lnterviewee: Louise Halstead, lifelong resident of East Falls Interviewer: Cherie Snyder Date of Interview: 3/21/1981 Transcribed by: Haley Gregersen, Philadelphia University, Day of Service, September 15th 2009
Interviewed at age 99 in 1981, Louise shares her memories of working in Dobson Mills, attending Forest School, and reminiscing about her father, who was a lamplighter.
CS: Okay, I think we’re all set. What I wanted to do today was get a chance to talk to you just a little bit about your family background and about yourself and about your experiences when you worked in Dobson Mills. Why don’t we start off and you can just tell me a little bit about your family and when you were born, where you were born, tell me a little bit about your family.
LH: Well my family were all born on the last of the Mohicans. Yea, (chuckies) they never did any much to, you know, stand out but they never did any harm, my people.
CS: What were your parent’s names?
LH: Names? My mother’s name was Hannah, she was Hannah Davis. She came from up the state.
CS: Where up state did she come?
LH: Scranton. And for a while they Iived in Lackalona County so that must have been near Scranton.
CS: Why did they come to Philadelphia?
LH: I don’t know. I guess maybe somebody told them it was good, ya know? Mom came, she brought a whole gang with her, ten children.
CS: She had ten children by herself?
LH: So she had ten, and she settled in a place they called it “Dutch Hollow.” It’s down here, still, I guess people still call it “Dutch Hollow.” That’s where Mom grew her family. And they weren’t at all pleased with the surroundings.
CS: Why not?
LH: But then they had paid them money to get here and had to stay. (Chuckles) And they got work at Dobson’s. Dobson’s had a mill here, they had. They made everything. They made carpet, they made cloth, and they made something else. But anyhow they made so many different things, and they were the only big industry. If you had to work at Dobson’s, that’s where you worked.
CS: Did you mother work there and your father?
LH: Yea, that’s where 1 worked for years and years, and I went to work when I was 13.
CS: How did you get the job?
LH: Well the man next door to us was a boss. He was a boss weaver and he got me a job. He got me a job burling. You know what burling is?
CS: No, I don’t.
LH: It’s taking the knots out of the yarn. You know the piece, after it comes from the weaver you go over it to see that it’s all right. You take out the little knots, you know, and cut the selvage. So that’s what I did. The cloth – it was cloth, and 1 worked in that for years.
CS: That was the same job you did for years?
LH: Yea. And then of course other things turned up and we got out of the mill. But still Dobson’s Mill was very, very good to East Falls. You know we had spinning and all things like that. We started, we just started from thin air, and made carpet. Made carpet out of thin air. That’s how it was all, you know, we had nothing to start but you just finish up with a roll of carpet. So that wasn’t bad.
CS: Can you tell me what the working conditions were like?
LH: Well, we had a -you couldn’t talk to your boss like you can now. Because there was always somebody waiting for your job, so you had to be careful. But still conditions weren’t too bad. But you just had enough to live. You know, you never get rich, (laughs) no you never get rich from what you made at Dobson. But if kept you going, and Mom had ten, she had, the family was ten. So she had her hands full.
CS: How many brothers and sisters before you?
LH: I have five brothers and six sisters, there seven daughters and five sons in the family. And I was of course one of the daughters – I was one of the younger ones. The others were older, and I had one young sister, she was two years younger than me. We got along all right, we got, we weren’t a poor family, we weren’t rich; we weren’t poor. We seemed to have a way of getting what we needed and were able to pay for it. That’s all I know.
CS: Did your brothers and sisters also work at the mills?
LH: Well by the time I got on the job, see, I was next to youngest of the thirteen. By the time I got on the job they were either married or had other things to do, see. And then we took over, my sister and I, then we took over. And we handed our money over, we never kept any money, you know, like they do today. You pay your board and that’s it and we handed our money over.
CS: To who?
LH: We had to.
CS: To your parents you mean?
