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Collection Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting

Parents' Sacrifices; Parents' Advice

Other stories show how parents' work experiences influenced their children's aspirations and shaped their attitudes about workers' rights. Many interviewees described the long hours and hard work their parents endured, often under disagreeable working conditions.

Close-up of photos of Cindy's children in her work area.

Marianna Costa, of Haledon, a retired textile union official who first entered the industry at Arrow Piece Dye Works, in Paterson, recalls the long hours her mother put in at her job at National Dye and Printing, in East Paterson, and her father put in as a construction worker:

My mother left for work at 6:30 and she didn't come back until six at night. It was a long day between transportation and a ten-hour work day. She was away almost twelve hours. [My father] would leave at about seven, and he was out doing construction. . . . And he would get back by fiveā€”an hour before she did because of the transportation. He had a bicycle, so he was able to do better time. And she had to walk to a bus and walk the distance back home. 1

Some informants' parents vigorously discouraged their children from following them into Paterson's textile or garment industries. U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, whose father worked as a warper in a Paterson silk mill, recalls the forceful way his father tried to impart this message to him:

My father once took me to a silk mill he was working in. It was in Paterson. I remember the mill. It was a couple of blocks from where we lived . . . I may have been twelve. My father brought me into this mill. . . . So, my father, when he took me one day, I know it was a Saturday, to the mill that he worked in. And he walked me upstairs to where his friends were and he introduced me to his friends, as one is likely to do, a parent and a child. And he said to me, "I want you to notice how dark it is in here." And he said, "I want you to see how dusty it is in here. I want you to see how filthy it is in here. And I want you to hear how noisy it is in here." And he said, "If you don't want to work in a place like this you have to get an education." Frankly, I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but it stuck with me. It had meaning later in life. But at that time he was decrying his situation, and saying to me, "For crying out loud, don't let this happen to you. Rise above this." It was quite a message. Anyway, I remember that so vividly.2

Lautenberg followed his father's advice. After serving in the armed forces and then graduating from Columbia University, he founded Automatic Data Processing, a company that eventually became the largest computing-services firm in the world. And, in 1982, he was elected to the United States Senate, where he continues to serve.


"My mother left for work at 6:30 and she didn't come back until six at night."

"[Story of Lautenberg's father taking him to the textile mill, Part 2 of 2]"

1. Interview, Marianna Costa, Haledon, New Jersey, by David A. Taylor, August 20, 1994. ( Return to Text )

2. Interview, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, Washington, D.C., by David Taylor, March 22, 1995. ( Return to Text )

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