Mrs. Barbara Manley was born just a month after the Stock Market crash of 1929. She speaks of her young years growing up with her two older sisters, and her mother and father in a suburb of New York City. While her immediate family was not directly affect by the Depression, she shares with us that her grandfather had a particularly hard time.
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This is Elizabeth Doyon and Andy Gusev and we are interviewing Mrs. Barbara Manley on May 28, 2009 for the Wayland High School History Project.
Q: Please state your name.
Mrs. Manley: Barbara Manley.
Q: How old were you in 1929.
Mrs. Manley: I was born in 1929, November 14th.
Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?
Mrs. Manley: I lived in White Plains, New York.
Q: Which is how far away?
Mrs. Manley: How far is it away? It is about a three-hour drive from here (Wayland). Down in Westchester County, 22 miles away from New York City. It’s a residential town.
Q: So did you experience any effects from the Depression in the city?
Mrs. Manley: No, not really. You have to remember that I was so young at the time. That I don’t remember too much from the first five years. You just do what you do as a kid, as long as you have food and a house, you are happy. You didn’t know any better.
Q: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Manley: I had two older sisters.
Q: So you were the youngest?
Mrs. Manley: I was the youngest; there was an eight-year difference between my middle sister and myself. I was a real pest to my two older sisters.
Q: What was your mother’s role in the house during the Depression?
Mrs. Manley: She was a homemaker, definitely a homemaker. She did not work. She didn’t finish High School during that time period because she had to get to work and do other things, and then she got married – and was a homemaker and raised children.
Q: Where did she work?
Mrs. Manley: I think she worked at her grandfather’s store. She didn’t do too much, just part-time. Keeping it in the family.
Q: What did you eat as a child? Did you eat any pre-made foods or was it all homemade?
Mrs. Manley: There were no frozen foods or anything like that. In fact, we had our own refrigerator that wasn’t electric but we had to put ice in it, a big chunk of ice to keep it cold. What did we eat? Well, I guess as a kid I liked everything: ice cream, all those things that every kid (likes) today. We had wholesome food, my mother cooked wholesome food, but she made things stretch. She had to because there wasn’t a lot of money.
Q: Did you get fresh food from the grocery store?
Mrs. Manley: From the garden centers, mostly. We had garden centers, and we would go there and get fresh fruit or grow our own. We had a garden ourselves.
Q: What do you remember from going to the Garden Center and going to the store?
Mrs. Manley: I always went over to the toys, because, as you remember I was very young. So as long as I had something good to eat, it was more important for me to look at toys, or dolls, or that kind of thing.
Q: Did you ever can food?
Mrs. Manley: We did, I didn’t personally, but my mother did. She put tomatoes up when they were abundant. And jellies and jams, and as a kid we made root beer. We used to bottle root beer, and that was a lot of fun. Sometimes they’d explode in the kitchen and that wasn’t very much fun. (Laughs)
Q: What kind of toys did you play with?
Mrs. Manley: Oh, I played with dolls. My favorite was a Shirley Temple doll. She was, like the dolls you have today, they are special like the American Girl dolls. In my day, it was Shirley Temple dolls. She was something that you wanted to be like, and wanted to look like. So I had one and I kept it for a long time. But I don’t know where it is now.
Q: Was that something that most girls had? Even in the years of the Depression?
Mrs. Manley: Yeah, you had to have some outlet to make you happy, so that it wasn’t all sad, gloom, and doom.
Q: What were the kind of things your sisters played with?
Mrs. Manley: They were older than I was, and they were thinking about boys more, while I was playing with toys. We had eight years difference, but we went on picnics as a family, and we had good times that way. Things that didn’t cost a lot of money.
Q: Did you have a car?
Mrs. Manley: We did have a car, and my grandfather had a car too. An old touring car, an old-fashioned car. He kept it in the garage for a long time, and after I got to be a teenager, that car still stood in the garage. I used to like to go and look at it. It was a Packard actually.
Q: Did you live with your grandparents?
Mrs. Manley: No, we had our own home.
Q: Did you travel around a lot?
Mrs. Manley: We didn’t go on too many vacations, but in the summertime we were apt to go up to Vermont, which is where my grandfather was from. We would go up and see the old farm he was raised on. We went to Lake Champlain, and on Sundays we would use the car to just go around and that was a holiday to drive around.
Q: How would you compare typical clothing from then and today?
