Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Anna Van Dyke and Elizabeth Strupczewski, May 25, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Immigrating for work

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Partial Transcript: Let me get the mic here.

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke and Strupczewski share that their lives were harder when they were young. After sharing their married and maiden names and spellings, Strupczewski shares that she was born in Poland and came to Philadelphia when she was three months old. She speculates that her parents came to Philadelphia to find work.

Keywords: First generation immigrants; Poland

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:01:56 - Strupczewski's father's employment and her own work as a child

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Partial Transcript: What sort of work did your father do?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski recalls that her father worked on the piers, on the railroad, and at Cramp's Shipyard, where her husband also worked as a riveter. She shares that she began to work at the Wilson Homes worsted mill at the age of 12 in 1904 because she had to: “It was hard times then.” She shares that she is 90 years old now, and raised a family of seven.

Keywords: Cramp's Shipyard; Pennsylvania Railroad; Silk mills; Wilson Homes

Subjects: Child labor.; Childhood; Employment

GPS: Cramp's Shipyard
Map Coordinates: 39.975173, -75.109242
00:03:09 - On children leaving school to go to work

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Partial Transcript: When did you, um, when did you start working?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski, the second of nine siblings, recalls that she went to work at age 12 in 1902 to help the family financially. She shares that she started as a doffer, who removed empty bobbins from the looms. She later weighed the work for the winders and spoolers, until she married, then quit work and raised a family of seven.

Keywords: Wilson Homes

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

00:05:47 - Continuation school

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Partial Transcript: It was a--pardon me. It was only around my time that you had to go to school 'til you were 14.

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke shares that it was not until 'her time' that children had to go to school until the age of 14. She left school the day she turned 14 to earn $3.65 a week working at Pine Street Silk Mills near Allegheny Avenue and D Street, where her sister also worked. She was so tired when she came home she asked her brother to fetch her shoes. When he objected, she told him, “Go ahead, I’m helping to keep you.” After a short time she got a job across the street at Lupton's on Tulip Street. Van Dyke shows Hardy photographs of Lupton's, the Pennsylvania Railroad on Allegheny Avenue, her brother as a mummer, and her parents. Van Dyke shares that her father worked at a wholesale liquor store, and typically came home drunk every night.

Keywords: Continuation schools; David Lupton's Company; Pennsylvania Railroad

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

00:09:53 - Giving pay to parents, walking to work, and a mountain of buttons on Aramingo Avenue

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Partial Transcript: Did you all take your pay home then to your--

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke and Strupczewski talk about giving their pay to their families to help support them while only keeping out 25 cents for themselves and a nickel to go to the movies. Van Dyke remembers being hungry all the time, and how she spent what remained of her weekly quarter—the ride home on the trolley cost a nickel—on food. The ladies then talk about the transition from horse and wagons or walking to the first appearance of cars on Allegheny Avenue. Strupczewski shares that it took her 45 minutes to walk to work on Somerset Avenue, so she walked through the empty lots of Aramingo and other streets to get to work. Both remember picking through a mountain of discarded buttons on Aramingo Avenue, selecting ones to bring home.

Keywords: Allegheny Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Aramingo Ave (Philadelphia, Pa.); Aramingo Street; Nickel trolleys; Richmond Street; Somerset Avenue; Transportation; West Mullen Street

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:12:23 - Neighborhood hucksters / First recollections of automobiles

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember--you say there were no cars on Allegheny Street.

Segment Synopsis: The women recall their first impressions of cars. Van Dyke tells a story of a Chinese man's reaction to seeing a car in the neighborhood. They then go into discussing the price of produce and food and how it has changed since that time, along with the milkman and various hucksters who brought produce and other items around the neighborhood to sell. Van Dyke also recalls that she worked for Pine Tree Silk Mills.

Keywords: Allegheny Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Cars; Horse and wagons; Hucksters; Milkman; Pine Tree Mill; Pine Tree Silk Mill; Salesmen; Silk mills

Subjects: Employment; Neighborhoods.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Transportation

00:16:09 - On 12-hour work days and domestic work

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Partial Transcript: They were good days.

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke shares that she worked 12 hours a day, from 7am to 7pm, while Strupczewski worked from 6am to 6pm for $3 a week. Van Dyke shares that her mother came to Philadelphia from upstate when she was 11 and had to “live out” scrubbing and cleaning as a maid in a private home. Women typically came home from working long hours and had to do their own housework. For them, this was a way of life and they accepted it as normal and necessary to living. Van Dyke shares that if she did extra work on Saturday, her mother gave her 15 cents to go to the candy store.

