FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Women at Work: An Oral History of
in Fall River, Massachusetts
Interview with Michalina “Ruth” Soucy, née Stasiowski
Interviewer: (WM) William A. Moniz
Interviewee: (RS) Michelina “Ruth” (Stasiowski) Soucy
Additional Commentary: (JR) Joyce B. Rodrigues, Fall River Historical Society
Date of Interview: June 19, 2015
Location: Somerset Ridge Center, Somerset, Massachusetts
Michalina “Ruth” Stasiowski Soucy was born in Fall River on December 18, 1921.
Ruth’s story tells the history of Polish immigration and the rise and fall of the textile industry in the Globe Village, the south end of Fall River.
The Globe Village. Polish immigrants, fleeing hunger, epidemics, and political oppression, came to Fall River around 1882. They, along with a number of Slavs, Ukrainians, Orthodox Russians, and East European Jews, settled in the Globe Village where there was work in the many cotton mills. The church was the center of the Polish immigrant community. The Globe Village, then as now, was known for its Polish social clubs, businesses, schools, and cultural events.
Ruth’s father, Stefan Stasiowski, immigrated to the United States from Galicia, Poland in 1897 at the age of sixteen. He settled in the Globe Village and worked as a weaver in the King Philip Mills.
Ruth’s mother, Katarzyna “Catherine” Kaszowska, immigrated to the United States in 1890 from Wysoka, Bohemia, an area located on the border of Poland and the Czech Republic; she settled with her family in the Globe Village. Catherine worked as a sizer in the cotton mills, (i.e., applying a protective finish to yarn to reduce breakage).
Stefan and Catherine met in Fall River and married in 1901 at the Blessed Virgin Polish National Catholic Church, the city’s first Polish church, established in 1898.
Growing up Stasiowski. There were ten children in the Stasiowski family. Ruth, the youngest, was doted on by her six brothers. The family owned their own home on lower Globe Street, a well maintained six-family triple-decker.
Ruth’s view of growing up during the Great Depression was that she “had the best of it.” With her older brothers and sisters contributing to the support of the household, Ruth was able to take dance lessons, had a bicycle, went to the movies, and shopped with her mother at R. A. McWhirr Company department store and Cherry & Webb Company, a ladies’ specialty store. She took the commercial course at BMC Durfee High School and graduated in 1939, the only one of her family to complete high school.
From her home, Ruth could see the Fall River Line steamers passing down the Taunton River on their way to New York City. She recalls seeing President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 when the president and his family came to Fall River for the funeral of FDR’s political advisor and secretary, Louis McHenry Howe.
While in high school, Ruth worked part-time “downtown”, for twenty-five cents an hour at S.S. Kresge Company five-and-dime store. After graduation, office jobs were scarce. Many south end mills had already closed.
Ruth started working in the needletrades at Joseph Chromow Company, Inc. (aka Lin-Jay), manufacturers of underwear and sportswear, as a floor girl, (i.e., a girl or woman in the needletrades who runs errands and does odd jobs around the shop). She worked at Chromow’s for thirty-four years, from the age of sixteen to fifty, progressing from floor girl to floor lady (supervisor).
Ruth’s narration clearly describes her years as a supervisor, the impact of the union (ILGWU) on the workers, and how she, as a floor lady and representative of management, strove to be fair to workers. Because Ruth was a non-union employee, she retired with income from Social Security and a company pension plan. In her retirement years, she worked briefly as a bookkeeper for a well-known area restaurant.
Ruth married Roger Soucy, her high school sweetheart, in 1947. They had no children.
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.
WM: Today we are interviewing Mrs. Ruth Soucy about her career and employment and otherwise. Ruth, tell us about your early childhood and your family.
