Dorothy and David Farrell
Dorothy and David Farrell were both born in 1922 and grew up in opposite sides of Watertown, Massachusetts. Although they were young during the Depression and their families weren’t too affected, they have a great recollection of the time. The cheery couple currently reside in Chatham and were able to share detailed accounts of the poor homes, the World Fair, everyday community life, and more.
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Q: This is Lindsay Shelton and Katie Miller and we are interviewing Dr. David Farrell and Mrs. Dotty Farrell on May 20, 2009 for the Wayland High School History Project.
Q: Please State your name.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Dorothy Farrell
Dr. David Farrell: David Farrell
Q: How old were you in 1929?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh 1929.
Dr. David Farrell: Both 7 years old.
Q: Where did you live during the Depression years?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Watertown, Massachusetts.
Dr. David Farrell: Watertown also.
Q: What were your parents’ names and what did they do for work when you were younger?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: My mother and father were Esther and Oscar Benson and my mother was a homemaker and my father well, worked for Boston Edison Company, the electrical company.
Dr. David Farrell: My mother was Isabelle and my father Edward, Farrell. My mother was a homemaker and my father was the Harvard athletic coach, and Harvard track coach and football training.
Q: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I had one brother, Donald.
Dr. David Farrell: And I had a brother Edward Jr. and a sister Marie.
Q: How was your mother’s role as homemaker impacted by the Depression, if at all?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I don’t really think my mother was affected by it. She personally, some of her relatives were, but I don’t think that she was.
Dr. David Farrell: We weren’t impacted by it specifically, but neighbors, and friends, and relatives were.
Q: What did you eat as a child? Did you eat any pre-made foods or was it all home made? Like spam, breakfast cereals.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: No, very much home made foods, we didn’t have fast food then I don’t think
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah no fast foods but, you know, even back then Kellogg’s was making corn flakes and so we had that.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh yes.
Dr. David Farrell: But my mother was a good cook.
Q: When you went to the store, what kinds of things did you buy and how much did they cost?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Goodness, I don’t know. I don’t think I went to the store in 1929, I was too young to do any shopping, but I have seen prices of that time, you know a loaf of Bread was 5 cents, was it? You know I just know from what I’ve read that, I’ve forgotten, an ice cream cone was 25 cents.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, it was so much cheaper. Course you got a nickel ice cream, a nickel hamburger, or a nickel hot dog. The paper was a cent, the daily paper, and I think on Sundays it was, was it 2 cents?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Probably yeah, maybe a little bit more.
Q: Did you grow and can goods back then?
Dr. David Farrell: Grow any vegetables, is that what you mean?
Dr. David Farrell: Well your father did. [Looking at Dorothy]
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Well my father did, but that was later during the war, but he had a victory garden during the war, but no at that point in those years he didn’t, he was too busy working.
Dr. David Farrell: No we didn’t, we didn’t have the land, no, there were small lots in Watertown.
Q: Did your family own a car and it so, how did it impact your family life?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yes we did.
Dr. David Farrell: Yes.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: A seven-passenger car.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, we had a Pontiac; we were Pontiac people.
Q: How would you compare typical clothing then to today?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: It’s different.
Dr. David Farrell: I wouldn’t have worn shorts that short, not even in grade school. No.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: We wore skirts to school, you know skirts and sweaters and blouses. And I don’t think we wore slacks, oh what were they called.
Dr. David Farrell: No, I had steel knickers up ’til 7th grade; you don’t know what they were. But I didn’t graduate from knickers until the 9th grade.
Q: The ones that get tucked into the socks?
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, yeah
Q: Oh, yeah.
Q: So funny
Q: What are your earliest memories of the hard times of the 30’s?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Well, I remember, when the banks closed, and now that time was about 1932 and I remember I was upstairs in my mother and father’s bedroom, she had a phone up there and my father called and he said the banks are closed. I guessed they were having a holiday. It wasn’t really a holiday. It was the beginning; I think that was the beginning.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah if that was 1932, well Roosevelt had just been President, and he decided that things were so tough that he closed the banks and my father called my mother and said go to the bank, we heard they’re going to close so get as much money out as you can, I remember that.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I remember my grandmother lost everything because she didn’t get there in time and lost everything. Now I think they have, they call it the FDIC, isn’t it; they protect your money in the bank up to a certain amount anyway so that you’re safe. But In those days, people, my grandmother, I know, lost a lot of money.