Keywords: Domestic work; Work ethic; Work hours

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

00:18:55 - Work conditions in the mills

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Partial Transcript: What was it, what was it like to work in the mills?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski and Van Dyke discuss work in the textile mills and the conditions they endured. They describe the monitoring by the bosses of the bathroom breaks, the attention the bosses paid to the amount of work done, and the space inside the mill. They recall specific jobs like twister, winder, and weaver.

Keywords: Mills; Quillers; Twisters; Weavers; Weaving; Winders; Work conditions; Work rules; Working conditions

Subjects: Employment

00:20:21 - Van Dyke's elopement at age 17

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Partial Transcript: I didn't work that long, I went and got married when I was 17.

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke discloses that she eloped at age seventeen with one of her brother's friends, George. She usually hid from him in the outhouse, until one day he asked her to go for a ride with him on his motorcycle. They got engaged and ran away to marry soon after that. She states that she didn't actually love him, but got married to get away from her parents. One Saturday night she walked to Kensington Avenue, near the bridge at Trenton Avenue, where he suggested they get married. The next day she pretended to go to work, but instead they drove his motorcycle to Elkton, Maryland to elope. She recalls feeling conflicted about marrying outside of her Catholic parish. In Elkton, the Catholic priest called her parish priest, a German, who said “Leave her come home!” They decided to return home and ask for dispensation from the cardinal. She remembers getting 9 flat tires on the way back from Elkton, and had to wash their hands in gasoline. They got married by the priest, whose housekeeper loaned her a hat. When they got home her mother said she was going to get it annulled.

Keywords: Allegheny Theatre; Bridge at Trenton Avenue; Catholicism; D Street; Elkton (Md.); Elkton, Maryland; Eloping; Family relations; Kensington Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Relationships; Weddings

Subjects: Families.; Marriage; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Religion; Transportation

00:27:00 - Strupczewski's marriage story

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Partial Transcript: So how, um, how did you meet your husband, Elizabeth?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski describes getting married at age 22 to a man she knew for only four months. They married at St. Laurentius Catholic Church with a mass, which was very important to her. She met her husband, who lived in Wilmington, Delaware, at lent services at the local church. Her mother bought her a wedding dress.

Keywords: Catholic weddings; Catholicism; Lent; Religious weddings; St. Laurentius Parish (Philadelphia, Pa.); Stations of the cross; Steam rooms; Wedding dresses; Wilmington (Del.); Wilmington, Delaware

Subjects: Families.; Marriage; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Religion

00:30:18 - Father-daughter relationships and the role of alcohol

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Partial Transcript: What were your fathers like?

Segment Synopsis: The women discuss their relationships with their fathers. Strupczewski recalls sneaking out to attend dances. When her father locked the door, her mother opened the windows so they could climb back in. Van Dyke says that she was her father's "pet," and that when he became violent when drunk, she often took care of him. After discussing how frequently some men drank, including both of Van Dyke’s husbands, they share stories about local families making beer and wine at home during Prohibition. They remember the raids on illegal taprooms, as well as some of the recipes for making alcohol.

Keywords: Father-daughter relationships; Fathers; Moonshine; Parental authority; Police raids; Smedley Darlington Butler; Taprooms

Subjects: Alcoholic beverage law violations; Alcoholism; Crime.; Distillation; Distilling, illicit; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.; Police.; Prohibition

00:36:45 - Family life

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Partial Transcript: You say, Elizabeth, that there were eight people--eight children in, in your family?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski talks about the layout of her house with three bedrooms and two rooms. She describes the bonding that went on in her house, specifically around dinner time. Van Dyke also describes crossed conditions in her house, with nine children and only two bedrooms, resulting in two sisters sleeping in the bathtub. Babies slept in the beds with their parents. Van Dyke notes that parents would go down to the couch in order to get privacy. Strupczewski notes that she lost a home during the Great Depression when the bank went under.

Keywords: Building loans; Family life; Great Depression; Home conditions; Housing; Polonia Bank; Privacy

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Dwellings; Families.; Housing.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.

00:42:06 - Hard times--Flu epidemic of 1918

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, uh, how about the time of the flu?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski and Van Dyke recall the impact the flu epidemic of 1918 had on their communities. They describe the amount of bodies that piled up and the trouble of burying and taking care of them. The conditions of the neighborhoods during the flu were deplorable, especially with the smell of the dead bodies. Van Dyke notes that most of her family members, including herself, had the flu.

