Missing my usual Monday post? I’m on the road, chasing down some history.

I’ve gone out in search of some TN Women’s history to write about, very much enjoying finding new leads and seeing things first hand. Others may have already written about some of these things, but I’m thrilled to be out here seeing them for myself, making my own discoveries, and hope you will enjoy hearing about my travels when I get back.

Here’s a few things I’m working on this week while I’m away:

  • I tracked down my first 2 DMA Walls for Women Murals ( I aim to see them all)
  • I’m working on an authentic She, She, She Camp theater production with a friend of mine
  • I discovered one of the 10 WPA post office murals in TN created by women
  • I’ve stayed in a WPA cabin perched on a ridgetop for inspiration
  • I’ve hiked along a CCC project lake, and to a waterfall overlook with a TVA powerhouse view
  • I checked two more of TN State Parks off my list 12/56
  • I discovered more Depression Era structures and stories to take me in even more directions

I’ll have so much to tell you about when I return to the land of reliable internet, but I didn’t want you to think I’ve forgotten you. Have a great week, and maybe I’ll see you out there.

Let’s talk Camping: the most fun to be had on a Friday night for under $25.

So I’ve written about the history side of She Camps History, now let’s talk about camping…

**Disclaimer: I’m not an expert at anything. Be safe, be smart, and ask someone who has done this more than you before you go off into the woods somewhere.

**Other Disclaimer: If you are looking for hardcore backpacking advice, or you are a minimalist or ultralight camper, this post is probably not for you, but feel free to keep reading anyway. But don’t hack on me for my style of camping. We’re all friends here.

Ok. So There are several kinds of camping I enjoy, depending on the day, the weather, the season, and the purpose of the trip. I grew up camping, in pop-ups, Winnebago’s, and in large travel trailers. About the time I hit my teens I didn’t want to share a bed with my sister (Sorry, Sis!) or listen to my father snore (Sorry, Dad!) in such close proximity anymore, so I bought my first tent with my own money, and from then on, I was hooked as a tent camper. I’ve always had dreams to become one of those hardcore ultralight thru hikers, and while someday I may (I’m working on getting the different gear that shift would require) right now, I mostly do what is commonly called “car camping.”

There are two types of camping with this name, usually it implies that you stuff whatever you feel like taking into the car, drive to a nice established campground somewhere (I HIGHLY recommend any of Tennessee’s State Parks) and set up for the weekend. There’s usually a fire ring, a picnic table, a bathhouse, and water spigot somewhere nearby. This is the easy way to get out into nature for the weekend and have a comfy basecamp near hiking trails or historical attractions (whatever floats your boat.) Sometimes, more recently, I’ve seen “car camping” used to refer to people who literally camp in their cars. Often these are solo women campers with a nice little sport wagon or something, who want to be out there doing their thing, but like having doors that lock at night. Again, no judgement here, just go have fun.

Either way, I think this is a great way to break into the awesome world of camping. You can keep this as simple or as complicated as you please, but in my next few camping posts I’m going to talk about what WE do. We being Me, Mr. D, and our 3 now grown daughters who we have camped with since they were each small enough to sleep in the laundry basket. (Tip #1: A laundry basket makes a PERFECT travel crib in a tent, only costs $6, and you can carry your dirty clothes home in it when you are done.)

Sometimes, I want to get away from them all, so I solo camp by myself. Sometimes, my other mom friends and I want to escape them all together and go have a girls weekend on the cheap (TIP #2: camping is a cheap way to have a great Girls’ Weekend.) Other times the Mr. and I have gone away alone together with a tent. (How romantic!) If the weather is cold? “Camp” in a cabin. Too hot? Torrential rain? Get a camping cabin, or Teepee, or Treehouse, or Yurt… (I haven’t actually stayed in a yurt yet, it’s on my list.) When we made our 2nd cross country trip to Oregon to visit family, we decided we wanted to camp, so we bought a fixer-upper pop-up for around $2000, and popped our way out west. That was an epic camping trip! Since then, I’ve camped in that little camper, with any mix of husband, kids, dogs, friends, kids friends… you name it, we’ve camped it. I think this kind of camping is a great way to get out there and see America.

In my next camping post, I’ll get down to the nitty gritty of what to pack, but for now (Unless you’re in a hurry to hit the trail) I want to give you some food for thought. Take a minute to figure out what kind of trip you want to go on. Where, when, why, what time of year? What will the weather be like? What’s your budget? And how flexible are you? I think that one is important. the more flexible you are willing to be, the more successful your trip will be, especially if you are taking kids, or you are new to this whole thing. I’ll show you how you can do this on a very limited budget (we started camping as newlyweds on an E-5 Navy salary in 1998.) We are still using a lot of that gear we bought 20-ish years ago, and its still working fine. So, here’s your homework: make yourself a little outline, think a little bit about what it is you hope to accomplish, and when I come back, I’ll tell you what my 10 essentials are, and what I would pack for a 3 day “weekend.” (TIP #3: Weekdays are way less busy in the parks if you can swing it.) See you soon!

Where are the Women? An old depression era question with a surprising new answer.

