Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Anna Farris, Anna Van Dyke, Josephine Glowacki, and Cecilia Boucher, October 22, 1981

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Introductions, schooling, and first jobs

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Partial Transcript: --and age, if that's not being too personal?

Segment Synopsis: Hardy collects names and ages of the women he is interviewing: Anna (Bahleda) Farris, 72; Anna (Wagner) Van Dyke, 77; and Josephine Glowacki, 72. Glowacki states her parents emigrated from Poland, and she was born and raised in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania until the mines closed in 1939 and she moved to Philadelphia. Van Dyke shares she got a job at age 14 and went to continuation school until age 16. They were able to get jobs just by walking down the street and seeing the sign at 16 years old. Their pay ranged from three to six dollars per week.

Keywords: Careers; Carlisle (Pa.); Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Continuation schools; Jobs; Kensington High School (Philadelphia, Pa.); Mount Carmel (Pa.); Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania; Polish Americans--Philadelphia; Silk mills; Vine Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Work

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Education; Employment; Families.

00:03:19 - Challenges for immigrants to find work

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Partial Transcript: I had the same experience like you, my mother and father were the first from Europe.

Segment Synopsis: Farris's parents came to Ohio from Slovakia in 1906 or 1907. Her father, a machinist, came to Philadelphia and got a job as a sheet metal worker at Budd's and then Durham's Body Works, where he worked for 35 years until he died.

Keywords: Careers; Durham's Body Works; First generation immigrants; Jobs; Sheet metal work; Slovakia; Steel work; The Budd Company; Work

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

00:06:10 - Van Dyke’s father's adoption and life in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: My father was born in Boston but his parents came from France.

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke’s father was born in Boston, although his parents were from France and lived in New York. His father took sick while in Boston working on the canal, and eventually died there, while his mother gave birth to him there while caring for him. He was adopted at six weeks old by a family who came to Philadelphia. As an adult, his mother wrote to the Boston Times and found out that he had a brother. He worked as a machinist at Budd's and another place she cannot recall the name of.

Keywords: Boston (Ma.); Boston, Massachusetts; Machinists; Migration; New York City (N.Y.); New York City, New York; The Budd Company

Subjects: Adoption; Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

GPS: The Budd Company
Map Coordinates: 40.008417, -75.169083
00:08:08 - Role of trade unions

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Partial Transcript: Did either, did either of your fathers ever tell you what it was--you know, what, what their work was like?

Segment Synopsis: The women's fathers worked very hard and long hours. They note how especially hard the bosses were and how strict the rules were. When they worked they had to do what the floor lady said. One woman’s husband was a toolmaker who worked at 17th Street and Cambria Street. They note unions and the difference between working conditions then and the conditions now.

Keywords: 17th Street and Cambria Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Electric Service Supply; Work conditions; Working conditions

Subjects: Employment; Labor disputes; Labor movement; Labor unions

00:09:30 - First jobs

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Partial Transcript: You're, uh--I want to include you in on this.

Segment Synopsis: Cecilia Boucher joins the conversation giving her name and age of 74. She says she worked at the Bayuk Cigar Factory, then in a rope factory, and later at a candy factory. As a child at 14 she walked in and asked for a job and started work as a winder, but only worked during vacation before going back to school. Farris recalls having to lie about her age to get work when she was only 14, saying she was 19. They talk about how easy it was to get a job but how very hard the work was. Boucher shares she also worked at Plumb where they made hatchets and hammers.

Keywords: 3rd Street and Spruce Street (Philadelphia, Pa.); Bayuk Cigars, Inc.; Introduction; Thomas Henry and Sons

Subjects: Child labor; Childhood; Employment

00:12:08 - Working conditions

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Partial Transcript: Well what, what were the conditions like in, in the different fields?

Segment Synopsis: Continuing to discuss jobs, Van Dyke says the silk mill was the best place she ever worked. She was a quill winder, but had to operate many spools at a time, which made her keep “on her toes.” At Pine Tree, which produced silk, velvet, and satin, she worked her way up to cleaner and then weaver, which paid better. At Pine Tree, Van Dyke worked 7 am to 6 pm with no lunch. Farris, who worked at Curtis, remembers having no coffee breaks, but only bathroom breaks, although during the lunch hour they could go to the nice rest room on the 7th floor, which had a bank and books to read. During work, the workers would be sent home for talking during their shifts.

