Ann Beckwith


Mrs. Beckwith describes her work for the telephone company


Laundry and scrubbing were part of everyday life

Ann Beckwith grew up in Wellesley during the Great Depression. She was born in 1917, and lived with her family of four brothers and a sister. Her family wasn’t particularly negatively affected by the Great Depression, but they still had to be careful. Ann worked through the Great Depression and eventually got a job working as a switchboard operator for a telephone company.

Q: Please state your name.

Ann Beckwith: My name is Ann Beckwith.

Q: How old were you in 1929?

Ann Beckwith: I was 12 years old in 1929.

Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?

Ann Beckwith: Wellesley Hills.

Q: What were your Parents names and what did they do for work?

Ann Beckwith: My parents’ names were, my mothers name was Lucy Boyle, she lived in Canada. My father’s name was Frank Timmons he lived in Wellesley. My mother came from Canada helping out families with cooking and cleaning. And my dad worked for a spring lumber company in Wellesley.

Q: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

Ann Beckwith: I had four brothers and one sister, their names were Francis, George Jim, and Joe and my sister’s name was Helen.

Q: are you the oldest or the youngest?

Ann Beckwith: I am the oldest living now, but the oldest has passed away.

Q: How was your mother’s role as a homemaker impacted by the Great Depression, if at all?

Ann Beckwith: Well my mother was a homemaker, she did stay home when she got married with the children, and they all went to college but me. I went to work I wanted ‘this’.

Q: But did her role change?

Ann Beckwith: No, No she was a good cook and cleaner, she kept the family together and they all had little jobs.

Q: Did she keep the family together during the Depression?

Ann Beckwith: Yes, she kept the family together at that time. Everyone stayed and lived at home.

Q: What did you eat as a child?

Ann Beckwith: I ate the usual; cereal, potatoes, meat, vegetables, and donuts.

Q: What was your favorite meal?

Ann Beckwith: What was my favorite, well we always had a roast on Sunday, and it could be a roast beef or roast pork. We did have excellent food.

Q: Did you eat any pre made foods or was it all home made?

Ann Beckwith: It was all home made food.

Q: Courtesy of your mother?

Ann Beckwith: Yes courtesy of my mother and dad. Yea my dad was a good cook too.

Q: When you went down to the store what kind of things did you want to buy?

Ann Beckwith: Actually I never did the shopping my parents did all the shopping.

Q: Did you ever go to a candy store as a kid?

Ann Beckwith: Yes we did have a store across the Charles River that if you were lucky enough to get two or three cents you would run down to his store to get some candy.

The poor guy would start to get a piece of candy and you would say to no, no not that one the other one, then no, no not that one the other one. The poor guy for three cents he worked him self to death.

Q: Did you go to the toy store too?

Ann Beckwith: No, our toys were bought at Christmas, and that was most our toys for the year, unless my mother went to Waltham and felt like bringing us all back a little something.

Q: Did you notice a difference in Christmas from pre Depression years to Depression years?

Ann Beckwith: No I have to say we were pretty fortunate we all got something decent really.

Q: Santa was nice to you?

Ann Beckwith: Yes, I have to say we always had a happy holiday.

Q: Did you grow and can goods back then?

Ann Beckwith: Not I, but my mother did.

Q: Was she a good gardener?

Ann Beckwith: No she was not a gardener. We did not have a gardener, they bought tomatoes and blueberries, and they did preserve them.

Q: Did you family own a car?

Ann Beckwith: Yes they did in later years, then when I went to work I was 16 or 17, I bought my own car.

Q: Was it a Ford?

Ann Beckwith: no I had a Chevy, a 1955.

Q: Did that make things easier once you family had a car?

Ann Beckwith: Yes I would say it was much easier, we always knew a lot of people at that time that had cars and they would be picking you up.

Q: When did your parents first get their car? Do you know what year it was?

ANN BECKWITH: I don’t remember the year in which they got them.

Q: Did you ever have a model T?

Ann Beckwith: No I did not but I had a friend who had a model T and I drove it with the sparks, so yes I drove my neighbor’s car.

Q: Did you travel on horses ever?

Ann Beckwith: No, no I did not do any traveling on horse. All four wheels. One day there was only three but that’s all right.

Q: How would you compare the clothing then to today?

Ann Beckwith: Well I have to say that once I went to work I was very well clothed, and all our family was for some reason we have, my mother was the type who kept clothes for your Sundays and going out places and your other clothes for out in the yard and school.

Q: Were there any hand me downs?

Ann Beckwith: Hand me downs? You’ve got to be kidding. I never saw anyone with anything on I wanted. No we had our own clothes.

