In the autumn of 1929, the crash of the American stock market started a period that we now call the Great Depression, which lasted for about a decade and challenged the survival of ordinary Americans.
My parents told many stories about growing up during that time. In my Dad’s family, many of those stories expressed admiration for his mother, Loula Richardson Alexander, and her ceaseless hard work, determination, and inventiveness.
In 1930 Frank and Loula Alexander moved their family of nine children, including one new-born, from a house in the town of Vass, N. C., to a farm nearby, on Union Church Road. Loula went into action. She ordered baby chicks that were delivered by mail in a box with air holes, a hundred at a time. She put paper, sand and boards in a corner of the living room to make a warm home for the chicks while Frank built a brooder house. Eventually she would have five buildings for the purpose of raising chickens, about 500 birds at the peak of her business.
Sometime prior to 1933, the Moore County Home Demonstration Clubs started a farmer’s market in Southern Pines to sell produce to Northern women who had winter homes in Southern Pines and Pinehurst. The market was in a basement, on a side street near the depot in Southern Pines, “on the Pinehurst side.” It was an open room with stepped shelves for merchandise. Each of twenty female vendors had a booth. Loula sold butter, eggs, baked goods, and vegetables. She had a flower garden and sold cut flowers. She also sold canned peaches from the family’s orchard of about 40 peach trees, two varieties.
A curb market commitee established rules about the cleanliness and quality of the produce, and set the prices. Sellers were required to sell at the same prices as local merchants, their one advantage being that they were not required to add sales tax.
The income helped rural women with living expenses, as well as children’s clothing, college tuition, and better health care. One of Loula’s most cherished goals was to send her oldest daughter, Willie, to Duke University.
Total sales for the vendors from Dec. 1, 1932-Nov. 1, 1933 were $3,093.28, worth about $65,833.03 in 2022. If Loula had received an equal 1/20 share of that, $154.66, she received, in 2022 numbers, the equivalent of about $3,277.00 for 12 months’ work. Hopefully, her extra hard work netted her more than that, but even in 1933, the compensation must have seemed a little thin.
Nevertheless, an anonymous woman wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, on the subject of the budget for a county home demonstration agent. She said:
“The curb market alone has brought over three thousand dollars into the Moore county farm homes. It seems to me that we need this kind of work as never before.”
Sellers continued to grow produce into fall and winter to sell at the market. They were motivated to improve their farming practices so as to compete with other sellers. An article about the market in the local newspaper mentioned that “Fresh eggs are at a premium…”
First Loula sold eggs at the market, then she discovered she could sell fryers. When the chickens were 8-12 weeks old, they became frying size, about two to two and a half pounds. At that point, she could identify the sex. The boxes of baby chicks contained about an equal number of males and females. If the pullets (young hens) were good layers she kept them to produce eggs, while other hens became fryers. She would sell 3-4 dozen hens per week at the curb market. She learned to caponize young roosters from the Moore County Agricultural Extension agent, and she sold the capons for baking. They would grow larger than the hens, and she sold a lot of them for Thanksgiving dinners.
Dr. Earl Wayne Hunter, a dentist from south Sanford, near Highway One, owned Dr. Hunter’s Hatchery, another market for Loula, as he bought fertilized eggs. She could tell with a candle if an egg contained a chicken embryo.
Loula’s children were very much involved in her business. Several of them described coming home from school on Friday afternoon and immediately joining their mother in preparing chickens for the market. Loula did the slaughtering herself, and the children helped to remove feathers, etc. Their mother would set out alone very early on Saturday morning with her merchandise and come home later with treats they couldn’t produce on the farm, like Jello.
In spite of Loula’s diligence and obvious contribution to the family income, the 1940 census taker described her occupation, just like many wives of the time, with a blank line and checked that she was “engaged in home housework,” and further indicated that she earned no income. Incredible.
When Loula passed away, age 51, in 1943, World War II was in force. She had two married daughters, two sons in the Army, one son in college—soon to be in the Marine Corps, and three younger children living at home. Sadly, she had lost one son to illness in 1935. Her husband, Frank Alexander, was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away only a year and a half later.
Copyright 2022 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.
Interviews with Lewey Alexander Sr., Robert L. Alexander, Patsy Alexander Rodgers, and Willie Alexander Carr.
1940 U. S. Census, McNeill’s Township, Moore County, N. C., E. D. 69-13, p. 11A; West Sanford, Lee County, N. C. ED 53-7, sheet 7B.
The Pilot, newspaper, Vass, Aberdeen, & Southern Pines: Friday, Mar. 28, 1930, p. 9; 29 April, 1932, p. 2.; Nov. 17, 1933, Edition 1, pp. 4-5; December 29, 1939, p. 4.
USD Inflation, https://www.usdinflation.com/amount/154/1933, accessed 20 Feb. 2022.