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NORFOLK WOMEN'S HISTORY PROJECT

JEAN E. FRIEDMAN, COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW 12

Life experiences of an elite woman of Norfolk, including sexual history and focusing on sex roles, especially those of the l930s.

Transcribed: 18 October 1984
ODU ARCHIVES


Interviewer: OK. Lets start off with your age now.

Woman: 65.

Interviewer: And how old were you when you were married?

Woman: 24.

Interviewer: Your husband?

Woman: He was 33.

Interviewer: Were you ever employed outside the home?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: What year did you graduate from high school?

Woman: Oh Lord! You got me now.

Interviewer: But you did graduate?

Woman: Yes. I didn't graduate from Maury. I went away to school.

Interviewer: OK. Did you go to any type of school after high school?

Woman: This was sort of a finishing school.

Interviewer: How long then did you remain single after high school?

Woman: About 5 years.

Interviewer: What did you do in that time? You didn't work so what did you do with your talent?

Woman: I played. I was active in a lot of the Junior League and the Kings Daughters and a lot of that sort of stuff but I didn't work.

Interviewer: That just sounds great.

Woman: My family was always busy working.

Interviewer: And your mother didn't work?

Woman: No. She never worked either.

Interviewer: What year were you married?

Woman: '31.

Interviewer: What is your religious affiliation?

Woman: Episcopalian.

Interviewer: So you were married in '31. Where did you first live? What section of town did you live in the thirties?

Woman: Northshore Point which is out by Lockhaven.

Interviewer: Now you live in Ghent?

Woman: MM-hmm.

Interviewer: What did you do--now you said you had those five years that you played. Did you go to the movies a lot?

Woman: About once a week.

Interviewer: I think thats alot.

Woman: I do too now. (Laughter)

Interviewer: How about reading? Did you do a lot of reading? Magazines or books?

Woman: I read magazines and books but I did a lot with my time.

Interviewer: Now you said you belonged to clubs, the Junior League.

Woman: Junior League, the Kings Daughter. Oh, and I did belong to a bridge club.

Interviewer: Did you belong to any type of group that was active in things like lobbying? Like the League of Women Voters?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Nothing like that. Nothing with political overtones to it? We can skip this whole page, this is on employment. There's one question on here--

Woman: Then I'll tell you what. We weren't employed. You know it was during the Depression.

Interviewer: Mmm-hmm.

Woman: And my father had lots of money at that point and he thought it was inexcusable for someone who didn't have to work to work. And he wouldn't even consider us working. 'Cause people couldn't get jobs for anything.

Interviewer: Right, I know. Did you have a car? I guess you did then. Did you know how to drive?

Woman: From the time I was thirteen. I had my own car.

Interviewer: Wow! What did your husband do?

Woman: When we were first married?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

Woman: He was assistant city attorney. He's a lawyer.

Interviewer: How long had you been married before you had your first child?

Woman: Four years.

Interviewer: Did he help you with the children? In any way, like getting them ready for bed?

Woman: He played with them.

Interviewer: Well, what did he feel--how did he feel about doing housework? Did he pick up?

Woman: He never did anything. Still can't open a curtain.

Interviewer: Did you have outside work then to help you with your housework?

Woman: I had a maid and a white nurse.

Interviewer: You know, let's go into this a little bit. How often did you have a maid? Do you remember?

Woman: Well, when we first married we were at my mother's after Clay was born. And she had a full-time cook and a butler and a yard man and I had my own washwoman and I had my own nurse.

Interviewer: And how long did the nurse stay after the baby was born?

Woman: Well, this is a white nurse that I brought home. --Oh, you mean when I came home from the hospital. I had a practical nurse.

Interviewer: Oh, in addition to this other woman?

Woman: I didn't have the white nurse then but a trained nurse came home for me from the hospital. I was in the hospital ten days. I got along beautifully. But I came home with a trained nurse. She stayed with me for a couple of weeks then I had a practical nurse for six weeks. When she left I went into tears. I didn't even know how to change the babies pants.

Interviewer: What did you do?

