FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Women at Work: An Oral History of
in Fall River, Massachusetts
Interview with Mrs. Manuel Amaral, née Hortencia “Ester” Pacheco Ribeiro
Interviewer: (JR) Joyce B. Rodrigues
Interviewee: (HA) Mrs. Manuel Amaral, née Hortencia “Ester” Pacheco Ribeiro
Additional Commentary: (PA) Paul J. Amaral, Hortencia’s son
(NB) Norma Rose Brandt, Hortencia’s niece
Date of Interview: November 12, 2014
Location: Fall River Historical Society
Transcriber: Deborah Mello
Hortensia “Ester” (Ribeiro) Amaral was born in Fall River on September 21, 1916.
Her parents immigrated to the United States from the island of St. Michael in the Azores. They met in Fall River and were married at the Santo Christo Church (Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres), Columbia Street, in 1907.
There were five children in the family. Hortensia had an older brother and sister and two younger brothers. The family lived in the south end of the city, close to the Tiverton, Rhode Island, line in mill housing: the Bourne blocks, owned by the Bourne Mills.
The Ribeiro family – grandfather, father, mother, brothers and sisters – all worked in the Bourne Mills. Hortensia started working at the Bourne in 1931 at the age of fifteen. She left in 1932 to seek other employment after a strike that lasted nine months.
Hortensia married in 1942 and had one son. Her brothers and husband all served in World War II. She was also the family caregiver to her parents and a bachelor brother.
Her career took her to factories in Fall River: Bourne Mills, United Rayon Mills, Massasoit Manufacturing Company, Maplewood Yarn Mills, Lyn Sportswear, Firestone Rubber and Latex Products Company, Raytheon Company (Dighton, Massachusetts), Gamma Leather, Inc., and Center Garment Company, Inc.
Hortensia retired in 1978 at the age of sixty-two after forty-seven years of employment. She is active in senior centers.
Hortensia’s century-long work and family life parallels Fall River’s economic history from the decline of the textile industry through the transition to the garment and wartime industries, and finally postwar manufacturing.
Note: This interview has been slightly edited for continuity and readability; in order to preserve the integrity of the conversation, the phraseology remains that of the interviewer and interviewee. Italicized information in square brackets has been added for the purposes of clarification and context.
JR: This is an interview with Mrs. Manual Amaral. It is being conducted at the Fall River Historical Society on November 12, 2014. The purpose of the interview is to record and preserve the memories, reflections and thoughts of working women who have first-hand knowledge of working in Fall River from 1920 to about 1950. So I am going to start with Mrs. Amaral, and I am going to ask her to go back a little bit and tell me about her family. When were you born?
HA: I was born September 21, 1916.
JR: And where were you born?
HA: Plymouth Street, the Bourne Blocks, the lower block that belonged to the Bourne Mill. They owned them blocks.
JR: Okay, so you were born in the United States.
HA: Yes, Fall River.
JR: Wonderful. How about your parents?
HA: My mother was born in Portugal and my father was born in Portugal. I have their marriage license if you want to see that.
JR: And do you know where they were born, in what village or town?
HA: My mother was born in the city, somewhere in the city.
PA: Ponta Delgada
JR: Oh, the Ponta Delgada. Your son is telling me Ponta Delgada.
HA: It was in the city somewhere, I don’t know. My father was a Lagoa, Azores.
JR: And why do you think they immigrated? Did they ever tell you why they immigrated?
HA: All I know is they got married. The year they got married here. So they, my father was twenty-one when he came here. My mother was already here with my grandfather.
JR: Do you remember your grandfather?
HA: Oh, yeah, he lived with us.
JR: And your grandmother?
HA: No, I never knew my grandmother. She, uh, they separated.
JR: That was…
HA: That was strange for them days, you know?
JR: Now, were there other children in your family?
HA: Yeah, five, three brothers and my sister and I. I was the middle one. Was my brother, my sister, were born first, then it was me, then my two brothers.
JR: Now, did your parents work in the mills?
HA: Yes, my father worked in the Bourne Mill.
JR: Oh, the Bourne Mill?
HA: My mother worked in a small Shove. Not sure if you ever heard of that. A mill right before you get to the Bourne Mill, right there on Shove Street, it was a mill there. Small Shove. Until she got her children. And then she never worked again. Then my father worked in the Bourne Mill. As a weaver.
JR: As a weaver. What about your mother, what kind of work did she do?
HA: She worked in the spinning room.
JR: The spinning room. And your grandparents? You said …
HA: My grandfather used to work upstairs, used to put some kind of a cotton in round cans, tall cans. I don’t know what kind it was.
JR: In the Bourne Mill?
HA: Yeah, he worked upstairs.
JR: And then you also worked in the Bourne Mill.
HA: We all did. My brother was a weaver. My sister and I and my two brothers were fillin’ carriers. They used to put the bobbins in the can where we used to put it. Yeah, yeah. And then, uh, I worked there until I was about fifteen. And then they went on strike. The union was always butting in, you know? So we went on strike, they were on strike, they were out for nine months. We were on strike for nine months. Nothing coming in. Nothing. We had nothing for nine months. So, finally, I decided to go and look for a job. And I went and worked in United Rayon on Globe Street. I worked there for $6 a week. I used to run forty-eight machines.
JR: Forty-eight machines? What kind of work was it?
HA: Cotton, cotton. Rayon. United Rayon. And, uh, I worked there for quite a while.
