Frances Converse

Mrs. Converse says life for kids in her youth was very different than it is today

Q: So how old were you in 1929?

Frances Converse: So, well let’s see, I was born in 1925 so I came sort of during the Depression years. My father lost his job, and we had to move out of our house, we rented that, and so we sort of waited through those years until my father picked up another job. But it was kind of rough going there for a little while.

Q: Did you have any siblings?

Frances Converse: Uh, yes I have three kids and they are all grown up now. Two are married and have kids of their own.

Q: Did you have brothers and sisters growing up?

Frances Converse: Yup, I had a brother and a sister.

Q: Were they older or were they younger?

Frances Converse: They have both died, a few years ago matter of fact. So I have no living brothers or sisters right now

Q: Are you younger or older?

Frances Converse: I am the oldest.

Q: So what where your parents names and what were their specific jobs during the Depression?

Frances Converse: My mother was Catherine Roise Hamlen and my father was Robert Cushing Hamlen, and he was a stockbroker. So it was kind of rough going for those times.

Q: So he worked with the stocks during the stock market crash?

Frances Converse: Well, he worked at another job for a while because the stock market, I mean it was just terrible

Q: Where did you live exactly? Where did you grow up?

Frances Converse: Well at that time I lived in a little town called Dover, Dover Mass.

Q: Was your mother’s role as a homemaker impacted during the Depression?

Frances Converse: Well she worked, she had a studio. She was an artist. So she worked out of her studio and helped support her family. Well that’s about all I can think of at the moment.

Q: So your dad’s life was affected because he had to get a new job?

Frances Converse: Let’s see now, he picked up another job in the mean time because the stock brokers really got pushed out of business so to speak.

Q: What did you eat when you were a child? Was it all homemade or mostly store bought?

Frances Converse: It was all homemade. We had a garden and we loved doing that gardening because I had always done it since I was little. So um, we found plenty to do, we were worried of course, about the money situation, but um, finally we got through that all right.

Q: Did you feel like you had to struggle for food?

Frances Converse: Yeah, yeah it was a little tough going.

Q: When you went down to the store, did you have a store in your town? What kind of things did you buy from there?

Frances Converse: In Dover we had one little village store that had everything in it. I mean as much as you could.

Q: How much did most things cost?

Frances Converse: and uh, we all go through it all right. Everyone else was having a struggle too.

Q: What kinds of things were at the store?

Frances Converse: Just groceries, that kind of thing

Q: Do you know how much things cost?

Frances Converse: At that point I don’t know that I had much knowledge on cost and prices. I don’t really remember. I was pretty young then

Q: Or maybe when you were older, do you remember going to the store?

Frances Converse: Well let’s see now, I’m just trying to think now, for a loaf of bread, wow my mind is just awful, I can’t really think back that far.

Q: Did your family own a car?

Frances Converse: Yup, we had one car. Kind of an old dilapidated car. The kept it going and of course I was much too young to drive. But where we lived it was sort of through the woods so I could do a lot of practice driving through the woods and it was away from everybody.

Q: Did it impact your life having a car? Did it make it a lot easier?

Frances Converse: Yes it did later on in life. Because I did a lot of driving with jobs and everything.

Q: How would you compare the type of clothing you wore back then to the types of clothes you wear today?

Frances Converse: I think I wear about he same kind of clothes

Q: You don’t see the younger kids wearing different types of clothes than that you would have worn?

Frances Converse: No not with that job. Some of the jobs I did I had to wear special clothes.

Q: Like what?

Frances Converse: Well I can remember delivering milk for one thing. I always had jobs. I worked on a farm delivering milk, but I never had to get dressed up at all. I just wore old clothes.

Q: Was that a paying job?

Frances Converse: Oh yeah.

Q: How much did you get paid?

Frances Converse: Oh what did I get paid? I don’t remember. That was a long while ago.

Q: Do you have any rough estimate?

Frances Converse: About what I got paid? Oh my goodness let’s see, I should remember that. I just don’t remember. I’m sorry I’m not help to yeah.

Q: What were some of your earliest memories of the hard times?

Frances Converse: Well lets see, I was born in ’25 and my father, like I said, was a stockbroker. So he was not making any money at all. So, I wish I could have better memories…


Q: What year were you born?

