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NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

JEAN E. FRIEDMAN, COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW 8

Life experiences of a 43-year-old Greek-Orthodox Norfolk woman who was born in 1930 and attended a Catholic boarding school. Includes work history, sexual history, and sexual attitudes, with a focus on sex roles of the 1930's.

Interviewer: Pat O'Neill

Transcribed: 24 October 1984
ODU ARCHIVES


Interviewer: What's your age now?

Woman: 43.

Interviewer: And what was your age when you were married?

Woman: 23.

Interviewer: And the age of your husband?

Woman: 27.

Interviewer: And were you employed outside the home?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: What years?

Woman: '53 until '55.

Interviewer: What was your salary back then?

Woman: Oh Good Gracious I don't remember. I was a government worker and I was GS3. Oh, that's all I remember.

Interviewer: Did you get many raises?

Woman: I went in as a two and got my three and then I had a baby: my first baby. So, I didn't work any more.

Interviewer: Didn't you graduate from high school?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: What year?

Woman: '50.

Interviewer: Did you have any education beyond high school?

Woman: No -- Yeah. Secretarial School, one year here.

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

Woman: Three years.

Interviewer: Do you remember what your father's occupation was in the thirties?

Woman: My father was always a grocery store man and in his later years the restaurant business.

Interviewer: Did your mother have an occupation?

Woman: My mother passed away when I was a baby.

Interviewer: And what was the year that you were married?

Woman: '53.

Interviewer: And your religious affiliation?

Woman: Excuse me. I was married in '53. I gave you the wrong year. Graduate in '50, married in '53, first baby in '55. Okay.

Interviewer: And your religious affiliation?

Woman: Greek Orthodox.

Interviewer: And your ethnic background?

Woman: That's it! Good old Greek.

Interviewer: And do you remember your address in the thirties?

Woman: Mm-hmm. My Daddy's grocery store; we lived upstairs from it.

Interviewer: In Norfolk?

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: Downtown?

Woman: No not downtown. On 38th Street on the other side of the railroad track so to speak. (Laughter) Not on the Lambert point area but in the vicinity of James Madison high school.

Interviewer: Your present address?

Woman: 608-24 Beach.

Interviewer: And did you read a lot?

Woman: No I've always wanted to be a good reader. I don't read nearly as I should.

Interviewer: What kind of movies did you attend when you were a child?

Woman: Not many. I attended about five of the Spotter series and I was pretty old for the age group that was attending. I wasn't brought up to be a moviegoer in my young years, but all the kids used to go. It was just I couldn't go or for some reason didn't.

Interviewer: Were you connected with any clubs or social affiliations?

Woman: No, other than my church. Everything was church centered. Church & large family. Even though my home was broken because my mother passed away I was brought up by my aunts. And so one aunt had six kids and one aunt had three. So, there was enough activity in the family circles. We didn't go out other than for church activities.

Interviewer: Were you an only child?

Woman: No, I have a brother & sister.

Interviewer: This part is about your leisure time activity and what did you do in your leisure time?

Woman: At what time?

Interviewer: Back when you were a child in the thirties.

Woman: My leisure time was spent at home. Just a large party with my cousins.

Interviewer: Everything you did was with your family.

Woman: No. No. Camp & things like that.

Interviewer: This is about a single woman. But this doesn't really apply to your because it's about a single woman in the thirties you were too young then.

Woman: I was just a young girl then.

Interviewer: Well, when you were a single woman, a career woman, did you feel your chances was better or worse being a woman?

Woman: My first job was in the fifties. I was born in 1930. I was ten years old in '40. I didn't know anything about employment or anything like that.

Interviewer: But when you did graduate from high school and look for a job did you feel your chances were limited.

Woman: No. I felt very poorly qualified for the working world. My four years of high school even though they were in boarding school I just -- I was at a loss. Gee what should I do plan college? I hated to drain my Dad's funds 'cause he wasn't working. I thought I probably should go to college but I just hated to do it. Because of him, you know. I went to a year's secretarial school and I came out feeling like I was very well qualified to do anything I wanted to do in that field.

