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Norfolk Women's Oral History Project

Jean E. Friedman, Coordinator
Interview 16

Life experiences of a 60-year-old Norfolk senior citizen, including work history,sexual history, and sexual attitudes, with a focus on sex roles of the 1930's. (Some portions inaudible).
(Interview taken at YWCA).

Interviewer: Name not given

Transcribed: 26 February 1985
ODU Archives


W: 60.

I: 60. Okay. And are you married?

W: In 1936.

I: And how old was your husband when you were married?

W: 27.

I: Did you work before you were married?

W: Yes.

I: Did you work before you were married?

W: Yes.

I: Can you recall what kind of jobs?

W: Well, I worked in Woolworth's on Church Street.

I: Where else?

W: I went to work in the Navy yard. I worked there about eight months.

I: What did you do?

W: I was a sheet metal helper trainee.

I: This was in the Thirties?

W: Well, I guess it was in the Forties.

I: You were married then?

W: Uh-huh!

I: What did your husband do?

W: Well, he was an electrician. He was in electrical work.

I: Did you have any children?

W: No. Uh-uh.

I: Did you go to high school?

W: No. uh-uh. I went to a school out in the country, Kempsville and graduated from seventh grade and that's as far as I go.

I: Were you encouraged to go on to school?

W: Well, the thing about it is I got married so I wouldn't have to go to school. (Laughter)

I: How old were you when you got married?

W: 16. Actually I think I was 15.

I: So you got married so you wouldn't have to continue in school.

W: Yes.

I: So, you quit school or did you work?

W: No, see, after school when I got married so I wouldn't have to go back again. (Laughter)

I: Uh-huh. Okay. What was your father's occupation?

W: Well, he worked at the post office.

I: He continued working there through the Depression?

W: No, he quit the post office & went in the fish business. The fish business went kaflooey. (Laughter)

I: Oh no. Was he in business for himself then?

W: Yes. But it didn't amount to anything.

I: Did your mother ever work?

W: No, my mother and father were divorced and I had a stepmother.

I: When were they divorced?

W: I don't know. When I was first born.

I: Do you have other brothers & sisters?

W: Well, I had ½ brothers and ½ sisters.

I: What was her religious affiliation?

W: I don't know. I really don't know.

I: Where did you live in the Thirties?

W: Well, we lived several places out in the country. Kempsville. We lived in Culver Place, out on Salem Road; On Kempsville Road and just different places.

I: Did you go to any social activities or what did you do for dating? What was a normal date?

W: Well, we just usually went for a walk. Things like that.

I: How about the movies? Did people go to the movies at that time?

W: Yes. I guess I went to the movies. Didn't any of them impress me. (Laughter)

I: Okay let's see. You said you worked after you were married. Did your husband object to your working?

W: I worked. No. Uh-uh. I worked in (inaudible) which I really loved.

I: Didn't any other women work there?

W: Yeah. Uh-huh. It was on Killam Avenue. It was a big concern.

I: And this was in the Forties?

W: Must have been.

I: You were married.

W: Yes.

I: You didn't have any children so your husband didn't have to worry about helping with the children. Did he ever help with the housework while you were working?

W: No. Never.

I: No. Okay. Did you ever have outside help?

W: No. Uh-uh.

I: Who took care of the family money? Was that a chore that was shared?

W: There wasn't that much to take care of at that particular time. My husband was working something like one day a week. You know, for a very long time after we were married.

I: Did you work full-time when he was working one or two days EL week?

W: Well, I guess so. I mean I guess we were both working like I said. I think maybe I'm talking about a little bit later too. I mean because (inaudible).

I: What kind of work was he doing?

W: He was an electrician.

I: Was he working for himself.

W: No. Uh-uh. No, he wasn't for himself. Like I said, he was working one day a week for a long time.

I: Okay. Um...Do you recall -- this is sort of a hard question -- What your income averaged out to be during the Thirties?

W: I wouldn't say over $15 a week.

I: And was there any big change in it over time?

W: No. I mean it did eventually go up. Once he started working every day things got better.

I: I guess most of the places you worked in were mostly women?

W: Oh yes. Uh-huh.

I: I suppose there were men who did the same type of work you did?

W: No. I was doing what they called cone-winding. In which, you had a machine where the yarn was being wrapped around a cone. Of course, the men would fix a machine. You know, a machine. But the women always did the work.

I: Were you ever on any kind of relief during the Depression?

W: No. Never.

I: Did you ever think you ever might of as a goal had any particular kind of career?

W: No.

I: College?

