NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
JEAN E. FRIEDMAN,
INTERVIEW # 11
Life experiences of a 70-year-old white Norfolk womanfrom a strict religious background. Includes work history, sexual history, and sexual attitudes, with a focus on sex roles of the 1930's.
Interviewer: Project Volunteer
TRANSCRIBED: September 12, 1984
Woman: I'll be 71 in May.
Interviewer: And were you married? And you've been married?
Woman: Yes, I'm married. 43 years.
Interviewer: 43 years? Do you recall what year you were married in?
Woman: Lets see, 1931.
Interviewer: '31. OK. Urnm - Were you working outside of your home - were you working before you were married? Did you work any?
Woman: Well, I've been married twice.
Woman: And my first husband had a taxi business and after he died I drove a taxi until the depression hit real hard.
Woman: And then I had to give it up because I couldn't make ends meet. Then I went to work for Keystone Aircraft in Bristol, Pennsylvania and I was working there when I married my second husband.
Interviewer: I see. And when was that?
Woman: That was 1931.
Interviewer: When were you married to your first husband?
Woman: In a, let's see, it was '24, 1924.
Interviewer: 1924. OK. And your first husband died?
Interviewer: Before you were married to your first husband did you work?
Woman: Yes, I worked in a factory.
Interviewer: Did you graduate from high school?
Interviewer: How far did you go in school?
Woman: Ninth grade.
Interviewer: Ninth grade. OK. Did you have to quit school to--
Woman: Help support the family.
Interviewer: OK. What did your father do during the Depression? What kind of work did he do?
Woman: Well, my father was dead then.
Interviewer: Did he die before you quit school?
Woman: Yes. No-No! He didn't die before I quit school. I was about seventeen years old when my father died.
Interviewer: Were you very close to your father?
Woman: No, no, closer to my mother.
Interviewer: What kind of work did your father do?
Woman: He was a gardener.
Interviewer: A gardener?
Interviewer: Was he separated from his family very much?
Woman: No. He was home all the time. He was sickly.
Interviewer: Did your mother ever work?
Interviewer: What kind of work did she do?
Woman: She worked in a factory.
Interviewer: When was she employed? Were you still in school when she was working?
Woman: Umm -- no, she wasn't working when I was going to school. She worked before I was born.
Interviewer: Did she work when your father became ill?
Woman: Yes. Sometimes she'd go to work. She'd work at home too. Babysitting, and bake bread and things like that, anything to make a few pennies.
Interviewer: Right. Did she do any work during the Depression?
Woman: She wasn't living then.
Interviewer: I see. OK. What church did you attend?
Woman: While I was growing up?
Interviewer: Uh-huhl How often did you go to church?
Woman: Three times on Sunday and there was choir rehearsal through the week. Anything the church had I was there.
Interviewer: Social activities?
Interviewer: Where did you move to in the Depression?
Woman: We lived in Bristol, Pennsylvania and then we moved to Baltimore and stayed there during the Depression.
Interviewer: I see. Did either of your husbands object to your working?
Woman: Yes. My first husband, when he was working, I didn't work. And my second husband -- I went to work part-time when we moved here. And I worked at Rices for five years, and I worked at Penneys for five years at Southern. He didn't want me to work. He just wanted me at home. Because sometimes I had to work from a like, 4 to 9 and he didn't like the evening hours. It was alright when he was working in the daytime.
Interviewer: Where did he work? What kind of work did he do?
Woman: He was a supervisor at the naval air station. He's retired now.
Interviewer: Was he in the Navy or was he civilian?
Woman: When he was real young he was in the Navy. He was civilian employee at the Naval base for 31 years.
Interviewer: Wow! Did he help with the housework while you were working?
Woman: No! (Laughter).
Interviewer: What about, you said, sometimes you worked four to nine, what did he do about getting his supper?
Woman: I would fix it before I'd leave.
Interviewer: Did you even have any outside help with housework?
Woman: Only, I was in the WACs during WW II and I had a housekeeper then. I had two small children and I got in before they put that clause in that your children have to be so old. When I was away in training I had a housekeeper.
Interviewer: And that was during WW II?