LH: And the first place we lived, that I know about, was Dobson’s Road. Do you know Dobson’s Road?
CS: Tell me a little bit more about it.
LH: Well, it’s between Allegheny and the railroad. Allegheny Avenue, you know, and the railroad, that little street up there was Dobson’s Street. And we lived on Dobson’s Street.
CS: What were the, can you….
LH: We had a pump in the middle of the street. That’s where we got out water. That’s where the water came from, that pump. Everybody on that street got their water, for drinking water and water for the house, out of that pump. That was a good pump.
CS: Good water?
LH: Oh yea, it was good water. Yea, and back of our house was the railroad. I guess it was the Reading.
CS:–Can you describe what the house looked like?
LH: Our house? Oh it was a very ordinary house; it had a parlor, and a kitchen- that was the first floor, and the others were bedrooms. I think we had a three-story house, and you had your bedrooms upstairs, see. But down on the first floor, you just had your kitchen, yea, you had a kitchen, didn’t have any dining room much but we had like a living room in there. And it was comfortable.
CS: And how did you get that house?
LH: Well I guess Mother rented it from Dobson, the man that owned the mills. He had property, you know, and I guess she rented it from him; I don’t know. I was too young when I was down there, to bother.
CS: Do you know about how many houses there were on that street that the mill owned?
LH: Oh there was a street there, with quite a number of houses, you know, like two rows, one on each side. Oh I think, I guess it’s there yet, the street. It’s back of Allegheny Avenue there, between Allegheny and the railroad. We got along alright I guess, I don’t know. I don’t think there was too much over at any time. (chuckles) I don’t think we had too much over at any time, but the money was all handed to mother. And she’d pay the bills.
CS: Can you, if you would describe a typical day at work. What time did it start, from when you got up in the morning, tell me what a day was like when you went to work?
LH: Well you’d get up, you had to get to work by half past six. Your day started at 6:30 at work, and then it finished at 6 o’clock at night. You know, but we had lunchtime in-between, but that was all I know about the work. It was just, you were just there, doing your bit and not thinking too much about it. It just had to be done and you did lt. But we got along pretty good I guess.
CS: Now how long of a lunch hour did you have?
LH: About half of an hour. But then see some of us had to go a good way to get home to lunch.
CS: You went home for lunch?
LH: Yea, you’d go to lunch and then you’d come back and go to work. We’d come back at a quarter to 1, and then we’d work till 6 at night. See, you stopped at 12 o’clock for your lunch, and at quarter to 1 you came back to work. So you had half of an hour.
CS: And most people went home for lunch?
LH: And then you had your lunch, and you came back and you were there till 6 o’clock. Then you could go home at 6, and then you had until the next morning for yourself! (laughs) and at that charge you didn’t know whether you had the morning or the night (laughs) It didn’t make any difference. Oh dear.
CS: How many days of the week did you work?
CS: You had Saturday and Sunday off?
LH: We didn’t, we weren’t- one time we worked till 12 o’clock on Saturday but that wasn’t for all the time. We didn’t do that all the time. We worked 5 days a week, see. It was Monday till Friday. It was five days, and then that would be you’d go to work at a quarter of 7 in the morning and you’d go to your lunch hour at 12 and quarter of 1 you came back to work, and then you worked till 6 o’clock, and then you went home for the night. And that’s all I know about the work.
CS: How much did you get paid? How much were you paid a week?
LH: Paid? Three dollars a week.
CS: Three dollars a week, was that good or bad?
LH: (laughs) That was something wasn’t it? Well that was three dollars a week. Some I guess have more, but I had three. I didn’t have a pretentious job; I used to sew numbers on the cloth. You know the weavers would put their numbers down in chalk, well I wouldn’t go very far by the time it was – you wouldn’t have any number on it. So they had put the number on with, store like, store chord, you know, like the wrapped bundled up in stores. Well that was the kind of thread we’d used and we’d put the numbers on. Like if your room was 123, we’d put 123 on it, you know, and if you had 5 blankets, you’d put 5. Little space in-between, that was all. It was simple business, but it must have been good because Dobson’s became millionaires. (laughs) Yea, they did.