Woman: I don't know. I'm really embarrassed when I think of it. Then when Danny was born -- he was eighteen months later -- we had a place in the mountains. And there was this nice mountain girl who nursed him up there. And she was crazy to come to Norfolk. And so she lived at our house and she was our nurse until Danny was about three or four and then she got married. I still had a maid and a washwoman and everything till we moved to Lockhaven. And the war came. And it was such a distance from Taterstown to Lockhaven, and no buses, that I ended up -- we couldn't go get her. We didn't have any gas for somebody twice a week. No, she came at eleven.

Interviewer: Who budgeted the family money? Did you?

Woman: My husband gave me an allowance.

Interviewer: OK. This seems to be the most common thing.

Woman: He gave me an allowance and I lived on that the best I could.

Interviewer: And did you out of that pay for the groceries and insurance?

Woman: No. I paid the groceries and the maid out of myspending money. That's all.

Interviewer: Did you ever have a conflict over the amount? The way it was being handled.

Woman: No. I just let him go along.

Interviewer: Woman: Did you remember what your income was in 1931 when you were first married? What your husband's salary was?

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: How great would you tell us?

Woman: $165 a month as assistant city attorney and that was a very good job at the time.

Interviewer: It must have been. At least you knew the checks wouldn't bounce. Was there any change in his income? Did it go up at any time during the Depression? How long did he stay in that job?

Woman: Oh, I guess four or five years. Then he went withthe Virginian Railroad. A lawyer for Virginia. Of course, that was a very good job. Then he went into private--start his own.

Interviewer: As your income improved did your lifestyle change any? Did you go out more? Or...

Woman: No, because $165 when we first married, that was not much money. But then things got worse because that war and you couldn't get help then. Things started going down a far as I was concerned. After Retta was born, I had a day worker one day a week. No help came over from the hospital with a practical nurse that got sick. I started after a hysterectomy and a baby 5 weeks old. I was up washing and ironing and cooking and cleaning and taking care of all four children.

Interviewer: That's a hard switch from the first one.

Woman: Uh-huh. I tell you, the first ones -- I don't know what I did. But I had plenty to do when Carter and Retta were gone. I tell you!

Interviewer: I guess so. Do you think you would have gone to college if it hadn't been for the Depression?

Woman: It never entered my mind.

Interviewer: If you had to pick one area of your life that was most affected by the Depression what would you choose?

Woman: Just right after Carter was born was the part that was the worst. During your Depression it really didn't bother me too much.

Interviewer: It doesn't sound like you were very affected by it?

Woman: The Depression didn't hit us till later on.

Interviewer: The next question is were you ever pregnant and we know you've had four children.

Woman: Four. I had one miscarriage.

Interviewer: Did you ever do anything to prevent pregnancy?

Woman: Oh not I think I practiced the rhythm system for awhile.

Interviewer: Did it work?

Woman: No. 'Cause the fact is I tried from the time I was first married to have Clay. It took me 4 years to get Clay. Then I just didn't think I'd have one and I had Danny in 18 months. Then I practiced the rhythm system for maybe a year and from then on I tried. It took me seven years to get Carter and then the doctor said it was impossible for me to have any more children because I had all these tumors and everything. I just couldn't have one. Five years later I had Rosetta.

Interviewer: She's your little girl?

Woman: My little girl. So, I really didn't practice anything.

Interviewer: Did the two of you agree on how many children you wanted? Was there any restriction on that?

Woman: Bill would have loved to have six and so would I.

Interviewer: Minm. That is a lot.

Woman: I know. I look at people with six now and I think what in the world.

Interviewer: You wonder how can they manage to get everything done.

Woman: I know it. No. He's crazy for children.

Interviewer: Did your mother or father -- well, you've already said they didn't encourage you to work--did they like your husband? Did they encourage you to get married? Did they think that was the thing for you to do? Was there any pressure on you?

Woman: Oh, there was no pressure on me. You grew up in those times with the idea girls didn't go to school to very much and it didn't make to much difference whether you had a good education because you would get married sooner or later. I was 24 and Daddy still said I was to young.

Interviewer: Oh--to young at 24?