Mrs. Manley: Big, big, big difference! It was very conservative, and my family was very restrictive about what we wore. We had to wear knee-high socks, and all kinds of things that you hated, and when you went to school you took them off, very much like you do today! (Laughs) But the clothing was, well, we were all covered up. We never wore anything like today. Your bathing suit even covered you pretty well, unlike today.
Q: Did you have hand-me-downs?
Mrs. Manley: Yes, I did. And we used to go to a store in New York City called Cline’s, which was a very inexpensive store. We would go and get things there; we would wear things that other people had worn before, especially my sisters. I didn’t like that very much. I wanted new things once in a while. (Laughs)
Q: What were your earliest memories of the hard times of the 1930s?
Mrs. Manley: I really didn’t have any; I wasn’t affected that much by it in the 30s. We were comfortable, we didn’t really want for anything. My parents were very frugal about things. My father had his own business, and he didn’t lose that during the Depression. He did fairly well there, and we had a comfortable home. I didn’t want for anything really, we certainly weren’t extravagant though. We were very careful.
Q: [Were you still able to afford a sweet treat now and then?]
Mrs. Manley: We had penny candy at that time- we would go for that. But, we really didn’t want for an awful lot. You would think that it would have been really bad, and for some people it was. I remember my grandfather and my grandmother they were much more frugal than my parents were, although they were as well. But he had put a lot of money in the bank, his life savings, and when the banks went down and we had the crash, he lost all of his money. He didn’t have anything left. So I can always remember him saying, ‘I will never put anything in a bank again.’ He used to hide it under the mattress. When someone gave my grandmother a gift, and if she didn’t necessarily need this gift, then she had what she called a gift drawer. She had all of these gifts, like 20 or 30 gifts. As a little girl I used to love to open the drawer and see all the new gifts and the shiny things. She said, ‘don’t take any now! You have to wait to get one as a gift!’ (Laughs) We were always afraid that she would give a gift back to the same person who gave it to her, that would be embarrassing.
Q: What kind of gifts were they?
Mrs. Manley: There were sashes, some pictures, my grandmother was an artist and she used to draw a lot and give us nice pictures. They did a lot of things by hand then, because we didn’t have the technology that you have today. And being frugal, we certainly didn’t go out and buy things. We certainly didn’t have a television.
Q: Did you have a radio?
Mrs. Manley: We did have a radio! My grandfather used to love to listen to the radio, and I used to sit down and listen with him. One of his favorites was Amos and Andy. And the Lone Ranger was big at that time. We would sit there for hours and listen to the shows, one after another and that was our entertainment for the evening. (Laughs)
Q: Do you remember listening to the President?
Mrs. Manley: I don’t remember that so much, but I remember when President Roosevelt died. My grandfather was a Democrat, while the rest of the family was all Republicans; he was from Vermont [and] that [was] a Democratic state. My grandfather voted for him, and when FDR died, I was out in the yard and he came and was just in tears. He was beside himself, he just couldn’t believe. Very much like when Kennedy died, when we heard what happened to Kennedy. That’s the way he felt, he was devastated.
Q: Do you remember going to the movies at all?
Mrs. Manley: Yes, once in a while, but that was a special treat, because there wasn’t a lot of money to go to the movies. And a lot of the movies were silent-movies, I am not sure exactly when sound came in. I remember being a teenager and going to the movies and it was like 25 cents, and we though that was expensive.
Q: What kind of movies did you watch as a kid?
Mrs. Manley: Musicals, I used to like musicals. I enjoyed that.
Q: What else did you do when you were young?
Mrs. Manley: We did things in the yard, like we made huts and things like that. We didn’t have any brothers. But we had neighborhood friends. We played out in the evening, and we played kick the can, and hide-and-seek, and all those things. We had fun though.
Q: Were any of your neighbors hit hard?
Mrs. Manley: No, I don’t remember that, we were all pretty much the same status in our neighborhood.
Q: What kind of music did you listen to?
Mrs. Manley: I used to listen to music off of shows, and I would stand in the living room and make believe that I was on the stage. I would sing along…
Q: Like Shirley Temple?
Mrs. Manley: Yeah, Shirley Temple, that’s what I was going to be. I had my hair curled. Oh, silly things that kids do…
Q: What kind of music did your parents listen to?
Mrs. Manley: Semi-classical, they didn’t go to the Opera; they didn’t have he money for that.
Q: Did you ever go on trips to New York City?