JR: So what kind of work was that on these machines?
HA: It was like spinning. Yeah, Rayon.
JR: And you had to run forty-eight machines?
HA: Yeah, I used to run them. I was a son-of-a-gun for working. That’s why. All my bosses admired me for my job. They used to hate to lay me off because, even today, I am still at it. I still like to, but I can’t like I used to, you know?
JR: You like to keep busy.
HA: Yeah, when I see someone doing something, it bothers me because I can’t go over and do with them because I am so used to, uh. I worked hard all my life.
JR: So you decided to go to work to help your family?
HA: Yeah, because there was nothing coming in, no one was thinking of going to look for a job. Everyone was sitting around. So I said, I am going to go, I was a go getter. So I went and uh, it happened, her father was the boss in that place, in the United Rayon, so through him I got the job.
JR: Okay, so …
HA: I was lucky for $6 something. And then, when I was working for $6 a week, when Roosevelt came in, remember that?
JR: I heard about him. No, I heard about Roosevelt.
HA: Anyway, when he came in, the pay went all the way up to $12 and something. I felt like a rich woman. I ran the first time I got my pay, I ran all the way home. I couldn’t afford to take the bus. I had no money. So I ran from Globe Street all the way to Tiverton. Run to show my mother all that money I was making.
JR: So, those were in the 1930s, that would have been around the 1930s.
HA: In the Depression. So, but Roosevelt came as a boost. What a difference from $6. And I used to work forty hours a week. You know? But, uh …
JR: Do you remember what Fall River was like in those days?
HA: Oh, yeah.
JR: What was it like?
HA: I don’t know, it was just you used to go down to the city with all the beautiful stores: McWhirr’s, Cherry and Webb, Newbury’s, and then the market in the corner. That is where all the poor people used to go and buy all their food. Hardly anything. The men used to buy a dozen eggs for twenty-five cents them days. You bought a pound of steak for twenty-five cents. And my mother couldn’t afford to buy all that because we weren’t working. But it just happened that the man who had the grocery store, he used to say, ‘Mary, you buy it for the children because, and you pay a little bit by the week.’ So every week my mother would give them whatever she had to give him. We went without. And we ate more, a lot, because my father used to go down to the water and get clams, quahogs, that’s why I love seafood. My father used to bring home lobsters and walk up the hill at Hooper Street. The steep hill with two buckets of clams and what not. That was how we ate because we had no money. We had nothing. I never had anything for Christmas. I never owned a doll because we never had nothing. When we put our stockings up for Santa Claus, we used to, all we got was walnuts and Christmas candy. That was good, that was wonderful. But no gifts. That’s it.
JR: Well, I am going to ask you to describe your home then. Did you live in your own home, or did you rent?
HA: My family?
JR: Yes, your family.
HA: We couldn’t afford nothing. We couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t afford anything. Couldn’t afford to eat, never mind.
JR: Did you pay rent? Or did you have your own home.
HA: Yes, $2, we worked in the Bourne Mills, in the Bourne Mills block for $4.
JR: $4 a week?
HA: Yeah. That was a lot of money then. We didn’t have it.
JR: That was a lot of money.
HA: We didn’t have it. Somehow my mother must’ve managed. My mother was like me, a go-getter. She hold onto her money. She know what to do.
JR: Did you have your own room in your house or did you have to share a room with your sister?
HA: I had to do with my sister, and my brothers, it was three in a bed. And they were. My mother happened to have a big room with a little alcove or something and she had like a couch. Then one of my brothers sleep there. And the other two would sleep with my oldest brother. When they used to raise all kinds of cane.
JR: We kind of jumped a little bit to working. But I wanted to go back for a minute and ask you about going to school.
JR: Tell me about going to school.
HA: What do you want to know?
JR: When did you start and what school did you go to?
HA: I started, went to first grade. I must have been seven years old then. I went to Mount Hope Avenue School.
HA: And they used to call me Ester. I don’t know if I should tell you this. They used to call me Ester, the moment I went to school, the teachers were calling everyone’s names, you know. So they were calling my name, which is Hortense. And I never said anything. You know? And then she said again, ‘Hortense Ribeiro.’ I didn’t answer. And then they said, ‘That’s you.’ I said, ‘No, that’s not my name. My name is Ester.’ She said, ‘No, your name is Hortense.’ No one ever told me my name was Hortense. They used to say it in Portuguese, but never told me in English that my name was Hortense. I always figured it was Ester. I was crying, I was, ‘No, it’s not, my name is Ester.’
JR: Now, does Hortense mean Ester?
HA: No, Hortense in Portuguese.
JR: What does it mean?
JR: Just Hortense?
HA: I don’t know where my mother got that name. I told my mother, I will never forgive you for giving me that name. I still haven’t forgiven her. I hate that name.
JR: Did you speak Portuguese at home?
HA: Oh, yeah, my father didn’t understand English. So, we always had to talk Portuguese. When we used to talk English, my father would say, ‘Hey, speak Portuguese so I know what you are talking about.’ But after, he learned. And then he got to be an American citizen. My mother. My mother was smart, she went to school here. She come here at age nine. And she went to school. She had two brothers. I had two uncles. Manual and Joe.
JR: Did they also work in the mills?
HA: Yeah, we all worked, everybody worked in the Bourne Mill. And did you know that people used to work, I don’t know if you know where Columbia Street is? And you know where the Bourne Mills is? You know those people used to walk from there, five o’clock in the morning all the way to the Bourne Mill because they couldn’t afford to take the bus.
