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Automobiles in the Progressive and New Eras
Mrs. Ella Bartlett Describes The Good Old Days Before the Automobile

Just before Christmas 1939, a WPA worker interviewed Mrs. Ella Bartlett in Hinsdale, Massachusetts. The interview became part of American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. While much of the interview concerns the Christmas season, Mrs. Bartlett also makes a number of observations about the impact of the automobile on her life and that of her community. Specifically, what observations does Mrs. Bartlett make about automobiles? What do you think her attitude is toward autos?

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"Those were the days when people enjoyed themselves - you never heard any lad say he was 'bored' as you do now. Do you 'spose those people goin' around tonight singin' carols are havin' any fun? Course they ain't, they're goin' round bein' froze and catchin' their deaths of cold, maybe." Miss Bartlett grasped her bundles more firmly and grimaced.

"You were a real community in those days, weren't you?" I asked.

"I should say so," she was really indignant at the question[.?] "It's the automobile's fault, every stitch of it. Of course we can go more places and get there quicker, but what's the use of it all? Anyone can go to Worcester any time, any day, and it don't mean a thing.

"When I was a young girl, if we wanted to go to Worcester and were goin' to drive - as we most always did, goin' such a short distance on the train was looked upon as wicked extravagance - we'd begin makin' plans a week or two in advance. We would make a list of the things we wanted and what our neighbors wanted. Of course everybody in town knew we were goin' and almost everybody we knew would ask us to do some shopping for them. My, what a list we'd have when we finally got goin'.

"We'd start early in the mornin' and at almost every window or door that we passed as we drove on our way out of town, we'd see some one watchin' the 'Bartletts's goin' to Worcester.' It would take at least four hours to reach there for remember the roads were not what they are nowadays. But we wouldn't be tired, leastways, not us young folks, we'd be too excited.

"We always took a lunch and every now and then we'd take a sandwich and munch away on it as we went along. We'd shop, as we call it nowadays, it was 'tradin'' then, until it began to grow dark and then we'd start for home, more dead then alive, but at that, all kinda quivery inside from the excitement of it all.

"We'd get home and be dog tired for a day or two, but, oh, my dear woman, that trip would last us for weeks and weeks and of course, we'd be consulted as to the 'latest' styles until some one else made the trip.

"I was sayin' the other day to some one -- don't remember who it was -- that the clerks in the stores don't tell you anymore when you're buyin' something 'That's what they're wearin' in New York' or 'That's brand new, even the New Yorkers are just beginning to use them.' My father used to say 'You're a crazy lot of women to be following what those salesgirls tell you. Probably those things you been buyin' are old-fashioned by now in New York. How do you know what they're wearin' in New York? You haven't been there.' Maybe Father was right. He mostly always was, but anyway it gave you a wonderful feeling to have the girls all looking at your gloves or your new dress and envying you because you could say, 'It's what they're wearin' in New York.'" Miss Bartlett sighed once more. "But that's all gone now, for we can get the same thing that the New Yorkers are wearing at the very minute they're wearin' them. But what good does it do? We're not nearly so happy as we were in the 'old' days when things were slower and people had more time for good times. Take my word for it, you can blame the automobile for the whole thing. If people weren't running around in automobiles all the time spending all their time and money on 'em, we wouldn't be in such trouble all the time."
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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.