Interviewer: What did your husband think about you being in the WACs?
Woman: Well, he thought he was going to go in the service to, see? And he went to the post office and got everything straightened out and the base wouldn't release him because they said he was more important there than in the service. I got in and he didn't.
Interviewer: (Laughter) Do you think he was a little --
Interviewer: Upset about that? Was he? (Laughter)
Woman: (Laughter) Yes! Even now. He was in the Navy in peace time and I was in the army in war time. I'm a Legionnaire and he can't get in the American Legion because he wasn't in the armed forces in wartime. And that upsets him.
Interviewer: Really! I guess most of the time during the Depression you were working in a factory. During the Depression you were working in a factory?
Woman: No. During the Depression I didn't work.
Interviewer: You didn't work all during the Depression?
Woman: I had a baby during the Depression.
Interviewer: You did? You have two children?
Interviewer: How old are they or when were they born? Whichever is easier.
Woman: One was born in 1926 and the other was born in 1933. One's 48 and one is 41.
Interviewer: OK! Were they both from your second marriage?
Woman: No, my son is from my first marriage and my daughter was from the second marriage.
Interviewer: Ummm---Do you think if you didn't have to go to work, you would have continued on in school? Would you have liked to?
Woman: Yes, I would have. I was really upset when I left school because I liked it and then I went to work and I had to go to school so many hours where I worked and then my mother sent me to business college and I went boy crazy and I wouldn't study so that didn't last very long. (Laughter)
Interviewer: Uh-huh. Where did you go to Business College?
Woman: Trenton, N.J.
Interviewer: New Jersey. What was dating like for you? What's a typical date like?
Woman: Well, I had quite a few boyfriends. Just like now, you have to keep fighting them off, you know.
Interviewer: You keep fighting them off? (Laughter)
Woman: (Sarcastic) Oh, yeah.
Interviewer: Did your parents give you any advice on what to do and what not to do on a date?
Woman: No, no.
Interviewer: Any advice about sex?
Woman: My mother--that was hush-hush.
Interviewer: Hush-hush. How did you find out about it?
Woman: My older sister. I learned everything from her.
Interviewer: Was she married and told you what was what?
Interviewer: When did she tell you this? Before you were married? When you were dating?
Woman: While I was dating.
Interviewer: When you were dating, OK. Ummm -- what about contraceptives, did she tell you about that? Did you ever use any contraceptives?
Woman: When I was married.
Interviewer: How did you find out about them?
Woman: I was afraid of them. See, I was brought up so strict. Even after I was married I didn't think I should have sexual relations. I guess its still in here. Because I wouldn't care if I never saw a man.
Interviewer: But you had lots of boyfriends?
Woman: Yeah. But not that way.
Interviewer: What kind of contraceptives did you use? Do you remember?
Woman: Umm -- Some kind of jelly and I used to douche but I was scared to death all the time.
Interviewer: That you were going to get pregnant?
Interviewer: Why were you afraid of getting pregnant? Was it just that you didn't want to have children?
Woman: I didn't want any more children. And my husband said if you don't want anymore I don't want any more either. So -- I was just scared all the time.
Interviewer: Yeah. Umm -- How did you find out about contraceptives that you used? From friends, or from information you heard, or from a doctor?
Woman: I believe a doctor. I can't remember now.
Interviewer: Both of your children were born pretty close to the depression was there do you think Financially -- it was harder to have a large family?
Interviewer: People limited their families because - OK -- What about abortion? Did you think abortion was a means of contraception?
Woman: I wouldn't even think about that.
Interviewer: Did you know any people that had abortions during the Depression?
Interviewer: OK. So you found out about sex from your sister? What about menstruation?
Woman: I found out about that by myself. I was scared to death when it happened.
Interviewer: Do you recall how old you were?
Woman: I was 14.
Woman: And I remember I had one time that I didn't have it anymore. And my mother kept saying I'm going to take you to the doctor. I'm going to take you to the doctor. All I can think of was he would poke something up there and make it come. She didn't explain it. So, I think she scared it out of me.