Woman: He said no girl knew her own mind until she was at least 25. But he was devoted to Bill, the man I married.

Interviewer: Did your mother or your father give you any advice about dating?

Woman: Oh, not to much. The only thing was that I had to be in house at eleven o'clock even when I was engaged to Bill.

Interviewer: What time did you go out when you had to be in at eleven?

Woman: Go out and have dinner or Saturday night you go to the club to a dance and stay out later and if I came home in the car and drove up and parked in the garage Mother was out there waiting. It was you come in here when you get home and no parking.

Interviewer: Did you go to church regularly?

Woman: Every Sunday from the time I was big enough to go.

Interviewer: And what did your mother and father want you to do? I guess then you've already answered that.

Woman: Just be like my Mother I guess.

Interviewer: Did either one of them give you instructions about sex when you were growing up? Either parent?

Woman: Not really but I just think that they made you think from the time you were born that you were going to be a virgin until you got married. I mean that was impressed on you -- the one thing! If you got married, you went to your husband clean.

Interviewer: Would you consider yourself a tomboy when you were growing up?

Woman: Oh, Lord. I didn't play with any girls. I didn't have any to play with. I was a tomboy.

Interviewer: Was your father removed from the family at all?

Woman: Well, he traveled all the time so he was only home one weekend a month or for two weeks or so. We all adored him.

Interviewer: How would you describe your relationship with your father was it close or were you sort of in awe of him?

Woman: Oh no. When I was little I saved the front page papers so I could sit in his lap and read them to me. He spoiled us--me absolutely rotten. All my friends.

Interviewer: Were you the only daughter.

Woman: I have but one brother and I was the only girl.

Interviewer: Just two of you. How about your relationship with your Mama could you describe that a little bit?

Woman: To me she was the most wisest person that ever was and we were just as close as we could be. There was no daughter / daughter relationship. She was my mother and I respected her and we talked about everything and I don't see how we could have been closer.

Interviewer: Well, that's good.

Woman: But I never thought she was my age. She never tried to act my age. She expected me to go out with the young people and she was a mother to us.

Interviewer: Did you think women ought to work? Say in those circumstances in the Depression if a husband couldn't get a job or was ill? Did you feel a woman ought to be able to work and have a decent job or did you think about it?

Woman: I don't think I thought about it. Now I'd say she should but I don't think it ever entered my mind. A few of my friends went to college and came out and were teaching school.

Interviewer: I think then a lot of states made you resign as a teacher if you got married.

Woman: Oh, they did?

Interviewer: Was that how it was in Norfolk? All schoolteachers were unmarried?

Woman: Well, most of them. Now, I went to private school when I was little and they had some married schoolteachers but I don't think in the public schools they had any. Of course, if you got pregnant you had to resign right away.

Interviewer: I guess that was pretty scandalous.

Woman: I mean if you were married.

Interviewer: Did you vote regularly?

Woman: From the time I was old enough.

Interviewer: How did you feel about a woman being involved in politics, in lobbying efforts or even running for office. Did you have any feelings about that?

Woman: I didn't have any feelings about that.

Interviewer: Now this is the page where I told you before if you don't want to answer on this one. We are going to touch on sex. Did you have premarital intercourse?

Woman: No!

Interviewer: Would you want to describe your reaction to your first sexual encounter?

Woman: You mean after I was married?

Interviewer: Yes, lets say was it what you expected?

Woman: It was.

Interviewer: All right. Did you think it was merely a matter of duty?

Woman: No. I enjoyed it. I was a full-fledged woman. You could enjoy the feeling God put into you.

Interviewer: Particularly if you come home every night and your mother yanks you out of the car.

Woman: You know, I was in love with Bill and that was all.

Interviewer: The stores we read have said that sociologists felt that marriage was a dying institute in the thirties would you have agreed then?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Would you have agreed premarital intercourse was immoral?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: How about describing for us a typical date, where you went and what you did and did you drink?

Woman: I didn't drink.

Interviewer: How about a typical date? Say if you went out to dinner, where would you have gone usually?

