Old Dominion University Libraries
Special Collections Home

Copyright & Permitted Use of Collection Search the Collection Browse the Collection by Interviewee About the Oral Histories Collection Oral Histories Home

NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

JEAN E. FRIEDMAN, COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW 15

A joint interview with two senior citizens -- a 74-year-old orthodox Jewish woman and a 74-year-old Jewish widow who was active in labor union movements and who came to New York from Russia at age 15,then to Tidewater in 1958.

Interviewer: Jean E. Friedman
(Interview taken at Jewish Community Center)

Transcribed: 15 November 1984
ODU ARCHIVES


Part I- Interview with Mrs. W.

I: Could you tell me your age?

MRS. W: 60-I mean 74. (Laughter) I'll be 75 in December, the 23rd.

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

MRS. W: I think 21.

I: 21. And how old was your husband?

MRS. W: He was 23.

I: 23. What year were you married?

MRS. W: 1924.

I: 1924. Were you employed at the time outside your home?

MRS. W: Was I employed at that time? Yes.

I: You were. And what year did you get a job?

MRS. W: Oh, I went to work when I was 18.

I: What year was that?

MRS. W: That was I'd say, I was married in '24 and I went to work when I was 18 that was and I went 21, that was three years.

I: OK. And do you remember what your salary was?

MRS. W: Not much.$l5.

I: $15, that was a week?

MRS. W: Yeah.

I: Do you remember getting any raises in the period between 1924--

MRS. W: I worked up to $40.

I: $40! What was your job?

MRS. W: I was, when I left the place, I was supervising some workers. You know, girls. They were in the clothing business in manufacturing.

I: Manufacturing. Okay. Did you graduate from high school?

MRS. W: No.

I: Did you have any education beyond high school? Typing or bookkeeping?

MRS. W: Yeah. You know, I educated myself a little bit.

I: In the business you were in?

MRS. W: In the business, yeah.

I: Let's see, how long -- you were married at 18. What was your father' s occupation?

MRS. W: He was a cantor in a synagogue.

I: This was where?

MRS. W: In Baltimore.

I: In Baltimore ,and did your mother have an occupation?

MRS. W: No. She just, you know, was housewife, raise the children -- 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys.

I: And you are Jewish right?

MRS. W: Absolutely! And I'm religious too but now I'm not.

I: Are you orthodox or what?

MRS. W: Orthodox, yeah.

I: Your address in the 1930's?

MRS. W: My address in 1930's is! Let's see, where did we live? Pennsylvania Avenue I don't remember what town.

I: Was this in Baltimore?

MRS. W: No in Washington. In Baltimore we lived on Madison Avenue.

I: And where do you live now?

MRS. W: Talbott Park Apartments.

I: Alright.


Part I-Interview with Mrs. Y.

I: Mrs. Y, what age were you when you were married?

MRS. Y: 16½.

I: And what year was that?

W: 1917.

I: Okay and what age are you now, can I ask that?

MRS. Y: 74. I'm going to be August the 17th, 75 years old.

I: Very good. Okay, were you employed during the Thirties?

MRS. Y: Oh, yes.

I: Okay. What year?

MRS. Y: I was working in a shop. In a factory.

I: Where?

MRS. Y: Where? In New York.

I: In New York.

MRS. Y: Yes, on the 7th Ave. and 36th St. and I worked on ladies garments.

I: Do you remember what salary you had when you started?

MRS. Y: If you want when I came to America, the first salary, what I got, it was two and a half dollars a week and then we went on piece work. I couldn't even speak English and I was working, where was that, 18th St. and 6th Ave. I was working by dresses. So, I didn't like my wages. It was only two and a half dollars a week and I had to spend 5 cents going to work and 5 cents going back. It was too much and the operators there used to make the highest wages there, like 7 dollars a week. The highest wages. So, poor me, I couldn't stand it. I couldn't see that the boss should make all the money and we should make nothing. I talked it over with the girls. There we all were girls. And they wanted to belong to the union. We didn't belong to the union then. I wanted to belong to the union so, I says yes. And I was only about 18½ years old and I took them down. I said girls you come in the morning to work and you stay and wait for me downstairs and we go to the union. The union was then on 26th St near 5th Ave. and we went up there. It wasn't like the unions now. Then it was benches they were -- just wood benches and a office made of wood and a window and we went in. So, they asked me whose the leader. I said, here's the leader. I wouldn't mention my name. Here's the leader and I talked for them. I couldn't speak in English, but I talked in Jewish and there was a Jewish man from the union-an organizer -- and I talked to him. I told him we want to belong. I told him who the boss, is and we want to belong to the union. We don't get nothing. So, okay. So, he called up, if not we wouldn't go to work. So, he called up the boss. You want the girls to work, pay them wages by piece work. In piece work -- do you know what piece work is?

I: Yes I do.

MRS. Y: In piece work you make more money. If you're fast on, you make more and he had to give in. When he started to pay it was 15 cents an hour. l5 cents an hour we used to get. The first week I made $11. It's not 2½ --you see? And then actually I went to another and got more.

I: Can I ask you -- you were very young to start in union activity at that time -

MRS. Y: Yes I was.

I: Was there organization in Russia? Was that where you had experience in the union?

MRS. Y: Yes. In Russia I was a kid. Yet, I worked all my life in Russia too. I got a job. I was twelve years old. I got a job, we made garments, pants, jackets, for the peasants. So, I worked for a man. He had a store. We worked in his house in on the machine and he sold it. I worked there and I start to work on a machine. I was twelve years old. He gave me twenty rubles, a half a year. I worked from 6 in the morning till nine at night. And he used to give us a lunch. For supper we didn't eat there -- just lunch. What did we eat for lunch? A piece of bread with a sour pickle. That was the lunch. Sometimes we had a potato. That was the lunch and then I got to come to America. I had an uncle here. I wrote him a letter to come here and I came here and I start to work here.

