Life in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina & Tennessee in the Early 1900's: Education, Medicine, Industrial & Corporate Expansion

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 Appalachian Life

The rapid industrial and corporate expansion of America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries produced an incredible stream of benefits for the American people. However, the rugged terrain of the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina made it difficult for supplies and people to navigate. People were isolated from the rest of the country. Doctors were rare. Education was limited. Appalachia Mountain folk relied on nature for survival. These benefits produced a change in life-styles that were most profoundly marked in the Appalachian Mountains as documented in the book, Dorie: Woman of the Mountains. Some say these benefits did not come without extreme costs and those costs far outweighed any benefits gained. The cost was a trade-off. Progress does not come without a price.

Appalachia Clothing

Dorie: Woman of the Mountains is a true story centering on the life of a family living in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee near Gatlinburg. These people depended on nature and their hard work to provide the necessities of life. Clothing was one of the necessities of life. Making cloth was a long and tedious process. (Pg 25) They planted Flax to harvest and process into thread. The thread was weaved into a loom, which took many hours to set up. After which, the cloth produced was sewn into clothing. Because of the long tedious work and the amount of flax needed to produce clothing, these people had only a few items of clothing. Dorie had only two dresses. (Pg. 21) Wool for blankets and heavy winter clothes came from the sheep the family raised. The fabric was stiff, scratchy, and smelled of sheep when wet. Yet, it served its purpose. (Pg 26) The process of making wool cloth was as long and tedious as the process of making cloth from flax. Furniture was hand-made from the rough lumber and the limbs of trees bent and coaxed into shape. Woven white oak splits supplied the seats for chairs. (Pg. 9) Due to industrialization, hand-made furniture has developed into an art form today, coveted by those who can afford it.


In Appalachia, during the late 19th and late 20th century, everyday tasks such as cooking was time consuming and strenuous. Cooking over the fireplace was hard on the back because one had to stoop over to accomplish the task. Few cooking utensils were available. A single cast iron Dutch oven hoisted over the fire supplied the means for baking food. (Pg 9) Food preparation was often an all day task. Preservation of food was necessary to sustain the family through the winter months. Growing, canning and preserving food occupied much of the women's time during the harvest season. Isolation made it necessary for the people of the Appalachian Mountains to be self-reliant and resourceful. Survival depended upon resourcefulness. (Pg 51-53)


Dorie: Woman of the Mountains illustrates the isolation that people living in the Appalachian Mountains encountered particularly in the winter. Snowstorms often kept people in their cabin until the weather improved. (Pg 82) If caught outside of their homes perhaps on the job, people stayed where they were until the weather improved. Transportation was mostly by foot or by horse and wagon if one was fortunate enough to have a horse and wagon or know someone who did. (Pg 33) It was common to walk fourteen miles one way to work. (Pg 77) The rugged mountain terrain kept families separated as documented in Dorie, Woman of the Mountains, .It wasn't easy to keep in touch with your family and maintain close ties when it was so hard to get from one hallow to next. (Pg 105) Although established, railroads in the Appalachian Mountains had not yet fully penetrated the area. Places remained remote. Even as transportation improved and conquered the rugged terrain within the Appalachian Mountains, families remained distant and isolated because people were too busy making a living to visit. (Pg. 213)


Due to the isolation, people in the Appalachian Mountains had little exposure to modern medicine. As documented in Dorie: Woman of the Mountain. No body went to the doctor for anything except appendicitis or amputations. (Pg 15) People of the Appalachian Mountains relied on herbal remedies for illnesses and injuries. Many people were skeptic of doctors. For example, when Dorie's brother came down with pneumonia, they sent for the company doctor. The doctor gave Dorie's mother some quinine pills for her to give to Dorie's brother to bring down the fever. Instead, Dorie's mother used an old mountain remedy of fried onions saying that . Mountain know-how would beat lowland medicine anytime.. (Pg.31) Women had their babies at home with a mid-wife. .The nearest doctor was many miles down the mountain.. (Pg 15) Later as the area became less remote, women still had their babies at home however the doctor replaced the mid-wife as modern medicine replaced herbal remedies.


