Interview with Anna Aleski, June 7, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Interview introduction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When I have to put double locks on the door, now it's bad because too many robberies, too many killings. You don't want me to say that?

Segment Synopsis: Aleski talks about how contemporary Philadelphia can be very dangerous. Where she lives she has to have double locks on her door because she feels unsafe, and thinks that potential criminals do not care if someone is elderly or not. They will rob and murder anyone, she says. She notes that it was not like this in 1916 when she came to Philadelphia.

Keywords: Wilkes-Barre (Pa.); Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

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

00:01:22 - Working as a file cutter

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When, when did you come to Philadelphia?

Segment Synopsis: Aleski explains that her family moved to Philadelphia in 1916 from Wilkes Barre, a coal mining region, where her family had first immigrated to in 1914. When she moved to Philadelphia she got a job as a file cutter, getting paid $5.50 a week, but the second week she had to give the foreman $5 of her pay, as a “tip” for getting hired in the first place and in order to have better placement within the factory. 

Keywords: Coal mining; Employment offices; File cutters; Machine operators; Wilkes-Barre (Pa.); Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

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

00:03:20 - "It was tough back then."

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I work till I got married up there.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski shares that she lived with her brother and his six children in Wilkes Barre until his leg got cut off in the mine in 1916. At that point, she moved to Philadelphia and got her job as a file cutter.

The second woman being interviewed recounts that she immigrated from Poland to Trenton in 1913, then moved to Burlington, New Jersey in 1917 to work in the silk mill, and then moved to Philadelphia in 1949 to work as a housekeeper. The second interviewee calls it a “tough life”; once she got thrown off a trolley car in Trenton because she did not have five cents to pay the fare. 

Keywords: Burlington (N.J.); Burlington, New Jersey; Mining accidents; Polish Americans; Silk mills; Trenton (N.J.); Trenton, New Jersey

Subjects: Coal mine accidents; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants

00:06:46 - Working as a housekeeper

Play segment

Partial Transcript: When I, uh, I was only 14 years old and I couldn't get a job in Wilkes-Barre, that was coal mine.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski recalls getting a job working for a butcher and his family, the Sundays. She worked for them for years and eventually worked in the butcher shop, earning $5.50 per month. She recounts an anecdote about finding 50 cents in the Sundays’ house, and giving it to her boss. She remembers walking to work rather than spending a dime on the trolley fare.

Keywords: Butchers; Domestic servants; Domestic work; Domestic workers; Housework; Wilkes-Barre (Pa.); Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Subjects: Employment; Families.

00:10:13 - The Great Depression / The perils of growing old

Play segment

Partial Transcript: In 1921 was a depression. People have no job.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski discusses living during the Great Depression in Philadelphia. The two women discuss how living as an elderly person was extremely tough during that time because there was no pension or Social Security. People who had no food went to a charity to get soup as a meal.

Aleski switches to talking about how welfare and pension systems function in the present day. She and the other interviewee complain about “crooks” and drug dealers in Philadelphia, wishing there was capital punishment. As this segment ends, the second interviewee asks to be done with the conversation, while Aleski continues.

Keywords: Great Depression; Pensions; Senior citizens; Social Security; Welfare

Subjects: Crime.; Depressions--1929; Employment; Families.; Older people

00:15:39 - Moving from Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Okay, so you came to the city in nineteen--

Segment Synopsis: Aleski recalls a terrible storm which collapsed the mine where her brother worked in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She did not have a job in Wilkes-Barre. She and her brother then moved to Philadelphia, where they lived with their landlords. Their house was extremely small and everything had to be done by hand. She compares the way of life as "working like the Indians".

Keywords: Chain migration; Coal mining; Cyclones; Hurricanes; Wilkes-Barre (Pa.); Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

Subjects: Dwellings; Employment; Families.; Housing.

00:17:30 - Aleski gets married

Play segment

Partial Transcript: 1920 I got married, and I have 7 children.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski recalls that she got married and had 7 children of her own, but also raised her goddaughter. The household was living with 10 people on only $35 a week from her husband's job. Her husband worked as a glazer in a shop that made leather shoes. Aleski learned sewing to make the children clothing and provide for them. She cut her own patterns from paper. She comments on how her children are doing in the present day.

Keywords: Arthritis; Glazers; Godmothers; Home sewing; Orphans

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Marriage

00:19:48 - Visiting Poland

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I have my sister in Poland.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski talks about her older sister who helped raise her and still lives in Poland. She has visited Poland to see her sister twice, first in 1963. She discusses how she is happy she moved to the United States and became a citizen, and thinks people today have good lives. 

Keywords: Citizenship; Family; Naturalization; Poland; Polish Americans--Philadelphia

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants

00:21:02 - Now vs. then

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I love it, only like I say, those young people go nuts anymore.

Segment Synopsis: Aleski discusses how much times have changed from when she was growing up in Philadelphia. She says that the kids today are too greedy, nothing like they used to be. 

Keywords: Modernization; Young people; Youth

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

00:22:03 - On meeting her husband

Play segment

Partial Transcript: How old were you when you got married?

Segment Synopsis: Aleski recalls that she met her husband, Peter, when he was in Philadelphia for a funeral. He was a cousin of someone with whom she shared a house. He went back to Massachusetts because he needed to register for the draft during World War I. They wrote to each other, with him sending her letters to the machine shop where she worked as a file cutter. She remembers receiving a card with a sailor and a girl kissing in the picture, but she was bothered by this. Eventually she responded to his card, and he broke off a relationship with another woman who his mother wanted him to marry. They eventually got married. They spent 39 years together before he died of a heart attack. 

Keywords: Fitchburg (Ma.); Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Heart attacks; Military draft; Servicemen; World War I

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Marriage; World War, 1914-1918

00:27:32 - Living frugally in the Port Richmond neighborhood

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What did your husband--where did your husband work?

Segment Synopsis: Aleski discusses her life in Port Richmond, Philadelphia where she raised her children. She had 7 children. 2 were born in hospitals and 5 were born at home with help of a midwife. The midwife would charge $10 and stay for a week, whereas the doctor would charge $15. The midwife was educated and someone from the neighborhood. She also touches on how hard it was to live on their small income, and she could not purchase nice things for her children.

Keywords: Aramingo Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Birth certificates; Finances; Home births; Lehigh Avenue (Philadelphia, Pa.); Midwife; Midwives; Port Richmond (Philadelphia, Pa.)

Subjects: Childbirth; Families.; Health.; Neighborhoods; Physicians; Poverty

00:31:09 - Neighbors were much better than now

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Did people, did people take care of each other when they were sick then instead--

Segment Synopsis: Aleski remembers that her neighbors in the early 1900s were much more friendly than in the present day. They stuck together and all took care of each other in hard times. Life was tough for immigrants, especially if they could not speak English well. She remembers going to night school where others called her “Greenie” because she could not speak English. She recalls working at a cigar factory in Camden, New Jersey, where an Irish woman made fun of her language skills. She liked living in the Port Richmond neighborhood in Philadelphia around many other Polish speakers.

Keywords: Camden (N.J.); Camden, New Jersey; Cigar factory; European; Poland; Polish; Polish Americans--Philadelphia; Telephone booths

Subjects: Communities.; Families.; Immigrants; Neighborhoods; Neighbors