Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Dennis Clark, September 22, 1981

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Bromley's Mill

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Partial Transcript: --mix of industrial devastation, uh, and, uh, barely, uh, adequate housing.

Segment Synopsis: The opening of the interview has Dennis Clark discussing the area in which they are standing for the interview. He also notes that this is the area where Bromley's Mill used to be located. Clark provides a brief description of the influence that this family-owned mill had locally.

Keywords: B Street and Lehigh Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bromley Mill; Inadequate housing; Industrial devastation; Quakers (Society of Friends)

Subjects: Dwellings; Employment; Housing.; Neighborhoods; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:00:57 - Kensington neighborhood post-Civil War

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Partial Transcript: Uh, in the 1870s and '80s, uh, I guess as part of the big expansion of Philadelphia after the American Civil War...

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the environment of the neighborhood of Kensington and gives a quick background to what type of people lived there and their skill sets, including workers like skilled native-born Americans, farm-born craftsman, and unskilled immigrants, particularly from Ireland. The two and three story row houses created some economic mix, with professionals like physicians living there who provided services to the working families.

Keywords: Depression of 1893; Expansion of Philadelphia; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Manufacturing; Row houses; Skilled workers; Social classes; Textile mills; Unskilled workers

Subjects: Dwellings; Employment; Families.; Housing.; Immigrants; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:02:33 - Working conditions in the textile mills

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Partial Transcript: Um, even more important, uh, was the price that these working families paid, uh, in industrial accidents...

Segment Synopsis: Clark describes in detail the working conditions within the textile mills in Kensington. He describes the hazardous work conditions in the mills caused by moist air, floors, poor ventilation, and contagious illnesses that would plague the workers. He notes the Irish immigrant population was particularly susceptible to tuberculosis. The lint in the textile mills also caused Brown Lung Disease.

Keywords: Boarding houses; Boardinghouses; Brown lung disease; Fire hazards; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Occupational hazards; Spinning mills; Textile mills; Tuberculosis; Women in the mills; Work conditions; Working conditions

Subjects: Diseases.; Employment; Health; Immigrants

00:05:42 - Women working in the mills

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Partial Transcript: Beyond that, you had the terrible problem of, uh, noise in these textile factories.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the impact of working in the mills on the life of women in the Kensington area. Women worked in noisy and dangerous conditions and this impacted their married lives, family, and future. He jokes that by the time women had a suitor who could afford to marry them, they could not hear them propose due to years of factory work. Girls frequently began work in the mills as early as age 10, quitting work when they were married to run the household, sometimes also operating informal lodging houses for male workers.

Keywords: Boarding houses; Boardinghouses; Deafness; Factories; Factory; Looms; Noise; Social Security; Textile mills; Work conditions; Work schedules; Working conditions; Working women

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment; Health; Marriage; Women--Employment.

00:10:32 - Available work in Kensington

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Partial Transcript: How many mills were in the area?

Segment Synopsis: Clark talks about the textile mills in the area of B Street and Lehigh Avenue. From where Clark and Hardy stand, they can see 6 former mill sites. He then shares that small streets in the area were populated by workers living in the surrounding area, building tradesmen, ship fitters in Cramps Shipyard and railroad workers. Clark points out a lodging facility for freight train workers on the corner of East Lehigh Avenue and Kensington Avenue.

Keywords: B Street and Lehigh Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bromley Mill; Cramps Shipyard; Kensington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Railroad workers; Shipyards; Textile mills

Subjects: Dwellings; Employment; Housing.; Neighborhoods

GPS: East Lehigh Avenue and Kensington Avenue
Map Coordinates: 39.989912, -75.125447
00:12:00 - Heterogeneity of Kensington

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Partial Transcript: Uh, but many of the local men, uh, worked in the coal yards, on lumber yards, that were part of the, uh, uh, the siding for the railroad.

Segment Synopsis: Clark continues the tour through the predominantly Catholic neighborhood of Kensington, noting the current parish of Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, which superseded St. Cecilia's Catholic Church. He describes the Kensington of early 20th century as heterogeneous ethnically, including English weaving families and German craftsmen, in addition to Irish immigrants.

Keywords: Catholic parishes; Coal yards; Demographics; Disston Saw Works; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Plumb Tool Company; St. Cecilia's Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.); Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church (Philadelphia, Pa.); Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Dwellings; Housing.; Immigrants; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race relations; Segregation.

GPS: Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church
Map Coordinates: 39.994400, -75.125860
00:13:47 - Walking through Kensington

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Partial Transcript: Uh, this is Potter Street.