RS: My early childhood? Okay, I come from a family of ten [Stefania “Stella” Stasiowski; Eugenia “Jean” Stasiowski; Władysław “Walter” Stasiowski; Emilia “Mildred” Stasiowski; Bolesław “William” Stasiowski; Frederick “Fred” Stasiowski; Albin “Albert” Stasiowski; Emil “Elmer” Stasiowski; and Czesław “Chester” Stasiowski]. I [Michalina “Ruth” Stasiowski] am the youngest; they’re all gone except me. I’ve only got nieces and nephews left and some of them are already gone, and here I am, and what else can I say? I had a very good childhood being the tenth – the last of the bunch, I could say. I had six brothers that looked over me, and I guess I was the one that had the best of all of it, because the older ones started to work, and I was the baby, and they – what my parents [Stefan Stasiowski, and his wife, née Catherine Kaszowska] couldn’t give me, they gave me. I took dance lessons. I was the one that was able to graduate from [B. M. C. Durfee] High School [in 1939], and what else can I say?
WM: You were born in Fall River, Ruth?
WM: You were born in Fall River?
RS: Oh, yes.
RS: [On December 18,] 1921.
WM: Now your parents, uh, were Polish background? Polish, your parents?
RS: Polish, yes.
WM: What was your maiden name?
WM: Tell me about your parents. Tell me about their background.
WM: Your parents, what were they like?
RS: Well, they come from, uh, Poland.
WM: First generation?
RS: Uh, the first … yup, they were the first ones to come over here, and my Dad could speak English. [Ruth’s father immigrated in 1897; her mother, in 1890.] In fact, during the epidemic of the flu [Influenza Pandemic, 1918 – 1919], he was one of ‘em that went with the doctors to the … Polish families because they couldn’t talk [English], they couldn’t tell the doctor what was wrong, so my father was like an interpreter for the doctor. And we all survived it.
WM: Where did your parents work, Ruth?
RS: My, my Mom, I don’t ever believe she worked. My dad was a weaver in a mill, which was horrible, ‘cause I went to bring him a lunch one day and I went in that weave room; that was horrible – the noise.
WM: Which mill did he work in, Ruth? Do you know? Which mill?
RS: He worked [as a weaver] in the King Philip [Mills, 372 Kilburn Street, Fall River] … I’ll tell you, [there was] the main building of King Philip and then there was like a little one in the back. Well, that was the weave room, because I remember bringing his supper there one night. I was brought up at the Globe [Village section of Fall River, in the southern part of the city].
WM: I was going to ask you that. Where did you live in the Globe? Which street?
RS: [At 76] Globe Street.
WM: Right on Globe Street?
RS: Right at the bottom almost at Bay [Street]. That is why we were always at the [Taunton] River, the Mount Hope Bay, the boats and everything else.
WM: You were telling me earlier about the Fall River Line. You used to …
[The Fall River Line of steamships, in operation from 1847 to 1937, sailed from Fall River to New York City, with a stop in Newport, Rhode Island; the ships were famous for their luxurious interior accommodations.]
RS: Oh, yeah, that was beautiful.
WM: You used to row out to the boats, did you?
RS: Ah, we used to go out for the waves [made by the wake of the passing ship], it was the picture to see it going by. These kids don’t know nothing today.
WM: It’s all changed.
RS: They have so much in life.
WM: Were you a [Roman] Catholic? Catholic religion?
RS: Yes, oh yes.
WM: Which parish did you belong to?
RS: I belonged to St. Patrick’s [Church, 1598 South Main Street, Fall River]. Well, I’ll tell you my Dad had a fight with, with Father [Reverend Hugo Emanuel] Dylla [at the Church of St. Stanislaus, 38 Rockland Street, Fall River,] and he stayed, but us kids, he put us in with St. Patrick’s parish.
WM: Where did you go to school, Ruth?
RS: First, from the, um, we used to call it kindergarten – we played in sand boxes. We went, I went to [Jerome Dwelly] School [at 59] Foote Street; of course, that is all gone.
RS: That was from pre-primary to sixth grade. Then I had to go to Fowler School, [286 Sprague Street, Fall River] – that was seventh to eighth grade. Then from eighth grade to [B.M.C.] Durfee [High School,] until I graduated [in 1939].
WM: You were one of ten children, right?
WM: And you were the last.
RS: I’m the last one.
WM: Tell us a little bit about your siblings. Your brothers and sisters, what were they like?