Interviewer: As a more valuable or less valuable employee did you feel resentment from other women workers?

Woman: No. No. The government was all very fair.

Interviewer: The men to?

Woman: Yes. Oh well -- no. There was definitely what they can do and what I can do. Firm line between them.

Interviewer: Was there any pressure from your parents to remain single?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: From the men you dated?

Woman: Everyone was concerned with who we saw you know. My aunt, brother, you know.

Interviewer: When you married did you have single friends?

Woman: Nope.

Interviewer: Were they employed?

Woman: I had single friends but immediately upon marriage we gravitated toward couples that were married. I mean, you know.

Interviewer: Did you envy your friends that were single ever?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: What did you image of the single woman did you draw from the magazines, movies and radio?

Woman: Not an admirable one exactly. I just don't remember. I could be associating my ideals now. Then, it requires some thought I don't remember.

Interviewer: Did you tend to think of a career woman as more masculine?

Woman: I know what I thought of. Anytime I met a single girl I wondered if she was one of those girls. There was always that question in my mind. Once it was firmed up in my mind that she was probably a real good girl I would really like her a lot. It's just a natural thing for me anyway.

Interviewer: Did you think they were more masculine than other women- career women?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Okay. What was your definition of feminine?

Woman: Just all girl, all woman.

Interviewer: Did you feel that a college degree was a hindrance to getting a job?

Woman: No. Never.

Interviewer: Were you close to your father?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Did he encourage your education?

Woman: Yes. He would have. They wouldn't push. It was strictly up to me if I wanted to go. He put me in boarding school for five years and I thought that was enough.

Interviewer: In boarding school?

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: Away from home?

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: Where did you go to?

Woman: Umm. Well, the first year, eighth grade was a pretty fancy school - costly -- but I learned a lot in my social expectations & things like that, you know. And then four years of high school in a Catholic school -- Sacred Heart. The first school isn't in existence anymore but it was a fine place. It was called Facetburn (SP?) in North Carolina and Sacred Heart in Belmont, North Carolina between Charlotte and Gaston was my high school years. Oh, it was great. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Interviewer: Have you ever been pregnant?

Woman: And I didn't know what a nun was when I went there. I didn't know. I knew they wore certain clothing. I didn't know if they were married or not. I didn't know anything about Catholicism. It was awful how ignorant I was.

Interviewer: This section is on contraception. Have you ever been pregnant?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: And what did you do to prevent pregnancy if anything?

Woman: My husband did. He used prophylactics.

Interviewer: Was there any friction between you and your husband about what should be done to prevent pregnancy?

Woman: Never.

Interviewer: Did your fear of pregnancy interfere with the regularity of marital relations?

Woman: No. No.

Interviewer: Did you wish to have children?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Did your husband wish to have children?

Woman: I thought he did. He told me just the other day asked him if he would have minded if I didn't want children because we know a couple that doesn't have any. He said, he wouldn't of. He's mediocre.

Interviewer: Was there any friction with you and the matter of having children?

Woman: Never.

Interviewer: During your dating years were you familiar with contraceptive techniques?

Woman: No, not much.

Interviewer: This is another question -- Did your father encourage you to have a career?

Woman: Oh yes.

Interviewer: To get married?

Woman: Oh yes. Well, he was very, being Greek, he was cautious. He wanted me to find someone that was Greek.

Interviewer: Did you?

Woman: No.

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

Woman: No. He never did directly. He always made sure an older cousin tell me. He'd tell her to make sure I knew something he thought I should know.

Interviewer: Did he encourage you to read?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: To go to school?

Woman: Oh yes.

Interviewer: And did you attend church regularly?

Woman: When I was at home and when I was living with my aunts, yes.