Interviewer: Oh no! (Laughter)
Woman: And then after that I was just regular. I had it this one time for three or four months and then I didn't have it anymore. She'd kept asking me and I'd tell her no. And that's when she kept saying----
Interviewer: Did you ever ask anything about it?
Woman: No, they just didn't talk to you in those days about anything. Everything was hush-hush. If you walked in the room and they were talking about something like that they'd just change the subject.
Interviewer: What about -- did you feel it was okay for men to be experienced sexually without being married?
Woman: I really never thought about it?
Interviewer: Did you expect it from your husbands when you got married?
Woman: To tell you the truth I didn't know what to expect. He was very kind.
Interviewer: Were you afraid?
Woman: Yes (They both laugh).
Interviewer: What about with your second husband? Were you more open since you were married before?
Interviewer: What was dating with your second husband? Did you have intercourse before you were married?
Woman: No. I had a fight too.
Interviewer: You had a fight? (Laughter)
Woman: They think once you're married, what's the difference.
Interviewer: Yeah. He thought that you should go ahead. It didn't matter. Yeah. I see. And why did you object? Because of your upbringing?
Woman: I just thought it was wrong. I guess it had been drilled in me. I still think its wrong.
Interviewer: Immoral? Did you think it was immoral?
Interviewer: Alright. OK. Did you approve of petting?
Woman: Of what?
Woman: Yeah, I guess I did.
Interviewer: On dates?
Woman: But they can only go so far.
Interviewer: So far! (Laughter) OK. And you would tell them to stop.
Interviewer: OK. Did you think it was okay for an engaged couple to have intercourse? No? (I can't hear your head shake) Laughter.
Interviewer: OK. Would you have married someone who had been divorced?
Interviewer: OK. Umm--while you were pregnant did you feel that it was alright to have intercourse?
Woman: Well, I didn't like it.
Interviewer: You didn't like it. Did you feel it was --
Woman: I felt it might harm the baby.
Interviewer: OK. Ummm -- let's see. You didn't know anyone who had an abortion.
Interviewer: Your husband agreed that you wouldn't have any more children because you didn't want any. Did he ever consider contraceptives or what you might use?
Interviewer: Was there ever any friction, did you think maybe you had sex relations less because you didn't want to have any more children?
Woman: Yes. (Laughter)
Interviewer: You did. OK. Did that maybe make it more enjoyable?
Interviewer: It did. Ok. During dating was there much drinking?
Woman: No. Not with the group that I went around with.
Interviewer: Do you think it was because--
Woman: Well, we never had it in our home. My father wouldn't have anything in the house and he was very strict. And it was the same way with church. If you didn't go to church Sunday you didn't go out anyplace the rest of the week. And he thought that even when we were children we weren't allowed to play hopscotch or jump rope or anything like that on Sunday. And if you wanted to read, not the funny paper, read the Bible. So, that's the way I was brought up.
Interviewer: What about the movies?
Woman: He didn't believe in movies. He said that was making images.
Woman: But I like the movies. (Laughter) But we didn't go very much.
Interviewer: Did you have to go sort of without him knowing it to go to the movies?
Woman: Well, I can't remember ever going when I was a child.
Interviewer: During the Depression who were maybe some of the, some of the single women during the Depression who were in the movies or in magazines, career women who were in the limelight? Can you recall any one in particular?
Woman: Well, I know when I was carrying my daughter I was reading a story in a magazine about Marlene Dietrich. And told my husband if I had a little girl I'm going to call her Marlene.
Interviewer: Yeah? OK. What about Eleanor Roosevelt? What did you think of her?
Woman : Well, I don't know whether I should say this or not.
Interviewer: No, go ahead.
Woman: I didn't care a whole lot for her when she wanted to bring the colored and the white together. And I remember one time I read in the paper that she went to this restaurant and took this colored person in with her and they wouldn't serve this colored person. Well, I think she was a wonderful woman.
Interviewer: Because of some of the work she was doing?
Interviewer: OK. Umm-- Did you belong to any social groups, any civic groups?
Woman: The only thing I belonged to were church organizations while I was growing up. When I lived in Baltimore I didn't belong to anything but the church things. Then, when I came down here, well I'm just bad on everything now.