JR: The bus or a trolley? Was it a trolley?
HA: Yes, there was a trolley that. And with us, too. All kinds of storm and mud, we all used to go to school the same way, they didn’t cancel like before. You had to walk. Because we had no money to take the bus or trolley at the time.
JR: Let’s get back to the Mount Hope School. How many grades were in that school?
JR: Four grades?
HA: And then I went to Hicks School. And Hicks School, I think it was until sixth.
PA: When she went I think it was eighth.
NB: Sixth grade.
PA: Did you quit from the Hicks School?
HA: No, I quit school from Slade when I was fifteen.
JR: So, this is the Hicks School on Hicks Street?
HA: Yeah, I worked, I went right through there, then I went to Slade Street. But I never got around to the graduate. I never graduated from the eighth grade. Because as soon as my father, when we were old enough, my father would pull us out of the, to work. So I never had the chance to graduate. They wouldn’t. My father said, ‘You know you weren’t born to go to school. Just to have children.’ And then they had old fashioned ideas.
JR: Yeah. So he was thinking that you were going to get married and have children.
HA: Yeah, I didn’t get married until I was twenty-five years old. And sometimes I forget. What was I going to say?
JR: Did you have a lot of friends in school? A lot of girl friends?
HA: Oh, yeah, the boys used to pick on me all the time. You know, I used to get up, the teacher used to tell me to come to the desk. And this guy… I could kill him even today. Every time I go by, he would put his foot out and I would go flying.
JR: He tripped?
HA: All the time. He always did that to me.
JR: Maybe he liked you. Think he liked you?
HA: Yeah, he was trying. But I didn’t like him.
NB: Who was it?
HA: And when I saw my husband, I met my husband when I was thirteen years old.
JR: Where did you meet him?
HA: Down at South Park. You know the South Park?
JR: Yeah, I do.
HA: And I said to myself, ‘That is the guy I am going to marry.’
JR: How did you know that?
HA: I don’t know, I just liked him. And then he never, I used to be with him and his friends. And he never said anything to me. He would just wave. And I’d think, that guy is not going to ask me for a date. I will have to go ask him.
JR: That is kind of shocking, isn’t it? I mean, to ask a guy?
HA: I told you, when I make up my mind I want something, I used to go and get it. So finally I went looking for him.
JR: Did you know his family? Did you know who he was?
HA: No, I didn’t know. I just knew him, I liked him. That was it. And I told him, ‘Hey, why don’t you ask me for a date? Why don’t you go out with me?’ He says, ‘I can’t afford you.’ The Depression. Nobody worked. He didn’t. When he went out with me, he didn’t even have a nickel to put me in the bus. But he was a poor thing. He had no mother or father. I said, ‘Look. You go out for me, your luck is going to change.’
JR: Was he, how did he live, how was he living?
HA: He lived with his grandmother.
JR: He lived with his grandmother?
HA: He used to go for handouts. Welfare. That is how everybody lived. But in my time, they didn’t have that. So my father used to go hunting down the water for clams, quahogs, peeniewinkles. My mother used to make me sit down and do the peeniewinkles to keep me out of trouble. I was always in trouble.
JR: I am going to ask you about dating your husband. Where did you go if he had no money?
HA: We would go for walks. We would go down to South Park. All the girlfriends and boyfriends went down the South Park. Where else could we go? And walk. We used to walk from my house all the way down, and he lived on Langley Street.
JR: Oh, wow, that is a long way.
HA: He used to walk.
JR: Did he meet your father and mother?
HA: Finally, I brought him home one time. He had never had much to eat at home, so my mother used to feed him. My mother was nice, she would feed anybody that came to her house.
JR: What are your memories of going out with him? Was he able to take you to the movies or anything like that?
HA: Well, yeah, no, I used to pay my own. You know, you go to Park Show, you pay ten cents to go in. Remember that? Ten cents to go to the Park Show. That was a lot of money. So I let him pay sometimes, other times I pay for him. And I felt sorry for him.
JR: I am going to go back a little bit.
HA: Then he went back in the service, and he went in the service.
JR: Oh he did?
HA: Oh yeah, he was a National Guard. He was one of the first ones to go in. I was just going out with him then. Oh, then, before him, I was supposed to get, I got a few boyfriends, you know? I was going to get married. I had all my bridesmaids all picked out and I decided I didn’t want to get married.
JR: Now, could you save your money for the wedding?
HA: What money?
JR: Well, from your job at the mill.
HA: No one used to give me money. My mother never. She used to. We never got spending money in those days. We couldn’t afford it. Then if I needed something she would buy it for me, you know? But as far as, my brother was thirty-five years old and he still wasn’t getting any spending money.
JR: So your income went to the house.
JR: Your salary, the income you made went into your father and mother?
HA: My mother, I used to adore my mother. I used to tell my mother, she used to work so hard. I used to tell her, Ma, she never…. She always had cotton dresses that were smocks. ‘If I ever make money working, my first pay I am going to be for you to go out and buy yourself a nice dress.’ I always said that, since I was a kid. I said that. So finally, when I went to work at Bourne Mills, I got my first pay. See, in them day, when my sister and my brother get their pay, they had to go and bring it to my father. The pays had to go to the father, you couldn’t hold it. So, when I got my pay I didn’t give it to him, I held onto it. But he never said anything. So, on his way home, we walked. My father says, ‘Don’t you have any intention of giving me your money?” I said, ‘No.’ ‘What do you mean, no?’ I says, ‘I promised Mom I was going to give her that for a dress, and that is what she is going to get.’ But he didn’t say anything. She brought a beautiful navy blue dress with chiffon sleeves, I was so proud of her. But I kept my promise.
