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 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.


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.