I: Well, where did you get the idea of unionization?

MRS. Y: That's what I wanted to tell you. We have organization in Russia. The radicals in my town there start to organize the workers in my town. Like here, you have. I'm not satisfied so I start to do something. There the same thing. I come from a small town in Russia and they start to organize. So when they start to organize it I worked from 8 to 6. It was already better. You know, I didn't have to get up at 5 in the morning and rush to work and that's from there on. We got to be organized and they can't use us up because we're the workers and we wouldn't produce. The boss wouldn't do nothing. We are producing, so why shouldn't we get? So that's what we get. That's from here, I get experience.

I: Were you in the unions in the Thirties?

MRS. Y: Oh yes dear.

I: You were active in the unions?

MRS. Y: Oh yes. Very much. I was active. I was the chairlady from a shop of 150 people. They worked in the garment district and I was in the union actually. I made prices. I talked with the bosses if he didn't want to give. I was fighting for it and that was it.

I: You were strictly a woman's union?

MRS. Y: No. Uh-uh! I belonged to -- first I belonged to local 22 -- Ladies Garments Workers Union. Then I -- this was only for dresses. Then from there I went to sportswear and I belonged to Local 23 -from the Ladies Garment Workers Union -- the same thing but I took care of 150 people. I made the prices, what they had to pay. They couldn't -- when a worker came in and the boss didn't like her and they belonged to the union they couldn't send them away. You see? They couldn't do that.

I: Was there any violence connected with your job? Did anybody try to get rid of you?

MRS. Y: Well? Get rid of me? I don't know. Really not. I used my mind if I had one then -- I always used to compromise with the bosses. I used to talk to the workers. We went out on strike too. Yes!

I: How about communist organizations?

MRS. Y: I never belonged to communists. Never! This I didn't. Never!

I: Who were you affiliated with? What was the name of your union?

MRS. Y: The American Ladies Garment Workers Union.

I: Right.

MRS. Y: That's what I was. But I remember when I got married. I told you I married in 1917 and my husband was working. He used to make house slippers. The bosses just send them away and they strike. I remember then was violence. They broke his arm. My husband was picketing. There was gangsterism. In my union there wasn't. I don't remember any. We went out on strike but there was no violence.

I: How about you as a woman? Did you suffer any discrimination? Or did people not want to listen to you because you were a woman?

MRS. Y: No. No. No. I never had that all my life. I didn't have that problem at all.

I: Okay.

MRS. Y: Well, I had very bad times. Yes. There was very, very bad time in the 1930's. Very bad times then. My husband didn't work. I used to work when I got married. I used to work.

I: Okay, well, let me finish asking you this personal information. Did you graduate from high school?

MRS. Y: No. I say like my friend says, I'm a self-made woman. (Laughter)

I: Alright. And what was your father's occupation?

MRS. Y: In Europe, Europe. I don't know how to explain it to you. Here they call it carpenter, but he wasn't a carpenter. He used to make wagons and those fancy slats. He was a worker and we were very, very poor.

I: What part of Russia were you from? What was the name of the town?

MRS. Y: A little town -- TOLNOYA (SP)? In New York -- in Brooklyn -- like it's a small town.

I: Well, let's just talk about relationships with our mothers and fathers and how you were raised and that sort of thing. Did your mother encourage you to have a career? Did she want you to better yourself? Did she want you to come to America?

MRS. Y: See, I was so little when I came here that I don't remember. When I first came here I had to go to school. Of course, my mother encouraged us. And, you know, we had a wonderful relationship our family. Our parents really did. They were very gentle people. I never remember being punished severely like a spanking or something like that. They also had a wonderful relationship. The whole family. They were such wonderful parents; I mean it.

I: You loved both of them equally? You didn't have a special relationship with your father or your mother?

MRS. Y: Well, we respected our father very, very much and of course we loved my mother and got along wonderful.

I: Did either your mother or your father encourage you to have a career? Or -

MRS. Y: Not the girls. The boys -- yes. Not the girls.

I: Did they want you to get married?

MRS. Y: Oh yes. (Laughter) But they never pushed, you know, us, you see? They felt when the right time comes along it will happen, that's all.

I: What did they think would be to late to get married?

MRS. Y: Well, they never really set a special time for any of us to get married. They felt that when we were ready to got get married that's it.


PART II-Interview with Mrs. W

I: Okay, would you say that was true of you Mrs. W?

MRS. W: To tell you the truth I was 15 years old when I left my town. I really didn't have a chance to analyze my parents or things like that. You see? 'Cause I loved my mother. I loved my father. We were seven children. And about a career? Was to young.

I: How did they feel about your going to America?

MRS. W: Well, they like I should remain home but we were very poor as I told you before. We were very poor and if I go away maybe I'll gain something. You see? So, but, I love my parents, my sisters, my brothers. Actually they're not around here now. They were all killed in the war and I'm the only one left.

I: In the First World War?

MRS. W: In the second war and the first.

I: How many brothers and sisters did you have?

MRS. W: I had three brothers and we were four sisters and I came to America and I started to work here as I told you before. Then when I was 16½ I got married and it was very bad times. I remember the First World War and I lived in New York in East 4th Street. The East Side. If you want the number I can give. 277 East 4th St. I never forget. My two girls were born there and I really -- I was very poor. I lived in the 5th floor walkup. The toilet was in the hallway. For two tenants. One week I would have to wash and the other week the other would wash the toilets.

I: Were they closed in?