JR: Now, after that, did you have to turn your money in? You had to do.
HA: Yeah, that I had to do, but that first one was for my mother. I was always buying her things. I was always buying it.
JR: Your mother sewed her own clothes? And she made clothes?
HA: And that’s one thing about the teachers, they used to love my mom. I used to, in them days, there were flares and pleated. I used to tell my mother how to make my dress. I used to tell her, ‘I want it this way.’ So, one day, a teacher said, ‘Hortense, you always look so nice in your clothes.’ She says. ‘How do you do it? Who does your dresses?’ I said, ‘My mother.’ She said, ‘Oh, very nice,’ she says. I says, ‘I tell her how to make it. That’s the way I want it.’ They couldn’t believe it. I was only fifth grade. Miss O’Hearn? Remember Miss O’Hearn.
NB: I remember Miss Phillips in first grade.
HA: Fifth grade, Miss O’Hearn, she was tough. Used to whack us around like nothing. Yup, used to whack us. Can’t do that today.
JR: No, I don’t think so. So, you did you learn to sew from your mother? Did she teach you how to sew?
HA: As much as I wanted to learn to sew, I could never learn. But yet, I learned to crochet. I did Afghans, I did bedspreads, I did everything, and yet I couldn’t learn to sew. He’s yawning, he’s bored. I’m only kidding.
JR: Did you have chores around the house?
HA: Have what?
JR: Did you have to do your chores around the house?
HA: Of course. My mother didn’t have to tell me what to do.
JR: What did you do?
HA: I did house work. Sometimes I come home from work, my mother would be ironing, I would say, ‘Mom, give me that iron,’ and I would do all the ironing. I used to do it. You know, washed floors. We used to have stairs. I used to clean all those stairs. I used to do the beds, everything.
JR: Did you have a washing machine?
HA: No. Scrubbed.
JR: Scrubbing those clothes. How did you heat the house? How did you, was there a stove, a wood stove?
HA: No, it was a wood stove when my mother lived in the Bourne Mill blocks. That was a wood stove. When we were kids. But when I was about fifteen, we moved onto State Avenue to this cottage, we had a heater.
JR: So, they had to chop the wood. They had to chop wood.
HA: Oh, yeah, buy coal. My mother used to save all year for coal. They used to buy a ton of coal, and a ton was $45 them days. My mother had to save all, put aside every week some money to have the money to buy coal.
JR: And did a ton of coal last the whole winter.
HA: We tried. We used a lot of wood. And that is how Mom used to cook on that and all. Although she had a gas stove, which she seldom used it when the stove was during the winter. And she used to cook the roasts. Use the oven, you roast it. And my mother was a good cook.
JR: So, she had favorites. Did you have to learn to cook with her?
HA: Oh, yeah, but we didn’t fit in the kitchen with her because the kitchen was small and she was a little chubby, and we didn’t fit in there. Remember? She looked nice though, I was proud of her. I loved her so much. She weighed about two-hundred pounds. But she was tall. But she looked good. And she had nice arms. One time she tore her arm and I cried because her arms were so nice, and I couldn’t see it. I was a softy when it was for my mother.
JR: What were some of her favorite recipes?
HA: Chourico. We loved Chourico. And no matter what we cooked, there was Chourico in it. I don’t know. But Chourico had to be in it. I used to love Chourico. That is what used to give it the taste.
JR: And did she make her own bread?
HA: Yes, her own sweet bread. She used to knead it in a big pan and cover it and put it back on the stove, and it used to rise up from the heat. And she used to make sweet bread. She made biscuits. She used to make a sweet bread. She would make five. We each had a sweet bread. The five of us. My brother John, who was the oldest, so he got two. My sister was the next, she got two. And then me, and my two brothers, only got one. And we resented that. Because you wanted two like them, she would say, ‘No.’ And she would make the big ones. She had the big ones with the egg. They used to put eggs.
JR: You made those sweetbreads for Easter?
JR: Did you cook like that for your family?
HA: Yeah, not like my mother, but I cooked. I did pretty good. My husband didn’t starve. He’d eat anything because he never had anything, so no matter what I gave him, he ate.
JR: I am going to ask you if you had a radio in those days.
HA: Yes. No, we had nothing. When we were in the Bourne Mills Block, we didn’t even have electricity. There was no electricity. It was all … uh …
HA: Kerosene. And my mother used to have a mirror in back of it and it gave a big light. You know? When you want to hear this one. So, one time I was in the Bourne Mill block, I was about six years old or seven. I tell my mother, ‘I’m hungry. I’m going to have bread and butter.’ That was all we could eat, bread and butter. We had nothing else. My mother said she was busy in the kitchen. So, Momma says, ‘Wait a minute, when I get through with this I will give it to you.’ So I opened the, at the time there was an old fashion ice box, it had the ice, where you put the ice or the water pan for the ice. And my mother had a big … uh … bowl with fish in it. A big one, not a small one, a big one, on top of the ice box. So I opened the door of the ice box and I put myself over it and swinging over it back and forth. My mother said, ‘Get away from there. Don’t do that.’ ‘No, I want bread, give me bread, Ma.’ And I’m swinging back and forth. All of a sudden, the ice box tips over, I escaped in time, or I would have been killed. There goes the fish slapping down on the floor. There we go all over the place. And I ran out. Oh, when I saw that, I ran out. My poor mother, she had to clean that up. So, after she got rid of it, she says, ‘Hey Ester, come on, I will give you the bread now.’ I said, ‘No, never mind, Ma, I’m not hungry.’ And I didn’t go, ‘cause she would have killed me.