Q: What were you earliest memories of the Depression?

Ann Beckwith: Actually I think that I was probably so young that I did not recall any really any bad time of the Depression because we always had something decent to wear and we had good food.

Q: How did you spend most of your time as a kid during the Depression?

Ann Beckwith: Well when I got up in high school you know as a junior or sophomore I met a couple that wanted me to come and mind their two boys, and after school I got off the bus and went to their house which was very close to the bus and helped this women with her two kids. She was a schoolteacher, and I helped out with taking care of the kids, and helping with getting their meal at night.

Q: Did you ever play with the local kids at the playground?

Ann Beckwith: No not until I really got older. I played with the telephone company on their softball team.

Q: Did you ever go to the circus, or carnival?

Ann Beckwith: Oh yes, I have been to the circus many times, and carnivals here in Wellesley.

Q: What was the circus like in the 30’s?

Ann Beckwith: Oh, I think it was pretty much the like it is today. They did a lot of the stunts they are doing today. At the circus.

Q: What were the movies like?

Ann Beckwith: To tell you the truth I saw very few movies. I was not the movie fan. Actually in the Depression years you had to do a lot of work because my mom died, when she was 47 so my brother and I were the oldest so we had to take care of each kid and clean their clothes, and keep them up for school.

Q: Do you remember any radio shows?

Ann Beckwith: Oh, radio was very popular, it was constantly going in your house just like TV’s are going now. And you would have your favorite program at night at 7, a host that you would listen to at 7 o’clock. And then we had amies and, people were very interested in them.

Q: Did you ever hear about FDR’s fireside chats?

Ann Beckwith: Yes I did. I don’t recall what he said now, and I liked President Roosevelt.

Q: Would the entire family gather for those chats on the radio?

Ann Beckwith: No I don’t recall, no I can’t say that. I don’t know where they were one upstairs and one down, and what kind of music did I enjoy? I enjoyed classical music I played the piano and the organ I did that for you know I took lessons. In fact the fellow that I took lesson from is still playing down the cape.

Q: Do you remember the sports of this era?

Ann Beckwith: Hockey was very popular in my day, we had our Bruins, and then the other hockey team called the Olympics, I had a friend who played on that team. I don’t think that had them now.

Q: Do you remember Babe Ruth?

Ann Beckwith: Oh yes, I saw him play baseball.

Q: Did you ever hear about Red Grange?

Ann Beckwith: who?

Q: Red Grange. A football player.

Ann Beckwith: Oh, no I was not into football.

Q: did you have any heroes in this era?

Ann Beckwith: Well of course when we went to the baseball games you always had your favorite seat, of sitting down by first like Rudy York and Jonny Pesky, he played center field, no he was shortstop. And that was our hero I guess.

Q: On an average day what did you do?

Ann Beckwith: I have to say with the Depression that the big thing was getting your school work done and getting out to help this couple with their kids you always was looking for a little job maybe it was 25 cents and hour, much better now.

Q: Was that couple that you helped out affected more by the Depression than you?

Ann Beckwith: No they lived in a nicer section. You don’t know anything about Walnut Street by any chance do you It comes off of Washington they were newer house then. My house was just 100 years old that I just sold.

Q: What was the community life like?

Ann Beckwith: well I think everyone was working. I think most of the people had jobs and raising their kids.

Q: What do you remember about school?

Ann Beckwith: School, I liked school.

Q: Did you notice a change from pre Depression to Depression in your school?

Ann Beckwith: I’ll tell you the truth I was not an A student, I was not a C student but the male teachers though I was terrific and I went along with them, and I got C’s which I thought was pretty good. My sister and all went to college and they all wanted me to go. But I didn’t and now I’m the only one getting a pension today. And they’re not. The telephone company is a great company to get into.

Q: What chores did you have growing up?

Ann Beckwith: Well, my chores were really just keeping the family together with my mom gone and going out and helping any neighbors or many with their children. We all went our and helped somebody with their kids.

Q: And so, did you do more in the house during the Depression?

Ann Beckwith: No, I was a very fussy housekeeper. I was pretty busy by the time I, you know, kept the kids clean and keep a house and go to school. We all, I think our class of people at that time were pretty much all alike, everybody. Their mom was out working and the kids had to do work at home or the mother was home and the kids had to work. It was a lot harder than today.

Q: Everyone had to do their fair share back then?

Ann Beckwith: In my house? Oh yes. But my older brother, who has passed away, and I were really the mainstay and there was like ten years between my sister and I and she went into nursing. And then two of my brothers went in the fire department in Wellesley here.