Segment Synopsis: As Clark and Hardy walk through Kensington, Clark describes the history of buildings and streets, including the Star Movie Theater, and mom-and-pop businesses on the corners. They discuss the location nearby where part of the movie "Rocky" was filmed. Clark notes the significance of the destruction of the Bromley Mills factory on the neighborhood. He comments on how few brick-paved streets are left in Philadelphia, and the economical nature of the row house stock in the neighborhood.

Keywords: Bromley Mills (Adams Ave., Philadelphia, Pa.); Craftsmanship; Ed Kirlin; Family businesses; German-Americans--Philadelphia; Irish Americans--Philadelphia; Jewish; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Kensington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Potter Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Rocky (motion picture); Star Movie Theater; Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Dwellings; Housing.; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

GPS: Adams Avenue and Kensington Avenue
Map Coordinates: 40.008517, -75.091568
00:17:35 - Effects of the Great Depression on Kensington

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Partial Transcript: In the thirties, the, uh, quality of everything deteriorated.

Segment Synopsis: Clark starts off by describing the effects of the Great Depression on Kensington, including the closing of mills, the housing of unemployed men in old factory buildings, and migrants coming through on railroad boxcars. He recalls a Catholic physician debating communist radicals and labor agitators at McPherson Square. He also remembers the death of union leader Carl Mackley.

Keywords: Carl Mackley; Communism; Eddie McLean; Great Depression; Helen Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); International Workers of the World (IWW); McPherson Square (Philadelphia park)

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Dwellings; Employment; Housing.; Immigrants; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

GPS: McPherson Square
Map Coordinates: 39.994808, -75.118888
00:21:01 - Improvements and change after the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: As the neighborhood grew, uh, it lost its community quality due to the coming of two things.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses Kensington's upward swing following the Great Depression, which included the Elevated Line ("El") running through the neighborhood, new movie theaters, and parish dances. He recalls the act of 'rushing the duck'-- filling a bucket with beer at the local taproom. The neighborhood's social life included picnics, block parities, local sports teams, and community life centered around the local parish. The El and the increase in automobile ownership after World War II changed the community as its populace became more mobile.

Keywords: "Rushing the duck"; 1920s; Athletics; Automobiles; Catholic parishes; Entertainment; Philadelphia Elevated Line (EL); Saloons; St. Anne's Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.); Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church (Philadelphia, Pa.); World War II

Subjects: Alcohol; Depressions--1929; Dwellings; Housing.; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Recreation; World War, 1939-1945

GPS: St. Anne's Parish & St. Anne's Rectory
Map Coordinates: 39.982710, -75.118598
00:24:53 - Family and life during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: In talking to a lot of older citizens, I was trying to ask them something about the quality of life...

Segment Synopsis: Clark comments on the differences in the quality of life during the Depression and the current day. He thinks some look back romantically on those days despite the prevalence of illegitimacy, domestic violence, alcoholism, and other social ills.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Broken families; Domestic violence; Family life; Nostalgia; Pay night

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:26:44 - Challenges of industrial work

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Partial Transcript: So that, uh, very serious social problems: bad health histories in the families, terrible victimization of people, uh, by ignorance, uh, and, uh, exploitation, uh, in the workplace.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the conditions and challenges of industrial work in some of the surrounding mills. Workers came home with skin rashes and dye-covered skin and clothes, resulting in childhood taunts about the color of their father's skin following a day of work. Clark also mentions types of injuries that workers in different mills suffered, many of which would get treated at the Episcopal hospital on Lehigh Avenue. He talks about how workers would be treated by the company if they were injured on the job.

Keywords: Accidents; Amputations; Barrett's Chemical Company; Disabilities; Dye houses; Episcopal hospitals; Gurney Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Illnesses; Jobs; Metal shearing; Occupational hazards; Positions; Temple University Episcopal Hospital; Textile mills; Work conditions; Working conditions; Workplace injuries

Subjects: Diseases.; Employment; Health

GPS: Temple University Episcopal Hospital
Map Coordinates: 39.990998, -75.128950
00:32:31 - Childhood railroad activities / Pollution

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I would walk to school along this street here.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses some activities that younger kids participated in near the railroads in the 1930s, including fights and catching rats. He talks about the amount of pollution created by the railroads and factories.