Rose: April 28th 1912. I am 97

Q: Do you remember the hard times of the Depression really well?

Rose: Oh I sure do.

Q: What are some good memories?

Rose: When we were children we were very poor. You know we didn’t have what the young people have today. We had to wear clothes you know, hand-me-downs. But of course we lived on a little farm and we always had enough to eat.

Q: You always did?

Rose: Yes, because we raised all the vegetables and things. And then my father worked in Harby Hubbell and whatever we had left from the farm, he took it the shop, it was a screw department, and he took it there and sold it. So that’s how we made our money. My father got a fairly good job at Harby Hubbell. So we were pretty all set. But we were very poor. We had nothing like the children have today.

Q: Did you have brothers and sisters?

Rose: Yeah I had a brother and a sister. And my sister died at 23 of cancer. And my brother just passed away 4 years ago.

Q: What kind of cancer did your sister have?

Rose: Oh dear I don’t know.

Q: Do you remember what kinds of food you would eat during those times? Or how much the food would cost at a restaurant?

Rose: Oh things were much cheaper at that time. But today they are way out of control.

Q: So how much would a gallon of milk cost?

Rose: I guess, gee I really couldn’t tell you to be truthful about it.

Q: How did you spend most of your time as a kid? What did you do for fun?

Rose: Oh well we had to work on the farm. We had corn and potatoes and all kinds of vegetables. We had to work on the farm.

Q; How old were you when you started working on the farm?

Rose: Oh very young. Probably 13, 14.

Frances Converse: Oh golly I worked in a farm in Maine. Delivering milk. I could get my license when I was 14 up there.

Q: Did you play any sports or games?

Frances Converse: At school I did, I went to Moveway School of Physical Education. So I had that as a sort of a background.

Q: Did you ever go to circus’s or carnivals or shows?

Frances Converse: No

Rose: No

Q: Was it hard to go to those in the Depression? Was it too expensive?

Frances Converse: Well way back then, it was hard too; I guess it was a little different than things are now. But yeah we had to watch what we spent, we dint have a money to play around with.

Q: Did you play any sports when you were young (directed to Rose)

Rose: Oh yes, baseball.

Q: What were the movies and the radio shows like?

Rose: Oh I wouldn’t have any idea.

Frances Converse: Way back then? Let’s see now, I just don’t remember.

Rose: I don’t think we had things like that at that time

Frances Converse: No I don’t think so either

Q: What kind of music did you enjoy? Any famous musicians or…

Rose: Piano. My sister was a beautiful piano player.

Frances Converse: I would say the piano too. My son plays the piano.

Q: When you were a kid, were there any sports heroes or figures that you looked up too? Anyone?

Rose: Oh no, all I knew was hard work

Frances Converse: Sports heroes? Well, I loved the game of tennis. And I would still like to play a little bit this spring. I don’t know if I will. Tennis is a very favorite sport of mine. And I love skiing.

Rose: I forget what I want to say. See I never went to high school. I just went to 8th grade.

Q: Did most people do that? Or did you have to work on your farm?

Rose: Oh no, we had to work.

Q: On an average day, what would you guys do? What was your average day like? Did you go on any adventures?

Rose: No.

Q: What time would you get up in the morning?

Frances Converse: Well, I probably wake up a lot later now than I used to because when I was working I had to be at work at 6.

Q: What was your average day on the farm like?

Rose: A lot of work.

Q: What was the community life like back then? What did you do in your town?

Rose: Oh well we lived way out in the woods.

Frances Converse: I used to work for the town of Dover. Spraying trees in the spring, the women sort of took over for the men for a lot of the activities because the men had gone off. That’s about all.

Q: So what happened when the men came back?

Frances Converse: I have forgotten what the date was, but the men had regular jobs when they came back. But a lot of them didn’t.

Q: So do you remember what school was like?

Frances Converse: Sure.

Q: Any good memories?

Frances Converse: What year?

Q: Anything you can remember?

Frances Converse: I went to a private school.

Q: What was it called?

Frances Converse: Beaver Country Day School. It was quite a small school

Q; did you like it there?

Frances Converse: Yeah.

Q: What was your school like? (Directed towards Rose.)