Q: Did you get an allowance or was it just expected for you to do this work?

Ann Beckwith: I always had what I should have, you know?

Q: Do you recall your first job that you had for pay?

Ann Beckwith: My first job? My first job for pay was taking care of children a little bit, helping their mother and father. But then I was lucky that I knew the bosses in the telephone company and they called me and asked me if I’d like to come and work for New England Tel so I went into town and took the test and all and they accepted me and I worked for them for forty-seven years.

Q: So what did you do when you joined the phone company at first?

Ann Beckwith: What did I do for work?

Q: Yeah, for the phone company.

Ann Beckwith: Well, I’ll tell you, it was the old-fashioned telephone that stood on the stand and had the little pole and that funny little mouthpiece and the receive that hung on the side of it. That was our first telephone at home. And I went from there into going to another office and worked in long distance. Like if Derby wanted to call you [Ben] in New York and he knew you were staying at a hotel, he’d pick up the phone and give me your name and where you’re staying and I’d call in and locate that hotel number and your room and get you in connect you to him. It was great, it was like a game.

Q: What did you do with the first money that you ever made? What did you save it for?

Ann Beckwith: I didn’t save it honey, I don’t know what I did with it.

Q: The candy shop?

Ann Beckwith: Well…

Q: Were members of your family affected?

Ann Beckwith: I would say my dad was unemployed for a short time and they had something they called the WPA or something.

Q: Oh, Mr. Delaney’s going to love this one, let’s continue with the WPA!

Ann Beckwith: Oh and I remember he worked not too far from our house and I could remember my mother fixing a lunch for him and possibly me or my older brother bringing the lunch to wherever he was working for the WPA.

Q: Do you have any recollections of people in tough circumstances?

Ann Beckwith: No, not in my house because we were lucky to know people like my brother would know the chief of the Wellesley fire department and he could call the fire department to work. So that meant a lot when your kids all got jobs.

Q: And it was thanks to connections they had?

Ann Beckwith: Nice to have connections, you’re right. And your connections that you have are really from your father’s people, your father knowing them. That was what helped a lot.

Q: Did you have religious faith during this time? Were you religious during the 20’s and 30’s?

Ann Beckwith: Was I religious? Well probably about as much as I am now. Yeah I would say I believe in God and, I don’t know, that there’s somebody stronger than me.

Q: How do you recall Franklin D. Roosevelt?

Ann Beckwith: I don’t really, I just, when you say Franklin Roosevelt I just see him on the screen and the love people had for him and I knew that we was good for the working people. That’s what I would say about him.

Q: Do you remember Eleanor Roosevelt?

Ann Beckwith: Oh, Eleanor? Ha-ha, God love her. Cute as a button wasn’t she?

Q: Ahh, if you say so!

Ann Beckwith: You don’t remember her?

Q: I haven’t seen the picture.

Ann Beckwith: Well, I want you to know she had a boyfriend even though she wasn’t that cute.

Q: What did you think about her? Her personality and whatnot?

Ann Beckwith: I liked her. You know, when you’re young like that, ten and eleven, as long as you have money to spend and you work you’re not so involved, only what you hear, say of your parents, God love them. But I do remember her.

Q: Do you recall ever seeing “Hoovervilles” or homeless people?

Ann Beckwith: No, never heard of it.

Q: Well you told us about the WPA.

Ann Beckwith: I told you about the WPA, yeah.

Q: Do you remember any of these, such as the civilian CCC or any other New Deal programs?

Ann Beckwith: No I just remember the WPA – Yes I do remember the CCC. There’d be like young fellows that would probably be eighteen or nineteen or something. They wanted a job and they’d take them out in the forest and places to cut lumber and stuff, right? Yeah I think that was the story on them.

Q: Did you know anyone who was a part of the CCC?

Ann Beckwith: They passed away now, they’re gone. I did know a couple of fellows in our neighborhood. That’s so funny, I’ve never heard of the CCC until just now for a long time.

Q: Did your parents think FDR’s New Deal was a good program?

Ann Beckwith: Yes they did. Well they got a job because of it so naturally until they got another job.

Q: Well I think you told us that some of your friends were part of the New Deal programs like the CCC.

Ann Beckwith: Oh yes but they were only just a couple of years older than I was actually. Some of them left school to join the CCC.

Q: Did your dad have any other good friends who joined the WPA with him?

Ann Beckwith: No, he just went out on his own. He was fortunate, he did work near home on projects. And then in the end he ended up on the tree department here in Wellesley.

Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects of this period?