Keywords: Caretaking; Death; Disease; Funeral homes; Great Depression; Influenza Epidemic of 1918; Rheumatic Fever; Thompson Street and Allegheny Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Diseases.; Families.; Health.; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919; Neighborhoods

00:45:37 - Good times and holidays

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Partial Transcript: So at Christmastime--uh, bef--right before Christmas, we had company and Mom said, "Pop, go down in the cellar and get some of that wine and we'll try it."

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski talks about Christmastime in her family. She describes how her daughter Helen wanted a nickel, a pocket book, and shoes for Christmas. That Christmas her children received toys, clothes, nickels, and the coach they wanted. Christmastime with the tree, decorations, and food was a special time for Strupczewski and Van Dyke.

Keywords: Budd's Company; Children; Christmas; Christmas gifts; Christmas traditions; Presents; The Budd Company

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

00:49:59 - Dealing with death in the neighborhood

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Partial Transcript: I was just, you know, really fascinated with the whole influenza epidemic.

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski and Van Dyke explain that when someone in the neighborhood died, neighbors helped their families. They recall that neighbors also helped one another out, collecting items to help care for one another. Van Dyke remembers a baby dying, and how neighbors helped out. The women also comment on the role of undertakers when someone died; they showed up with ice, rather than using an embalming process.

Keywords: Community; Embalming; Funerals; Healthcare; Infant mortality; Influenza Epidemic of 1918

Subjects: Communities.; Diseases.; Families.; Health.; Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919; Neighborhoods

00:54:55 - Helping others in the community

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Partial Transcript: In your neighborhoods then, people on the block really knew each other and would--

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski and Van Dyke discuss the role of neighborly support during hard times. They bought food for each other, checked in with one another, and visited each other. Women especially helped to care for each other’s children.

Keywords: Camaraderie; Community life; Livingston Street; Neighbors

Subjects: Communities.; Families.; Neighborhoods

GPS: Livingston Street, Philadelphia, PA
Map Coordinates: 40.002010, -75.074214
00:58:15 - Rise of crime

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Partial Transcript: Was there much crime in the neighborhoods when you were girls?

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke and Strupczewski discuss the absence of crime they noticed when they were young, pointing out it seemed to rise during the Great Depression. As people became desperate, they stole to feed their families and faced harsh consequences, which the women point out as lacking today for major crimes.

Keywords: Feeding the family; Great Depression; Nostalgia; Rise of crime; Theft

Subjects: Crime.; Depressions--1929

01:01:57 - Impact of women's suffrage and voting in Philadelphia

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Partial Transcript: I guess you both grew up before women could vote?

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski and Van Dyke recall when they had the opportunity to vote. Van Dyke remembers voting at age 21, getting to vote for her brother for committeeman. Party representatives at first did not bother persuading women to vote, as they focused on the men. Van Dyke notes that later, political operatives would attempt to go into the polls with women to make sure they voted the right way, and that sometimes the party paid citizens to vote.

Keywords: Suffrage Movement; Suffragettes; Voting; Ward bosses; Women in politics; Women's suffrage

Subjects: Political corruption; Politics and government; Voting; Women--Suffrage.

01:05:29 - Unions in the workplace

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Partial Transcript: Well Cramp's Ship yard, everybody worked in it.

Segment Synopsis: Strupczewski talks about the work conditions her husband endured at Cramp's Shipyard, including when workers at Cramp’s went on strike. When he tried to get a job elsewhere at other shipyards, he was denied because of fear of unions. The women note that most men in the neighborhood were pro-union. Union members vandalized the houses of “scabs” who worked while others were on strike.

Keywords: Cramp's Shipyard; Cramp's Strike; Hunger; Labor union stigma; Poverty; Riveting; Strikes; Tool making; Working conditions

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

GPS: Former location of Cramp's Shipyard
Map Coordinates: 39.974704, -75.108137
01:10:20 - Reminiscing

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Partial Transcript: One final question, how did--how--overall, how does, how does life--how do things compare, uh, between when you were young, growing up and now?

Segment Synopsis: Van Dyke and Strupczewski reminisce on how life when they were children compares to life now. Van Dyke and Strupczewski describe somewhat of a nostalgic feeling when looking back at the safety of their times versus the large amount of crime that exists today, referencing being able to sit outside on the step or walk down the street feeling safe while now, "you're always wondering who's behind you."

Keywords: Drugs; Memories; Nostalgia; Reminiscing; Rise in crime; Robbery; Taprooms; Transforming Society

Subjects: Childhood; Crime; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.