Keywords: Bayard's; Bayuk Cigars, Inc.; Dan and Allegheny Street; Job tasks; Parental fear; Pine Tree Silk Mill; Silk mills; Weaving; Women in the work field; Work conditions; Work hours; Working conditions

Subjects: Employment

00:16:06 - Outlook on work life

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Partial Transcript: So then I says, well--then they said, "Well, what else do you know?"

Segment Synopsis: Boucher tried to get a job as a cigar maker but was told "we have machines for that now". Curtis had a lot of Scottish people working at that factory. The women describe their attitudes toward work as "you had to do it so you did it." One father told his daughter she had to pay him back for keeping her. The entire 18.78 payment per week she received from work she had to give to her father.

Keywords: Cigar factory; Curtis; Work ethic

Subjects: Employment; Families.

GPS: Cigar Factory on N 4th Street Philadelphia, PA
Map Coordinates: 39.969648, -75.143011
00:18:04 - Family size and fathers' work

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Partial Transcript: Well, what else can I say?

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke grew up in Richmond in Philadelphia. Her father worked in a paper mill. Another woman says her father worked as a miner until he died.

Keywords: Mining; Mount Carmel (Pa.); Mount Carmel, Philadelphia; Old Richmond (Philadelphia neighborhood); Paper mills; Work experience

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:19:15 - Hard work and long days

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Partial Transcript: What did you all do if you had grievances?

Segment Synopsis: The women didn't go to the bosses if they had grievances. They note particularly the long hours and work weeks. Only making about three dollars per week, one woman came home and asked her brother to fetch shoes for her and he replied no, and she said, "Well go ahead, I'm working to keep you." A quarter or fifty cents for spending went pretty far per week going for makeup or to fund a trip home in the middle of the day to get extra food. One woman worked at the sweatshops until they would figure out her age. "You couldn't stop and talk and couldn't go for breaks." The women would come home and be almost too tired to eat.

Keywords: 7th Street; 7th and 10th Street; Grievances; Pay; Sweat shops; Work hours; Work weeks

Subjects: Employment; Families.

GPS: North 7th Street Philadelphia, PA
Map Coordinates: 39.989741, -75.144486
00:23:46 - Memory--Nostalgia versus the realities of life

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Partial Transcript: So, um, in--there have been a--in talking to a lot of, of, of people, there, there seem to be, you know--everybody has basically...

Segment Synopsis: There are two views of the past: not too bad or very bad. The women say they wouldn't want their sons to work like that and describe being raised on soup every day. This was common among the foreign families. They are nostalgic about sitting outside during the summer on the step with their parents or not having to close or lock the door during the summer. The different nationalities lived together coexisting in their experiences; people worked together then unlike the young people of today.

Keywords: Diet; Good times; Inter-race relations; Nursing; Reminiscing

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Race relations

00:28:36 - Marriage--Escaping control of fathers

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Partial Transcript: It seemed that--the w--um, the last time I was here, the women I talked to...

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke describes marrying at 17 to get away from her father. She didn't know her husband very well and only knew him from hanging out with her brothers. They married in Elkton, Maryland and she describes sitting up all night long on their wedding night because she was worried she married a "bad man." Farris describes a Marine coming to see her and her father taking him by the neck and pushing him out. A woman of 17 or 18 years old was considered an 'old maid.'

Keywords: Eloping; Mammoth Movies; Relationships; Sex

Subjects: Families.; Marriage

GPS: Mammoth Theatre, 529 West Girard Avenue Philadelphia, PA
Map Coordinates: 39.970872, -75.146169
00:31:42 - Parents' involvement in relationships

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Partial Transcript: How about you Cecilia?

Segment Synopsis: Boucher married at 21. Her mother had encouraged her to wait to marry so she could continue to work and earn money. She knew her husband from the neighborhood. Another woman describes being upset when a boy said he would come on a Wednesday but didn't come until the following day but hung out with her father eating kielbasa and drinking beer. She describes being afraid of her father and running away and getting married.

