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Country Women Cope with Hard Times

A Collection of Oral Histories

Melissa Walker

Publication Year: 2012

"It was hard times," French Carpenter Clark recalls, a sentiment unanimously echoed by the sixteen other women who talk about their lives in Country Women Cope with Hard Times. Born between 1890 and 1940 in eastern Tennessee and western South Carolina, these women grew up on farms, in labor camps, and in remote towns during an era when the region's agricultural system changed dramatically. As daughters and wives, they milked cows, raised livestock, planted and harvested crops, worked in textile mills, sold butter and eggs, preserved food, made cloth, sewed clothes, and practiced remarkable resourcefulness. Their recollections paint a vivid picture of rural life in the first half of the twentieth century for a class of women underrepresented in historical accounts. Through her edited interviews with these women, Melissa Walker provides firsthand descriptions of the influence of modernization on ordinary people struggling through the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 1930s and its aftermath. Their oral histories make plain the challenges such women faced and the self-sacrificing ways they found to confront hardship. While the women detail the difficulties of their existence—the drought years, early freezes, low crop prices, and tenant farming—they also recall the good times and the neighborly assistance of well-developed mutual aid networks, of which women were the primary participants.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: Women's Diaries and Letters of the South


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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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Series Editor’s Preface

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pp. xi-xii

County Women Cope with Hard Times: A Collection of Oral Histories is the twentieth volume in what had been the Women’s Diaries and Letters of the Nineteenth-Century South series. This series has been redefined and is now titled Women’s Diaries and Letters of the South, enabling us to include some remarkably fine works from the twentieth century. This series includes a ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Any collection of stories is a collaborative work, and I am grateful to many people who made this collection possible. First, I am deeply appreciative of the women who shared their life stories with me. All the women here shared their stories with a generosity of spirit I hope to emulate, and I thank them for their time and their openness. ...

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Introduction: Farm Women and Their Stories

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pp. xv-xxx

I have listened to stories about hard times on the farm for my whole life. Growing up on an east Tennessee dairy farm in the heart of what was then a thoroughly rural community, I spent many hours listening to the older people around me describe those challenging early-twentieth-century farm years. I heard my grandparents and their friends lament drought years, early ...

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ONE: Elizabeth Fox McMahan

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pp. 1-24

THE FOLLOWING NARRATIVE is the only one in this collection that did not begin as an oral history interview. I met Elizabeth McMahan Adamitis serendipitously. Mrs. Adamitis’s mother, Elizabeth Fox McMahan, attended Converse College, where I teach. In 2001, Mrs. Adamitis made a gift to Converse in memory of her mother, marking the hundredth anniversary of her mother’s graduation. ...

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TWO: Hettie Lawson

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pp. 25-27

HETTIE LAWSON and her husband, John Oliver Lawson, lived “across the mountain” from Elizabeth Fox McMahan’s home. Although they lived less than twenty miles from the McMahans’ Sevierville home, a visit would have required a half day of traveling by horse and buggy and well over an hour by car. The Lawsons lived in isolated Wear’s Valley in Blount County. ...

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THREE: Wilma Cope Williamson

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pp. 28-46

WILMA COPE WILLIAMSON was born in Sevier County, Tennessee, on April 27, 1915, the oldest of ten children. Her father worked for the Little River Lumber Company, and the family spent much of Mrs. Williamson’s childhood living in various lumber camps in Sevier and Blount counties. The lumber industry was a fickle one, with frequent layoffs because of an oversupply on the world market, fires in the forest, or the logging out of an area. ...

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FOUR: LaVerne Farmer

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pp. 47-56

LAVERNE FARMER PERSONIFIES many of the changes in rural southern women’s lives over the course of the twentieth century. Born at the height of the Great Depression on July 12, 1931, she grew up the only child of a prosperous farm family. She attended college at the University of Tennessee, eventually earning a master’s degree, and she enjoyed a career as a home demonstration agent and later as an administrator ...

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FIVE: French Carpenter Clark

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pp. 57-62

FRENCH CARPENTER CLARK was born January 21, 1905, in Blount County, Tennessee. She was the fourth of thirteen children. Her parents were farmers. Mrs. Clark had little to say about her childhood, perhaps because I did not ask her specific questions about those years. I asked her to tell me about rural life, especially during the Great Depression, and as a result, she focused ...