W: No, that never bothered me a bit. (Laughter)

I: You didn't have any children. Was it that you didn't want any children?

W: No, we just didn't.

I: Did your husband want to have children?

W: He never said a thing about it.

I: Did you use any kind of contraceptive?

W: No.

I: Do you know of any kind of close friends or relatives that used contraceptives that were popular then?

W: I didn't know.

I: Never discussed it.

W: No.

I: Did your parents ever give you any advice about dating?

W: No. Uh-uh. Like I said, my first marriage it was the first fellow that I went out with, seemed like the only one they'd let me go out with. So, like I said, I married him.

I: So, he was only one you really dated?

W: Yeah. Just about. The only one I ever dated.

I: What didn't last very long? Dating?

W: No, the marriage.

I: Oh, you were divorced after your first marriage?

W: Yeah.

I: I see. So, you were divorced in the Thirties. Was it very difficult to get a divorce?

W: It was difficult to get the money.

I: To get the money?

W: I paid $5 something like that and I got it.

I: That's very interesting. Why were you divorced?

W: I guess I just didn't love him. We didn't get along. He was the one that wouldn't work.

I: (Laughter) One or two days a week.

W: One day a week. He was just a person who wouldn't work.

I: How old was he?

W: He was older than me, 27.

I: How soon after your divorced did you remarry?

W: Well, uh, about six months I think.

I: Six months. Did you attend church regularly?

W: Yes. Uh-huh. A Baptist church.

I: Were you married in the church?

W: No. Rode down to North Carolina.

I: North Carolina? (Laughter) I see. Was it easier to get married there than it was here?

W: Yes.

I: I know in Maryland you could go there one evening and drive home the next. Was that the way it was?

W: Uh-huh.

I: Okay. What did your parents think about you going off and getting married?

W: Nothing. Glad to get rid of me. (Laughter)

I: Oh? (Laughter) When you were younger were you tom-boyish?

W: No. I don't think so. Not really.

I: Did you think your stepmother like to stay home and keep house?

W: Well, the kids did most of the work around the house.

I: How many kids were there?

W: There was about five of us.

I: Do you think she would have liked to have worked at a career?

W: I don't think so. She wasn't really a very smart person. She didn't have any ambition1 like me.

I: Okay. (Laughter) Were you very close to your father and mother?

W: Well, I really loved my Daddy, when I was younger, but I really wasn't to crazy over him when I got older. He was really strict. Real strict. Of course, I just wanted to get away from home so I could be my own boss. That is really true.

(Inaudible)

I: What sort of image might you have of the single woman who didn't get married for a career? Maybe from magazines or movies?

W: No. Never. Live & let live.

I: Do you think women maybe prefer to work as to get married?

W: No. I don't think so.

I: Were many of the women you worked with single?

W: No, they were all married.

I: Did they have situations in their homes where they maybe had to work?

W: I don't think so.

I: What about children? Did the women have children?

W: I don't know. I don't remember.

I: What was considered feminine in the Thirties?

W: Well, we didn't think about people being the other way then, like we do now. Now everybody is conscious about it. But we didn't think about it then really.

I: Do you think that people maybe had a college degree during the Depression had a harder time getting jobs?

W: Yeah, I think everybody had a hard time. There wasn't any work, period!

I: Were you ever involved in the lobbying efforts for women's rights or maybe child labor acts?

W: (Inaudible)

I: What did you think of Eleanor Roosevelt?

W: Well, I wasn't too happy with her but I loved him.

I: Why didn't you like her?

W: Well, I just didn't. I just didn't like her.

I: Is it maybe the image she put across or things she did in particular?

W: I just didn't like her. I don't know why.

I: Do you feel that maybe husbands should share the housework if they are working especially?

W: Yes, I think if both are working they should.

I: Umm...Do you feel...this is a strange question...that most marriages are failures?

W: No. I was very happy with mine. I know a lot of happy people that got married and they really love one and other.

I: How did your cope with your housework? You know, working and...

W: I try to think about that today and I don't know how I did it. All the things I had to do. I really don't know how I did it. It's just that I was younger.

I: How many hours a day did you work?

W: Eight. I worked just eight hours.

I: Okay. Lets see. Let me ask you some of these questions. In general sociologists say during the Thirties marriage was a dying institute. Did you find it otherwise?

W: No. I think it just like its always been. Some of them fail and some of them make it.

I: Do you think less people were getting married during the Thirties?

W: I don't think so.

I: Did you think having sex before getting married was normal?

W: Well, I think they didn't ought to do it.

I: What about if they were engaged?

W: I'm not to much worried about things like that. Like I said, let live.

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