Interviewer: (Laughter) OK. When you had your family what did you do in your leisure time, with your children and your family?
Woman: We used to listen to the radio, and in Baltimore we used to play 500. I used to play that once and a while. And we never went to the movies because we never had that much money. My husband was out of work when my duaghter was born.
Interviewer: He was out of work?
Woman: Mm-hmm. He was working for aircraft -- Purlator Choice in Baltimore.
Interviewer: That was in the middle--1933?
Woman : Uh-huh, and then he got a job at Mepham Steel.
Interviewer: What did you do while your husband was out of work?
Woman: We happened to have a little bit of money in the bank that we lived on and that rode it through.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any kind of help, or any kind of relief, anything?
Woman: No and I remember when we moved to Baltimore and you know you had to go to the county seat and declare your intentions, you were a foreigner. I don't know if it's that way now or not.
Interviewer: That's strange. I'm from there and I didn't know that.
Woman: When we moved there we had to go -- what's the country seat -- we had to go there and declare our intentions and then during the depression I used to bake, do a lot of baking and we went to the welfare to get back -- but they wouldn't give it to us because we weren't really residents of Baltimore.
Woman: So, I never liked it. I never liked it especially since it was the coldest place in the winter and the hottest place in the summer. Isn't it?
Interviewer: (Laughter) That's for sure! When you were working -- lets see -- you drove a cab after your first husband died -- Do you feel men resented your working? I suppose driving a cab in the late '20s was for a woman, not done very often?
Woman: No. I was the only woman who drove and there were about six men. And I remember this one man I just couldn't stand him. I don't know whether I should tell you this or not?
Interviewer: No, go ahead!
Woman: He said, he called me Betty. He said, Betty, I don't know why you're driving a Taxicab when you're sitting on a fortune. Oh, I was so mad at him. I just walked away from him and didn't bother with him after that.
Interviewer: What did he mean by sitting on a fortune? What I think he meant?
Woman: I could have been a prostitute and made lots of money.
Interviewer: He thought that would have been a better thing for you to do?
Woman: Yeah. Than my riding around in a taxicab and having customers he should have, you see? I couldn't stand him. Isn't that something for a man to say to you? And I was only 26-years old. Widow, when I was 26.
Interviewer: That was when one of your children was born?
Woman: Uh-hu. Oh, no! No! Did I say 1926?
Woman: My husband died when he was 3 years old. I guess I gave you the wrong date when I was married. I was married almost two years when he was born.
Interviewer: Maybe that is right. You were married in 1924 and he was born in 1926.
Woman: No. He was three years old when his Daddy died. I was married five years when my first husband died. I was married five years when my first husband died and he was three years old. It must have been 1923.
Interviewer: Was your husband buried in 1926? So you would have been married when? How did you meet your first husband?
Woman: He lived next door to me.
Interviewer: Next door? You grew up together?
Woman: No. He was a widower. His wife died and he lived next door to us. Then, I started answering his telephone for him, you know. And little things like that.
Interviewer: How old was he when you were married?
Woman: He was nine years older than I was. He must have been 30.
Interviewer: Where did you get married?
Interviewer: Where did you get married?
Woman: In Bristol, Pennsylvania, in the Episcopal church.
Interviewer: In the church?
Woman: I had a big church wedding. I remember the minister telling me if you could fill a church like this when you get married you ought to get married everyday. It was a big church in Louisville. See, he was in the taxi business and everybody knew him. It was a nice wedding.
Interviewer: Did your first husband have any children from his first marriage?
Woman: He had two girls.
Interviewer: Did you raise those children?
Woman: I kept them until three years after he died. His people kept after me all the time to take them away from me. One wanted one and one wanted the other and I didn't want them separated. But finally it got so bad I just had to let them go. But they were two nice little girls.
Interviewer: Do you still keep in touch with them?
Woman: No. I don't know where they are.
Interviewer: OK. Your second marriage. How did you meet your second husband?
Woman: My sister introduced me to him.
Interviewer: Where did you get married with your second husband?
Woman: The same minister married us but we just had witnesses, but we were married in the Church, but no wedding. That was in Philadelphia. St Agostinos Church, I think.
