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.
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.
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.
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.