MRS. W: In the hallway it was. But later on they wanted me -- it was scarce in rooms in apartments. After the First World War they couldn't get apartments. When they came back from the war. So, I remember a man and woman came up to my house and said to me, I'll give you twenty-five dollars to move out from that apartment and give it to me. It's funny. I didn't do it naturally because I paid $13 a month rent and I couldn't afford this neither. So, and the times were real bad for me. I was real poor. Even in America I didn't have much to eat.

I: Did you ever see your parents again?

MRS. W: My last letter from there was 1936. I have a daughter, she lives in Texas. Austin, Texas. And I have some friends in San Antonio and her brother was a friend of my youngest brother. He was six years old and he was a friend. I didn't know him. He was a friend of the other boy, the same age as him. Now, my brother, the six-year-old -- he was married already -- how he got killed. He lived in a small town and went with other Jewish men to buy something with the wagon. It was the Russians. It was no Germans. It was in the wartime and they killed everybody and that's how I find out my brother got killed. It was two brothers there and they were in the Russian army, that's what I heard later when they send letters to our townspeople. And when they came back they blame it on the Germans, but it was Russians. They took all the German people in the butcher place. The whole butcher place was as big as this room. They put the Jewish people together and they killed them with machine guns. Nobody was left. That one brother saved himself and he was the one who told the story. And that's how I find out what became of our Jewish people. So, nobody was left.

I: So, you came to America and escaped all of that?

MRS. W: But I had other troubles besides that. I didn't come to America like they used to say in Europe - America is wonderful. You just have to go in the street and there is gold and you never walk, you skate. I came to America in the cattle island -- the Battery Castle Garden (?). They call it -- I come there. When I came here and my uncle took me off the bus and I went on the First Ave. Elevator. Then I went on the train and there was big benches with red plush cushions like, and everybody was so nice dressed. It was beautiful. I said to my uncle, Are they going to a wedding? He said, No, they go everyday like this. It made such an impression. But a funny thing -- I never -- it never impressed me -- the buildings. He said, aren't you impressed with the buildings? I said, No I'm not. I've seen pictures, so, I knew what to expect.

I: Well, lets talk about the Thirties. You know, more about the Thirties and your work habits. Did your husband, for instance, object to your having a job during the Thirties?

MRS. W: After I was married I never worked. I helped my husband in business. After Baltimore we moved to Washington, D.C. That was in the 1930's and we had a newsstand and I helped, you know. We had a newsstand on the corner of l6th and Pennsylvania Ave. -- near the White House. So, of course, all the government buildings there. Of course, we made a living there.

I: Well did you decide not to work?

MRS. W: Instead of hiring someone else, my husband couldn't run it himself, I helped. We had no children. So, I helped in the business. We stayed there till 1940. In 1940, we moved to Newport News.

I: Did you have children during the Thirties?

MRS. W: No, we never had children unfortunately. We loved children. My husband loved children to and I do to but it didn't happen, that's all. When we moved to Newport News we opened up a men's clothing store. It remained there until when my husband passed away in 1948.

I: Did your husband ever help you? Oh! I'm sorry. He passed away in '48.

MRS. W: My husband passed away in 1968 (?), and I remained there two more years and I'm moved here. Did my husband do what?

I: Did he help you with the housework?

MRS. W: No. (Laughter). No. He didn't. He was always a businessman. But he never helped me with my housework. I did that myself. If I couldn't do it myself I got someone to help me.

I: Did you have any help? Any outside help?

MRS. W: In the store?

I: In the home.

MRS. W: Once and a while, yeah. I had to have help in the house because I helped in the business. So, I had to have some help in the house.


PART II -- INTERVIEW WITH MRS. Y

I: Okay. Do you remember any problem your husband had with your working?

MRS. Y: No. My husband couldn't object because he didn't make too much if he got a job and I always used to make more than him. The only time that I was on my own which I don't remember myself not working. I always worked and my husband couldn't object because if I wouldn't go to work we wouldn't have what to eat.

I: How did he feel about you being an organizer?

MRS. Y: He was very proud. But one thing. He never wanted to be an organizer. He never wanted to be organized.

I: Why not?

MRS. Y: Because I'll tell you why. He came from Poland. There it was orthodox naturally and there I guess all of the Europeans are mostly like it. They figure that a woman is a woman. She got to have children. She got married -- she got to be a housekeeper and she got to do everything. But a husband don't have to do anything. The wives does the things. So, even when I went to work I still did my work myself and in 1929 when it was a big crash, naturally we didn't lose anything because we didn't have to lose. My husband couldn't get a job. I couldn't get a job. Finally, I had my girl. She was 6 months old. My first-born and I went and found a job and he watched the child. He had to and the 1930's were a terrible year for me, terrible. We didn't have nothing.

I: Well, tell me something and this is really what the project is all about. How did you survive? How did you get through?

MRS. Y: You know something -- I always got through. First of all I went like I used to say to the old friends. I wish I had 100 dollars for each day I went without a penny. I had very nice neighbors. One neighbor, she was wonderful. Mrs. S______ was her name. She had seven children herself. She lived in the same floor with me. Her husband worked in a bakery. You know, at that time they used to get bread, rolls, for nothing. She knew I didn't have what to eat. I actually didn't have what to eat. I had a baby. I didn't have what to eat. So, she came into me and said, don't be ashamed. And they weren't rich people. They were poor people too. They paid $26 for 5 rooms on the same floor as I. And she says my husband don't have to buy nothing. He's brings me rolls and you gonna have to. And don't worry I'll take from the grocery and the grocery man. I didn't have what to pay, so, I didn't go in and I hated to borrow money or to beg from somebody. I hated that. I'd rather die. She says, I'm going to go and she bought everything. Whenever you have you'll pay me back. When your husband will find a job you'll get it. And we had a butcher in the same building downstairs. Mr. Holland was his name. And he said, how come he doesn't come in to buy? She said, she's ashamed because she doesn't have what to pay. He said, I don't care. When she has she'll give me and that's how I lived.

