W. Moses Holleman was born in 1897 and worked as a blind mattress maker throughout the Great Depression. He started the Wilson Mattress Co. in 1922 and was later interviewed, in 1939, by Stanley Combs for the Federal Writers Project during the Great Depression. The document is now housed at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Southern Historical Collection.


W. Moses Holleman was born in 1897 on farm in Wilson, North Carolina where he grew up with his parents and six siblings. During his teenage years, Holleman became completely blind and went to attend the Blind School and then an unknown university. Holleman studied to become a teacher; however, he would never be able to teach at a public school due to his blindness. Holleman did not have enough financial support to continue college and ended his educational career after two years of study.


In 1922, with only a few dollars, Holleman began to make mattresses and formed his own business called the Wilson Mattress Co. His business slowly grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s as Holleman built up inventory, customers, and competition in the area. He grew into a decisive business man and made just enough money to live on. The Wilson Mattress Co. expanded and even began to do home repair visits within the vicinity of Wilson. During the New Deal era, the company became large enough to be affected by Social Security.

Activities and beliefs

Holleman made a point of staying involved with organizations and people in order to keep up with the rest of society. Politics, church, and friends were the key components of his life. Holleman was a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was strongly against “voting for the ticket” and not a candidate and their policies. He felt that “a voter ought to study their ideas and ideals of his candidate and cast his vote for the man rather than for the ticket.” [1] By listening to the radio nearly every day, Holleman stayed highly informed, despite his disabled state. Holleman was of the Christian faith and was heavily involved in the Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson. He stated, “I believe Christianity should be lived and practiced every day.” [1] Holleman felt that one could not be an avid Christian by simply attending church.

Social issues

Franklin D. Roosevelt political scene

The election of 1932,occurring at the heart of the Great Depression, can be considered a realigning election as it forever changed the American political system.[2] With the onset of the economic crisis, many were looking to shift from the long-present Republican power to a Democratic government that was able to deal with the economic crisis of the 1930s.[3] Franklin D. Roosevelt led a new Democratic Party that spoke of innovative New Deal programs. The party received a multitude of support from new voters as well as former Republicans.[2] Roosevelt was elected to the presidency in 1932, 1936, and 1940. Holleman firmly he supported the programs and policies that Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of and carried out in order to bring America out of the Depression. Holleman felt that “the present administration [FDR] has done more to help the little fellow than anyone within my [Holleman’s] memory." [1] Holleman disapproved of uninformed voters participating in elections, which reveals how much the voting pool changed during the 1930’s elections.[1]

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Fireside Chats

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to make use of the radio in his campaign and presidency. Prior to FDR’s time in office, presidents tended to communicate only with immediate government workers, and information would reach the public through a communication chain.[4] FDR made use of emerging technology and “fashioned a new relationship between the presidency and the public” [4] He communicated directly to his adherents in a personal manner and spoke of the current state of the union through Fireside Chats.[5] Listening to the radio, as Holleman did, became a common practice in households; as a result the public became more politically informed.

The New Deal and Social Security

FDR’s New Deal consisted of countless welfare programs and groups that provided employment and put money back into the economy. Social Security was one of the key programs put into place and FDR regarded it as one of the most important implemented in his lifetime.[6] President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that Social Security would “give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age" by providing retirement funds.[7] Social Security came to play a major role in Holleman’s life as he owned a mattress business and was responsible for hiring employees and providing insurance to them. The Social Security Amendment of 1956 was later added to extend coverage to people with a disability [7] Holleman, being blind, would have also benefited from this amendment.

Historical production of the Federal Writers' Project

The Federal Writers Project was a New Deal program that was part of the Works Project Administration. The goal of the project was to employ struggling writers and give them the opportunity to capture the lives and conditions of southerners through personal interviews. Writers from all over the country interviewed many different people and recorded their life histories based off of the interview. The interviewers did not use tape recorders during the interview, but rather recorded what they wanted to by hand.[8] As a result, many of the authentic dialects of the south in the personal histories and facts from the interview were simply left out [8] In Combs interview with Holleman, there appears to be no evidence that Combs skewed or distorted facts that Holleman said during the interview. Holleman’s life and recounts of the 1930s are presented clearly and Combs provides direct quotes from Holleman, adding to the personal history’s authenticity.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Combs, Stanley.“A Blind Mattress Maker.” Federal Writers Project. North Carolina Collection. p.8.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gamm, Gerald H. The Making of New Deal Democrats. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.1.
  3. Walsh, Kenneth T. “The Most Consequential Elections in History: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ryfe, David M. “Franklin Roosevelt and the Fireside Chats.” The Journal of Communication 49.p.81.
  5. Buhite, Russell D., Levy, David W. FDR’s Fireside Chats. Norman: University of Oklahoma.p.xviii
  6. Braeman, John. The New Deal. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1975.p.111.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "The History of Social Security." Financial Planning Association. 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Terrill, Tom E., and Jerrold Hirsch. "Replies to Leonard Rapport's “How Valid Are the Federal.p.82.

External links

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