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Rise of Industrial America
Work in the Late 19th Century
Interview with Miss D.

The interview excerpted below, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 , was with Miss D., who was 72 years old when interviewed. At the time of the interview, Miss D. lived alone in the only single house on the upper end of her block. The windows were completely shuttered, and there was no indication that the house was occupied. When she finally answered the door, Miss D. told the interviewer about her work experience. What was most notable about her work experience? Why did she quit working? Do you think that was common for young women at the time?

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". . . I came to [Bridgeport?] when I was nineteen -- with the sister of our Methodist minister, who asked me if I wanted to come down to Bridgeport and work in a corset factory . I said, "[Sure?], I'll go', " I was willing to take a chance. Then my sister [?] down -- I really broke up our home; later on the whole family came down. Before my family came I boarded out with a private family on Lafayette [?].

"My first job was in the Thompson-[Langdon?] Corset factory . I did nice work glove fitting. I worked from seven in the morning till six at night, with an hour off for lunch. We used to ge up before six and walk about a mile to work , and then walk back at night. It was faster than waiting for the horse cars -- they used to make a circuit of the city. During the Cleveland administration, they were slack in the factory ; I worked part time and made ten to twelve dollars a week. Then I went to work at the Star Shirt factory , as a buttonhole operator. My sister [Mae?] worked there too, but she went to [arner's later?]. I was a good worker and they sent for me, too, but I never [orked?] there. I worked the same hours at the [?], and when we had to work only until five o'clock on Saturdays we thought it was wonderful. We [got?] an hour off. Then the [union?] came in. (Miss D. could not remember any details as to the [union?] or the [demands?]) I joined it -- I didn't want them to think I was deriving the benefits without paying in my share. The workers went out on strike and I went too. The company moved to Baltimore, Maryland -- some of the workers went down with the company -- I would have gone too if I didn't have my mother to look after. The company didn't want to be [dictated?] to -- and you can't blame them in a way. If you had twenty-five thousand sand dollars you wouldn't want anyone to tell you what to do. I made big pay at the Star.

"Then I went to work at the Bryant Electric, where I made sockets, assembled chains, put chains in the sockets, she pointed to the electric light with a wooden yardstick which she held in her hand during the entire interview. There were mostly foreigners at the Bryant -- Hungarian and [?] people -- and a lot of women. They were fast workers -- and strong. Very nice, very nice. There was a strike in Bryant's too. I dont remember much about that, but I went to [?] while the strike was on, and then came back when it was over. Let's see -- I remember, the superintendent thumbed un in when we came back, she jerked her thumb over her shoulder, and laughed. I always say I was in two labor fights, and two church fights. I used to belong to the first Presbyterian Church on Myrtle Avenue and State Street. Some of the members wanted to discharge the minister, and the other members didn't want him to go. So we walked out and started a church of our own. I paid what I [signed?] for though before I left, and let it go at that. I didn't care too much, [We?] called it the People's Presbyterian Church, but now its called the Westminister Presbyterian Church. Then they had a pow-wow there. It was about the minister, and I said to my sister, [Mae?], you can stay here if you want to, but I'm getting out', and I haven't been there since. I have nothing against either church, and no one has anything against me, I guess. I always paid up. We can't all think alike, but when the Church can't agree,what can you think about other people.

"We used to have a good time then -- there were a lot more concerts, and I used to go to the Opera down on Main Street. We used to take the boat twice a month down to New York -- the [Crystal?] Wave and the Rosedale -- they were lovely boats. It was a nice little sail in the summertime. We'd be working and someone would say, 'Let's go to New York,' and off we'd go. [?] friends where I worked , and in the Church, but I didn't [have any?] friends in Bryants. I don't know why -- they were all nice people. I stopped working when my mother died -- I took care of the house."
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View the entire interview with Miss D. from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.