I: In other words, in all of this time you never took any relief or you never associated with any agencies?

MRS. Y: Relief? No, I never took relief but when it was very bad they had relief from the city. My husband didn't have a job so we had to live. We had books to go for relief. Every week we had to go. They give us so much sugar, so much. Meat they never give us, never. They gave us beans, potatoes, onions. They even gave us, some of them, underpants, bloomers, underwear. Once when we needed it we have it. Then I find a little job near my house -

I: Excuse me. You were working in the factory up to what year?

MRS. Y: I was working in a factory till I came to Norfolk. And it was in 1958.

I: I don't understand. You weren't working all this time during the Depression?

MRS. Y: didn't work. They didn't have no work.

I: What kind of business was this again?

MRS. Y: Clothing.

I: Clothing business.

MRS. Y: Yeah.

I: So, you were unemployed and so was your husband. For how many years?

MRS. Y: It was 35 years ago.

I: Yeah, but how long were you unemployed? Do you remember?

MRS. Y: I got a job near my house in a store. I used to fix corsets and brassieres and I got $15 a week but I couldn't tell them that I'm working. My husband built La Guardia Airport. This was from the city.

I: Public Works?

MRS. Y: Yeah. They gave him $60 a month. We had to live on $60 a month. That's what we live on. We have to pay rent and eat. So, naturally when I had that little job it helped me. We didn't have much. My boy was then five years old.


PART III -- INTERVIEW WITH MRS. W

I: How about you? How did you survive? How did you get through? You were helping your husband in the shop? Was that enough to get through?

MRS. W: We weren't rich. We managed. We had plenty to eat. As far as clothes were concerned, we may do with what we had and you know, we managed to get along. There was just two of us. We had no children so we never lacked anything as far as food was concerned or clothes.

I: Did your life change in any way during the Thirties?

MRS. W: It changed for the better as we went along.

I: Even during the Thirties -- your business?

MRS. W: Yes. We made a nice living when we had a newsstand in Washington. Then when we came to Newport News it was during the Second World War and we did a nice business there. So, from then On -- from Newport News on -- we got along very well.

I: Why did you give up the newsstand?

MRS. W: My husband didn't want to be a newsboy all his life. (Laughter) Before we were married he was in business in Portsmouth. He never worked for someone else. Always for himself. During the First World War things weren't so good. Then he got a job with someone else because it lost money his business. So, he went to work for someone else. And you know, he worked not to long for someone else. And then of course when we moved to Washington we had opened up his newsstand. We had to borrow $50 to open up the business.

I: $50 to start the business?

MRS. W: That was a lot of money in those days in the 1930's and we didn't have it, but in a month we paid the $50 up, and we got up very nicely then, in fact, we saved during the time $1500 and when we came to Newport News, we had $1500 and opened up this business. Rents weren't so high then and we both worked. We worked hard but we got along very nicely.

I: Very good.


PART III -- INTERVIEW WITH MRS. Y

MRS. Y: Yeah. I want to tell you a story too about the Thirties. As far as working, and having not food to eat and clothes. We always got along nicely when we were home. You know, the children. We always had enough food to eat. We were dressed. Even if we had two dresses we were dressed clean. Everybody said we looked good when we went to school. The teachers admired us because we were so nice and clean. And that's it.

I: You lived the same kind of life then with your husband?

MRS. Y: Yeah. When we were all young we had enough to eat. We lived in a small town at first. We had our own cow, chicken. We raised our own vegetables. So, we always had food. Enough to give away.

I: This was when you were a child.

MRS. Y: Yes. That's it. And my husband passed away in 1968. I came here. I have one niece and nephew. That's the only relatives I have. I make a lot of friends; here. I'm here four years in October and I manage to get along.

I: Good. That's a good story.

MRS. Y: That was before I had my baby - my boy. I had tow daughters and I was working and then we got a job and we were working. Then my girls grew up. One girl, she was only 16 when she graduated high school and the other one, the same thing. And then when they were 18-years-old, they want to be nurses. So, the eldest one -- since then passed away. I lost her eight years ago my daughter. And I send them to Beth Israel Hospital in New York. It's on 2nd and 80th St. This was my older daughter. She went in for three years to become a nurse. I kept her up. We used to pay for bed. Three months after that she got $5 a month to be a student nurse. Then my younger daughter became a nurse too and it was then much better than it was before. Then my son came when they graduate. My son was born in 1933. My older daughter got married. So, she was by herself now and then the younger one met a lieutenant, and she was a nurse. She was a first lieutenant and her husband was a second lieutenant. So, it worked out nice. So, I have two of them went away.

I: Excuse me, but when were the children born? What years?

MRS. Y: One was born in 1919, one in 1922; and my son was born in 1933, eleven years later. Then we moved out of there and my son already went to school -- went to high school -- graduate. Then we kept him out all the time. We were both working. I was working. I made good money then and my husband made money. We gave them a good education. We kept them in college and then in 1959 my husband passed away. We came from New York in 1958 and he died in 1959 and I remained here and my son got married. I told you he's in radio and television, and I live pretty good by myself. To tell you the truth, like I told my friend, I said do you know something, I live now like a millionaire according to what I had. I live like a millionaire and nothing to complain. Everything is alright.

I: Well, can I ask you something? This is a bit off the subject but I'd like to know. What was it like being Jewish in the Thirties where you were living? You know, " the world was aflame. "

MRS. Y: Yeah, upside down.

I: How about you in your life, did you experience anti-Semitism?