Q: How did you spend your time as a kid in this era? What did you do for fun? What games did you play?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Well of course Daddy was athletic and I played jack and stones. And monopoly, we even had monopoly and no we played hide and seek and scatter and all those things, I had a wonderful neighborhood.
Dr. David Farrell: We played everything, and there was no such thing as Peewee Hockey or Little League, we just played together, went down to the playground and just played every afternoon something but there was no organized game, we just organized it ourselves. I don’t think I ever saw my father come and watch a game or watch us play. Just didn’t do that.
Q: Did you go to the circus or to carnivals?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: We’d go to the circus; I didn’t like it that much. I didn’t like the cannon at the end. But we’d go to circuses.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, it was usually a yearly affair, Barnum and Bailey came to the Garden and we’d go in there once a year.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: And we had a carnival.
Dr. David Farrell: We had a carnival, that’s right, down at my Coolidge School, which was the elementary school. There was a Ferris wheel and all kinds of cruddy things there. We thought it was great.
Q: What were the movies like? And radio shows?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: They were wonderful, the five cent ones. Wasn’t it 5 cents to go to the movies? The matinee, you know, they would be on Saturday afternoon was when you wanted to go, I would go on Saturday afternoon.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: There were two movies at the Parthe News
Dr. David Farrell: Parthe News
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: They were good, I remember the first movie I saw was in Arlington, and then I was four years old, you don’t need to know this, but anyway, it was a silent movie, it was Charlie Chapman and the silent movie, they were really corny.
Dr. David Farrell: They weren’t violent.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh no violence, no it was just silly, funny, silly
Dr. David Farrell: There were, oh I think the love scenes would be a kissing scene.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh that was all right, I wasn’t interested in that.
Q: Yeah, not at four years old!
Dr. David Farrell: Very reserved
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: But that was before the Depression
Dr. David Farrell: Oh yeah, I didn’t go too often, I was afraid of well, Frankenstein. I saw that one, Bride of Frankenstein, now that was probably ‘32, ‘33, 1932, so I was ten years old, and after I saw that I didn’t sleep for weeks! Not during the night, I would sleep during the day but not at night.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: What about the street.
Dr. David Farrell: Oh I walked down the middle of the street because I was afraid people were going to jump out from the ditches.
Q: Oh at night, or during the day?
Dr. David Farrell: During the day, whoa I wouldn’t go out at night.
Q: I know, I was going to say whoa!
Q: Well what kind of music did you listen to?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I did play the piano, and I liked, you know, piano. Well anyone kind of music, but I did like the other music from the orchestras and all that stuff, we had records
Dr. David Farrell: Well you played the piano, so …
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I did play the piano. I loved that.
Dr. David Farrell: I liked the big band, Glenn Miller, but that was later on.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: That was later on.
Dr. David Farrell: That was toward the end of the Depression, just before the war and during the war and that’s when we came out of the depression, the war, put everybody to work. That was really the one way that we did get out of the depression, a costly way, but.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Terrible way to do that.
Q: Do you remember sports of this era? What was your favorite and why?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I did like to ride my bike and I played tennis for a while.
Q: What were your bikes like? Were they like the banana seat bikes with the big handle?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh no I had a regular bike. And I really did bike a lot up in Maine in the summer time I biked a lot. But Daddy you have to tell about your sports you played everything.
Dr. David Farrell: Well I played everything, everything, football, hockey, baseball, those were the three main sports in the different times of the year. We played, and never, never an afternoon without playing something, whether it was out in the street, or down the playground. In the street we could play telephone-to-telephone pole, that was the gridiron for football and there weren’t that many cars.
Q: Many say that in those days most kids had heroes. Did you have any hero? Who was it, why?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I always loved my teachers, I just loved my teachers, those were my heroes. I really did.
Dr. David Farrell: Well my father as the track coach had some good track athletes so they were my heroes and some of the football players at Harvard were.
Q: On an average day, what did you do? Did you ever have any adventures?
Dr. David Farrell: Any what?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh I don’t think I did. You and your potatoes.
Dr. David Farrell: Well it was mostly a really neighborhood kind of things, you did things with your friends in the neighborhood, adventures?
Q: Didn’t you go boating with your brother one time or something? I remember that story.