Rose: Well we had a one-room school, up until the 8th grade. My sister was the only one in 8th grade. There are so many things that I remember but when we are talking I forget. And our school was called Lincoln School and our teacher’s name was Juliet Walker. She was a wonderful teacher.

Q: What chores and responsibilities did you have growing up?

Rose: Well I had to milk the cow. And oh whatever there was to do around, we children had to do it. And if we were naughty, one was [separated] over here, and one was over there. And we soon got out of that and got to be nice to one another, so then we could work together.

Frances Converse: Well, we all had to chip in and do our work for the family and let’s see I don’t know what to add to that. But we always had to work doing something

Q: Did you ever have to do the dishes or set the table?

Frances Converse: Oh yeah.

Q: What members of your family the Great Depression affected the most?

Frances Converse: Well my father lost his job, let’s see now. Well we all had to go to work in one form or another.

Rose: My father went on shorter hours too.

Q: Any of your grandparents or anything like that?

Rose: Well our grandparents lived with us on the farm. And then when I was old enough I sort of babysat with them.

Q: Do you have any memories of other families that were in similar situations?

Frances Converse: Well we had to move out of our house, we couldn’t afford to live in our house. We then moved in with my grandmother, and they rented my family’s house so that they were able to make ends meet. Yeah, money was scarce though.

Rose: Well you see, people weren’t like this today. We lived miles apart, you know our neighbors. But our neighbors were richer than we were and they would have nice clothes and everything and then they would give us their hand-me-downs.

Q: Was your faith or religion really important during the Depression?

Frances Converse: Well we all went to Sunday school when we were little. And at a later time, my son is now grown up as a minister at the Episcopal Church. So we all had a church in our upbringing.

Q: So during the Depression did that change?

Frances Converse: Nope.

Rose: Yes we were Catholic. Not really, it didn’t really change.

Q: Did you guys remember Franklin Roosevelt?

Frances Converse: I just remember reading about him and hearing about him.

Rose: No.

Q: Do you remember Elenor Roosevelt?

Frances Converse: Oh yeah, she was quite a famous lady

Q: What do you remember about her?

Frances Converse: Well she was a very strong person and she was a good person.

Q: How so?

Frances Converse: Well, let’s see now. I don’t remember exactly the particulars, but I know she was well liked.

Rose: Yeah, very well liked.

Q: Would you say that people liked Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt more?

Rose: I would say Eleanor.

Frances Converse: She was a very popular lady.

Q: Do you recall ever seeing a “Hooverville” of homeless people?

Frances Converse: I sort of lost track of them during those years. I think he was well liked.

Q: Do you guys remember of Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to end the Depression?

Frances Converse: I don’t really remember.

Rose: No I don’t either.

Q: Do you remember any of these programs, such as the “CCC” or the “AAA”, WPA?

Frances Converse: Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. I knew that he was working on trying to form a work force, ya know, with workers.

Rose: No, I don’t remember

Q: Do you remember Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal?

Frances Converse: I remember that we he very involved with it, but I don’t really remember what it encompassed.

Q: Do you remember if your family supported [the New Deal]?

Frances Converse: I think they may have. They were sort of Republicans but Democrats also.

Rose: No, I have nothing to say there.

Q: Do you remember if any of your family or friends was apart of the New Deal programs?

Rose: No.

Frances Converse: Well my family wasn’t involved in government I don’t think. I just don’t recall. I’m a little bit young.

Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects, like the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State building, or the Hoover Dam?

Frances Converse: The construction? I don’t really remember much about that.

Rose: No.

Q: One famous event was the 1939 World Fair, Do you remember that?

Rose: Yes.

Frances Converse: Yes.

Q: What do you remember about that?

Frances Converse: Well I didn’t go to it but I knew it was going on.

Q: why was it so important or big?

Rose: well I think it was a quite a project really.

Frances Converse: I think it was a big event for everyone.

Rose: Yeah.

Q: What was there? Because we don’t really know anything about it.

Frances Converse: Oh lord I have no idea or know anything in particular.

Q: Was it like a giant carnival?

Frances Converse: I don’t really know. I just remember it took place and that’s about it. I have nothing really more to offer you.

Q: While the country was in the Depression, do you remember learning about Hitler in Germany?

Frances Converse: Oh he was a bad man.

