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NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

JEAN E. FRIEDMAN, COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW 17

Discussion with a 62 year old black women who lived in Norfolk, Virginia and worked as a domestic. Interesting account of the changes that have taken place in the raising of children. Includes work history, with a focus on the Depression. (Interview is at the end of Interview 16 - Tape 16).

Interviewer: Unknown

Transcribed: 27 February 1985
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I: How old are you?

W: I'm 62.

I: 62. Never married?

W: Yes. Twice.

I: Twice. How old were you the first time?

W: I was fourteen.

I: 14. What year was that?

W: I can't even remember but the second time I got married it was 1943 and I worked most of the time and seemed to have gotten along pretty good but we had to work to substitute the things we had to do now. Because the other one wasn't making much money in order to support her family. I worked and he worked and we made it good that way. People talkin' about the good old days. But according to what you were making then and what you're making now it wasn't no better then, then what you making now. Things wasn't as high but you wasn't making as much money. See, I worked for $5-$6.00 a week. Yeah, back then, at that time, things were much cheaper but you still had to work to make ends meet. And they -- a lot of things that women can do now they could not do then because now women can take men jobs but they couldn't do it then. There was certain types of work they wouldn't let women do. Now, I wish I had the opportunity to work because I could do well and the only thing was you didn't have to have a lot of education to work then but now you have to have education to make things meet. You never know what is going to happen back in them days more than you do now. So, you had to put a little nest egg aside so if things come up you could have something to lean on. You couldn't get a lot of insurance like you can today. You couldn't get enough insurance. A burial then was fifty, seventy-five dollars, one hundred dollars but you couldn't get over a quarter's worth of insurance. One time its another one. The women have more opportunities now than they had then because it was the better jobs for women now then they had.

I: Did you work when you were first married?

W: Yeah. Yeah. I did housework. Well, you see, that's the biggest thing women could do except office work and I did housework. I did housework eight years one place, five years another, like that, and we got along fine, just like you are doing now. You know, people say well that was the good old days but I don't see no difference with the amount of money you were making. You got to live up to because things are much higher.

I: Was it hard getting work to do and housework?

W: No, but it was hard work!

I: The Depression didn't have an effect on that?

W: Yeah, the Depression had effect on it but if you was a good worker you could always get something to do. Women could do more than men. Lot of times, the women had to take over the whole family. I mean, for support, because the husband couldn't get nothing. Of course, I've never seen the day I was hungry. We lived all right because I worked during the Depression and then when we could save some, we save some, then that made us get along when bad days, worst days, come along. See, my husband was a serviceman.

I: Your first husband?

W: No, my second. My first husband died early and my second husband was a serviceman and that meant I didn't have no problem there because when things were rationed. So, I never saw a hard day if you know what I mean. Just like we can't get gas now. Always had a chance to have food whenever I wanted in the house.

I: Did you have any children?

W: One son, but I had no problem with him because the government helped me to take care of him.

I: Did your husband ever help with the housework while you were working?

W: Did he do what?

I: Did he help with the housework?

W: Oh, yeah. He would come when he was there. Then he would come home and wash the dishes but see, in the mornings before I left home I'd make the beds. He scrubbed the floors for me and when my son got larger he'd scrub the floors. The heavy work, my son would help me out with. That and my husband sometimes too, but I never had it too hard that way.

I: A lot of people were limiting their families during the Depression. Did you husband wish to have more children? Or did you wish to have more children?

W: Yes & no. My husband is christian. He wanted more children but we just didn't have any. So, we just made it with that one because we didn't have any mo'. Baby I had before this one died. This one was the only one. It was no limit to it or nothing like that.

I: Did you go to school, to high school?

W: No. I finished grammar school the seventh grade.

I: Would you have liked to go to high school?

W: I would have loved to but at that time my parents said they couldn't send me because it cost mo'. I had to have more clothes and things like that.

I: How large was your family when you were growing up?

W: There was seven children and I was the second one.

I: Oh boy. (Laughter)

W: So, now the younger ones got more education but we older ones couldn't get it. 'Cause a you know a lot of people in them times said if you could read and write then that is all you need. When my sisters came along they were younger so they find out that they had to have a little more. So, they gave them a little more but at that time people weren't rushing to getting more education. The biggest thing they want you to do is go to work.

I: What kind of work did your father do?

W: My father was a railroad man. See, that's one of the other reasons we never had to suffer because he made the high salary that weren't common then.

I: Was he in a union? Did they have unions then?

W: No. See, he worked Norfolk & Western Railroad. When he left Norfolk & Western he went to the mountains. So, we always made good money. We always lived good.

I: Did you always live around here or when he went to the mines?

W: No. West Virginia. See, up there, that's the biggest thing a man can do. Mines or railroad. He worked railroads for years then he had palpitation of the heart, couldn't get insurance. They wouldn't pass him for the insurance. Then he went to work for the mines and that was harder work than the railroad.

Because the railroad; he was public. See, he had worked freight trains until he had worked himself up to foreman but they find out you have to have examinations every so often and they find out he had palpitations of the heart. So, they wouldn't insure him. So then he came out and worked in the mines.

I: Did your mother ever work?