SIDE TWO OF THE TAPE

MRS. Y: I just moved in the second day. I send out my boy to play and he went out and he looked around at a young kid. Then he came running into the house, "Mama," he says to me. "Do you know a little boy, just like I am," he says, "came over to me and all of a sudden (and my son doesn't even look like a Jew) and all of a sudden he says you a dirty Jew." And I looked at him. "Mama," he says, "he was so dirty." And all my children were very clean. I always cleaned. "He called me dirty Jew. Why? He was so dirty. And he ran away." Next time, I said, I wouldn't fight for you. But next time, you see him, and you tell him, you don't let him go away. But go after him and ask him why does he call you dirty Jew. When he is so dirty. And if he starts fighting, you fight him back, that's all! And it worked like this. Next day, he went out and he came in again and he told me that. He said to me, "Mama, why does he call me dirty Jew? Why is it?" I don't know if he's Jewish. My children never made any difference from Jew or Gentile. Never. I didn't neither. A person is a person. So, I told him about the Jews and why they discriminate us. So, he knew. But then they become the best friends. I lived in Bensonhurst when he was born. When my son was born, I lived in Bensonhurst and next door lived an Italian family and we were like this till this day. When I come here we are friends. Her son is a barber in 8th St. in New York near 2nd Ave. Her son when he sees me we are friends. So, I said to her, Why does the Gentile people resent the Jews? Why? We live good like me , you like you. She said, it's true. They are jealous. You have the best lawyers. The best doctors. The finest businessmen. Everything. You are so smart. The Jewish people -- the men are so clever she says, we are jealous. That's why. Because of that we discriminate. That's what she told me.

I: You know something I'm interested in too, that seems to be a problem when I talk about it to women of your generation, is there seems to be a kind of or there was, a silence about sexual matters or personal matters and I wondered if when you were young, when you were courting did you talk to your friends, other women, about contraceptives? Were you aware of contraceptives? Do you want to talk about that?

MRS. Y: We might have been aware of it but we were ashamed to talk about it.

I: You didn't talk about it? Why not?

MRS. Y: Listen, in fact, I don't know why but I suppose it was the way we brought up. Even when my children were big, they were already -- I never told them what is this and what is that. To tell you the truth, to explain what I had I couldn't because I didn't know if it was the right way to explain. For instance, my younger daughter she started nursing and she wasn't married then. She was just going to training, and my little boy was about 10 years old, and he start to ask me questions: How does a child get born? What do you have to do to conceive or things like that? I couldn't answer him. What should I do? My husband was worse than I was. He wouldn't open his mouth. So, I says go ask Bea. My daughter Beatrice. Go ask her. He says,Okay. He went over and she was already mature you know, but she still didn't know everything even though she went to nursing school. I said,go to Bea and she'll explain you what it is. So, he goes over to her and does ask her. She says, "Ma, why don't you tell him?" I said, I wouldn't tell him. I don't know how to talk to him. You tell him. So, she told him. But look, even when she knew everything about that before she got married. They had already the marriage made up. The date and everything. She came over to me. "Ma, how do you go around unmarried and then go with your husband? How do you do it? What do you do? " Even then, she didn't know all about it.

I: Your daughter was the nurse and she didn't know?

MRS. Y: That's right! She didn't know all about it.

I: Did you tell her then?

MRS. Y: I told her. Her I told. Because I figure she was getting married already. She'd be in the same predicament I was. So I told her. Otherwise, we were ashamed.

I: Do you still feel the same way?

MRS. W: I didn't either. I didn't know anything. My mother never spoke about sex.

MRS. Y: Never.

MRS. W: You know, my friends, my girlfriends, we never spoke about sex.

MRS. Y: Never.

MRS. W: I don't know why. It just never came up.

MRS. Y: But now I think its very important-

MRS. W: Sure it is.

MRS. Y: That when a child gets nine years old -

MRS. W: That's right.

MRS. Y: -- a girl especially. Sit down with her and tell her all about it. That's why we have so many misunderstandings with them. They don't know. A boy goes over to a girl. So they go out. They don't know the circumstances. They don't know what going to develop after that. So, I think a mother should tell a daughter and a man, a father, should tell the son. All right, I don't think some fathers doesn't know neither. They don't know how to explain neither. They don't know how to explain neither. Even though they are with a wife or a woman. They know they are with a woman -- that's all. What and when? They don't do it neither.

I: Well how did you survive your wedding night? I mean, what happened if you didn't know what you were getting into?

MRS. Y: (Laughter) Do you know that when I was married for three days after I got married I didn't do nothing. I didn't let him to me. Nothing doing! I was afraid.

I: Well were you husbands experienced?

MRS. W: My husband was. But I wasn't told anything. My mother never told me anything. But you know you hear when you go with the girls. Some of them talk. My husband was very nice and very gentle.

MRS. Y: My husband was nice too.

MRS. W: And he explained a lot of things to me. So, I didn't have any really difficulties.

MRS. Y: Some men, even they go to a women now and then when they get ripe. They don't have to know anything. They go with her and that's all. But to know how to explain to a child what it is you really have to know the experiences and what is doing. You see? I think that men and women, they should read up. They learn about it. They should really read and get acquainted before they explain.

I: Had you read anything before?

MRS. Y: No.

MRS. W: We didn't have the books then. I guess they were available.

MRS. Y: We were ashamed.

MRS. W: Ashamed or whatever it was. Now that people are different you see parents know a whole lot more because they read about it.

MRS. Y: If they read.

MRS. W: They do. I'm sure they do. Look, after I was married I read a lot of books about sex.

MRS. Y: I read a little too but it's after. Except, I had my children. They were already married. THEN I start to read.

MRS. W: But before that you see, I was brought up in a very religious home and my parents didn't talk about sex. I heard very little outside the house. I was going with girlfriends. We used to go out with boys, you know. But we never spoke about sex. Once and a while I used to hear something about it.