Dr. David Farrell: Oh that was a good deal later, yeah that was an adventure. As a matter of fact our father had bought us a skiff and now I was 12 so that was in 1934, and my brother was 14, and the skiff was up in the marsh, this was down in Scituate. So we had to get the boat out and push it through the marsh and we were waist deep in mud all the way until we got it into the harbor and then we had to row it out beyond the breakwater and come into the beach where we beached it. But the boat was pretty old and the seams weren’t tight so it didn’t make it out of the harbor.
Q: What was community life like then? Just the community, I don’t know
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I think the neighbors more then, well not in your situation, but I think, I know Wayland is wonderful but Watertown it was the neighborhood, everybody was good to each other, when I lived in Weston, this was years later, we didn’t have a neighborhood and so I really did love that. The sense of community.
Dr. David Farrell: We were in a different neighborhood.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: We were in the same town, different neighborhood.
Dr. David Farrell: Same town, different neighborhood. Different ages in mine, in mother’s neighborhood they were all young, young neighborhood, ours was young and old and so that we had very little interchange with neighbors, we were all pretty private, and of course the friends were different places but my folks weren’t friendly with my friends’ parents because they were probably a street apart or something. No, no we were much more private than up in Merrill Road were Dotty lived.
Q: What was school like?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I thought they were wonderful. My elementary was brand new; in fact I think we were the first class to go through it so it was very nice. But at the end of that school, on the property too, there was a big house, it looked like a farmhouse in a way, but you know it was a poor house.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yes, it was where the people who were really suffering from the Depression lived.
Q: Oh really?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Mmhmm, and it was right on the lawn of this lovely new school, you know it was kind of sad. I don’t know whether those children came, I suppose they probably did go to school, but they wouldn’t say they lived there or anything. It was a beautiful new school and on this property there was a poor house.
Q: How many families do you think lived there, or did you have no idea?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: It looked as if it would be about 12 families would you say?
Dr. David Farrell: Multiple families
Q: Were they from just your community or from all over?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Did you know anything about them?
Dr. David Farrell: No, just you heard about them. People would refer to them.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: People knew about it.
Q: So it was a bad thing to be part of?
Dr. David Farrell: The Poor house, yeah.
Q: And what was your school like since it was a different school?
Dr. David Farrell: We, Dorothy lived in the newer part of town and that’s where they had the new school. WE were old school and we lived in an area where there were a lot of Italians and a lot of Armenians because they were the workers who populated the Hood Rubber Company the biggest manufacturing in the town.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Watertown had the largest.
Dr. David Farrell: Armenian population.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: But also companies.
Dr. David Farrell: Oh yeah, it was the most industrialized town in the state.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: You know, Underwood, Deviled Ham, and there was an arsenal.
Dr. David Farrell: The Watertown Arsenal, and the Hood Rubber Company, which you mentioned, but a lot of companies.
Dr. David Farrell: That’s why Watertown had problems with the Depression because the Hood Rubber closed; all those people were out of work, just closed down. All those people were out of work. Underwood, I suppose that, the Watertown Arsenal which was a federal institution, but they cut down on munitions so that one, that pretty much closed.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: But the war it was good for them.
Dr. David Farrell: There was a lot, In Watertown, a lot of unemployment.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I had children in my first grade class too, one child named Anthony who had just come over from Italy. He must have been 5 or 6 years older than me and he wore suspenders, you know, one of those children with old clothes on. It was just so sad. You should tell them about…
Dr. David Farrell: We had just become very friendly with classmates who we knew all along but one started with me in the first grade and he was maybe a year older but he had come over from Armenia and his family was decimated by the Armenian genocide. Now this was an annihilation of Armenian people by the Turks and its something that people don’t know about because the only genocide you heard of is the Nazi genocide of the Jews, but there was this in 1917, 18, 19 and 20, where, I don’t know, three Armenians were killed by the Turks. That was a religious war. But he came over, most of his family was killed, and he started school in the first grade with me. He wrote and book recently where he talked about being in the second grade and we were going on a field trip, and he didn’t have 25 cents to go on the field trip. And my folks gave some extra money, which I didn’t know, and he has it in the book, and he named my folks but they had given maybe a dollar to take care of four youngsters. That gives you an idea that some people just didn’t have 25 cents.
Q: Wow, wow. So, what chores or responsibilities did you have growing up and were these impacted by the depression at all?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I helped out around the house.
Dr. David Farrell: You liked to work around the outside too.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yeah but that was later on. I loved to work in the gardens, I did, but if this was during the Depression I think then mostly around the house.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah I shoveled snow.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yeah that too.