Ann Beckwith: No, I don’t, I just got a glance at that. Now that’s interesting, do you know any of them?

Q: Well the Hoover Dam was a New Deal.

Ann Beckwith: That was a New Deal?

Q: Yes, do you remember anything else?

Ann Beckwith: I don’t remember any others. I do remember the name, the Hoover Dam but I don’t remember anything else.

Q: Do you remember the Hoover Dam?

Ann Beckwith: Oh, of course. I just don’t remember any of the programs they really did on the New Deal.

Q: Let’s see…one famous event back then was the world’s fair? Do you remember this?

Ann Beckwith: I have not been to the world’s fair. I’ve been to Disney World but I have not been to the world’s fair. I do recall, was out in New Jersey?

Q: Yeah, in New York. While the country was in the Depression do you recall learning about Hitler’s rise in Germany?

Ann Beckwith: No, no, I just can remember about Hitler but I don’t remember reading anything about him.

Q: Do you think we’re still affected at all by the Great Depression?

Ann Beckwith: No I don’t. I mean, I think people think, back maybe fifteen years or more ago, people had more then they do today but I don’t feel that way. Well today of course is different because people don’t have jobs, a lot of them, so that would be different.

Q: Do you think kids like us are different from kids back then?

Ann Beckwith: I think you’re nicer. I really do. I think you two boys are just such nice gentlemen.

Q: Well not just us, but do you think this generation is different from your generation?

Ann Beckwith: I think…I don’t remember when we were growing up…well I guess when I got old enough to drive, the fellows were drinking and stuff, the same as they are today. I think you have more opportunity today than they did then, years ago.

Q: So, we have a last big question here. It’s about what our generation can learn from your generation’s struggles during the Great Depression to help us in the future?

Ann Beckwith: I don’t know. I wonder if people today save money more and are prepared for the future like they did years ago. I don’t know.

Q: I think one thing is more homemade goods. You said your mom made lots of homemade food and such. I think that would, like you said, prepare people.

Ann Beckwith: But you know, I think people today are out buying food, bringing it home prepared, like from Roche Brothers and stuff, much more than our mothers. They were always cooking turkeys or roasts. I know we never knew what it was to be without one.

Q: Well just one more question, or a couple more. When did you get a washing machine? Did you ever have a modern washing machine in the 20’s or 30’s?

Ann Beckwith: Oh yes, I could remember when we had the one that you scrubbed on the board with the soap and then you ran the clothes through and you used a ringer. I did it so I do remember it. But then the first one we bought was a Bendex and it had the open door in the front and you put the clothes in there and washed them and the dryer was next to it. It was very simple really. I think it’s much easier living today than it was in our day by far, that’s all I could say. I mean, in my day at home, my mother was very strict and I could remember our stairway would be stained right? It’s shellacked I think they called it, it wasn’t like that nice, light stain they have today like down in the Cape. And I can remember we used to have to scrub that with babo and a scrubbing brush and that had to be white or you did it all over again. God, it was hard. And, when I worked, helping that woman out over on Liddier Road, she’d have you clean the risers. Now the rises are the white between the steps and you’d have to put babo on brushes and scrub it. Oh, it was a lot harder working than it is today. People have people that go out now and clean their houses, they go on with their jobs and I didn’t because I never even thought of it but if I had my life over again I would.

Q: Do you think it’s better for people to learn how to work harder?

Ann Beckwith: No, I figure let the other guy do it and relax. You’ll think so when you get older and you can afford something, you’ll say, “let the other guy do it, I’ll pay him.” Why not, everybody to their own field?

Q: Did you have a prom in high school?

Ann Beckwith: I didn’t even get invited! I did not and I was attractive and everything! But I’ll tell you why I didn’t and I don’t feel sorry about it now. I did have a lot of friends during the day who were at school but I think it was always because that couple depended on me to take care of their kids and help them in the afternoon. And so you weren’t hanging around the school, you know? And then I had to get home and do the piano and the organ, you know I was really busy.

Q: So you had to make a sacrifice? You had to sacrifice your social life for your family?

Ann Beckwith: Yeah, it was all together, different living. It was just the opposite of today.

Q: Do you remember some funny story that happened in the 30’s, some event?

Ann Beckwith: None that I could put on paper. No I can’t think of anything way back in the 30’s, that’s a long time ago, 79 years. I don’t how I’m alive! I think it was the good golf. No, I enjoyed the interview though, very much and two nice boys I would say, they couldn’t send out two nicer kids.

Q: Just two nice boys?

Ann Beckwith: I love his hair, oh my god, I wish I had it.

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