CS: Did you ever know the Dobson’s? Did you ever meet the Dobson’s?
LH: Oh, you’d meet them all the time, there’s a bunch of them. John and James were the people that owned the factories, but then there were different parts of the families, you know, had better jobs. Like they’d have so many under them, you know, and they didn’t do any work themselves, they just guided other people in the work. I guess it wasn’t too bad, but of course, Dobson, we didn’t call it “East Falls”.
But Dobson was the big business; it was a mine. You know where the mills are don’t you, on Scott’s Lane? Well it had carpet, they made carpet, and they made plush, they had plush mills, and they made something else – it was some kind of material. But they were the only ones who had an industry here, Dobson was a big cause.
CS: Can you tell me what he looked like?
LH: Just like an ordinary little Englishman. They were English, and they looked English. Oh, all we cared about was getting our money off him, and it was very little you got. You’d made, work, from 6 in the morning till 6 at night, for 6 dollars a week, sometimes 3, 3 dollars a week wasn’t much money, but things were cheaper. Things were much cheaper, but 3 dollars was your salary. Wasn’t much was it?
CS: No that’s not much.
LH: No, well that was for the week, 3 dollars.
CS: What was pay day like?
LH: Pay day was on Friday. We got paid on Friday, didn’t make much about it only put our money away until we got home. Hand it over to Mom.
CS: Did somebody come around to give you your money? Or how did you get your pay that day?
LH: Well, you went, you went and picked your… they had a boss you know, and then he had the money; you’d go to him. He took care of his gang you know, like maybe he’d have twenty under him and he was responsible for them, money wise. And that’s all 1 know about that. But 1 do know we worked from 6 o’clock, we worked really from 6 till 6. That was a long day wasn’t it? And we worked till 1 o’clock on Saturday, for a long time. Then we had, we had time off after 1 o’clock on Saturday and we didn’t go in again till Monday morning, see. So we had nice little weekend.
CS: When did you stop working on Saturdays and only work 5 days, what year was that? Remember?
LH: Well I don’t know, I worked up till the time that they did have the 5 days.
CS: They did or did not?
LH: Well, you worked and you handed your money over to your mother, and she took on from there. Anything you wanted you got from Mom.
CS: Was that how it was in other families?
LH: That’s how it was in our house. I don’t know about other people’s homes. But that’s it. And she tried to do good.
CS: Can you tell me a little about your mother?
LH: My mother? Well she was a little lady, little plump. And very good natured, she had to be, she had twelve children you know – she had to be good natured. She had twelve, and she took the money and run the house. That’s all there was too it, we handed our money over to Mom and she took care. Got our clothes, and everything.
CS: Did she work in the mills? Did she work at Dobson?
LH: No, no my mother didn’t work at Dobson’s. She came from up the state, up from where 1 told you, Lacawanna County, up in there, Scranton and up in there, that’s where she lived. And they came down here to a place called “Dutch Hollow”. Mom brought ten of them down. (laughs) And then they got work here and there, you know, and I guess it was hard for a start.
CS: What about your father? Where did he come from?
LH: My father, was an engineer. And when he came down, up in the state where we lived, you know, up was an engineer – had a job as an engineer. Well when we came down here, it was flooded with engineers so he had to take whatever he got. And guess what he wound up with?
LH: He was a lamplighter, yea.
CS: What does a lamplighter do?
LH: Well they fill the little (?), they had oil lights, you know, and you fill them in the morning and you leave them there till night. At night you turn them on and put the light on till the next morning. That how they did lt. And we used to have, if we had a thunderstorm and Pop was out in it, we might as well as been out ourselves. We were all concerned, you know, about the storm and all that nonsense. I think the family was closer than it is today, you know I think we were more concerned about their family. You know, like your brothers and sisters, you all had something in common. Actually you would, your same mother (chuckles).