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SIX: Korola Neville Lee

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pp. 63-79

KOROLA NEVILLE LEE was born December 10, 1911, in Blount County, Tennessee. Blount County, situated between the Tennessee River and the Great Smoky Mountains south of Knoxville, was settled in the 1780s. By the early twentieth century, the county’s economy was a mix of agriculture and industry. The Aluminum Company of America established a large manufacturing facility near the county seat, Maryville, and several other small ...

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SEVEN: Mary Evelyn Russell Lane

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pp. 80-92

MARY EVELYN RUSSELL was born December 14, 1912, in Louisville, Tennessee, a small community south of Maryville near the Tennessee River. Her father combined general and dairy farming with running a small crossroads store. Mary Evelyn was the oldest of five children. She attended local schools and then went on to earn a college degree. As a child, she lost one arm in a ...

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EIGHT: Peggy Delozier Jones

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pp. 93-102

PEGGY DELOZIER JONES1 was born July 6, 1899, in Loudon County, Tennessee. She was the sixth of eight children born to a farming family. Her family practiced general farming, combining subsistence production with the planting of small grains and raising livestock for the market. Blessed with fertile river bottomland, Loudon County featured a combination of ...

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NINE: Ethel Davis

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pp. 103-106

ETHEL DAVIS1 was born in 1905 on a general farm in Loudon County, Tennessee. One of seven children, she attended a local two-room school until the upper grades when she moved to a secondary school in the nearby village of Philadelphia. In 1926, she married Earl Davis, a local dairy farmer. The couple struggled to survive the Depression. Mrs. Davis’s husband’s ...

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TEN: Mabel Love

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pp. 107-109

MABEL LOVE1 was born in 1910 in the farming community of Philadelphia, Tennessee, ten miles from Loudon, seat of the county with the same name. Her birth family worked as tenant farmers except for a five-year period when her father moved the family to Montana, where he managed a grain operation. Mrs. Love married into a landowning family and had two sons. ...

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ELEVEN: Kate Simmons

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pp. 110-114

KATE SIMMONS1 was born in 1913 in Sneedville, Tennessee. Soon after her birth, Mrs. Simmons’s family moved to a farm near New Market, in neighboring Jefferson County. Jefferson County offered rich, river bottom farmland, and her family engaged in general farming, growing subsistence crops for family use and raising tobacco, truck crops, and livestock for the market. ...

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TWELVE: Evelyn Petree Lewellyn

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pp. 115-131

EVELYN PETREE LEWELLYN was born in 1923 in East Chicago, Indiana. Her parents, natives of east Tennessee, had gone north to seek work, but they soon returned to Knoxville. Knoxville was a commercial and industrial center on the Tennessee River in central east Tennessee. ...

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THIRTEEN: Martha Alice West

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pp. 132-134

MARTHA ALICE WEST was born into a tenant farming family in Loudon County, Tennessee. Her family raised tobacco, corn, and a subsistence garden. She remembered farm life as hard and never wanted to go back to it once she was grown. In fact, she devoted little of her interview to describing her childhood on the land. ...

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FOURTEEN: Ruth Hatchette McBrayer

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pp. 135-148

RUTH HATCHETTE MCBRAYER was born on the South Carolina side of that state’s border with North Carolina. Her family made a living as general farmers in this rural community known as State Line. McBrayer’s mother died when she was seven. Since the older children were in school or working, her father sent young Ruth to live with an older married sister in Spartanburg, South Carolina, throughout most of her childhood. ...

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FIFTEEN: Mary Webb Quinn

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pp. 149-159

MARY WEBB WAS born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina. She was one of nine surviving children of sharecropping parents, and she remembered a happy childhood focused on hard work on the farm. Like most farmers in the South Carolina piedmont, the Webbs grew cotton for the market and produced most of their own food as well. The years between the two world ...

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SIXTEEN: Dorothy Skinner and Virginia Skinner Harris

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pp. 160-188

DOROTHY SKINNER AND Virginia Skinner Harris were sisters, born on a cotton farm in Lee County, South Carolina. Lee County, in the South Caro - lina sandhills region, was rich farming country. First settled in the 1840s by English and Scots-Irish settlers moving south from Virginia and north from the lowcountry, the county had a population that was, by 1920, over 65 percent ...

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SEVENTEEN: Afterword: Reflections on Interpreting Oral History

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pp. 189-203

As I said at the outset, oral histories are really stories—stories about the way individuals and groups lived in the past. We are all familiar with stories. Stories are the narrative devices people use to describe significant experiences and explain their meanings. We grow up listening to stories—about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wizard of Oz, for example. We read stories ...

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-208

E-ISBN-13: 9781611172157
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570039539

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Women's Diaries and Letters of the South