Interviewer: Weekly, or bimonthly, or monthly?

Woman: Well, I think the older I got the less frequent it was. It's unfortunate but it's true.

Interviewer: What did your father want you to be?

Woman: A good housewife and mother I believe.

Interviewer: How close did you come to his expectation?

Woman: I think I reached his goal for me.

Interviewer: Did you receive any instructions about sex from --

Woman: From my father? No.

Interviewer: From your relatives?

Woman: No -- Yes. Friends, books. When I was going to have my first baby my father asked my Sister-in-law did she tell me everything I was supposed to know. He was concerned for my safety. I'm sure it took a lot of courage for him to have to approach her and ask her for sure. I guess he just didn't know how well organized it all was.

Interviewer: Was he an immigrant?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Were you a tomboy?

Woman: I don't think so. My husband says I was I don't think I was.

Interviewer: Was your father ever removed from the family by employment?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: This is a question you probably can't answer but would you say your mother preferred a domestic life?

Woman: My mother worked some years when she came to this country. Some kind of factory, sewing or weaving or something like that.

Interviewer: Were they married when they immigrated?

Woman: No, they met here. One was from Cyprus, which is an independent Greek island & the other was from Crete, which belongs to Greece.

Interviewer: Did you ever go to Greece?

Woman: Yes. Fortunately I had a very good uncle that took me when my children were little - eleven years ago. It was fantastic; cousins I wasn't aware of before & I wasn't a good communicator so I didn't write letters.

Interviewer: I have the same sort of experience with my father's parents immigrating. You know, he never met his cousins.

Woman: From where?

Interviewer: Ireland.

Woman: That's right, O'Neill.

Interviewer: It was really interesting. They communicated. They sent Christmas cards, St. Patrick's Day Cards.

Woman: Did you go?

Interviewer: Yes, we all went; the whole family.

Woman: Aren't they marvelous.

Interviewer: It was really wonderful.

Woman: Are the people there -- oh, I don't know about Ireland -- but I'm sure it's the same because it's something about the Europeans. No matter how meager their earnings or their lifestyle is wide open arms for you. So warm.

Interviewer: Did you and your husband engage in sexual intercourse during pregnancy?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: How frequently?

Woman: Oh heavens I don't remember. Not often in the latter months not at all.

Interviewer: Not as frequently then you would say as when you were not pregnant?

Woman: I think perhaps more frequently in the beginning with the fear of pregnancy being gone.

Interviewer: Was sexual intercourse during pregnancy agreeable or repulsive to your?

Woman: I think it was agreeable.

Interviewer: Did you consider it harmful?

Woman: No. The doctor never said it was.

Interviewer: Did you think it was wise for married people?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Have you ever had an abortion?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Did any of your friends have abortions?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Did any of your friends have abortions?

Woman: Not that I ever knew of.

Interviewer: How did you learn about menstruation?

Woman: My cousin told me.

Interviewer: Describe as nearly as you can your thought and feelings when you discovered you were menstruating?

Woman: Well, what I expected had come, you know. I was thinking, oh this is awful, you know. I hated it. I felt gee whiz I wonder what else I'll have to go through. I just didn't like that at all.

Interviewer: At least they told you in time.

Woman: Yeah. Yeah. Can you imagine. Oh.

Interviewer: I know even as young as I am my mother never said anything and she had five daughters and as far as anything she never said anything to my sisters. I think it was just terrible.

Woman: Oh yes. You know, I have a sister who is 8 years older than me and she didn't tell me. It took my younger cousin who is, well, older than me to tell me. She was the type: very cool, unemotional, factual; came out with it and with her attitude of control I accepted it very well. I was horrified by everything she described that would happen. But it was easy to absorb in the proper light.

Interviewer: Did you feel abortion was a valid means of birth control?

Woman: I think I might have. I didn't regard it as the way I do now.

Interviewer: It wasn't a big issue?

Woman: Yeah. If ever the discussion came up I felt it was the woman's right what she wants.