JR: Now, when you were growing up with your family, did you have any illnesses, any sicknesses or health care problems?
JR: Everyone was healthy?
HA: The normal, um, the only thing we got was the measles. My mother had the three of us with the measles. My two younger brothers and I at the same time. My mother worked so hard. That’s why I would have done anything for her. She had to take care of the three of us. That’s the only sickness we had. Even now, I haven’t, thank God at my age I have no cuts in my stomach, nothing. Thank God, no operations. Maybe I will get it after, but my body is like it always was.
JR: Okay, well, that sounds wonderful that there was a healthy family. There was a lot of sickness during the Depression, it was hard to pay for doctors. And your brothers and sisters, were they born at home? Or?
HA: They were all born at home. A lot of them, well, we had Dr. Lima, this guy my father used to work for, this Dr. Lima. Don’t know if you ever heard of him? Dr. Lima. He was our doctor; he never charged. My father used to work for him in his garden. But he, we were lucky and we were never charged, you know?
JR: So he was your mother’s doctor?
HA: Dr. Lima.
JR: So I am going to go run back again now to the mills. You started working at the Bourne?
HA: When I was fifteen.
JR: And then how long did that last?
HA: That didn’t last too long, because right after that the union butt in, wanted more money, and the union, the place wouldn’t give it to them. So, they closed down the place, it was nine months. I’ll never forget that. That was when I went to get the job, I worked in about seven or six different place.
JR: Can you remember all of those places for us?
HA: I got the names here, Firestone, pocketbook place…
PA: Gamma Leather.
JR: Keep going.
HA: Gamma Leather, that was a pocketbook place.
PA: Maplewood Yarn Mills. The Maplewood Yarn Mills.
HA: Yes, Maplewood Yarn Mills. That’s the one near the Charlton, it is near the South Main Street, near the fire barn.
PA: United Rayon, also on Griffin Street.
HA: I got it here.
PA: She worked for Raytheon in Dighton. You have Firestone?
HA: I was lucky, I worked in Firestone. I was lucky.
PA: Lyn Sportswear.
HA: Bourne Mills, United Rayon, The Rag Mill, Firestone, pocketbook place, Lyn Sportswear, Raytheon, and Center Garment.
PA: You worked there, you retired from Center Garment.
HA: Oh that’s right. Yeah. Center Garment. That’s a Jewish. That was the better place, that is where we used to make dresses especially for the President’s wife.
JR: Really? I never heard of that. Tell me more about that.
HA: No, that’s all I know. I used to be an examiner, I used to examine the garments. I forget the, I know his name was Abe. He was so good.
HA: Trieff, Abe Trieff. You ever heard of an Abe Trieff. And his son, what was his name?
JR: Yeah, I haven’t heard of, but Harvey, I think his son is Harvey.
HA: Yeah, Harvey was the older one, the two brothers, Harvey and Nate were two brothers. And I uh, I uh, I um, I used to examine the material. They were very good to me. They were very, very good to me.
JR: Now, how about Firestone. That was a huge plant.
HA: Yeah, I worked all over Firestone. I did pillows, I did everything. Well, there is a picture of me over there doing pillows.
JR: I didn’t know they did pillows.
HA: They had pillows, mattresses, my husband used to work there, too. Mattresses, everything. I started working upstairs in the spinning, I was spinning the threads for Firestone. I started …
JR: I thought they were always involved in the war, doing gas masks.
HA: During the war, they did gas masks. They had a department upstairs for gas masks. I wasn’t working there then. This was after the war, I didn’t have a job so I used to get my check, they used to give us money, then, you know? And they got me that job. That was the best thing they did.
JR: Oh, isn’t that interesting. When you got there, to Firestone, did you have to get training to do this work? Did someone show you?
HA: Yeah, they had to show you what to do, naturally. All my jobs were trained, even at the shops, the old shops. That is how I worked in all these places. Every time Firestone laid me off through the union – the union again – I had to go to get another job. That was how I found all these jobs.
JR: You paid into the union? Did you have to pay into the union?
HA: I think I had to pay twenty-five a week. I think twenty-five a month, I think.
JR: What union was that? What was the name of that union?
HA: Oh, I don’t know.
PA: United Rubber Workers Union.
JR: United Rubber Workers.
HA: Oh, that was Firestone.
JR: The dress shops had a different union.
PA: Ladies International Garment Workers Union.
HA: He remembers better than me. I can’t remember.
JR: Were you able to get a pension from those unions?
HA: Yes, I get very little. I only get thirty-some dollars from the union. Because I worked only ten years. You have to work there ten years. But see I never worked there long enough, because as soon as Firestone called me, I used to go back. And they used to tell me I was crazy to go back. The boss didn’t want to let me go. They said, ‘No, don’t go.’ I would say, ‘Hey, that’s money in the bank. I am going to go back there.’
JR: How long did you work at Firestone?
HA: Oh, over ten years.
PA: Seventeen years.
JR: So was there any pension from the Rubber Workers?