Interviewer: It was during the Depression -- the second marriage. Did you not have a big wedding because it was too costly?
Woman: He didn't want a big wedding and then I would have had to foot the bill myself (Laughter).
Interviewer: Was he not working when you were married?
Woman: Yes, he was working. He was on aircraft.
Interviewer: How old was he when you were married?
Woman: He was about 27.
Interviewer: And how old were you?
Woman: I was 29. I was two years older then he was.
Interviewer: Had he been married before?
Interviewer: What was your definition of feminine? What you thought of being feminine.
Woman: I think they were more feminine then than they are now. You know, I always liked frilly things and I always dressed really frilly. I still like them. The fancy shoes and all. You wouldn't go out without a hat and gloves.
Interviewer: What did a lady do to be feminine? Maybe her actions, social things?
Woman: I think we were socially wed. Your actions, everybody watched what you did.
Interviewer: What about a type of work a woman did? Did that have anything to do with her being feminine?
Woman: No, I don't think so.
Interviewer: Did you ever feel any resentment from other women when you were working?
Interviewer: No? That's nice to know. Did you ever do any kind of civic work or anything dealing with maybe women's rights or child labor?
Interviewer: Did you feel that your husband should help with the housework?
Woman: Well, I thought maybe he might start the dinner before I got home or do something like that but he never did. He'd just sit and wait. Like I said, I used to fix his meals if I had to work 4 to 9. Other than that he'd just sit there and wait.
Interviewer: Yeah? (Laughter) Would he clean up after the meal?
Woman: No. (Laughter).
Interviewer: Nothing? I'd let it sit.
Woman: He still doesn't. He walks in and reads the newspaper and I clean up. He does help me now around the house.
Interviewer: He does help more now. Your both retired now? Were you working when your children were younger?
Woman: I didn't go to work until my daughter was in high school and you know how high school girls are they want everything that comes along. So I thought well, I'll get a part-time job and that's where my money went. But she helped me alot. She'd get meals ready, you know, if I had to work late. I remember one time I told, she asked me if she could fix the dinner and I tell her yes. I forgot what I told her to have and that's all she had. (Laughter) But she learned from that.
Interviewer: Did you have any personal goals when you were a girl?
Woman: I always wanted to sing.
Interviewer: You always wanted to sing?
Woman: But I never had the money to take voice lessons. So, then Marlene she was taking piano lessons and I did squeeze in a few vocal lessons. And then the price kept going up and up. And I thought, she needs it more than I do. So, I stopped taking voice lessons. She took piano for I don't know how many years and still can't play. I get mad at myself so when I think I could be a singer today. But I still love to sing.
Interviewer: That's great!
Woman: I sing in the, I go to the Presbyterian Royster and I'm in their choir. And Dr. Voken (SP?) from ODU is our choir director and organist and he's wonderful and I've learned a lot from him. And then I was in the Sweet Adelaines. That's barber shop harmony. I sang for them for 10 years. So there always ackering for me to come back but I live so far out and they practice in Kempsville and I didn't have anyway to get there.
Interviewer: Where do you live now?
Interviewer: Where do you live now?
Woman: I live in Riverfront on Major Avenue and nobody out that way goes and I don't drive so I had a hard time getting there. Then the gas shortage thing. The girl called me last night and I think they're going to Williamsburg on Tuesday night and they want me to go to sing and they still want me.
Interviewer: Great! What about your parents did they have any goals? Or anything they wanted you to do?
Woman: My mother had seven children. I guess that was her goal. No, she had eight. She had seven girls and a boy.
Interviewer: How old were you? Where did you fit in among the seven?
Interviewer: What about your brothers and sisters? Did they quit school to go to work also?
Woman: I believe they did. Because three of my sisters have died before I was out of his house. My mothers first born were twin girls. And one died when she was a baby and the other lived till she was sixteen.
Interviewer: Did you feel it has a hindrance to have a college degree during the thirties? A hindrance to getting a job during the Depression?
Interviewer: Did you feel maybe it was easier for single women to get a job than it was for married women?