Mrs. Manley: Yes I did, one of my special treats on my birthday was to go into the city and see an ice-skating show. I was very enamored with ice-skating. At that time, the person that you wanted to see was Sonja Henie. I wanted to be like her too, I was going to be a figure skater. She was in Madison Square Garden when I went, she couldn’t hold a candle to the people today because they are so athletic today. She was good but when you compare the two, it was quite different. That was fun- that was a treat for me.
Q: Do you remember anything specific about New York City and what it looked like, or how it is different now?
Mrs. Manley: It is just the skyscrapers, I guess. Oh yeah, and there were lots of people.
Q: Do you remember any specific advertisements growing up?
Mrs. Manley: Oh yes, Ovaltine, they would talk about Ovaltine a lot. It was a chocolaty favorite.
Q: Did you have any other heroes that you wanted to grow up to be like?
Mrs. Manley: I wanted to be like Shirley Temple, that’s for sure. Everyone had a Shirley Temple doll, everyone that could afford it. We couldn’t afford to buy clothes for her, so my mother made the clothes for my doll. I wish I had kept it. (Laughs)
Q: What was community life like back then?
Mrs. Manley: It was centered on the church. I was baptized a Congregationalist, and we did a lot of things at church. My family, both my grandparents, and my father and mother were all very active in the church. So we went to a lot of socials and suppers and those kinds of things. It was very enjoyable, lots of fun. We got to meet other people.
Q: What was your school like?
Mrs. Manley: When I went to kindergarten, I only went a half a year because they had an overcrowding and they closed the school. So I was one of the lucky ones to go to a one-room schoolhouse. There were five grades, and one teacher. They would say, ‘First grade come up!’ and we would sit on a bench, and the teacher would teach you. We even had to go outside to use the bathroom. The school was originally a Girl Scout House. When the weather was nice, we would take our desks and go outside. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed it. My husband always kidded me because if I ever got something wrong or misspelled something he would say, ‘Well, what do you expect you went to a one-room school-house.’
Q: What was your teacher like?
Mrs. Manley: Her name was Miss Kenyon, and we called her Miss K. She was wonderful.
Q: Was she strict at all?
Mrs. Manley: She wasn’t, she really didn’t have to be. It was such a small school that we all behaved pretty well. We used to trade cards, those were the thing. You would match cards and trade cards. I learned a lot there, I am glad I had the opportunity, not everyone did.
Q: Do you remember learning history in school?
Mrs. Manley: We did learn some history, the basic things like George Washington and Abe Lincoln.
Q: What chores and responsibilities did you have growing up? And were they impacted by the Depression?
Mrs. Manley: We didn’t have a cleaning person that came in, so we had to keep our rooms clean. I didn’t have to wash my own clothes, my mother did that, and she was a real homemaker. But, I really didn’t want for anything. Everything seemed fine because you didn’t know any better.
Q: Did you have a washing machine?
Mrs. Manley: My grandmother did it by hand, by my mother had a washing machine. I can remember my grandmother had a board that she would go up and down to clean. But then my mother and father bought her a washing machine. It was one of those that you wound the clothes through. My mother had a special kind of ironing board too, where you put the clothes in and then bring the top down.
Q: Do you remember what any of the items cost?
Mrs. Manley: At the time the dollar wasn’t worth vey much, so it was probably something like 10 or 15 dollars. Which sounds cheap compared to today.
Q: Do you remember any family members in tough circumstances?
Mrs. Manley: Just my grandfather, he used to sell maple syrup because he was from Vermont to earn some extra money.
Q: Did he make it himself?
Mrs. Manley: No, he had connections in Vermont. They would sell it to him, and then he would sell it to the neighbors.
Q: Do you remember what it was like for your grandfather?
Mrs. Manley: I remember feeling very sorry for him because he worked so hard all his life and then he just lost all that money so quickly.
Q: Was your faith impacted buy the Depression?
Mrs. Manley: No, it didn’t have a negative impact, people relied on the church, and not only for socializing, but for encouragement.
Q: Did the church ever set up relief programs?
Mrs. Manley: I am sure they did. They used to have rummage sales, and people would come in who didn’t have much money and we were able to sell them clothes for next to nothing.
Q: What do you remember about FDR?
Mrs. Manley: I remember his dog, Fala, a black Scottish Terrier. Wherever you would see him (FDR), you would see this little dog at his feet. I knew he was crippled from polio, even though that was hard to see.