RS: Well, I had twin sisters [Stefania “Stella” Stasiowski, later Mrs. Thomas Francis Cummings Jr.; and Eugenia “Jean” Stasiowski, later Mrs. Stephen Stasiowski]. They were the oldest, and ‘course, they both worked; one in the King Philip Mill[s], one worked in the Firestone [Rubber & Latex Products Company, 172 Ferry Street, Fall River]. The one that worked in the Firestone had a better job because it wasn’t as messy as working in a card room in the King Phillip Mill[s]. Now my brother Walter [Władysław Stasiowski] worked … at Firestone; he worked a midnight shift. Brother Bill [Bolesław “William” Stasiowski] worked in Firestone until it burned down [on October 11, 1941]; then he was sent out to, out to Boston, [Massachusetts,] to work in one of the mills out there. My brother Fred [Frederick Stasiowski] – he was the one that was the go getter. He worked … he worked [as a doffer in a cotton mill, and as a collector and salesman for Ideal Radio and Furniture Company, 292 Pleasant Street, Fall River] and he had his own … by the end of his career he owned his own furniture store, Stacy’s Furniture [Company, 1140] Bedford Street, [Fall River]. And brother Elmer [Emil “Elmer” Stasiowski] worked for the [Fall River] Gas [Works] Company, [155 North Main Street]. Brother Al [Albin “Albert” Stasiowski] worked for the Gas Company. My brother Tommy, [Czesław “Chester” Stasiowski] well, he worked here and there.
WM: You told me you were born in 1921, so you would have been a teenager during the [Great] Depression.
RS: Oh, I went right through with the Depression.
WM: Tell us about, what was it like growing up during the Depression?
RS: Like I told you. I didn’t – I’ve seen so when no one had anything to eat. Kids would be going along the roads and, you know, like an apple core, they would pick it up and take the last little bits of it to eat. There was no freebies them days. Nobody gave you nothing for nothing; it was horrible, it was horrible. Like I say, I went through it, but I didn’t miss any[thing] because the family being so big, the elders worked, and they helped to donate to the family and we had – I was lucky, I was one of the lucky ones. But I seen the kids – and when we went to school, we weren’t dressed like the kids today. I remember being in high school, you had a cardigan. One day you wore it buttoned all the way up, the next day you wore the buttons in the back. No, it was tough, it was tough; you never had too much. And food was horrible. There was a lot of hungry kids, let me tell you.
WM: But your family, because you had older siblings who were working…
RS: That’s right, that is what helped my parents, and then they bought a house [in 1921] because I was coming, and you know, where you gonna rent a house for ten kids? [Prior to 1921, the Stasiowski family resided in Fall River at: 118 Wilcox Street, circa 1902; 106 Wilcox Street, circa 1903; 203 Tripp Street, circa 1904; 406 Montaup Street, circa 1905 – 1908; 360 Montaup Street, circa 1909 – 1916; and 279 Montaup Street circa 1917 -1921.]
WM: So, where was the, where was the house that they bought?
RS: On  Globe Street, right opposite Foote Street.
RS: It was a beautiful, six-tenement house. In fact, I lived there until I moved to Swansea [in 1963]. There was, like, six rooms in the front, four rooms in the back tenements. I can’t … yeah, we managed the family, but like I, I’m telling you, it was horrible. It was that – and jobs, when I got [my first] job … I worked for twenty-five cents an hour … yeah, I worked for twenty-five cents an hour. I [worked at] Kresge’s Five-and-Ten [S. S. Kresge Company, department store, 71 to 87 South Main Street, Fall River]. After high school, on a Friday, we went to work at Kresge’s until ten o’clock then – that’s when the stores were open on a Friday night, they weren’t open like they are today – and then on Saturday we worked all day ‘til ten o’clock at night. Got twenty-five cents an hour, that was a lot of money!
WM: Was that your first job out of high school?
RS: Yeah … I was in high school at the time … that was a little part-time job.
WM: What did you do for, what did you do for Kresge’s? What was the nature of your job?
RS: My nature of job, I … can’t really describe it. Because [later] when I started to work [in the sewing shops], they called it a floor girl; fifty cents an hour. I graduated from twenty-five to fifty cents. Uh, I started as a floor girl and … if a girl needed a bobbin of thread, I would get it for her, or if they needed, needed work, I would tell the floor lady that they were running out. And they were on piecework, and you, if you want slave labor, there it is.
WM: Now where was this?
RS: This was in all sewing shops. Not only one.
WM: Not at Kresge’s though, this was after Kresge’s.
RS: No, if you got hired for piecework, you had a machine that was going like this, constantly.
WM: What was your first job full time job?
RS: That was it when I got out of high school. I went to work in a sewing factory.
WM: Which one?
RS: Chromow’s [Joseph Chromow Company, underwear manufacturers, 987 Broadway, Fall River; later, underwear and sportswear, 951 Broadway,] he was the, uh, [the president and treasurer of the company.] I was like a floor girl. I would get the thread for the girls and I had to make sure they worked. Then I graduated to a little better [position,] and, then, I finally got my little, little own department where they used to put the buttons on and sew, and they examined the garment, they folded it, and it was shipped out. And then I was, I was on, I was on salary; from fifty cents an hour to salary.
WM: How long did it take you to do that? How many years?
RS: How many years? Um, I, I, stay there all my life, since I was sixteen. Well, Chromow, he died [in 1954]. He sent, no, he sold the business to … the cutter … and a [Hyman Horvitz], he was like a salesman [he was formerly a broker]. He sold the business to these two. They kept it … up the Flint [section of the city] there, I don’t know the name of the mill [the former Wampanoag Mill, 420 Quequechan Street, Fall River]. Then, my boss and the other one, they decided to open up down north [as Linjay Manufacturing Corporation], where all the doctors are [now]. On the first floor, we were on that …
WM: That’s [the former] Narragansett Mills [1567 North Main Street, Fall River.]
RS: And that is where I ended it; at fifty, I quit.
WM: At age fifty? That was your last job?
RS: They can have it.
WM: Good for you.
JR: Now what, I have to go back a second, and where was the Chromow factory?
RS: Yeah, Mr. Chromow, it was on Broadway, the Globe [Four] Corners. You know the [former Laurel Lake] Mills [951 Broadway, Fall River,] on the Globe Corners? The gas station [Winiarski Service Station, 964 Broadway] was here, the mill was on Broadway.
WM: Globe Mills.
RS: Broadway, in the circus grounds.
WM: That’s Globe Mills.
RS: We used to call it the Circus Grounds.
WM: Right, exactly, and that is where it was at first.
WM: And then it moved? It moved to the Flint, you say?
RS: They, I don’t know, we were on the top floor. I don’t know if they got evicted or what – they moved to  Quequechan Street, [Fall River]. We were on Quequechan Street, where … you know, the Fall River Knitting Mills, [Inc.] and all them were.
RS: The front part. Then these two bosses, these two bosses [Hyman Horvitz and Eugene Joseph Rutkowski] decided to own, to buy, to buy them out. And we started down in Narraganset Mills, down north.
WM: Tell us a little bit more about the bosses. What were they like?
WM: Your bosses, what were they like? Did you get along with them?
RS: Well, I got along with them because I could con them. Awful to say, but …
WM: What do you mean by that? What do you mean ‘con them?’ How did you con them?
RS: I would be nice to them then I’d be a …
JR: You want to give us an example?
RS: Because I was for the girls. I wasn’t for the bosses, but they thought I was for them.
WM: Do you have any specific instances that you would like to tell us about?
RS: On the sewing part, just that they worked like slaves and got no credit. It was terrible. You couldn’t imagine. There would be a pile of work like this.
JR: What were they making? Were these dresses?
RS: We were making … different kinds of things. We were making night gowns, and pajamas, and dusters, and then on another section we were making nylon panties. So, it was like two different – and Mr. [Hyman Horvitz] was the salesman [and treasurer], and [Eugene Joseph] Rutkowski was the boss that stayed there. He was a hellion to the girls. And then union – I wouldn’t give you two cents for the union. I am not a union person. I never was and I will never would … they did absolutely nothing for these girls except take their dues every week.
WM: Tell us more about that. That was the International Ladies Garment Workers Union?
WM: ILGWU [Local 178, 304 South Main Street, Fall River], yeah. And what do they do?
RS: What did they do? Nothing for the girls. Nothing.
WM: If the girls …
RS: The girls had … what you would call a shop stewardess. If you had a complaint, you would talk to her. The shop stewardess would talk to the boss, then if they fought, the union would come in. So the union come in; so instead of going to the … shop stewardess to talk to her to find out what the problem was, they would go to the boss. Then all of a sudden everything is all fixed, and you see them coming out with nightgowns and …
WM: In other words, what you are saying is they were on the take, right?
RS: Not on the take, but they would settle it between themselves and the girls got nothing. No credit out of it; they got nothing.
WM: How much were the dues in those days, do you remember?
RS: Well, I remember some was fifty cents.
WM: Was that a month?
RS: Fifty cents a week.
WM: A week?
JR: That is a lot of money.
WM: What year would that have been? In the ‘30s?
RS: That was in the’30s, yeah, [late] ‘30s and ‘40s, then it went up, it kept going up. But I don’t … I lost track of it when they gave me that job, and a lot of girls wouldn’t talk. A lot of girls were afraid to talk to me, thinking I would, but they should have known better.
WM: Well, you were, what was your title, Ruth? What was your title? Were you a floorlady?
RS: Uh, I was, uh, well, it would’ve been a supervisor.
WM: And you had a department?
WM: How big was your department? How many employees did you have?
RS: Well, I had, let me see … I had a certain section. I had the, the girls that put … they put buttons and they [made] button holes, and grippers [zippers]. You know the grippers, when the grippers come out? And then I had all the girls’ tables where they examine the garment, took the thread out, [and] made sure everything was all right, [that] the seams and everything were put together.
WM: So, they were inspectors.
RS: And then it was brought over to another table where the girls would fold them, because at that time everything was folded – pressed and folded – and then it went into the shipping department. Then the shipping department filled out the orders and shipped it out. Yeah, it was tough. All them girls, they worked hard.
WM: What were the hours?
WM: The hours, what were the work hours?
RS: Them hours were from eight in the morning – eight in the morning ‘til five at night when we first started. It was an eight-hour day.
WM: What did you get for lunch? How much time?
RS: Eight-hour day for five days.
WM: Half an hour for lunch?
JR: How about breaks in the factory to go to the restroom? Because I’ve often heard that it was pretty difficult to leave your station to go to the restroom.
RS: Yeah, well, they’d hate to leave it because the next girl would be waiting, while you finished, to go, to the next girl, and that was where all the fights would go. But they had to go to the rest room; that they had to do. They had to let them go. But don’t worry, they more or less watched if you stayed there too long or to have a cigarette, or anything.
JR: Timing it.
RS: I never timed my girls, they could go and stay there. All I figured is they are losing, they are on piecework. If they stay in there an hour, they weren’t working that hour, or fifteen minutes, or if they went in fifteen minutes, they come out and they started to work, of course, they are going to make more than the girl that stayed in there half an hour having a smoke or something. The girls, they … when it really, really, got bad was when the Portuguese people come in to sew. It was hard to talk to them, but they could always knew their money, that they knew right from the beginning. They were hard workers – I will say, they were hard workers, and they really ruined it for a lot of us, because, you see, we never had air condition in the mills. So, if it was a hot, hot day, after a certain degree [on the thermometer], if the girls wanted to go home, they could shut the factory down and go home. But when the Portuguese people come in, the boss would say, “If anybody wants to stay and work” – they are willing to work, of course, they were willing to work; we had to stay there with them. But, you see, they wouldn’t shut the whole place down, they stayed and they worked, and we had to stay.
WM: So you stayed, too?
RS: We had to.
WM: That was the old Department Of Labor And Industries; they had a rule about humidity and heat in those days.
RS: It was tough in that hot, and the windows never opened because the mills were so old. You couldn’t open them windows for nothing.
WM: Now, you had breaks, though, scheduled breaks.
RS: Oh, yeah, they did have breaks. They had so long in the morning and so long – I think it was ten or fifteen minutes in the morning, ten or fifteen minutes in the afternoon.
WM: Did you have vending machines in the, vending machines?
WM: Everybody brought their lunch?
RS: They were the things [that were] were coming. No, they didn’t.
WM: Everybody brought their lunch?
RS: Although, we did have a coffee [machine] … but they had to pay for their own coffee.
JR: No cafeterias to get it, huh?
RS: You brought your own sandwiches or go out.
WM: So, now you say, you, uh, you retired early.
WM: You retired early at age fifty.
RS: Yeah, I had a good husband [Joseph Napoleon Roger Soucy, called ‘Roger’].
WM: Tell us about your husband. We haven’t talked about him.
RS: My husband … I met in high school.
JR: Oh, wonderful, a Durfee romance!
RS: Well, no it wasn’t. He was ‘R.S.’ and I was ‘R.S.’, so we always sat in homeroom in front or in back of each other, and we would kid with one another, like, how you kid when kids in high school. We had classes together on some, because, you know, you had classes with them; other classes, you didn’t. So, both, he graduated and I graduated the same year, [in 1939], and like I say, Depression. His dad [Joseph Napoleon Soucy] was a foreman or something in one of the mills [he was a second hand in the Shawmut Mills, 638 Quequechan Street, Fall River], and he got him a job to work in a mill. He worked there one week and said to his father, he said ‘Dad, this isn’t for me.’ So his father says, ‘Well, it’s up to you, you know.’ His father could say it. He says, ‘I am going to join the service,’ so he [enlisted, May 8, 1940, in the United States Army National Guard,] and his … buddies went to join the service. At that time you could say where you wanted to go. Well, these three boys were going to go to Hawaii.
JR: Oh, wait a minute. That sounds dangerous.
RS: One of them didn’t pass the exam, he had tuberculosis and he didn’t know it, [and] the other one was shipped God-knows-where. My husband stayed around this area; I think he went to Portland, Maine [Fort McKinley, Great Diamond Island, Portland Maine Harbor]. And, uh, he stayed in Portland, Maine. At that time, when you went in the army, you didn’t have a school, you was put right in with the regular army, so his first night that he spent in the army was in a jail because there was no room for him in the barracks. So, he come home…. He come home, and he had, like, a – I don’t know whether it was a weekend or his ten days that they usually got a year, and, uh, he found out that all his buddies were either married or they had steady girlfriends. So, he was sitting in the house like a log. So, his mother [Mrs. Joseph Napoleon Soucy, the widowed Mrs. Henri Vaillancourt, née Amelia Beauchemin] says to him, ‘Why don’t you call some girl that you went to school with? You know? And see, maybe she isn’t going steady or anything. Go out with her.’ So, he called me … and we are talking, and everything, [and] he says, he asked me if I was going steady. I said, ‘No.’ I says I was going out with different ones. So he says, ‘Sure.’ He asks me if he could come down. I says, ‘Of course you can come down, Roger.’ He says, well, he says, ‘You know, ask your mother if it’s alright if I come in uniform.’ I said, ‘Ask my mother? You got to be kidding.’ He says, ‘Yes … Yes, my civilian clothes don’t fit me ‘cause I outgrew them,’ because he went in as a kid. And so he come down, and that’s how it started.
WM: What year was that?
RS: Um, oh, let me see. 1939, 1940, ’41, something like that.
JR: This was before [the Japanese attack on] Pearl Harbor [on December 7, 1941]?
RS: Oh, yes.
JR: Now, you had a telephone. He could call you, and he had a telephone.
RS: Oh, he, he used to call from the barracks. He used to call me. No, no, he was stationed in Portland, Maine.
JR: Did you, did you, have telephones in your home?
