was forced to be a single mother of six, struggling to provide enough to eat during the Great Depression. As a single mother, relying on a husband for money was not an option. She was vulnerable to shame by the community due to her gender. A lot of women in the South were treated like Estelle, left by alcoholic husbands and forced to work for very small pay to provide for her family (Ware). Estelle was forced to be a single mother of six, struggling to provide enough to eat during the Great Depression.

Unreliable Employment

Many of the WPA jobs were created for specific needs, not long-term employment opportunities. Nancy E. Rose explains in her book Put to Work that "Congressional appropriations were periodically needed… [making] long-term planning virtually impossible" (Rose 26). The significance of the temporary WPA work was that it left many people with unreliable jobs, and people were continuously thrown back into the unemployment whirlpool.

Estelle found herself in a similar circumstance, as she was laid off from jobs that she only had for a short period of time due to the fact that her help was only needed temporarily. After her employment finished at each job, she started a new search for a way to support her children.

Tent Revival in the 1930s

How Estelle Found Social Harmony

Reliance on Faith

During a depression, people expect to see more of a secular turn due to people blaming the Lord for not providing them with what they need. However, during the 1930s, a Pentecostal movement was thriving (Butler 576). Contrary to past patterns of religion, the Great Depression saw a strengthening of believers' faith as people relied on the Lord, similarly to how Estelle Stancill relied on her faith. in economic turmoil throughout the 1930s.

During a depression, people expect to see more of a secular turn due to people blaming the Lord for not providing them with what they need. However, during the 1930s, a Pentecostal movement was thriving (Butler 576). Estelle Stancill fell into this category of believers as she relied on her faith in the economic turmoil. She went into the prisons to preach to the Black prisoners during the Depression. Her goal of discipleship showed that she was so firm in her faith that she desired to share it with the “misfits” of society. Even while struggling to provide for herself and children, she still found a way to give back to the church through offering as a way to thank the Lord.

Non-Believer Response

Not all people had as strong of a faith as Estelle did during the Great Depression. Many of the people she encountered and shared the Gospel with rejected what she had to say. Some would start "shouting" or "laughed" at them, but Estelle explains that they just "didn't know the Lord" (Brown and Northrop 4022).

Most of the people that leaned on their faith to help them through the 1930s were Christians before the Depression (Butler 577). Less conversion happened in the Great Depression, however those who were already believers grew even stronger in their faith like Estelle.

The Federal Writers' Project

Goal of the FWP

The Federal Writers' Project was created to accurately capture the lives of the working class majority in the South during the Great Depression (Ferris 21).

An aspiration of the Federal Writers' Project was to use interviewers that were “familiar with the people and places they were assigned to document" (Ferris 21). The interviewers hoped that would encourage the interviewees to tell the truth about their situations because they are closer to the person asking the questions. The more comfortable the subject was with the interviewer, the less likely they were to fabricate a false, glorified situation or leave out important but personal parts of their history.

Nonetheless, The Federal Writers’ Project was not a perfect account for the life histories during the Great Depression because of the different biases and outside factors affecting the interviewers. Some of the project workers “were recruited and employed in their home states, many of them had a limited picture of the nation as a whole" (Fox 4). The interviewers sometimes enhanced parts of their stories to make their region of the country more appealing to the audiences. This specific goal of the Federal Writers' Project did not always turn out the way the interviewers wished.

Although many life histories are told from biased perspectives as noted above, Estelle makes no hints at knowing her interviewer, allowing readers of her Life History to infer that she withheld so much of her past from the interviewer. She focuses on her religion throughout her story, mainly because she was so firm in her faith that Estelle was comfortable sharing with anyone. Also, as a majority of her interview is Estelle's dialogue rather than the interviewer's words, their is a greater chance that Estelle's interview was not a fiction story.

Works Cited

Brown and Northrop (interviewers): "Praise the Lord!", Folder 302 in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Butler, Jon. “FORUM: American Religion and the Great Depression.” Church History 80. 3 (2011): 575- 578. EBSCOhost, 10.1017/S0009640711000631

Ferris, Marcie Cohen. “The Deepest Reality of Life.” Southern Cultures. 18. 2 (2012): 6-31. EBSCOhost

Fox, Daniel M. “The Achievement of the Federal Writers’ Project.” American Quarterly. 13. 1 (1961): 3- 19. JSTOR 10.2307/2710508

Rose, Nancy E. Put to Work. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1994. Print.

Stancill, Estelle. “Praise the Lord!” Federal Writers’ Project. Print.

Ware, Susan. “Women and the Great Depression.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. History Now, 2009. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/great-depression/essays/women-and-great-depression. 6 February 2017.

Images

1) WPA Sewing Room in Jackson, Mississippi. Courtesy, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/251/womens-work-relief-in-the-great-depression. Accessed 6 February 2017.

2) Brettman. New Deal Programs. http://www.history.com/topics/new-deal/pictures/new-deal-programs/by-vera-bock-2. Accessed 8 February 2017.

3) Tent Revival. http://www.jobschildren.com/2016/01/camp-meetings.html. Accessed 6 February 2017.

4) See References #1.

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