Q: And you were aware that FDR had polio even when you were a child?
Mrs. Manley: Yes I was, we had a polio epidemic too when I was growing up. We knew some people who contracted it. When we went to the doctor we had shots for it, and it was fairly new at the time.
Q: Do you remember the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt?
Mrs. Manley: She was a very smart woman; she did a lot of good things for a lot of people who were in need. She wasn’t a particularly handsome woman, but they seemed to get along well.
Q: Was she someone you looked up to?
Mrs. Manley: Yes, I would say so.
Q: Do you recall ever seeing a Hooverville?
Mrs. Manley: I probably did but it didn’t have much of an impact on me. It sounds sort of selfish, but we were comfortable ourselves. And I was only just a little kid.
Q: Were there any sports that you played?
Mrs. Manley: No, not really I jumped rope. I always felt sorry for my father though, because he had three girls, and he never had a chance to buy a train for Christmas time, or a football. So one Christmas I felt so bad for him that I asked for a train and I put a football on my list. And I got both under the tree. And it made me feel so good that I could make him feel good. I remember playing with the train, not so much the football. I got plenty of football later on in life when I had three sons of my own.
Q: Do you remember any of the popular sports at the time?
Mrs. Manley: The one that I remembered the best is because my father owned a bicycle store when he was very young, and he rode a bicycle in a lot of different events. And so I remember a lot about bicycles, and of course I had a bicycle myself. One other thing that we did for entertainment, which didn’t cost a thing, was that my father was very active in the fire department. He wasn’t a fireman, but he was a volunteer. For fun, they would take these fire engines from all over and go to this one town. You could just see fifty or sixty fire engines going by in a parade. And that was always fun to watch, you would see the one from our town and get really excited. That was part of the entertainment. I always loved parades; I even rode my bicycle in a parade on Memorial Day. (Laughs) I decorated it!
Q: What kind of business did your father own?
Mrs. Manley: It was an electrical contracting business, and he owned it with another gentleman. It lasted for a very long time.
Q: Was it a local business?
Mrs. Manley: Yes, it was local business, right in White Plains.
Q: What did your parents think about FDR and the New Deal?
Mrs. Manley: I remember my grandfather’s expression of that better than my own parents, but my grandfather thought it was wonderful…. My parents were Republicans, they were Dewey people. But we didn’t argue about it. He had a right to his opinions, and we had a right to ours.
Q: Do you remember any of the great construction projects?
Mrs. Manley: We went to the World’s Fair, 1939. That was a big thing to do. I was young and there was a lot of entertainment. I remember the ball and the big sphere… And I can remember riding around and seeing the future. You would ride around in this large ball, and you would be in this car that would go through… Then they would have it the way it was going to be in the future. Like it is today with overpasses and high ways, and you would say, ‘Oh, that’s never going to happen.’ But here we are!
Q: You mentioned the year 1939, do remember the Wizard of Oz coming out? Or Gone With The Wind?
Mrs. Manley: Yes! And we still watch the Wizard of Oz; I know it by heart by now. I went to see them, yes I did. Clark Gable, he was a cat’s meow, everybody liked Clark Gable. (Laughs)
Q: While the country was in the Depression do you remember learning about Hitler and Germany or Japan?
Mrs. Manley: Well I remember about Hitler, I made a scrapbook. I cut a lot of articles out from the paper, and during the transition of moving from here to there I lost it. I so wish that I could have had it today so that I could look back and see all that documentation about what happened and when Hitler came to power. I don’t know why I was so enamored with that, to make a scrapbook, but I did.
Q: Do you remember what your impressions were as a kid of what was going on in Europe?
Mrs. Manley: Well my husband had a lot of German blood in him; his parents came from Germany – his mother especially. Not that they thought it was right what he did certainly, but some of them looked up to him actually and thought that that was the right thing to do at the time – which of course it wasn’t. But I remember reading about the awful things that happened.
Q: Do you think we are still affected by the Great Depression?
Mrs. Manley: I don’t know. I am not sure; it would depend on how far back in the family you go and how that information is filtered down in that family. I’d probably say not much.
Q: You said your family was really frugal, does that affect the way you spend your money today?
Mrs. Manley: (Laughs) Well not really, I’m a bit of a spendthrift but it affected my daughter and she keeps her eye on me.
Q: As you see it, how are kids different today than they were during your childhood era?