W: Yeas, my mother worked too. See, 'cause seven of us an she worked to make the income for us. So all of us worked pretty hard. Children didn't have the breaks like they had now. We had to come home and get the coal and clean the lampshades and put kerosene in the lamps. See, where children don't have the time to do nothing now but give them the means. See, at that time, we didn't have time because at the time, we had to get the wood and coal, clean the mapshades and fill up the maps and all that suff. Then it's time to get out homework. Then, when we got our homework down, it's time to go to bed. So, we didn't have time to. I said a lot of times children get in so much mess if they had to do that like we had to do. My boy: I made him wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen, later scrub the kitchen. I let him play. Don't get me wrong. I let him play. I had a certain time for him to play and a certain time for him to come in. Some nights he come in I'd make him cook for himself so he could learn like today. I figure any child should have something to do and he wouldn't get into so much mess. Now, I could be wrong, just like you. You a young girl. If you went home and wash your dress or wash out some underthings or something you wouldn't have time to run the streets because you have work to do and you've got to get ribbons ready for tomorrow for your hair. Tha's the way Mama used to do us. Get your ribbons ready! Get your sock ready! Look! See if you got enough to wear. I won't be here tomorrow. My mother used to come home and wash for us on a board. She sometimes wash to 10 o'clock. Next nights, she'd iron to 11 or 12 o'clock but women don't do that anymore. They run the laundry 'cause that do it too. See, we didn't have all that convenient. We wouldn't have lights sometimes because you see my daddy worked for Norfolk & Western and we'd have to live in Norfolk & Western houses. Yeah, you know you've seen them on the side of the railroad track I reckon. It looks something like campers. Well, they were like that. We had kerosene lamps, coal, wood but when he went in the mines we had our own house and we had electricity and pipes like everybody else. See, if they want to transfer you on the railroad to another city. That's how I come to Norfolk.

I: When did your parents buy their house, was that during the Twenties?

W: Yeah, but $400 or $500 then looked like $4000 or $5000 and my father died in 1948 and we still owned the house.

I: What church did your family go to?

W: My family was Methodist.

I: Were you married in the churches then or did you have before the justice of the peace or something like that?

W: Both of my weddings were justices of the peace.

I: How about dating? What was dating like?

W: It was real nice. I mean, I always had to have a chaperone.

I: Chaperone? Really? (Laughter)

W: See, my mother and father was always around. My brothers and sisters and all. This last time I got married I didn't have this because I was already grown and married or almost grown -- 18 and see I believed that then 'cause I was married before. My mother was kind of strict about things. There were things we couldn't do. We couldn't stay out late like girls can now. Boys couldn't come in and stay half the night and streaking is out of style.

I: (Laughter) Streaking! No streaking!

W: So, at that time, people was most interested in children. Because now all these different parts -- shucks! We didn't ever lock our doors. We never had to worry about anybody coming in. Even when we lived downside there, tramps come along. They didn't even come in. You know, walk right in your house. But shucks, you can't keeps doors open now. At that time, a persons word was their mark. If I promised you to be back in five minutes, it wouldn't be no more than six. Word don't mean nothing no more. I can't understand it. Now if I promised you I was going to do something I'd do it. My mother always said, when a person gets to the place they really ain't no good, then they ain't much, and I was raised up like that and my father was the same way. If you tell him to be here at ten o'clock when the clock hit on ten, if he weren't here you can look round the street and he'd be coming and I'm the same way.

(Inaudible) And if I promised you something, I'd keep my promise. Just like when I told you I was going to come over. Well, I found I had something else to do but I put my things aside and that's the people come along when I come along. Now when I see people don't do it I wonder why. They don't have to tell me what they do. If they wasn't going to do it they just had to say it. You take right now. If we said we had to go someplace we had to go.

I: So, your parents were really strict about dating and...

W: Yeah. And you see, when the boys come to your house, my parents had to know who they was. Who the parents was. You know, something like that. But now the boys and girls don't try to cooperate with the parents much. The younger I see the young girls and boys sass their parents. I told my father one time to wait a minute I was playing and he told me to come then and I told him to wait a minute. I never told him that again. (Laughter) No ma'am! People say, you know, I can't do a thing with that child. I don't believe that because I've got a son grown and married and that son is something and if I called him right now I don't care who he is talking to he'd say wait a minute, I have to see what she wants. I whipped him one time about doing something. He has a habit of going to his friends house. They had one on this corner and one up here. So, I tell him now when you get ready to go to George's house you let me know where you're going. So when I go get him for lunch I know what house to go to and I wouldn't be screaming all over the neighborhood. I said, when you get ready to go up to Claus's (?) you tell me. When you pass by the house to go to Claus's you just run in here and tell you're going to Claus's. He did it two or three times but he wouldn't do it. So, I kept telling him. I said, look, I'm not going to keep on promising you. I'm going to whip you. The next time I'm going to. He said, I forgot. The next time he did it I whipped him all the way from Claus's house home. He never forgot that either. My father and mother did me the same way. They whipped me about things I did and I didn't forget it. You don't forget it if you've been whipped. And my mother and father didn't whip you for any little thing. Mama said, I paying you for doing old. (Laughter) And they paid you. See, that's the difference and now people think children is too good to whip. I see a Little boy here the other day, three or four years old fighting his parents, just like he was a grown man. I got some neighbors and do you know their children………(Tape cuts off here!)

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