HA: I got not much, but even if I am working, they wouldn’t give it to me through my husband. But uh, I got the insurance. It would have been through my husband, too.
JR: Now, you asked me about President Roosevelt. He brought in the Social Security. He brought in Social Security, too.
HA: He brought in a lot of things, God bless him. But that raise, that was a beautiful, I still can’t get over it. I had hardly any money. And we worked the shops, and you make ten cents. Ninety cents an hour. Not even that. That is what we made a day in the union. I would make three or four dollars a week. And the shop, Lyn Sportswear, that’s one of the first shops I worked in. Lyn Sportswear. But they were all nice, they were all good bosses. But Firestone, I had a job there, I had to clock and I had a certain amount. I always went in.
JR: Was that piecework?
HA: Yeah, I would always go over. And my boss would come and take it away. And the end he would say, ‘God bless you.’ ‘Cause I always used to make more than I was supposed to. I was always a good worker. One time the big boss was watching me.
JR: I know, I was going to ask you too about all these jobs. Some of them were dangerous. Some of them may have been dangerous. Like at Firestone.
HA: That was a men’s job.
JR: A lot of chemicals down there?
HA: The jobs was mostly for men. Not for women. ‘Cause I used to do a, I never had any rash or anything …
JR: I’m just looking at your niece there, and she is telling me that some of the work at Firestone was chemical.
NB: Rash on your hands from Firestone.
HA: I don’t remember. I can’t remember. I know I did the pillows. I did the pillows, that’s all I can remember. And I did the, upstairs, I did the thread. And then I worked for Mr. Boyer, on something else, I don’t know. I worked almost every department.
JR: Do you remember the salary there? What you were earning? And your husband?
HA: Thirty-two dollars.
JR: Thirty-two dollars a week. That was pretty good, wasn’t it?
HA: We were rich. Um, what you call it, I can’t think of it now. We had better times then, the Depression was over. So Roosevelt was there, it kept going up. That was the best paying place in the city.
JR: Now, was your husband drafted? Did he go into World War II?
HA: Oh, yeah, I wasn’t married to him then. He was in the National Guard and he joined the National Guard so he could have a little bit of money for himself. He had no money, and couldn’t get any work from his past. His grandparents didn’t have any money either. So he joined the National Guard so he could get some money. He would only get enough to buy things. I don’t remember, I think it was thirty a month.
PA: I don’t remember.
HA: He didn’t make much. It was enough to keep him, you know, so naturally when the war started in ’42, I think, ‘42 is when I got married. Before that.
PA: He was due to be discharged from the National Guard in January, 1942. Of course, Pearl Harbor was a month before that. So he was interned for the duration.
JR: So, that didn’t work out. He had to stay in the National Guard because war broke out.
HA: Yeah, he had to go. He was one of the first ones to go. He went to New York, he stood there for a while. Some place in New York, then from there they went overseas.
JR: Do you remember where he went overseas?
HA: Yeah, he went to Germany.
PA: Germany, England, and France.
HA: Germany, England and France.
JR: That must have been very difficult for you.
HA: Well yeah, I missed him. There was nothing I could do. Then my two brothers went, and my three brothers went. My oldest brother was thirty-seven, and he went. And he hurt himself. He fell in Germany, he fell down some hill in Germany.
HA: Italy, and he hurt himself.
JR: Were they single at the time?
HA: My oldest brother never married.
JR: So you had three brothers in the war and your boyfriend at the time. That was …
HA: Until 1945, the war was over.
JR: And did they all come back? They all made it back to Fall River?
HA: My husband wasn’t the same when he came back. He was a sick man. They got the best of him. But he got over it. He was alright. My brother John was never the same. They never were the same when they came back.
JR: So during that time, you were always working at Firestone, or did you try the dress shops?
HA: I was working at the dress shops. Firestone was after the war.
JR: Okay. Now you went to Lyn Sportswear.
HA: That’s the first one.
JR: What kind of work did you do there?
JR: On the sewing machine?
HA: No, I didn’t sew. I was an inspector.
JR: Okay, because I know you kind of said …
HA: No, I tried, I tried to sew. Imagine, I could crochet anything. And I couldn’t learn it. I learned everything. No matter where I went. Even one time, I was at Firestone. I was doing something and this big boss come and was standing behind me, watching me. And after a while I never paid attention to him, I did my work. He says, ‘You seem like you like your job.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ He said, ‘You seem like you are enjoying it.’ I said, ‘Well I have to do it. So I am doing it. It isn’t because I like it.’
JR: What did you really want to do? Did you ever have an idea on what you wanted to do?
HA: No, just happened some job I didn’t care for. But I would do it the best I could. Some people used to mess everything up, not me. That is why they always liked me.
JR: How about Gamma Leather. What kind of work was done in Gamma Leather, a factory with pocketbooks?
HA: Well, they made pocketbooks.
JR: But you have to sew those, too. You have to sew.
HA: I put them together, they used to sew them, I put them together from what I can think of now. It’s been so long.
PA: I think you did the framing they do over there, once it was together you put the frame on, the metal frame.
HA: Something like that.
JR: Let’s move ahead to your family because you got married after the war.
HA: That, I can tell you this about getting married. My husband was in the service.
PA: She got married in 1942.
