A Little History in the House: The Legacy of Gertha Lee Bailey Trice

Gertha Lee Bailey Trice

The essence of a home is often weighted toward the traditions of a mother. Born a few years prior to the Great Depression to James Bailey and Addie L. Carter Bailey, Gertha Lee Bailey Trice spent half of her first decade of life observing and experiencing the reality of life during this historic period. Her daily life was impacted by the conditions and lived experience of her family and their community in eastern Arkansas.

Gertha Trice as an AmeriCorps volunteer, taking blood from a patient in a clinic in Arkansas; 1971.

In 1935, Arkansas was the first Southern state to fill all its Works Progress Administration (WPA) slots for women. (At the beginning of the Depression, women made up one-fourth of the workforce in Arkansas.) Most of the WPA positions for women were geared to basic survival needs: they served hot lunches to school children, made clothing in sewing rooms, tended to the sick in household aid programs (similar to present-day home health aides), and taught adult education classes. The WPA also sponsored five National Youth Administration camps for young Black women; these were named for Mary McLeod Bethune and offered liberal arts and vocational training classes. Arkansas hosted one of these camps: NYA Camp Bethune.

This example of community serving community may have inspired Trice’s founding of the Lee County Self Help Project in 1965. It would grow into an organization providing food, clothing, toys, transportation, farming assistance, and livestock to low-income families in the Mississippi Delta for more than thirty-three years. With partnerships from Stan and Millicent Christiansen of Prescott, Wisconsin, and AmeriCorps co-worker Delcenia Robinson, they provided foundational help to the community.

Her early years of observing hardship and the work that went into caring for people may have also been the motivation to encourage her thirteen children to pursue college degrees. Twelve of her children attended college, with eleven graduating from what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. This child of the Depression encouraged her children by saying: “People will help you if you will help yourself.” With word and action, Gertha Lee Bailey Trice created a little history in her house.

By Rhonda Stewart, Genealogy/Local History Specialist, CALS Roberts Library

 

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