I: Well, orthodox women talk a lot about the fact that orthodox rabbis have the prayer thank God I'm not a woman and there's a lot of prejudice against women in the orthodox faith. Now, do you think that is true?

MRS. W: I think it is true.

I: Excuse me. Are you orthodox?

MRS. Y: No.

I: Okay. What I don't understand but this is what I've been trying to get at is why you were ashamed. I understand you family raised you like that but how? What did they say to you? What did they do that made you ashamed?

MRS. Y: Look, they are ashamed orthodox or no orthodox. They are ashamed because now is not what it used to be. They are not against women now. They recognize them not more than before but the men then made the woman feel that she is much lower than they are, you see?

I: You didn't feel that did you?

MRS. Y: Oh, no! I never felt lower.

MRS. W: I don't think so Tillie.

MRS. Y: Yes. But some men feel that way. It goes from way, way back. You feel like you are much lower than the men because they make you feel like that. They never put you in the same category as they are. You see?

I: Is this because your Jewish or just the way they are?

MRS. Y: Jewish or Gentile -- You just feel lower than the men. So, whatever it is you let yourself go. It has to be like this. We are ashamed. Not now. I talk about what it was. We are ashamed to think we are the same as they are. What we are -- you're afraid to speak up. It's not like now. We are free. We live in freedom.

MRS. W: I want to say this. They knew about sex but they didn't know how to explain it to the children. You understand? I don't think they were ashamed of it. That's why they never spoke about sex when I was a girl.

MRS. Y: This is not only with sex.

MRS. W: My mother always had us stay in the house.

I: Yeah. But what about voting systems or matters outside the house. Do you think she was her own person then or do you think she listened to what your father said?

MRS. W: I really don't know. I know my mother did a lot of things like charities that we didn't know about until she passed away. Coming back to sex, they didn't know how to explain. That's all I feel about it.

MRS. Y: It's not only what they didn't know. They didn't. They knew sex. They think intercourse was you had sex with a man and that was it. No. There's more than intercourse and this was what you couldn't explain. You didn't know yourself what it was. That's why you couldn't explain it. I said you just have got to read up on it. This doesn't make experience just because you have sex with a man. This is not experience. You've got to know what is sex. How does it work? How is it sex? That's what you have to know.

MRS. W: That's what I said. They didn't know how to explain it. Because they didn't know.

MRS. Y: They didn't know how to tell me, see?

I: After you were married did you use contraceptives at any time or have any knowledge of that stuff?

MRS. Y: You mean not to get pregnant? Yes. Yes. But not what they do now.

I: What method did you use?

MRS. Y: I didn't use no method at all. He used it.

I: Prophlaytics.

MRS. Y: Uh-uh.

I: Well, how did you get your ideas of love and marriage? From the movies? From magazines?

MRS. Y: You know, I never got love from that and I was in love. I wouldn't say I was in love with my husband. I was in love. I loved. But I didn't marry what I loved. I loved naturally. It was a wonderful feeling. But I married because I had to get married. I was by my uncle and I didn't have no home. I didn't know where to go, or what to go and I was a young kid. They introduced me to my husband and we got married. You see? This is a wonderful thing -- love. And I felt it.

I: Can you tell me what your courtships were like? What did you do when you went out?

MRS. W: My courtship?

I: Yeah.

MRS. W: I met my husband through a girlfriend of mine in the park. A beautiful park in Baltimore. We went to an open air concert there on Wednesday. So, my girlfriend came to my house. We lived two blocks from the park and we all went to the park and she brought along her cousin Victor. We were introduced and we we're enjoying the concert and we took a walk. Then they came to my house. We had something to eat and drink and they left. A couple days later he calls me for a date. He was for a couple weeks visiting his cousin. He took me to a concert again. We had a lot in common but I can't say that I fell in love with him right away. It took me time. He's right. I liked the way he talked. He was a real nice gentle person. See? He never said a harsh word or anything like that, you know. We had dates. We kept company for three months and we were married.

I: Oh, I see.

MRS. Y: That's wonderful.

I: Were these dates just the two of you or did you go out in groups? How did you date?

MRS. W: Mostly we had dates and we went out together. Several times people came to the house. My girlfriend used to come to the house with the boys and we used to have parties in the house.

I: And this was in the early twenties?

MRS. W: Yes. Then after three months we got married. He didn't believe in long courtships.

MRS. Y: That's nice.

MRS. W: He really didn't have a home of his own either. He lived with cousins in Portsmouth and he had cousins in Baltimore also. You know, go back and forth. So, we got married. And we had a wonderful life together.

I: That's nice.

MRS. W: We were married 44 years.

I: In this day and age that's a long time.

MRS. W: He passed away. Thank God I have family. They are in Baltimore but see we never had any children and we were so attached to one and other. I always helped in the business and we were together so much. That was a big shock to me when he passed away. I live to get over it. What can I do?

I: Do you feel when you were younger you had a lot of pressure from people because you didn't have children?

MRS. W: No, not really. We were young and when we wanted to adopt a child we were too poor. In those days, they wanted to know if you had enough money to get along. We couldn't get a child naturally when we got older we didn't apply for any adopted child.

MRS. Y: Oh, they would have a wonderful mother now. I'm going to tell you about three and a half years ago. You know, it's 3 ½ years already when I got sick. I hardly knew her. I just saw her a few times and we lived one. She just moved in and we belonged together to Golden Ages. She just came into the Golden Ages. You just did and I got sick in the street and all my best friends were there.