Interviewer: It's her body.

Woman: That's right so...

Interviewer: Were you involved in any lobbying efforts?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: No child care, labor hours or League of Women Voters?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Did you feel that a woman ought to work?

Woman: Yes, by all means.

Interviewer: And have a career?

Woman: Oh yes.

Interviewer: Did you admire Eleanor Roosevelt much?

Woman: Tremendously. Not so much her lifestyle; the kind of person she was.

Interviewer: Did you feel that the husband should share in the housework?

Woman: My husband always did willingly.

Interviewer: Did you feel most marriages were failures?

Woman: No, not most. I knew many of there were unhappy.

Interviewer: How did you cope with the housework?

Woman: It was tough because it's not my bag. I don't enjoy housework at all.

Interviewer: Did you have any personal goals?

Woman: Only to do well, whatever I did, I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I have a little "Today's Chuckle" that said, some people go to great pains & give them to others. I saved it because I felt that was an aggression I came off with to other people because I'm picky.

Interviewer: Did you know when you got married how many children you wanted?

Woman: I knew I wanted two for sure. I didn't think one would be right. That it should be two maybe three. I really thought four would be perfect. You come from five don't you?

Interviewer: Yeah. One sister is a lot older. She was over ten when I was born and I have sisters younger than I am.

Woman: My brother was ten years older than me.

Interviewer: She was kind of distant.

Woman: Yeah? Now though?

Interviewer: She died last year.

Woman: Oh, I'm sorry.

Interviewer: When we were still traveling all around while my father was in the Navy, she was married then. It wasn't a close relationship with us younger children.

Woman: Well, it would have been. I'm very sorry. How old are you now?

Interviewer: I'm 20.

Woman: The next 10 years would have brought you much closer.

Interviewer: I thought so too. I heard the story my aunt always tells me, she said, when your younger it matters how old your friends are but as you get older it doesn't matter at all.

Woman: The gap closes, really, you could have gained so much.

Interviewer: Did your husband ever object to your getting a job?

Woman: Maybe he had reservations about thinking of the stereotype that he wanted to support me in the home but no objections.

Interviewer: Was your husband employed at the time?

Woman: Yes, always employed.

Interviewer: Did he help with the children?

Woman: Very much.

Interviewer: Did he feel that you ought to work?

Woman: No, never that I ought to.

Interviewer: That shouldn't have a career?

Woman: No. Just if it was helpful and convenient.

Interviewer: Your husband did share the housework?

Woman: When you say share - anything -- he was very willing with the children, diapers. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for me.

Interviewer: Sounds like a nice guy.

Woman: He is.

Interviewer: Did you ever have any outside help in the house?

Woman: Occasionally I would go through spells where I would have some domestic help once a week. Then I thought I ought to do this I'm lazy and I would stop.

Interviewer: Who budgeted the family money?

Woman: In the early stages I believe I did totally. When things got rough I'd give the checkbook to him.

Interviewer: That's what I think is interesting because women do budget the money in the household. I know my mother and a lot of women did.

Woman: I had more time in the day to work it out. I haven't any more though. It's threatening to throw it all back to me now.

Interviewer: Was there every any conflict over the budget?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: What was your income when you first got married?

Woman: The family income?

Interviewer: Yes.

Woman: Oh, oh dear. I wouldn't know.

Interviewer: Did it ever change?

Woman: Oh yes. It was gradually increasing. Let me think. Five years ago he was at the $10,000 level which was not very great. Well, a little more than that I'll say $15,000.

Interviewer: Did the change result in a marital disorder?

Woman: Our problems when we had them would set in because there was a shortage of funds. We always wished we had more. So, we know the value of money. We were never spendthrifts. We were aware that when funds were low, problems would set in.

Interviewer: When your income changed did your lifestyle change?

Woman: Oh of course.

Interviewer: Was your salary ever lowered?