Keywords: Bridges; Coal; Fights; Nuns; Pollution; Railroads; Rats; Schools

Subjects: Childhood

00:34:42 - Clark family political debates

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Partial Transcript: During the 1930s, uh, there were, uh, people who, uh, were sort of prophets of the times and one of these was Father Coughlin.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the political arguments within his own family, more specifically his father's hatred for Roosevelt and Father Charles Couglin. Also he remembers debates between his father and his uncle who was a Marxist and International Workers of the World supporter.

Keywords: Alfred Smith (Presidential candidate, 1926); Bruce Barton; Democratic Party; Father Charles Coughlin; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; International Workers of the World (IWW); Marxism; Marxists; Og Mandino; Politics; Priests; Radio programs

Subjects: Families.; Politicians; Politics and government

00:37:31 - World War I bonuses

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Partial Transcript: Uh, among the strange, um, episodes of distress in the 1930s was a, uh, small panic at one time in public opinion about something called the Black Legion.

Segment Synopsis: Clark mentions fears of an underground organization called the Black Legion during the Great Depression. Clark remembers the celebrations that occurred when the federal government finally paid World War I veterans their bonuses. He recalls the streets and families being filled with joy, as it was more money than anyone had seen in a while.

Keywords: Black Legion; Bonus March; Celebrations; Great Depression; Veteran pensions; World War I

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Immigrants; World War, 1914-1918; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans

00:40:24 - Entertainment in Kensington

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Partial Transcript: One of the, uh, resorts for entertainment was the Cambria A.C.

Segment Synopsis: Clark describes various recreational activities which the residents of Kensington participated in, including prize fights, baseball games, and drinking establishments.

[This segment ends abruptly.]

Keywords: Activities; Alcohol; Baseball; Boxing; Cambria Athletic Club; Drinking clubs; Drinking establishments; Entertainment; Men; Prize fights; Saloons; Shibe Park; Sports; Women

Subjects: Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Recreation

00:44:10 - Driving tour through Kensington

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Partial Transcript: I lived on a number of streets around here.

Segment Synopsis: Clark and Hardy seem to be driving around the Kensington area and while doing so, Clark discusses the history and importance of places and things that he sees. He talks about his father's employment, businesses in the area, his classmates who passed away from tuberculosis, the Philadelphia Elevated Line, race relations in Kensington, and the history of various parishes.

[Several interruptions in taping occur during this segment.]

Keywords: Anti-Catholic Riots of 1844; Delicatessens; Fishtown (Philadelphia neighborhood); Front Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Houses; Kensington (Philadelphia neighborhood); Kensington Action Now; Kingdom Baptist Church; Marian Anderson; Pawn shops; Philadelphia Elevated Line (EL); Public baths; Public swimming pools; Restaurants; St. Michael's Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.); Swimming; Tuberculosis; York Street (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Dwellings; Housing.; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

GPS: St. Michael's Parish
Map Coordinates: 39.973525, -75.138494
00:56:46 - Social classes and professions of Kensington

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Partial Transcript: Was there any hierarchy? If you were richer you would live on a--one of the larger streets?

Segment Synopsis: As the men drive further south, Hardy asks Clark about the class hierarchies and professions within the neighborhood. Large homes on some streets housed professionals like physicians, skilled craftsmen, civil servants, and white collar workers. Good trades in the 1920s included cabinet makers, copper-smiths, carpenters, machinists, typographers, or skilled factory jobs like piano makers. Unions protected these jobs since early in the twentieth century, leading to little need to switch professions.

Keywords: Carpenters; Craft unions; Craftsmanship; Disston Saw Works; Episcopal hospitals; Machinists; Occupations; Priests; Skilled workers; Social classes; Spring Garden Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Typographers

Subjects: Dwellings; Employment; Housing.; Labor movement; Labor unions; Neighborhoods; Neighbors.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

01:00:13 - Illicit night life

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Partial Transcript: Now from Noble Street all the way south to Arch Street was the whorehouse area in the 1880s and '90s.

Segment Synopsis: Clark discusses the entertainment and illicit activities that occurred in Philadelphia's "cat house" district, from Noble Street at the north to Arch Street at the south, from 4th at the east to 6th at the west. He describes the location of the 'red light district' and the distribution of illegal drugs and alcohol in relation to this area. Clark theorizes that the Chinese immigrants ran the drug trade that was located adjacent to the red light district.

[The interview concludes abruptly.]

Keywords: Arch Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Brothels; Chinese-Americans--Philadelphia; Noble Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Prostitution; Red Light District; Tenderloin District (Philadelphia, Pa.); Vice District

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Crime.