Q: What do you remember about him?

Frances Converse: Actually, when I worked in France for a year and lived in the house that Hitler was living in, in Germany. It was France actually.

Q: Do you remember anything specific about Hitler?

Rose: You know, I don’t even really like to say because I am German so… my parents both came from Germany.

Q: Did they like him? Did they support him?

Rose: No, he was a bad man.

Frances Converse: Yeah he was a bad man, wasn’t he?

Rose: Yes indeed.

Q: Do you think today, we are all still affected by the Depression?

Frances Converse: I think so.

Q: In what ways?

Rose: I would say so.

Frances Converse: Jobs. I think so many of the good jobs were lost and I don’t think as many good jobs have become available. It’s been very hard for a lot of people

Rose: No, no I wouldn’t say so.

Frances Converse: I think some people were affected more than others.

Rose: Well that’s true, yes.

Q: How do you think kids today are different than you and your childhood friends?

Rose: Oh my, I think they have everything too easy. They get, when mom goes to the store, she has to bring a present and they are very spoiled.

Frances Converse: That’s a hard question. Um, I know that we were taught early on to go out and work to get jobs, and I don’t know if the kids now feel that work is important in life. And I don’t really know.

Rose: Well you know, I think the children today are very spoiled.

Q: How do you think they are spoiled?

Rose: Oh, they have everything. They have so much and we didn’t have anything.

Frances Converse: That’s all family though. The family is responsible for their kids. Getting good jobs, and the kids too are of course responsible. But I don’t know how to say it from here on.

Q: So you’ve heard about how today we are in sort of a Recession right? Have you heard a lot about that? Does that seem kind of the same as in eh 30’s?

Rose: I would say some, yes.

Q: In what ways?

Rose: That there are a lot of poor people that don’t have anything left to eat and don’t have a place to stay. You know, the old people, it’s a very sad situation.

Q: Do you remember who Charles Lindbergh was?

Frances Converse: Oh yes.

Rose: Oh yes.

Q: What do you remember about him?

Frances Converse: He was a tremendous pilot, and a great man I think too.

Q: Did you hear about him on the radio or in the newspaper?

Frances Converse: Well, it was probably both. Yeah he was a great person.

Rose: I don’t really remember.

Q: Did you own a radio?

Rose: We didn’t own a radio.

Frances Converse: We did.

Q: Did you guys listen to fireside chats of Franklin Roosevelt?

Frances Converse: Oh yes.

Q: What did you think of those?

Frances Converse: Well, they was very informative, they were very good, he was good. He did a good job.

Q: What type of things did he talk about on the radio? Do you remember anything specific?

Frances Converse: Well, he talked about all the news that was important.

Q: Do you guys remember the flappers? In the 1920’s?

Frances Converse: I just remember little inklings of what they were up to.

Q: What were they up to?

Frances Converse: The flappers? It was sort of a group of people, haha I don’t know how to describe it

Rose: I don’t remember that at all, I must have missed a lot.

Q: Were any of your families in debt because of the Depression?

Frances Converse: Well my father lost his job during the Depression, but went to work doing something else but I’ve forgotten what it was.

Q: Did you ever spiral into debt?

Rose: Oh no, they always made sure that the put some away, yeah and then they were very careful with their money.

Q: Do you guys remember the bank runs? When people ran to get heir money right when the stock market crashed.

Frances Converse: I don’t think we even had a bank.

Rose: I didn’t.

Q: Are there any good stories or memories? From when you were young.

Frances Converse: I know that we couldn’t afford our house so we moved out and rented it, and we moved in with my grandmother. But that’s about all can remember.

Q: What did you and your siblings do when you were at your grandmother’s house?

Frances Converse: Well we were in school for one thing and we had to be driven to Dover to go to school because we war going other public school in Dover. I don’t know what else to say about that.

Q: Do you have any small memories from when you were younger?

Rose: You know, I could think of a lot of things but right now my memory leaves me.

Q: What kind of games would you and your brothers and sisters play?

Rose: Well we had a pond in our backyard, a big pond. And we ice-skated. WE were very good ice-skaters and we enjoyed that very much.

Q: Did you all have your own ice skates?

R: Oh yes. They were the kind that clamped on to your shoes.

Q: Do you remember who Babe Ruth was?