Especially one very best friend and she said to her, take Tillie home. She says, and then you come to the meeting. She hardly knew me. She came to -- I telling you --as small as she is, she's worth in gold. And she says alright I'll take you home. We came home and I live on the first floor -- second floor, and I ran into the bathroom and I was sick. She called the doctor. She called me -- they said I called -- I don't remember. I called my granddaughter and the doctor came right away and he called up an ambulance and she went with me to the hospital. I had ptomaine poisoning. I nearly died. Three doctors were there and they give me only 15 days to live. My doctor -- Dr. Pearlman -- Jerome Pearlman -- said Tillie's not dying. Tillie's going to live. And he got me out. I was 15 days in the hospital. I lost 15 lbs. And then after three weeks I was a disaster. Then I went to the medical center for three weeks and I was very, very sick. If not for her I wouldn't be alive today. Oh, come on! Who?

MRS. W: Yeah. Yeah.

MRS. Y: The doctor himself says here's your lifesaver. (Laughter)

I: Oh, that's marvelous. That's good. You have good friends.

MRS. Y: One thing. She doesn't pretend she's a friend. She is a friend.

MRS. W: Look -- if I can't be a friend why should I pretend?

MRS. Y: The other friend didn't do it because she didn't feel like it.

MRS.W: She called me up. She said, why don't you come to the meeting. I said, I can't leave Tillie, she is sick. The meeting wasn't that important, you know. We meet every Wednesday but she went on to the meeting and left me with Tillie. Actually, how could you leave a sick person? Would you do that?

I: How many years ago was this?

MRS.Y: 3½ years. It was in May.

I: Well, can we talk about the kinds of things you did for fun in the Thirties?

MRS.Y: I'll tell you what I did. I was very active in every organization when I lived in New York and I belonged to a chorus, You wouldn't remember this chorus -- The Workman's Circle Chorus -- that was my first one. Then, I joined up in the Zionest Chorus with Leah Love (SP?) as director and conductor. It was from the Jewish National Workers A1liance. It is an organization from the Zionists. We used to go. One concert I shouldn't have gone. I went to all the concerts because I loved it. Operas, Stage shows, I was all over. My husband went with me. He protested. He didn't like it because there was men and women. The women was alright. He was a very jealous character -- my husband. With women it's alright. We had concerts in Madison Square Garden and Town Hall, even the Metropolitan Opera we once had a concert. We had in the English Theatre a concert. All the small towns in New York we were in! !Oye! Without singing I'm nothing. Listen to this, when I moved here naturally I joined up the Golden Agers because I didn't know anybody. I gained friends right away. Right Away! The Golden Agers is really wonderful. I led a chorus for eight years in singing.

I: Do you play the piano?

MRS. Y: No, I don't. Until now we had Cantor Friedland leading us in chorus. He died two weeks ago.

I: Oh, yes.

MRS.Y: Friedland from Temple Israel. Oh, he was a wonderful man.

MRS. W: We named him the "young at heart."

MRS. Y: And now? And now they don't know who is going to lead.

MRS. W: Well, they'll get a cantor I'm sure.

MRS. Y: No, it don't have to be a cantor. They're thinking about me. I should take over. They approached me already.

MRS. W: So? Why not?

MRS. Y: No. I wouldn't take it over. Nothing doing it's to much. I'll sing with them.

I: They asked you to take over the cantor's position?

MRS. Y: Yeah. I always did it. For eight years I done it.

I: Oh, I didn't know.

MRS. Y: Well, I used to sing for concerts in New York. Even here I sang to concerts. They use to invite me. And I played in the Cavalier Playhouse. My daughter was playing in there. The last show of my daughter was Come Blow Your Horn. She was very good. The last one she opened in Wednesday and Thursday. She went to the hospital and ten weeks later she passed away and I was in the hospital ten weeks day and night with her. Yeah, it's wonderful. We play. We sing. We're going to have a show in the Fall. But we live very nice. Me -- I love that. I love to sing. I love to dance. I love everything.

MRS. W: I don't do those things but I love music. I love plays but I'm not talented. My father -- may he rest in peace -- he had a beautiful voice. He used to teach boys and girls you know, how to sing. I myself can't sing.

MRS. Y: Look Honey, we need an audience too. If we didn't have an audience everybody would do the same. We wouldn't be stars. (Laughter)

MRS. W: I love music. I love good music. And I love good plays. I like a good book.

I: You read?

MRS. Y: Oh hon -- Does she read?

I: Were you reading in the Thirties? Did you have time?

MRS. W: I read all kinds of books but I like a good book, a good story. True stories about life, about history.

I: Do you remember what you were reading when you were married? When you were younger?

MRS. W: I read more now than I need to because I was in business so much. I helped so much with my husband I didn't have much time. When we came home we were tired. We always had something to talk over. So, I really didn't have to much time to read. For the last three or four years I read more.

I: Did you ever get a chance to go with your husband to concerts or plays?

MRS. W: Yeah, we used to.

I: Do you remember what you saw? Did anything stand out?

MRS. W: Oh. It's so hard to remember I really can't think.

I: I'm surprised you don't remember any movies from the Thirties?

MRS. Y: Of course, I remember I used to love them. You know, Those episode movies. A different one every day. I used to take my little kids -- my two -- they were little ones and it was two tickets for a nickel.

I: What kind of serials? I don't remember.

MRS. Y: It was Richard Dix, What was his name? My God, I can visualize them but I can't remember their names.

I: I was going to ask you like you were talking about your union activity and singing with the chorus. Did you remember anything that was specifically feminist? Do you remember any group of women who were feminists?

MRS. Y: No. No. No. At that time there wasn't a woman's life, you mean? The woman's lib that what it is. Then, when you did a thing like that you were called a Communist. But no, that doesn't mean we are Communists because we want the right thing for the workers. You don't have to be a Communist just because you want good things like the men. For instance, the men get more money than the women. Why should they get more money than the women when we do the same work?

I: When you argued like that, did people actually call you Communist?