Dr. David Farrell: But later on even, getting jobs that was tough. It was tough, you know, all the very Armenian jobs, men did that to support their families. There wasn’t much work, there were caddies who could caddy but there wasn’t much going for them, they just cut back.
Q: Do you recall your first job that you had for pay? What was it like and what did you do with the money you made?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I worked in the store, in the underwear and bra department.
Q: Oh really!?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yeah, that was a summer job, at a clothing store in Boston.
Q: How much did you get paid? Do you have any idea?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh I don’t remember.
Dr. David Farrell: My first job was a summer job at the Pyrofax in Cambridge. I was moving tanks around and I got 25 dollars a week, for 40 hours. You took home, the take home pay out of that was probably $24.50, they took 50 cents out or something, for insurance or whatever it was.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Well I worked at the John Hancock. I worked for a week and I got 15 dollars and my take home pay was $14.32 or something like that. That was it for a full week!
Dr. David Farrell: Five and a half days was it!
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Oh yeah, some people still had to work on Saturdays. Can you imagine I was thrilled, but I probably wasn’t that thrilled with that job.
Q: Were members of your family affected by the Great Depression?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I really honestly will say that I myself wasn’t affected by the depression. But I know who was and I knew other people that were.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah family members, salesmen, my uncle was out of a job, and others and they used to come by often to you know to have a good meal on a Sunday. And I know my folks would slip them money. Neighbors, my next door neighbor worked at Hood Rubber and he was terminated, and the other man he was just an Armenian worker, and then the man on the other side was an executive and he did lose his job and there was a lot of rankle there because of executive and the poor employees.
Q: Was your faith strong as a young person? Was religion impacted by the Depression at all?
Dr. David Farrell: Probably strengthened. Our family was strong in faith and that’s what probably made us wither the storm and made a lot of people. I think there was more of an out going show of faith.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Of course then during the war there really was a lot of faith.
Q: Do you recall Roosevelt? Any specifics?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Fireside chats.
Dr. David Farrell: I remember when we walked all the way down to Arsenal street because he was going by in the parade by the Arsenal.
Q: Do you remember the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and what she was like?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: She was quite a lady.
Dr. David Farrell: She was, there was another expression, that she was really hit by an ugly stick. [Laughter]
Q: What is that?!
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: She was hit by an ugly stick!
Dr. David Farrell: But she was a very talented lady.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: She was very talented. She wrote well, and she spoke well, or she didn’t speak well.
Dr. David Farrell: She did not speak well!
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Well I wouldn’t say she spoke well but she had the material. It was just almost a screech wasn’t it? It was a screech.
Dr. David Farrell: And now as a dentist I could have done a good deal of work on her teeth. To correct the stick!
Q: Do you recall ever seeing a “Hooverville” or homeless people? I mean you said the house on the schoolyard, but was that the closest you ever saw to something like that?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I think so.
Dr. David Farrell: We recall in the paper there would be pictures of the soup lines.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Yes, I never saw that but that is true.
Dr. David Farrell: Yes, we saw pictures but we didn’t see because they probably would have them in Watertown Square, but we didn’t get down to that.
Q: Do you remember any of FDR’s plan to help end the Depression? And the programs and everything?
Dr. David Farrell: WPA was I think the first one.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: And the Nation Recovery Agency.
Dr. David Farrell: NRA.
Q: Did you know people who were a part of it?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: Remember there was the CCC?
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, a neighbor of ours was a member of the CCC. There were a lot of problems with it because people too advantage of it. They would work just so hard, or not very hard at all.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: You know those pictures with them standing just with a shovel.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah the pictures, just leaning on a shovel, they learned that if you walked around with a shovel you looked busy. But yeah I think they were good programs because it put some people back to work.
Q: Did you parents think FDR’s New Deal was a good program?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I think my father did. I don’t know at that time because we had different views. I was a Republican, because my family was, so my folks weren’t that crazy about FDR. But you know I did agree with him, although I didn’t vote for him.
Dr. David Farrell: My father was a starched Democrat, so whatever FDR went out and did, it was correct. I have some reservations now, but then I thought so too.
Q: One famous event of the late 1930’s was the New York 1939 World’s Fair, which was titled “the world of tomorrow”. How do you remember this famous fair if at all?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I went to it!
