Hagood, Margaret. Mothers of the South. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1977, Call number HQ1420 .H3 1977 (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Haley Murdock

Margaret Hagood’s Mothers of the South: Portraiture of the White Tenant Farm Woman

Margaret Jarman Hagood was a sociologist who completed her Ph.D. work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1937. Her focus was women of the Southeast, and she completed a statistical analysis of their fertility and other facts about their lives. She spent a significant amount of time in the Carolina Piedmont, the central region of North Carolina between the mountains to the west and the Coastal Plain to the east, specifically Chapel Hill. Here, she studied tenant farmers, who grew crops on another person’s land for a price, typically with some supplies of their own and a measure of independence.[1] She published Mothers of the South in 1939, a time when there were approximately 750,000 tenant farmers in North Carolina[2]. (The available copy of the book was reprinted in 1977 with no known changes to the work). The greater context of the mass amount of tenant farmers was the Great Depression, the economic crisis that swept the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Hagood believed that the lives of mothers from this region were particularly telling of the conditions of the nation at the time. She includes the quote in her opening chapter, ‘As goes the Southern tenant farm mother, so goes a large part of the South and of the Nation.’[3]

This source describes the foodways of Chapel Hill during the period of 1920-1939 because it outlines the suffering and resilience of impoverished women along with their families. The women she interviews are important subjects for telling the food story of Chapel Hill because they were directly affected by the cash crop system of North Carolina, which placed great focus on tobacco and cotton but left families without food during fluctuations in the economy. The mothers of Hagood’s book provide an important story of the types of food they ate, such as “hot bread, sweet potatoes, syrup and salt pork.”[4] These women, in turn, also describe the implications of poverty on raising a family in that, even when suffering was at its greatest, they still deeply cared for their children and provided them with the best diet available. This era in Chapel Hill is different from previous eras because the Great Depression was the greatest economic crisis in the history of the United States, and it left already impoverished families with nothing. It is different from the time periods that follow because agriculture was reformed throughout the following decades and tenant farmers significantly decreased.

[1] Charles C. Bolton, “Farmers Without Land: The Plight of White Tenant Farmers and Sharecroppers.”

[2] Margaret Hagood, Mothers of the South (W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1977), Call number HQ1420 .H3 1977 (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), p. vii.

[3] Hagood, Mothers of the South, p. 4.

[4] Hagood, Mothers of the South, page 129.