Woman: No. I think anyone cou1d have gotten a job because the men were going to war see.
Interviewer: What about during the Depression, before the War?
Woman: Before WWII you mean? Yeah.
Woman: I think women -- single or married -- could get a job.
Interviewer: Was there ever any pressure from your parents to remain single or get married?
Interviewer: What about the men that you dated, did any of them ever try to pressure you into getting married or staying single?
Woman: No. These two fellows that we were with, we didn't know to much about them, and I forget what he did to me, but I took back my hand and smacked him right in the face, and he hauled off and smacked me in the mouth and my lip came out like that and I had to go back home.
Interviewer: Would your parents of punished you or asked you questions or something?
Woman: Well, I can remember going to church socials and none ever set the refreshments until 10 o'clock and my mother knew where I was. I had to leave for home. I couldn't even stay for refreshments. And if I came home after 10 o'clock I remember one day she was up the corner waiting for me with a strap on her apron
Interviewer: How old were you then?
Woman: 17-18 years old. My mother beat me. She didn't whip me, she beat me. I was 18 years old. If my brother didn't stop her I guess she would have killed me.
Woman: Because I stayed out after the time she told me to be home and I'd do it every time. I was allowed out every other week. Yeah, I'd stay out past the time she told me and all the next week I'd do the same thing over. I'd never learn.
Interviewer: Was she that strict with your brothers?
Woman: She was strict with all of us.
Interviewer: When you were dating -- I think I asked you this once before -- What a date was like? Did you go to the movies?
Woman: Yeah. We'd go the movies or go to the park. And right across the river from Bristol was Burlington Island and it had all kinds of amusements over there. And you'd take a row boat and go across there. And we had to go across there. But that was the only amusements -- and dances!
Woman: That's what kept me out, see? My mother didn't want me to dance and I just loved to dance. Even today I love to dance. I'd stay out. I'd go home and turn the clock back and everything else.
Woman: But I didn't see any harm in going to a dance. And it was a open pavilion with people sitting around on chairs watching. She'd say to me where you going and I'd say out. And she'd say, I know you're going out, where out? And I knew all the time I'd be going to a dance, you know. I didn't dai~te1l her because she wouldn't let me out. (Laughter)
Interviewer: When you went to the dances did you go with girlfriends and meet boys there?
Woman: Uh-huh. Sometimes we'd go with a boy but mostly we'd just meet them there.
Interviewer: If you had to choose one area of your life that was most affected by the Depression what do you think it would be?
Woman: More what?
Interviewer: Most affected. One area of your life that was most affected by, the Depression?
Woman: Oh, most affected. The life I'm living at. I have now more than, I ever had. I have a husband who loves me. I have two children and I have six grandchildren. And I could do what I want to do. My husband lets me go anyplace. I go on conventions and I go to conferences. Anyplace I want to go he approves of it because he knows I enjoy it.
Interviewer: How do you think this was affected by the Depression? The fact, that you weren't able to do that then?
Woman: I didn't have anything.
Woman: I ate so many, cans of beans.
Interviewer: I think that's just about it. I could figure this out but can you remember how long you were single after you quit school?
Woman: I quit school when I was fourteen and I got married when I was: twenty-one. Seven years.
Interviewer: And you worked all the time?
Interviewer: What kind of work did you do then?
Woman: I worked in a factory. A wool mill.
Interviewer: And that was in Pennsylvania.
Woman: Mm-hmm. And I can remember making overtime money and they put all the money in one envelope and I never opened my envelope. I went home and handed it to my mother. I got one dollar a week spending money and I had to buy hosiery, underwear and everything out of that. And my sister, younger than I, she got her overtime in her second envelope. Well, she'd get her dollar and her overtime and I was suppose to do with my dollar all that she did with all of hers. I couldn't see where that was fair. I never opened my pay envelope. I'd take it right home and hand it to my mother.
Interviewer: But were there mostly women working in the factory where you worked?
Interviewer: And that was before the Depression?
Interviewer: OK. Did you have any idea how the Depression might have affected that?
Woman: I don't know because my mother and father had to work hard all their life.
Interviewer: Ummm -- I think that's just about it. That's all!
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