Q: You did? Was it cool?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: It was cool, it was a terrible time because we had just graduated from high school and you know all of those festivities you have before hand, well so I missed the practice for the graduation. But I enjoyed it with the Trylon and the Perisphere, that was the theme of the fair. I went to it and I saw the first television, you know they had a little biddy thing. It was the beginning of that, but yes I did go but I could have enjoyed it more I think if I didn’t know what I was missing at home!
Dr. David Farrell: Well I attended all of the high school functions but I didn’t go to the fair!
Q: While the country was in the Depression do you remember learning about Hitler’s rise in Germany or the Japanese military advances in Asia?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: You know we did not know what was going on to all of those Jewish people for a long time.
Dr. David Farrell: Oh we didn’t know about the Jews.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: We really didn’t know that, can you imagine?
Dr. David Farrell: No we didn’t know that but we did see on the news the marching, Italy marching into Ethiopia, Germany marching into Sudan, we saw Japan marching. We saw all of this and this was all going on when we were in high school and it was a frightening time, and we didn’t know what, but it was a frightening time.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: But they showed Hitler and having all of his troops marching. It was scary!
Dr. David Dorothy: There was a cloud over them and it affected us I think, maybe more than we were concerned.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: As far as the genocide and the killing of the Jewish people, honestly I think if we had known that, something would have fell through a long time ago. It was unbelievable that we were so, I don’t know why we didn’t know, but it was terrible.
Q: Do you think the government was secretive about it?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I think Germany was.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah, oh Germany, they exterminated them and it was just horrible that we weren’t aware of it! We weren’t aware of it! We were aware of maybe they had our men but we knew about glass nights, one time the Germans came in and, I think it was in Berlin, it might not have been Berlin I forgot, but they broke into all the jewelry stores and they smashed it all, and that was all the glass breaking, and they took all the jewelry. But this was wide spread. I remember thing, “Well that’s a strange thing, that’s a cruel thing. Why would somebody do that?” But then you didn’t hear much more about it, that’s it. I don’t know what it was, but as if you didn’t talk much about it then maybe it wouldn’t happen again.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: But they were happening again, and we should have realized that it wasn’t stopping there.
Q: Do you think we’re still affected at all by the Great Depression? Today?
Dr. David Farrell: I think so. I don’t know about affected but we’re comparing what’s happening today as to what happened before.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: We don’t know, but people are really losing their jobs, so that’s really a bad situation. To compare and say which is worse, well it could be now.
Dr. David Farrell: Yeah it could be, it could be terrible.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: And we don’t want a war to take us out, we have enough war on the news.
Q: How are kids different today than in your childhood?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I don’t know, but I think they’re going out, you know Lindsay and my other grandchildren, and it’s so nice that the children go with the parents to dinner parties so that they socialize at an early age. I think you’ll benefit. We didn’t do that. I don’t know what other differences, well you have your cell phones. I think your parents benefit by those because they know where you are all the time.
Q: But were your parents as worried?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I don’t know if they worried about me but I certainly worried about my children!
Q: But otherwise you think it’s pretty much the same?
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I think that girls are much more active now. I wish I had been more active.
Dr. David Farrell: Well the girls then that played basketball were kind of geeks. No really, and even up until your parents time, the girls didn’t get into athletics as much. They did if they were tomboys or something but then it was accepted, I think it was title 9 was when things became not acceptable but very favorable.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I didn’t do anything so I envy you girls.
Dr. David Farrell: But they didn’t have it then.
Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about how badly the economy is doing these days. The stock market dropped dramatically, food prices are way up, inflation is up, unemployment is up, war costs are close to a trillion dollars, and our national debt is over nine trillion dollars. What are the lessons of the Great Depression for us today? Have we learned these lessons?
Dr. David Farrell: I’m concerned about the government taking over the auto industry, taking over so many things that I think in time is just going to be much more of a problem. I’m concerned about you, I’m concerned about the children. This trillion dollar debt, its something that is beyond my comprehension as debt is concerned. In our time we didn’t have credit cards, so we didn’t buy, and that’s what the Depression has taught us, we don’t buy things unless we can afford them. And now your children’s children will be paying for things that happened now, and that’s a fright to me.
Mrs. Dorothy Farrell: I just hope that it can all turn around. It can’t get any worse, well it can get worse but we want it to get better. The solution is, well, hopefully there is one.
Q: Yeah, well thank you, we have no more questions to ask you.