HA: My husband was in the service, so the war come out with something that every month our family would get a check. Every month you used to get a check. So it would be sent to wherever they wanted it to. So he told his grandmother, he says, he lived with his grandmother. And told his grandmother, ‘Grandma, I am going to send a check to you, but you have to help me and save some of that money so I can get married.’ She is like, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that.’ So he said, ‘Then I can’t send you that check. ‘Cause I am going to need it to get married when I come out.’ So anyway, so he started to get on my back, you know, we should get married. I said, ‘My mother doesn’t want me to get married. My mother says I shouldn’t get married while you’re in the service because you might die.’ Anyway, I got married without anyone knowing.
JR: Oh? In Fall River?
HA: Yeah, at Lady of the Angels Church, my church. So I got married. Nobody knew. Just his sister. She stood up for my wedding, and one of his friends from the service. So, finally, my mother decided to, my mother was tough, finally my mother says, ‘Alright, you can get married,’ to my husband. ‘And you two can marry.’ My husband says, ‘We are already married.’ Do you know that she went to church and tried to have it annulled?
HA: The priest said, ‘Hey, go home, they are married. Go home, forget about it.’
JR: But you were already of age.
HA: I was twenty-five. My father never said a thing. But my mother never forgave my husband. But after, my husband was very good to her. You know? But it was a shock to her when she found out. So I said, ‘You didn’t want me to get married. So that was for the check to come to me.’ And I used to get it, I used to put it in the bank.
JR: He was thinking of you.
HA: He was.
JR: He was thinking of you. It made sense. So then he went off to the war?
HA: Then he went to Texas. He come back. Before he went to the war, overseas, he went to Texas. So I went and stayed there with him. What can I say about Texas? It was beautiful. I loved it. What did they say, a two-horse town? It used to have the sheriffs on horseback with their guns. Just like in the movies. Just like it. It was beautiful. They had mostly Protestant churches. But they finally made one church for us. So that was very good. I wanted to go to the regular church.
JR: That’s quite an adventure. Not a lot of girls went to Texas.
HA: Oh, my husband wanted to be with me, although I couldn’t be with him. ‘Cause he was in the camp and I was living with a couple. I still write to them. The couple I lived with.
JR: That is a lovely story. Now, when did he come back from the war?
JR: You stayed there?
HA: I lived with my mother for a while.
JR: You lived in Fall River when he came back?
HA: Yeah. And did you know, when we got married, you know my mother wouldn’t let him sleep with me? ‘Home. You’re not staying here. Get out, go home.’ The poor guy used to have to leave.
JR: I guess he was trying to get along. He was trying to get along with your mother.
HA: He was soft. He was soft. I had a wonderful life.
JR: When he came back from the war, you set up your home in Fall River.
HA: I lived with my mother.
JR: And then when your husband came back, you had your home in Fall River?
HA: I lived with my mother in Fall River in a cottage.
PA: They both lived with my grandmother for a while.
HA: We lived right on the state line. Here is Fall River right on this side, and the other sidewalk was Tiverton.
JR: I know where that is.
HA: I lived there until I was put in an apartment up in the Common Fence Point. And then after I lived on Bradford Avenue. We moved. My mother cried so much because I was always with her, I took care of them, my mother and father. I took care of them.
JR: So tell me about your family. Did you have – when did you start your family? Do you have children?
HA: God, yeah. Got him.
JR: That’s it?
HA: Little rascal. He is one. I have a wonderful son, a beautiful son. He was born in ‘48.
HA: My husband come back in ‘45, and he was born in ‘48 because I didn’t want kids. But my husband loved kids. Loved children, so I said, ‘Okay.’ So he says, ‘I would love to have five,’ and my husband, I loved him, I said I’d do anything for him. So I said, ‘Okay. We will have five, we will have this one first.’ After we got this one, my husband said, ‘Never mind, we don’t want five. He’s a rascal. Drives us nuts. Well, all kids are. He would say, ‘Ma, I wanna do this.’ ‘Ma, I wanna.’ ‘Mom, wait, I only go two hands.’ ‘Okay, do that with one hand, do that with the other hand,’ I said, ‘I will fix you, you talk to me like that.’
JR: So you were a disciplinarian? You were tough?
HA: I had to be tough. But he’s good. Look at that face. All kids are like that. They are all rascals.
JR: Okay, and I don’t know what to say there. Because he is standing right there. I am thinking about after the war, and then some of the years you spent before the war. Some of the big events that happened in Fall River, and I am thinking about the hurricane of 1938.
HA: Oh, what a year, about that hurricane. Let me tell you?
JR: Yeah, I want to hear about that hurricane.
HA: Someone asked me one time we went to a party, they said let’s see who had the most, uh … exciting event of your life. I said, well, so each one, each one gave their version of what it was. They said, ‘How about you, Ester?’ I said, well, I used to work in United Rayon then on Globe Street. And I used to work with my girlfriend, so we come out of work, and I don’t know if you ever heard of Shove Street. So we were walking and then it started to get windy, you know? So, in them days, our dresses were flared. So I told my girlfriend, ‘Gee it’s kind of windy.’ It’s so, my flare started to go up over my head and started rolling it in, and then it go up from the back, you know? So I started holding the front and the back, and the damn thing would still float, so I said, ‘The hell with this,’ and let it go. So the flare is going over my head. I had no slip on. I never wore slips them days. So up it goes. My girlfriend and I.
JR: That was during the storm? The hurricane was on its way?
HA: I didn’t know it was a hurricane then, I just thought it was windy until I got home. I won the first prize. I was the best one they had.