Frances Converse: Babe Ruth? I remember listening to him on the radio before the TV. Oh yes I remember.

Rose: I just about remember his name.

Q: Do you remember the first time you ever saw TV?

Frances Converse: Oh boy that’s a good question. Um, I don’t think I do.

Rose: No but I guess it must have been a surprise.

Q: Any other memories or things you want to share?

Rose: Well you know, there are so many things that I remember but I have to express myself right way or else it goes sky high.

Frances Converse: Oh my goodness me, well I can remember walking to school.

Q: How far was it?

Frances Converse: About three miles.

Q: Every day?

Frances Converse: Yeah.

Rose: Yeah, and we had to go if there was snow up to here or up to here. We didn’t get any rides to school like they do today. We had to walk. There was no buses or anything. So shows that we were very poor

Q: Did your parents ever teach you important lessons?

Frances Converse: Oh yea, honesty of course. Just the basics. Oh I don’t know where to go on this.

Q: Were your parents strict?

Rose: Oh no, they were very kind. But we had to listen to them. There was no little petting or anything.

Q: What would happen if you disobeyed them? What would they do?

(Rose slaps her bottom… indicating that she got smacked)

Q: On your butt?

Rose: Oh yeah, and we felt it too. It wasn’t soft. It was a good smack.

Q: What happened if you disobeyed?

Frances Converse: Oh they would be very strict.

Q: What would you get in trouble for?

Frances Converse: Oh I got in all kinds of things.

Q: Like what?

Frances Converse: Well, they would always punish me if I was doing something that was naughty.

Q: What naughty things would you do?

Frances Converse: Oh goodness all kinds of things were naughty… um, I did something that I was supposed to do, like I can’t think of them.

Q: Are there any specific times when you remerge getting a lot for trouble with your parents?

Rose: No, because we were told once and that as enough and you know, I think being that strict was he most wonderful thing. Because you have to mind your parents. Are you sorry for some of the things we did when you were bad? (Directed towards Frances)

Frances Converse: Oh yeah.

Q: What was the worst thing you have ever done?

Frances Converse: Oh my goodness me, I can remember taking the family’s car without permission, because knew how to drive early because we had a little dirt road through the woods and I could drive down there, no one would know the difference.

Q: Where did you take the car?

Frances Converse: Just around in my back woods.

Q: So your parents said you couldn’t but you did anyway?

Frances Converse: They didn’t even know I took the car.

Q: But they found out when you got back?

Frances Converse: Yup, but they didn’t punish me because they had taught me how to drive anyway through the woods.

Rose: Well you know, when we were young. My brother, my sister was the oldest, and then my brother and then myself, so we were out skating this day and my brother said, “lets roll our own.”

Q: Roll your own?

Rose: You know, cigarettes.

Q: How old were you?

Rose: I guess about 16.

Q: Did all three of you do it?

R: Oh sure, so we went under these three big beautiful oak trees, so we picked up the nice dried leaves and we mashed ‘em up and we got some newspaper and rolled them in there. And then we started to smoke them. Then my brother said “oh lets go into the barn,” so we when into the barn and we were there not only a couple of seconds before who walks in but my father.

Q: What did he say?

Rose: I can still feel it, the hit. Because the barn was full of hay and we had a horse and a cow in there and chicken and different things. There could have been a good fire. So, he saved us.

Q: You remember the hit?

Rose: Oh do I? I still remember it. You know, I think that was a good lesson really. I think that’s the only way to give it to them the first time and it will sink in.

Q: Do you guys have any other stories like that?

Rose: I forget what to say.

Q: What year did you get married? Were you ever married?

Rose: Oh yes, I had a wonderful husband.

Q: What year did you get married?

Rose: Oh I was, um lets see I have to think about that. I can’t remember that.

Q: Were you older or younger?

Rose: Oh I was in the 30’s and I think we had more brains at that time, you know more than people have today. Because this is a life thing, you don’t play around.

Frances Converse: I was married in, lets see, well I had three kids and 2 of them have died actually. Have forgotten the year I got married but the kids are all grown up now.

Rose: we never had any children… no.

Frances Converse: Do you miss it? Do you miss not having children?

Rose: Yeah well, what you don’t have you don’t miss.

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