Sarah Bucksby was born in the mid to late 1800s in Carton, North Carolina. She lived through the development of nursing schools and insane asylums in North Carolina. Mrs. Bucksby was interviewed by the Federal Writers Project on December 15, 1938. Her interview is housed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Southern Historical Collection


Early Life Miss Sarah Canopy was born in Carton, North Carolina to Earl and Sarah Canopy. She had an older brother who was a farmer and the county sheriff. She grew up on 565 acres of land called the “Huckney Estate.” All of the men in her family were big, land owning farmers. They all had their own land, animals, and houses, which enabled them to make enough money to support their families.


All the children in her town went to private schools because there were no public schools to attend. After primary and secondary school, Mrs. Bucksby then went on to study to be a nurse and worked at an insane asylum.

Family and Married Life

Mrs. Bucksby, then Miss Canopy, met Mr. Bucksby in her second year of training to become a nurse. He had come to Carton to find a team for his father’s farm in Bear Creek, North Carolina. After he went back to Bear Creek, they wrote each other for six months until he was able to come back to Carton to see her. Miss Canopy and Mr. Bucksby were married at the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, respectively. Mr. and Mrs. Bucksby lived in Ken’s father’s house in Bear Creek where they had their first of three daughters, Nellie. They lived there for two years until Mr. Bucksby was offered an opportunity to have a job in Carton. They moved back to Carton and Mr. Bucksby was fortunate enough to have a job with a good salary for that time. He worked there for fourteen years until he was able to buy a nice house on the outskirts of town. They bought Jersey cows and raised them until they did not have any more. After losing all of their cows, they no longer had a source of income so they could not afford to live in their house anymore. A man by the name of Dr. Hardingwell gave them a new place to live. Soon after, Mr. Bucksby became sick and could not do laborious work anymore. He eventually died and Mrs. Bucksby was left to live with Mr. Bud. Mr. Bud began raising turkeys and Mrs. Bucksby raised chickens. They made their living off of selling the chickens, turkeys, and eggs. Mr. Bud’s turkeys were the best in the county, often weighing much more than the average size turkey.

Social Issues

Development of the North Carolina Insane Asylum

Before the creation of the North Carolina insane asylum, the insane “were placed in dungeons without light, air, or sanitation; many chained to the walls or floor, bedded on foul straw, clad in rags, and fed on scraps like animals.”[1] When Dorothea Dix came to North Carolina in the 1840’s and saw these conditions she decided to try to pass a bill to create the first North Carolina insane asylum because she believed that “moral treatment such as fixed schedules, development of routine habits, calm and pleasant surroundings and proper diet with a minimum of physical restraints would cure the patients.”[2] However, the bill was not supported by the legislature until Dix met one of the legislators herself. The asylum was not built and ready to house patients until fourteen years later and even then the “kitchen, cooking apparatus, means of serving food, water-works, heating apparatus, and all outside buildings were exceedingly defective and in a condition of general decline.”[3] Mrs. Bucksby worked at a North Carolina Insane Asylum during the time period after Dorothea Dix was able to create an insane asylum and while it was still struggling to have satisfactory conditions.

Development of Nursing

Nursing schools came to North Carolina in the early 1900s, about the time that Mrs. Bucksby attended nursing school. Previously, there were not many certified nurses in the South because “training schools had not been established in the South, and those of the North did not appeal to young women of secure social standings.”[4] Once nursing schools and hospitals were built there was an increase in the number of certified nurses. There were still improvements to be made within the hospitals and nursing schools because there seemed to be a “lack of proper legal controls and inexperience and medical treatment of patients in large state hospitals.”[5]

Federal Writers Project

The Federal Writers Project in North Carolina interviewed approximately 1,200 individuals about their life history. The director of this administration was W. T. Couch.[6] The investigators and writers from the Federal Writers Project “were told not to inject themselves, their personalities, or their opinions into the stories, a complete absence of individual interpretation would be unattainable even if it were desirable.” [7] Although the writers were told to not include their opinions and bias, there are many instances where the bias is shown through the stories of the people interviewed. This could explain why Mrs. Bucksby is portrayed as the stereotypical upper class white woman of that era who seemed to have everything in her life given to her.


  1. McCulloch, Margaret C. “Found the North Carolina Asylum for the Insane.” The North Carolina Historical Review. Raleigh: North Carolina Historical Commission,1936. Print. p.186
  2. “Legislature Bill.” Dorothea Dix Hospital History. NC Department of Health and Human Services, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 11-11-12.
  3. Grissom, Eugene. A Statement to The Friends of the NC Insane Asylum. Raleigh: E.M. Uzzel, Steam Printer and Binder, 1889. Print. p.36
  4. Wyche, Mary L. The History of Nursing in North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1938. Print. p.7
  5. Cahow, Clark R. People, Patients and Politics: The History of the North Carolina Mental Hospitals 1848-1960. New York: Arno Press, 1980. Print. p.79
  6. “Collection Overview.” Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940. The Southern Historical Collection, Apr. 2010. Web.'Project.html#d2e5399. 12 Nov. 2012.
  7. Rapport, Leonard. “How Valid Are the Federal Writer’s Project Life Stories: An Iconoclast among the True Believers.” Oral History Association. 7. (1979): 13. Jstor. Web. 17 Nov. 2012. <>
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