Woman: We usually went to a nice retaurant, then to a movie or we'd go to the club for dinner and stay there and dance or we'd go to the beach. The Baldwins, friends of ours, went to the Baldwin Cottage Club, which a whole lot of my husbands friends all belonged to. We'd all go down there and sit around and sing, play games, do anything we'd want to, go swimming. You know, just like dates now. Only there wasn't too much--of course, you did get off some and neck some. I don't think to many of the girls thought about that.

Interviewer: At the time, did you think dating was a pairing, two people, or was there a lot of group activity on dates? Like say, four or six of you going out and meeting another group.

Woman: We did that a lot of times but if you had a special date sometimes you just wanted to go yourself. But we all met at one place, like I said, the Baldwin cottage.

Interviewer: Did you ever think about of marrying someone who was divorced or were you ever exposed to anyone who was divorced and dated them?

Woman: No ma'am. I never dated a married-divorced man. Never thought about it. In fact, there weren't to many divorces back then. People got married for better or worse and stuck to it.

Interviewer: Well that's another question I want to bring up. Do you think that people that were married in the thirties and were having a good marriage stayed together for economic reasons because of the Depression? Or do you think they felt a moral duty to stay together?

Woman: I think that when they said for better or for worse they stuck together.

Interviewer: No matter what?

Woman: No matter what.

Interviewer: You've already answered this one. You didn't live together before you were married. Skip onto the next page. Did you and your husband indulge in sexual intercourse during pregnancy?

Woman: Yes. The last three months we didn't.

Interviewer: Was that the standard time when the doctor recommended you were to stop.

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Do you think in the studies we've read this was what they'd term a taboo? This was something you weren't suppose to do. It just wasn't acceptable. Do you think it was generally with your friends that they just went ahead and did it because they wanted to and not take the doctors advice on it?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Have you ever had an abortion?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Did any of your friends have any that you know of?

Woman: One friend.

Interviewer: Do you have any reason why. I mean do you know why this person had it?

Woman: Well, she said her husband was crazy and they were getting a divorce.

Interviewer: Oh. Was it done locally?

Woman: It wasn't done in Norfolk.

Interviewer: How did you learn about menstruation?

Woman: From a Navy girl that was a little bit older. She told me the most awful tales that were ever in this world. And I was embarrassed to tell Mother and didn't want to tell her. So, I told a cousin who was a little bit older that I adored that she told me that and then when I finally started menstruating I remember I burst into tears and took off my pajama pants so Mother could see them before I tell her. And she made me stay in bed all day long. Its the worst thing you could ever do to anybody.

Interviewer: How old were you? Do you remember?

Woman: About 13. But from then on every month I thought I was ill. As if I was mental. I mean wait on me hand and foot and all his stuff and I used to have the worst cramps and just carry on awful.

Interviewer: I take it then you got to stay home from school and became an invalid for a few days?

Woman: An invalid.

Interviewer: That's interesting. My Mother did the same thing.

Woman: Oh she did!

Interviewer: Uh-huh.

Woman: Biggest mistake you can make.

Interviewer: I think so. I think you do better if you stay active. What did you do in your leisure time?

Woman: You mean after the children were born? (Laughter)

Interviewer: I guess we're going to talk about because we're trying to talk about the Depression & the Thirties were going to talk about after your two children because you had your second two in the early forties. So, what did you do then when you were a young married couple in the forties? In your spare time from the ironing and all the running around?

Woman: I used to play golf in the thirties.

Interviewer: After you were married and had your children were you active in the Kings Daughters and things like that?

Woman: Oh yes. I did that. I was active in the Kings Daughters and the Junior League until after Carter was born. I belonged to two 'garden clubs and I was very active in the church.

Interviewer: You said something earlier about a house in the mountains. Is this where you went for vacations?

Woman: Mm-hmnm.

Interviewer: And did you take the children or did you ever leave the children somewhere and go away by yourselves?

Woman: No. I took them. But I didn't have it after I had the last two. I had it before when I just had two children.

Interviewer: Thats it!

Woman: Thats it?

Interviewer: Yes ma'am.

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