Mrs. Manley: Well you have so much more than what we had, we learned to live with very little. Today I see kids have so many things, that you can take advantage of it, which is good and sometimes bad. But I didn’t really want for anything, I was very fortunate to have a mother and dad who cared for me.
Q: Do you remember your older sisters ever getting jobs?
Mrs. Manley: Yes, my older sister went to New York City to get a job, and she worked for R.H. Sterns, a department store in New York, and it was exciting to see her go and take the train every day. My other sister worked at my father’s electrical store in the retail division and she learned the business and did a lot of the retail business. I was hired to dust the fixtures, I didn’t like that so much but I did like to get fifty cents of spending money that was a lot of money at the time!
Q: Do you remember any gender barriers in school grouping up?
Mrs. Manley: Well, boys had the edge; girls did not have very many opportunities back then. You are much better off today, but back then we had very little and very often girls were not encouraged to go to college, they got through high school and that was about it and then they married and raised children. That’s what my mother did and that’s what was expected of me as well. I didn’t go college because my father believed that girls didn’t go to college. That’s probably some of the repercussions of the hard times, that it was more important for the man to be the educated bread-winner for the family.
Q: Do you remember your sisters having trouble finding jobs?
Mrs. Manley: My middle sister didn’t because she worked for my father, but I don’t think they were that plentiful. You had to be well educated to do something that paid well.
Q: Besides driving around on Sundays, what other family activities did you do for fun?
Mrs. Manley: We went on picnics. There was also this place called Playland, which was fairly near where we lived. It was like an amusement park with a pool. They had roller coaster, but I liked the merry-go-round. It was also on the shore so you could go in the ocean.
Q: What kind of candy did you like?
Mrs. Manley: My father loved the Mounds bars; he always had those at hand. I like pistachio nuts, especially the place where we went to get pistachio ice cream; we’d get a big tall scoop.
Q: What was a typical meal for you?
Mrs. Manley: We had a lot of chicken. Chicken was very plentiful and it was inexpensive. We had chicken and dumplings, and we probably had chicken every Sunday. My mother could take something, a little leftover and just make a meal out of it; they learned to do that during the Depression because the money wasn’t there to go out and buy a lot if things. You didn’t have steak. But we had hamburgers and hotdogs once in a while, but they were very frugal.
Q: What did you have for breakfast?
Mrs. Manley: Ovaltine and dry cereal, I wasn’t a big breakfast eater.
Q: What about SPAM?
Mrs. Manley: Oh Spam? Yes we had Spam, and it wasn’t bad actually. My husband loved Spam, I’d cook it up for him and get it nice and brown for him and he loved it. But we had things that were creamed. They were always adding something to the food that would make it last longer. We always had a big basket of bread and plenty of water. I don’t know whether that was to fill us up so that we wouldn’t eat too much, but growing up it seemed like we had the best of food on the table.
Q: Did you have a toaster?
Mrs. Manley: We did, we had a regular pop-up toaster, but my grandmother had one that had the doors that swung out. My grandfather had what we called a dumb-waiter, he built it himself, and it was something like an elevator that we used to transport food from outside to the kitchen window. It was great for picnics. The heat in our house was coal, and I remember as a little girl waiting for the coal man to come to put it down the shoot.
Q: Did you have any animals?
Mrs. Manley: Yes my grandmother and grandfather had a monkey. His name was Joco and unfortunately he didn’t like me at all. My grandparents taught him how to wash the windows on the sun porch. My parent’s dog was an Irish Setter, named Bob. I always thought that I was named after the dog, because my name is Barbara. I used to put him in a baby carriage, and push him around and dress him up.
Q: Did your parents ever borrow money from the bank?
Mrs. Manley: They pretty much used the money they had. We didn’t go to the bank, unless maybe there was an illness in the family or something like that that you had to have money for. They lived within their means.
Q: So did they put their money in the bank?
Mrs. Manley: Later on they did, but after the crash everybody was very hesitant to trust the bank. They would keep it under the mattress.
Q: What lessons can we take away from the Great Depression?
Mrs. Manley: Well I think just to be thankful for what you have today, not to be envious of others, but be comfortable with what you have. You should also be very careful with how you spend your money. And to really not want for anything, as long as you are comfortable. I just think that you can’t be going out and spending all of this money, and using your credit cards and getting in trouble. I think if you look back at those times, you need to learn to just be careful with how you spend your money.