Keywords: Eloping; Relationships; Supporting the family

Subjects: Families.; Marriage

00:34:05 - The parents' reaction to marriage

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Partial Transcript: I started with nothing, 1929.

Segment Synopsis: One woman's father lost everything in 1929 when the banks crashed at the start of the Great Depression and wasn't able to give her any money for her wedding. Some parents were not happy about their daughters running away and marrying or marrying outside of the ethnic group.

Keywords: Father-daughter relations; Great Depression

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Families.; Marriage

00:35:59 - Marriage and wedding culture

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Partial Transcript: How, how common was this for, for people to run away and get married?

Segment Synopsis: The women describe eloping as being quite common at that time but others say getting married in a wedding was also quite common in the tighter ethnic communities. The mothers would cook for three or four days and the friends and family would all come together for the wedding. They say we would describe the weddings as "extravagant".

Keywords: Eloping; Weddings

Subjects: Families.; Marriage

00:37:28 - Farm animals in the city

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Partial Transcript: If you all lived in the city, where, where were the chickens kept?

Segment Synopsis: The families kept their farm animals in their yards. They had open land behind their houses that kept chickens, cows, and horses. One father would go out to sell his baked goods and get robbed and he would buy a new horse with no money. The mothers "got headaches" from the fathers' behaviors.

Keywords: 28th and Oxford Street; Community layout; Farm animals; Finances; Richmond (Philadelphia neighborhood); Row houses

Subjects: Communities.; Dwellings; Families.; Family farms.; Housing.; Livestock.; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:39:01 - Drinking among the men

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Partial Transcript: My mother did too, my father drank too.

Segment Synopsis: Fathers drank to excess. One father came home from work every night drunk. The women also describe the plumbing, with one father only buying a toilet when the son was born because he put more emphasis on him. The fathers would especially drink on the weekends and stay up all night gambling. Often their conversations consisted of times in Europe, but some fathers got violent when drinking and the family would have to "hide the knives." Boucher tells of her father coming to Philadelphia from Poland working for contracting and banking but spending all of his money on drinking.

Keywords: 2nd and Girard Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Abusive behavior; Alcoholism; Gambling; Vices

Subjects: Alcoholism; Families.; Immigrants

00:42:35 - Reflecting on their home countries and the immigration experience

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Partial Transcript: Did your fathers, did your fathers--how did your parents feel about being in the country?

Segment Synopsis: Looking back on the decision to come to America, the families didn't want to return to their home countries because of the work and life conditions that existed back home. America contained more work opportunities and the families could get food easier. One father even came as a stow away in the Navy.

Keywords: FBI investigations; Illegal immigration; Immigration experience; Stowaways

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:45:49 - A mother's role and duties

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Partial Transcript: Did your mothers work?

Segment Synopsis: The women describe their mothers' work at home raising the family and taking care of the household and children. No housework was easy, especially the laundry having to be done by hand. Most of the families were quite large and the mothers worked night and day sometimes sewing for other people to make extra income for the family during the day and taking care of the house and family at night.

Keywords: Gender roles; Housework; Mothers

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:49:38 - Taking care of the family, a full time job

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Partial Transcript: How many hours a day would you say your mothers worked?

Segment Synopsis: Mothers worked from day until night and never complained. Taking care of the kids during the night if they were sick and then working the entire next day in the house. The women note how their mothers never complained and say today's men aren't men because men then were the bosses of the house and the woman was the worker. The women didn't want the habit of the men having the women doing the chores continuing into their households. The women describe everyone being "tickled to death" to earn their pay and not complaining about their work because it was what they had to do.

Keywords: A mother's work; Children; Full time jobs; Gender roles; Housework; Mothers; Polish schools

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:53:00 - Ways of life

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Partial Transcript: I often spoke to my granddaughter...

Segment Synopsis: When the women tell their grandchildren about their lives they say they are "old fashioned" or question "why should I listen?" when the generations are so far apart. In order to learn the language and learn how to read, the women would imitate their parents. Many of the parents taught themselves how to read and write using the newspapers.

Keywords: Children; Education; Language; Life lessons; Literacy; Retelling; Social status; Younger generations

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:55:16 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: This has been very fascinating.

Segment Synopsis: The interview closes and the women sign release forms for the interview to be used as part of a radio show.