MRS. Y: They couldn't excuse me because I fought with the Communists in New York. I remember it was in 1936 or 1940 that the Workman's Circle -- You know about the Workingman's Circle? It's the organization then just for workers and there wasn't anything, any such thing like a Communist. In 1917, they start already a movement. They had the Communist Order -- just the Jewish people. They start against us. They were the workers too but they want different. We were on the Socialist movement. The Socialists were not Communists you know. I want you to understand Socialists are not Communists. I didn't belong to no party at all. But I just did what I think. I thought this is not right but they start the movement against us. We fought 'em. In 1936, we fought 'em and we won. We threw them out of the Workingman's Circle -- an organization. They made a new organization - the Working Class. They were just Jewish and they fought us but we chased them out. In Norfolk, they had this organization. In fact, they were under the police. Some of them are still under the police. When I came here I didn't know anybody here but I wanted to come into the Workman's Circle over here and I did. But they didn't want to take me in. Because they thought I was a Communist. Why? I'll tell you why. They belonged to the Golden Agers too. They were my age and they still belong. They said they are the Reading Club. So, they introduced me to them and very nice people. Who knows their political thoughts? So they introduced me very nice and took a liking to me right away. Very nice. Fine. So, they wanted I should belong to them. So, I belonged there. I went in. My husband went in. This one read and this one read. They start from Stalin, Krusheyv (SP?), and then they gave 9proposed) we should make a collection for the Fry (?) -- Communist Newspaper. When I heard this, I said, this is Communist? I said, Look I don't belong here. I'm sorry I'll have to go out. They say, Why? Because you're Communists. But when you give a donation to the Fry (?) they should go on. And this I didn't tell. So, they said, Okay, you don't have to give to them. But we want you to be here as a member. Alright. Then when my husband passed away, naturally I didn't belong no more. They came and actually cried I should go back to them. Okay. So, three weeks after my husband passed away they didn't let me sit alone in my house. So, I went with. What can I help my husband? He's dead. I can't help him. So, I went there and we were sitting and a talking. It was among friends. We are still friends. Very good friends to this day. It was in his house. We were talking and he starts to talk about Kruscheyv (SP?). I am against destruction. Let's say I am a Communist. You don't agree with me. I don't have to agree with you and you don't have to agree with me but you could do it. But I'm against destruction. When they took over Russia why do they destruct everything? The poor paper could have clubs there, houses there. Why should you destroy it? And everybody kept quiet. When I talk, everybody keeps quiet and then you talk. I listen to them. So, that friend of mine says to me, Well, Tillie, you have to learn a lot yet. I said, look honey, if I didn't learn till now I will never learn , and I wouldn't belong here anyway. There was another man. A very educated man. He was a very nice man. He was a Communist too. He was the head. He said, Tillie, have patience. He said, you'll get used to them. He didn't mean it. No, I said. I'm sorry. I don't belong to you and I went out.

I: I think that was amazing that that was here in 1958. That is very interesting. And you say this is still....

MRS. Y: They are in New York.

MRS. W: They still have this organization here.

MRS. Y: I heard of that. Well, they still belonged to it. Still under surveillance is what they told me. I wouldn't take it up on me because --

MRS. W: I used to belong to the club like that. We used to have readings. Get together. I never belonged to any.

MRS. Y: Political organization, you mean. You never belonged to a political organization.

MRS. W: No, I didn't..

MRS. Y: Well, I didn't neither. I figured I could do worse not to belong to them. Judge Pinken (SP?)--I think you could read up on them. He was a judge in the court. We called him Judge Pinken (SP?) He was a marvelous fellow, marvelous fellow. He fought the Communists. Read up. He had a daughter. Rachel was his wife. I knew them very well. I used to campaign for them. When he ran for judge he was a marvelous, marvelous man. So, I went to campaign for him. I didn't belong to the Socialist Party or anything like that. But he was a man. When I worked for somebody I look at the man.

What he did, his character. Like other people, listen to you or listen to you -- vote for him. Vote for him. Vote for this one. I don't do that. I worked for when I think he's the man. What it's going to be after I don't know. If he doesn't apply to me I wouldn't vote for him.

I: Well, what did you mean, you were a Socialist? What did that mean to you?

MRS. Y: The rights of the people. Not to take away from the people. Not to destroy things and not to discriminate them.

I: Should the workers have owned the factories?

MRS. Y: A worker can't own the factory. Yes, they could own. For instance, one owns the factory and we could be co-op. Well, they tried to do that but it didn't work out. They tried to do that.

I: Where do you mean?

MRS. Y: In New York but it didn't work out. But it didn't work out even with the housing. Cooperative housing. Cooperative farms.

I: Were you involved in this?

MRS. Y: No, I wasn't involved in this. Oh yes, that's different. That's not the Workman's Circle. That is the union. The union built on New York on the East Side, wonderful houses, wonderful homes, near the East River. They built just for the workers, not for strangers. They had it on 7th Avenue in New York too. Just for the workers.

MRS. W: I think they have a place in Florida too.

MRS. Y: I don't know. You know, when I was in New York I wanted to rent a four-room apartment but I had to pay him $600 and then I pay rent.

MRS. W: It's like you buy it.

MRS. Y: Yes, but I didn't have $600. So, I didn't buy it. Then when I came to the union he said to me, Tillie, Did you apply for an apartment? I says, No! He says, What not? I says, because I have to pay $600 and I haven't got it. Oh, such a foolish thing to do. Why didn't you come to the union. We would have given you the $600. Lend $600. And I didn't know.

I: Oh. So, you missed it? Okay. Is there anything else you'd like to say about the Depression that we didn't talk about?

MRS. Y: Depression? We talked about the Depression?

MRS. W: We went through that.

MRS. Y: We went through that.

MRS. W: We managed very nicely during the Depression.

Return to NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT List