High School Scholarship

26 June 2002

I feel like crap -- everytime I have to do a major clean-up job, the sheer amount of dust overwhelms my nasal mucous membranes and I'm sick for about a week. So I nurse several cups of herbal tea and feel sorry for myself.

In any case, I also uncover stuff I had forgotten about, and one thing I found was my high school writing "archive" -- a hard folder case that I got from my Dad at some point that I put what I thought were my more interesting English papers (though I believe history is in there as well).

I've already taken out a book review for Godel, Escher, Bach from this folder and posted it at amazon.com. I've typed up some of the poetry output of my juvenile years, and I wish I could find that poem about looking like a bird, and ain't that a shame. It was cute (and from 2nd grade, during which even the most homely of children can do cute things. One's cuteness generally falls off steeply after that. My middle sister milked cuteness well into middle school, but it had limited usefulness.)

So below is a paper I wrote for an American history class - I interviewed a woman, neighbor of my grandmother in Marion, SC who had been an adult during the Depression. Thing is, that woman was very old and did not remember things very well. So lots of the details come from my grandma, who had been born in 1929 in rural Mississippi, and though she was only a child at the time, she could remember lots of the details. Especially because after the Depression was "over", her farming community was still as poor as it had been before the Depression.

Any generic observations, about using bags for clothes, and how you'd deal with food, came from details remembered by my grandma. As well, some of these details come from after the Depression because the main point is -- life changed little due to the Depression in these Southern farms. It did change alot due to World War II, but that's a different story.

Mrs. Cox was good with the anecdotes, but they weren't very usable for my purposes, and one I thought particularly inappropriate for an American History paper (though I should've sent it in to Reader's Digest): Mrs. Cox was a "city girl" and when she and her husband originally moved in with his folks, Mrs. Cox was somewhat bitchy and loathe to do farmwork. So one day she's out with the rest of the people in the family, amongst the butterbeans, and they're all hoeing. It's hot, she's getting sweaty, and she's very tired. So she throws down her tool and proclaims, "I ain't gonna do this no more, I ain't no hoer."

It was pretty funny hearing an 80-year-old little ole Southern lady tell this story.

So without further ado, here's the story of Lottie Cox (unedited):

Mrs. Lottie Cox
Mary Pat Campbell
March 22, 1990

Mrs. Lottie Cox was born in 1910 and married Mr. Neil Cox in 1926; by the time the stock market crashed in New York, Mrs. Cox was 19 years old and had already given birth to one child. The news of the failure of the stock market made little impression on her at the time; she did not understand its significance, for wealth had been something unreal to her for the prior decade. She had never known anything better than the poverty in which she had been living -- her community, Marion, South Carolina, had been in a depression that began years before the Great Depression had.

In the first year after she was married, Mrs. Cox moved to Sarasota, Florida with her husband. Neil, a plumber, was to work on the new subdivisions being developed as a result of the real estate boom in Florida during the mid-20's. That job lasted only for nine months, and then the Coxes returned to South Carolina with a new car and a new baby. After the market crash, her husband was finding it more and more difficult to find plumbing jobs in the city; so they moved to the country in 1930 to live with Neil's parents. While there, they lived off what the land and their animals could produce; and Mr. Cox occasionally found work in the city, which brought in a little extra money for their family.

Unlike the people in the cities who had to have money to buy food, Mrs. Cox and the people in her area grew and raised their own food. A vegetable garden provided beans and potatoes; chickens provided meat and eggs, and cows provided milk. Some of her relatives would travel to the beach for a week or two and would catch herring and mullet, putting them in barrels and salting them to preserve the fish. Their vegetables were canned for consumption in the winter, and their milk was kept fresh by storing it in 2-quart bottles in a trough, which was filled with water drawn from an artesian well. An average breakfast in the Cox household consisted of fried chicken, grits, biscuits, and fried fish -- the chicken being killed, plucked, and fried that morning, and the grits and biscuits being recently prepared from scratch. Butter was made from the milk that they had, which was then used for flavoring or for feeding the hogs. On Saturday, pies and cakes were baked for the coming week. Homemade ice cream, chicken, and corn-on-the-cob would be served at community picnics. When times really got tough in the winter, people would hunt for blackbirds or squirrels in the woods, and catch fish from creeks, which would be an addition to cornmeal mush. When the Depression hit, they had never wanted for food -- no one went hungry in this farm community.

The economic failures of the rest of the United States affected Mrs. Cox's community, sometimes even before the rest of the nation was affected. In the middle of the 1920's, the time in which th nation appeared prosperous, the bank in Marion had gone bankrupt. Once the Depression hit, the market for tobacco and cotton, which were the main cash crops for the people in Marion, dropped drastically; also, the number of jobs available outside their farms decreased. For many people, the sale of their cash crops and whatever extra jobs they could find were their only means of income. Mr. Cox was lucky, though -- he was able to find some work as a plumber in the city periodically, and he had a car that could get him there. Farmers in Marion found it harder to bring in money, so the trade in Marion reverted to a barter system. Sometimes the doctor would be paid with chickens and eggs; many times seed for spring planting and groceries were bought on credit, and the loans were to be repaid when the farmers sold their cash crops. Sometimes Lottie's mother-in-law would give Lottie's son two eggs to take to the grocery store to trade for candy. When the previous economic system had failed, a new system had to be created for a new set of circumstances.

The clothing worn during this time was another byproduct of the miserable economic conditions in Marion. Practically no one could buy new clothes, so they made them out of cloth bads, such as the ones in which fertilizer and flour came. Lottie was also able to make clothes from real fabric, thanks to a peddler who would take chickens and eggs for payment. Long-lasting dresses were made from heavy weave "homespun" material; if women were "well-off" for Marion, they owned two dresses which they wore in public. Men wore overalls with sack shirts everywhere; everyone wore clothes made from bags at home. In a time where one could afford to waste little, nothing was wasted -- especially in the case of clothes.

In addition to being unable to buy new clothes, any type of technological progress in Marion was effectively slowed and halted by the farmers' lack of money. Despite the government programs to develop rural areas, Marion did not have any electrical power or telephone lines. Cooking was done on a wood stove, heat provided by a fireplace, and irons were heated in fire. There was no running water in the Cox household; all their water was provided by an artesian well. Sometimes Lottie's family would use Delco lamps, which were lamps run by an electric battery; however, the batteries would not last very long, so they mostly used kerosene lamps. The only other things that the Coxes owned that could be considered "new" technology were their 1930 blue, 4-door Chevrolet, which was a self-starter, and their radio, which was also run by electric battery. However, after the Great Depression became very bad, especially for farmers, no one could afford new farm equipment, new cars, or a new telephone system; money was so tight that men couldn't even afford to buy new razors for shaving. As a result of not being able to buy much, people had to use what they had in every way possible. Furniture for the Cox's home was made from greenwood in the area, a small piece of glass used to smooth the edges. Lottie's family also made its own soap from animal fat and Devil's Lye by boiling the ingredients in a big wash pot and adding ashes to the mixture. Unlike the prosperous people of the 1920's, the farmers of Marion could not afford to buy what many today consider necessities.

Despite this poverty of material wealth, the community spirit during this time was overwhelming. On weekends, community gatherings were held, organized by word-of-mouth; here people would fry fish and chicken and make Brunswick stew from meat that the men had caught. Even the black people attended these cook-outs; there were never any problems between the white and the black people of Marion -- they just "didn't mix," as Mrs. Cox said. In the evenings, after the farmwork was done, people would gather around people's front porches and talk; their only other entertainment at this time was the prize fights broadcasted on the radio. Everyone helped those who needed it -- once, the farmland and livestock of a family was taken care of by all the neighbors while the family was at the hospital because someone in the family had cancer. Everyone was poor, everyone needed companionship, and no one was afraid to give it.

Throughout this period of time, Marion had its share of relief efforts by outside agencies. During the early years of the Great Depression, staples which could not be produced by the people, such as flour and sugar, were handed out by a charity organization. The Civilian Conservation Corps came through Marion a few times; local young men would get a small amount of money per day helping the CCC develop its projects, such as the Pee-Dee State Park near Marion. The Works Progress Administration also created some jobs in the area for a short amount of time -- to work on roads or bridges, just to give the farmers a little money for the winter and for seed. In the middle of the Depression, when bedding began to really wear out and there was no money to replace it, a government group came with machines to sell mattresses to the people at cost -- $15 for three mattresses. However, these programs only minimally affected Lottie's family and were only temporary in their relief; the poverty remained, and no one saw an end to the Depression in sight.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, the people of Marion did not have a high opinion of President Hoover; they called wagon, which had tires from unused cars for wheels and which were pulled by mules, "Hoover carts" -- this was considered the lowest insult they had for Hoover. The people in Mrs. Cox's community identified Hoover with the decline of outside jobs available and the loss of their cash crop market. The only nice thing Mrs. Cox had to say about Hoover was that, "Hoover took the sugar out of my coffee, and I have never put it back in." However, this redeeming quality was overshadowed by the very popular sentiment that he was just not sympathetic to the needs of the people.

President Roosevelt did not receive this same treatmentl on the contrary, he was considered "just wonderful". People would gather around the radio outside on a patch of land that had been hoed until nothing would grow there; and as they listened to him speak, no one would say a word. Mrs. Cox said that, "He [Roosevelt] could give you hope. It meant so much, and it was needed so desperately." However, there was not much more she had to say about Roosevelt; many in Marion respected and revered the President, but nothing much happened for them. The benefits of the works programs were little for Marion, and rural development completely passed them by -- it was not until the 1950's that Marion had both electricity and telephones. However, the farmers of Marion did not have many material possessions before the Great Depression, anyway; as my Grandmother Campbell remarked, "It was the people who had had money and lost it in the stock market that had committed suicide. They felt that something had been taken from them." Mrs. Cox said that she never noticed she was poor because no one she saw had been more wealthy than her family. As a result of not having much, the community accepted the Depression, and their way of life was changed (though not much) to suit the new turn of events.

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Good lord, when will she shut up?

Mary Pat Campbell, last updated I think you can figure it out...