JR: Well, there was no weather men then. There were no weather man to tell you about the storm coming – there was a big fire in 1928.
HA: Oh, yeah, it burnt the whole downtown.
JR: Down in the Granite Block area. Do you remember that? Describe that?
HA: You could see it from my house. All that smoke and all that.
PA: My father lived near there and witnessed that whole fire.
JR: There are a lot of pictures of that. So you retired from the Center Garment. What year did you retire?
HA: I retired from Firestone.
PA: No, Center Garment. That was the last job you had, Center Garment. You were a floor lady.
HA: Oh, yeah.
PA: You were a floor lady at Center Garment. 1978.
HA: Good thing you came. I thought it was Firestone.
JR: And that was a supervisory position if you were a floor lady. You were like a supervisor.
HA: Yeah, I was smart and I …
JR: What were your duties as a floor lady?
JR: What kind of work did you do as a floor lady?
HA: I used to help with examining. I used to tell some of them what to do and not to do, you know?
JR: You had to distribute the work?
HA: Yeah. And I used to, it was nice. That Abe. Abe what?
HA: Trieff, that’s it. Trieff. When I retired from that, I retired from there. He gave me a check of $100. Let me see. ‘I hate to see you go, Ester.’ I said, ‘It’s time for me to go.’ ‘Cause I used to work hard. You know, I used to take care of my father. And my brother, my oldest brother never married. He lived with my father. And he had arthritis in his hands. And his fingers were all twisted. Like this. Someone would have to come wash him and take care of him. He used to love me. He liked the snow when you used to clean the snow out of where they lived. I used to take care of them. So my father used to say, ‘You know I took care of you, now you take care of me.’ I said, ‘That’s right, Dad.’ And I used to take care of them. My mother. I worked hard.
JR: So you retired in 1978 and what have you been doing ever since? What kind of …
HA: Raising hell.
JR: I hear you are pretty active. I head you have a schedule. You have a lot of things that you do?
HA: I worked at Center Garment and even there I worked …
PA: Senior Center.
HA: Senior Center. I keep saying Center Gar … Senior Center.
JR: Which one? Which center is that?
HA: In Tiverton.
JR: When did you learn to drive?
HA: Oh, I was living where I am now. So I never had a car. I never drove. My husband drove. He never had car in his life either. The first time when we got married, we bought a car. One time I was looking for him and I didn’t see him. I said, ‘Where in the heck is he?’ I go in the garage, he is in the car. Just he had never had anything in his life. He was sitting there admiring the car. Never had anything. That’s why I gave him anything he wanted. I used to let him have it.
JR: What kind of work did he do after the war?
HA: He never worked, he went to Firestone. No, he worked in the King Phillip Mill for a while. And then after somehow somebody, Firestone was hiring all the veterans, so I said, ‘Why you don’t go try working there?’ because he wasn’t happy in that other job. And that’s how he got a job there. Me, I got a job by accident. I was working … I got laid off, and so they found me this job, at Firestone.
JR: So did your husband teach you to drive?
JR: That must have been interesting.
HA: I was ready to divorce him. But I went. It took a while, but I did it. It’s a good thing, I needed it. Because I was asking other people, I would depend on other people to take me. Sometimes they would forget to pick me up. I would be waiting at the bottom of the hill and they would forget me. So he says, ‘Honey,’ he used to call me honey all the time, ‘I’ll get you a car.’
JR: So I am thinking about all the other things that came in after the war. Like television. Do you remember getting your first television?
HA: Ah, yeah, my mother, Vovó, got one, too, huh?
PA: She did.
HA: Telephone, oh when we get the telephone, we didn’t know what to do. We never had a telephone in our lives. And finally we had a telephone. We were living with my mother and was still single. We didn’t know what to do with the telephone, then we got a radio. We had a radio when we were young. We had a radio. Because my brother and I used to get out of bed without my mother knowing, we would go in the parlor and listen to the radio without her knowing.
JR: And when did you get your television?
HA: Well, I got it when I moved in, when I put up home I guess. When I was I’m Bradford Avenue. You were born on Bradford Avenue. It was on Bradford Avenue.
PA: 1949 to 1950.
JR: What do you think about computers today?
HA: That’s all you see now.
JR: That’s all you see now. What do you think about those?
HA: I think it’s wonderful. And not only that, computers, kids six years old doing that. I can’t get over it. I don’t even know one button from another. And they know it. I feel like a jerk. The way they are so smart.
JR: So what do you think is different today than years ago? If you were going to tell me about Fall River then and life today, what’s different from those two periods of time?
HA: Oh, I don’t know. It’s much nicer now than it was before.
JR: That’s right.
HA: I hope I was a help.
JR: I think it was very insightful.
HA: Was it helpful?
JR: The working conditions in Fall River, and I know how important it was for you to help your family. And then you had a very interesting life. And you still are…
HA: I had a beautiful life. I was a rascal. I used to drive my mother crazy. I was always climbing in trees. And every time she looked at me she wouldn’t call me. She would be looking up, calling, ‘Ester! Ester! Hortencia!’
JR: We are going to end this now, and then I will let you know, later when we write this up, you can have a copy. And you will be able to read all about it.
HA: Yeah, okay.
JR: Thank you so much. Ester, I am going to call you Ester.
HA: Yes, I rather you did!
HA: I’m tired, I never talk so much in my life.
JR: Me, too.
NB: I wouldn’t say that. I remember when you used to climb up door frames.