CS: How many years was your father a lamplighter?
LH: Well he was, my father was an engineer but he, when he lived up in Scranton. But when he came down here it was overrun with engineers so he had to take what he could get, and he finally wound up being a lamplighter. He put the oil in lamps in the morning and then at night he’d light it up with, that was the light for the night, you know. That’s how, that was his job.
CS: How many years did he do that?
LH: Oh…. He did that for a long time. Towards the end, you know, he, he got tired too, and I guess he stopped. Pop was eleven years older than Mother. And of course, he felt, I guess he felt, he had eleven years too. But we didn’t know much about that, my sister and 1 knew very little about that, we just went to school, tried to pick up. I was fortunate, I went to school till the twelfth grade. They had twelve grades then, and I went till the twelfth grade and I got through. And I couldn’t go, I couldn’t go downtown to high school like the rest of the kids and I had to finish there. I finished my education, when I finished grammar school, what they call grammar school. I didn’t go to high school, and, because I couldn’t ride in the cars. I had what they called ‘motion sickness’, you ever hear told of it? Well I used to get so sick, as soon as you’d be in a car a little while, you’d get so sick you’d want to vomit all over the place. Well that kept me back an awful lot, I had – I couldn’t go everywhere to work, you know, on account of that.
CS: So you went to school through the grammar school?
LH: I went to school till I was thirteen, and after that I didn’t have any schooling; I worked. And the first job I had was a burler, and that was taking out knots at the clothing mills, making it smooth. And when it would come from the weavers sometimes, you know, it would have knots and things in it. Well the burler pulled it over the table and took all those knots and things out and made it like a smooth piece of cloth. Then it was ready.
CS: Go back to talking about your school, what school did you go to?
LH: Well it was called “Forest”, The Forest School and it was down there in, right off the Ridge. Just Dobson’s Mills were here, and then we had a road, and then our school was here. And we had two schools, we had a little school and a big school. The little school ran to the 5th grade, and then you went to the big school and you go to the 12th grade, and from there, if you were lucky, you’d go downtown and finish your education down there.
CS: What school was downtown?
LH: I don’t know. I didn’t go. I used to get sick in the cars.
CS: What was it like in school?
LH: Oh, like any other school. You went, you did your work and that was it.
CS: What time did school start in the morning?
LH: Well we went to school at half past 8 in the morning, and then got out about half past 11 for lunch, and we went back at 1 o’clock, and we were there till half past 3. We spent a lot of time at school, and if we didn’t learn anything, it was up to us. 1 don’t think learned very much.
CS: You don’t think you did, huh? You don’t think you learned very much?
LH: No. (laughs) It was there for me to learn but I didn’t pick it up right.
CS: Can you remember a favorite teacher?
LH– Yea, we all had favorite teachers, but they were, they didn’t put up with much foolishness, as they do today. They give you a couple of raps on your fingers and that would be it. And they had a stick, a ‘pointer’ they’d call it, and it was about this long and they’d go around with that, you know, pointing to the blackboards, we had a great deal of our stuff at school. When I went, we learned off our blackboards – it was written there for us and then we learned from there. Oh we got along all right for the condition we were in I guess. (Laughs) I went to school till I was 13, then I didn’t see much of school. I got a job.
CS: Where you glad to leave school?
LH: And I worked from there and never stopped working.
CS: When did you quit work? When did you leave the Mills?
LH: Well, when they closed the Mills, and then we stopped, I guess, must have been in the 50s when Dobson finally closed up.
CS: Why did it close up?
LH: Well, they made enough, I guess, to be comfortable and it took money to run those factories. You know where they are don’t you? Where the Dobson Mills were – well at one time they were buzzing from morning to night with a lot of people working.