I don’t know about you, but until recently I always had this idea that not many women were working in the years leading up to The Great Depression. I think maybe this came from assumptions I made from women being seldom mentioned in history books, especially where they were discussing unemployment during The Great Depression. By that logic, if women weren’t unemployed, they must not have been employed in the first place, right? Wrong. Let’s talk about it.

By the time that The Great Depression hit in 1930, it is estimated that nearly 1/5 of all American women were employed in something other than homemaking in some fashion.1 One thing I have learned is that this statistic at first appears difficult to quantify for several reasons: the way women were counted in the census, what was considered work, and the fact that this was the first census where the designation of “homemaker” was included. However, according to the official Women’s Bureau Report on the Occupational Progress of Women, there were 10,752,116 women listed as being gainfully occupied by the 1930 census. Evidently you just need to know where to look.

So, what does this tell us? Well, it shows there were plenty of working women to lose their jobs during the depression, and many of them did. Some segments of society blamed working wives for the depression, claiming that the unemployment never would have been as bad if those liberal women hadn’t stolen men’s jobs. However, most of the jobs women were doing right before the depression were ones that had always traditionally been done by women anyway. There was just a small segment of traditionally male jobs being held by women, mainly in agriculture, for as the men went to work in factories, mines, and railroad jobs, the women took over the farming.

By 1931, reports from the Women’s Bureau and the Department of Labor estimated that over 18% of all previously working women were now unemployed.2 (I did the math- that’s 1,935,380.88 women.) Nearly two million women who were unemployed, and rarely mentioned in history. Some of these women were living at home on family farms, or with their parents in small towns, but others, especially those who had relocated to the larger, industrialized cities along the east coast, found themselves out of work, out of their apartments, and out of luck.

By the time FDR assumed the presidency and set his New Deal into motion, these women had become just as desperate as their male counterparts, only women were often not welcomed on the bread lines. They resorted to asking for charity from churches, neighbors, relatives, and strangers, begged for change or food, and at their most desperate moments, turned to prostitution. They slept in parks, under bridges, in alleys, and in subway restrooms hidden behind heat ducts. The desperate plight of these women attracted the notice of new First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (ER) who implored her husband to do something for the women as well. FDR agreed, and included women’s relief initiatives under the umbrella of The Federal Emergency Relief Association (FERA.)

Under the direction of Hilda W. Smith, a worker’s rights advocate and educator associated with the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry Program, FERA would quickly put together a program. Consisting of a motley collection of resident camps and schools for women across the country, FERA enrolled women from existing relief aid roles as their first residents. Many of the residents agreed to attend in hopes that they would gain vocational skills that would help them reenter the work place, while other women’s families shipped them off for the summer to have one less mouth to feed at home.

Perennially suffering from a lack of cohesive organization and direction, the “She, She She” camps, as they were dubbed by their detractors, would serve over 8500 women in over 90 locations by the time the program was shut down in October of 1937 due to lack of funding. Whether or not the program can ultimately considered a successful relief effort is still up for debate. Either way, it can be said that the instructors and administrators did the best they could with their meager resources to attempt to help save some of these young women from a life of destitution and despair.

Be sure you have signed up for the newsletter, so you can read the first in-depth installment on the history of the “She She She” camps themselves next week. Here on the blog, I will be posting other articles on the “She She She” camp sites, other women’s history and TN history, hiking and camping tips, and some great books I recommend you check out. Thanks for reading, and maybe I’ll see you out there!

Federal Work Camps and the New Deal

Feb 9,2021

Federal Work Camps and the New Deal

What were the federal work programs of The New Deal? Let me start at the beginning, to provide some background. The Great Depression unofficially began with the stock market crash in October of 1929. Herbert Hoover was president, millions of Americans were unemployed, and a large percentage of the nations’ banks had failed. In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was inaugurated as president, and pledged to implement sweeping social reforms across the nation during his first 100 days of office to offer relief to the American people. Over the next 8 years, FDR’s reform policies became known as The New Deal, and covered everything from bank reform, public works programs, and farm relief, to industry and labor reform policies.

Central to The New Deal were the work programs for unemployed young men, such as: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Nation Youth Administration (NYA), and the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), These were programs that put young men across America to work: building dams; improving roads and bridges; building government courthouses, post offices, and other civic buildings; improving parks; planting trees, and making other improvements to the nation’s infrastructure.

Monument to the men of the CCC at Cumberland Mountain State Park, Crossville, TN

The Tennessee River Valley was one of the areas hardest hit by the Depression, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created to build dams for power generation, flood control, and to create recreational areas and lakes for the people of the region. Because of Tennessee’s central location within these programs, many of the state parks within its borders were either created by or are designated to commemorate the workers of the CCC, the WPA, and the TVA programs. A trip to almost any one of Tennessee’s state parks provides information and insight into the lives of the men who lived in the camps and worked on these projects. As I travel across the state and visit some of Tennessee’s fantastic state parks, I’ll share them with you here.

As I do that I also want to draw your attention to a question that has plagued me for some time now. With all of this focus on Federal Relief Programs, why is there very little mention of the women of the era? Surely they were as equally affected by the depression as the men, and yet there are very few public records of who they were. You will see that there are definite ties between these CCC camps and the women who also struggled to survive the most difficult era of American History. Come along with me as I dig deep to find the answers to the question, “Where are the women?”