Woman: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: But you expected conditions to get better?

Woman: Always.

Interviewer: Did his place of business primarily employ females?

Woman: No, not in the government. I was working during the time when they were just starting to hire blacks. That made women more equal immediately when blacks came in and we all had open minds. We were good, law-abiding citizens. It was a pleasure to have even the blacks with us. That was our attitude: even the blacks.

Interviewer: Were you ever on relief?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: This doesn't apply to you either really, the question is if it hadn't been for the Depression would you have gone to college and chosen a career?

Woman: It would apply really because if I had not been aware of hard times I would never have been concerned with straining my Dad's budget to send me to college. He had invested so much in my high school education.

Interviewer: Did his business suffer much during the Depression?

Woman: Well see, he had retired. The grocery store, of course. There were a hundred people and lots of charge accounts and I'm sure he had to knock off a certain amount for people that couldn't afford it. That's when the big supermarkets came in and down he went. It was all cash & carry then.

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

Woman: I couldn't answer that.

Interviewer: Did you ever have premarital intercourse?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: What did you expect on your wedding night?

Woman: I was frightened. And only the confidence that I knew I had such a good person; a good mate.

Interviewer: From whom or what source did you learn about the sex act?

Woman: A book. I really couldn't figure it out. Where did I find the book? I sent away for it and I really don 't know where I found the advertisement for it but it had to come from some. I know I did read it came unmarked. I didn't want anyone to know.

Interviewer: What was your reaction to your first sexual encounter?

Woman: This is weird or something.

Interviewer: Was the sex act pleasant to you, distasteful, painful, or merely a matter of duty?

Woman: Dutiful.

Interviewer: Sociologists felt that marriage was a dying institute in the Thirties. Would you have agreed?

Woman; From what I remember of my older peers around me, no. Everyone was happily married.

Interviewer: Did you feel that premarital intercourse was immoral?

Woman: Yes. It's not a healthy procedure. It's not so much immoral; it's just not right.

Interviewer: Has it changed?

Woman; Basically no. I feel like the poor unfortunate girls who have learned to be too Permissive -- I don't know -- it's just really sad. It's not healthy. I mean physically not healthy and mentally, continually being rejected after her counterpart is satisfied, you know. I think that can play on a mind.

Interviewer: Describe a typical date. Where did you go? What did you do? Did you drink?

Woman: Movies. We went to lots of movies. Because I didn't go to a lot when I was young so a movie all the time and not to much drinking.

Interviewer: Would you say that among your friends there was a lot of drinking?

Woman: Nope. Lots of talking & carrying on and drinking was an occasion, you know. We'd get drunk next Saturday night -- something like that. You'd hear somebody say that and we would think about whether or not we would want to join 'em.

Interviewer: Did you approve of petting?

Woman: Well, petting, no not in the dating context.

Interviewer: What did you expect of your first date?

Woman: It was always going for fun, you know, with my husband. We had a ball together all the time.

Interviewer: Would you have married a divorcee?

Woman: Yes, I guess I would have.

Interviewer: Did you consider it okay for an engaged couple to have intercourse?

Woman: No.

Interviewer: Did you wish to marry a person with experience in sexual relations?

Woman: Yes. I remember when I was learning I was thinking I sure hope he's had experience.

Interviewer: Did you feel that men could have premarital intercourse?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: Was your husband or your dates more experienced than you?

Woman: My husband was. I didn't know about my dates. I assumed at that time all males were. It was expected. It was a surprise if they had not.

Interviewer: Did you ever consider a divorce?

Woman: In all our married years? Of course.

Interviewer: So, why aren't you divorced now?

Woman: Oh, well there are just those stress periods that you go through & wonder if you'd be better off going our separate ways.

Interviewer: Did anyone you ever know have a divorce?

Woman: Nope. There were not many people at all.

Interviewer: That's about it.

Woman: Really? Is that the end?

Interviewer: Uh-huh!

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