Isolation was a key factor in the lack of education in the Appalachian Mountains. Distances from schools prevented many from attending. (Pg 20) Poverty made it necessary for some to quit school because they had to work to help support their families. (Pg 213) Still others did not see the necessity of an education. All they needed to know was the art of mountain living. (Pg. 22) Exposure to the outside world changed many of these factors as documented in Dorie: Woman of the Mountains. Times are changing. She'll need an education, a better one than we had.. (Pg. 20)

industrialization and corporate expansion: Effect

Improvements came with the industrialization and corporate expansion which affected the life of people in Appalachia. The company supplied housing. The company store provided supplies and food. The company even provided medical care. (Pg 147) Dependence on the company one worked for replaced dependence on nature. Improvements were more evident for the women than for the men. Industrialization provided many conveniences, which translated into easier work for women. A few of these conveniences were: pumping water from pipes rather than carrying water from streams, preparing food from a cook stove standing erect rather than stooped over a fireplace (Pg 28) and buying clothing from catalogs rather than making clothing from scratch. (Pg 182) Women stilled canned and preserved food during harvest time to prepare for the winter. (Pg 183) Although items were more readily available for purchase, people were limited financially to how much they could purchase. People living in the Appalachian Mountains remained poor.

Industrialization and corporate expansion in Appalachia brought exposure to the outside world. There was an influx of people from other areas of the country looking for work coming into the area. To accommodate the influx of people, people already living in the Appalachian Mountains took in boarders, which created a new source of income. (Pg 96) The resulting consequence was more work for the women, which off set the time gained from the improvements mentioned previously. Another consequence of industrialization was the merging of cultures. For example, before industrialization Christmas was a solemn occasion spent in prayer. (Pg 56) After the introduction of other cultures, Appalachian families began celebrating Christmas. Christmas became materialistic. Another introduction that created a more materialistic lifestyle was the Montgomery Wards Catalog and Sears & Roebuck Catalog. These catalogs became .wish books.. People thought the manufactured items in the catalogs would make their lives easier or better. (Pg 113) This gave people the incentive to work harder and work longer.

Industrialization and corporate expansion provided jobs for people of Appalachia, which meant a steady paycheck. Yet, this paycheck did not come without a price. The jobs were not only physically challenging but dangerous as well. Men injured on the job received no compensation nor did families whose husbands and/or fathers were killed on the job. (Pg 186) Even though the jobs brought a steady paycheck to the people of Appalachia, the area remained poverty stricken. However, the poverty of the Appalachian Mountains was balanced out with the cooperation of one's neighbors and relatives in that each family was willing to help the next knowing that the favor would be reciprocated in the times of need. When men were hurt or killed on the job, co-workers and neighbors provided food for the family/families of the victims until other means of survival became apparent. For example, Dorie's husband was injured on the job did not get any pay while he was off. His co-workers brought food to the family until Dorie's husband went back to work. (Pg. 187) People who worked in factories were exposed to excessive noise and foul air, which created health hazards. The resulting health hazards, the dangers faced in the job and the long hours worked were the trade-off for the improvements that came with industrialization. Even though these people were still poor, they were not willing to risk going back to the old ways. These people thought they were doing well financially therefore union organizers were discouraged. (Pg 152)

Environmental damage to the Appalachian Mountains was another result of industrial and corporate expansion. The air was no longer pure and the water polluted. For example, Dorie's Husband became sick (typhoid fever) from drinking contaminated water from a mountain stream that was once pure. (Pg. 165) Uncontrolled fires broke out in the Smokey Mountains that sparked from the railroads, destroying acres of forest as well as whole communities. (Pg 132-135) The changes in lifestyles that took effect in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were dramatic to the people of the Appalachian Mountains. Exposure to the outside world opened many resources. Education improved and medical care was accessible to more people. Yet, poverty was still widespread. Life was still hard.

for more information on life in the mountains see Appalachian Crafts

Cope, Bush, Dorie: Woman of the Mountains, University of Tennessee Press, 1992