RS: Oh, we had telephones, yeah. Well, one telephone, ‘ya know. And uh, so, he come down and that’s how it started. And, when he came down again, he would call me and I would say, ‘Sure, come down.’ But I was going out with another one. But I told the other one, if he ever come down, I would go out with him first, because I felt sorry because he was in the service.
WM: So how did it progress from there? When did you get engaged?
RS: Well, we started to go out and it just boomeranged, I guess. It boomeranged. And, uh, he stayed in Portland, Maine, for a while, until they opened up Camp Edwards [United States Army National Guard Training Camp, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, dedicated in 1938]. He was in pup tents in Camp Edwards; spent one night there, one night there, when the barracks were being built. And, then … that was when [World] War [II] was declared. Then, he was sent to Boston [where] they were on top of Schraft’s Candy Factory, [Sullivan Square, Charlestown, Massachusetts]; they were protecting the harbor, Boston Harbor. They spent that Christmas in that – that was on the beach – in the sand, in pup tents. They never had no barracks; no nothing there. They were sleeping in pup tents on the beach in the winter. Oh, they had it tough.
WM: So when did you get engaged?
RS: When did I get engaged? Before he went over, before he went overseas – no, it was after. I kept writing to him, but I was writing to this other fellow [‘Billy’], too, and when they both landed – now, Roger was in the United States – Billy, he got drafted, and they shipped him to England. And when the World War, when it started, the two [allied troops] from the United States and England, they all formed into one convoy and they were in the invasion of, uh …
RS: Of that North Africa. [Operation Touch, the Anglo-American occupation of Morocco and Algeria, commenced November 8, 1942].
WM: North Africa.
RS: So, when I got a letter from this one, and I got a letter from this one, and all they could say [was that they were] somewhere in North Africa. They couldn’t tell you where they were or anything. If you got a letter, sometimes you didn’t even know what it was, everything was cut out.
WM: That was the censors. [Military Intelligence, Unites States Postal Censorship].
RS: Censors, yeah. So, he stayed over. He was over there three years and some months.
WM: When did he come back?
WM: When did he come back?
RS: Three years and some months later.
WM: What year?
JR: Forty-five? 1945?
RS: Yeah, had to be. Let me see, I got married [on May 3, 1947], I got married at twenty-four and he was twenty-five. So….
WM: 1945. Yeah, that was the year [war] ended [in Europe].
RS: And they didn’t want to ship him back, but he told them, he says, ‘If you don’t, I’m going to call, talk, write to my Congressman.” You had to come back by points, and he had way over the points, but they wouldn’t send him home. He was in charge of this big rest area out in, uh … Italy, and uh, when the boys were going to be shipped home they brought them in there, gave them a rest and everything else, and shipped them through there.
WM: You said earlier that … you said earlier that he was a good husband. What did he do for a living when he came back?
RS: When he come back? When he come back, he worked for the [United States] Navy – he was an accountant in the Navy.
JR: In Newport?
RS: Yeah. [Naval Station Newport, Newport/Middletown, Rhode Island].
JR: Oh, very good.
RS: And he finished his twenty years as a, in [the] Reserves. Went in as a private; come back as a Major, got out as a Major.
WM: Really? An officer? Wow.
RS: He got his first promotion when he was working with [General Dwight David ‘Ike’] Eisenhower, [Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe]. When he was in Italy – it was a funny thing because they wanted someone, they had the whole unit out – and you know, there was a story, if you were in the service, you know, you don’t know nothing, you don’t know a thing, you don’t know how to do anything either, you just don’t know. So, they wanted somebody that could speak French and write in French; so, nobody was saying [anything], nobody answered. So, I guess they checked, so, he got picked. He was with the 68th Coast Artillery [antiaircraft artillery brigade]; them poor guys went on, [but] he stayed in Italy. He was in the same office as Eisenhower. Every morning, Eisenhower tapped ‘ya, tapped ‘ya on the back and said, ‘Good morning’ to you. He [my husband] said he was a regular Joe.
JR: So he could speak and read … French?
RS: Oh yes, he went to Prevost [Parochial] Grammar School, [431 Eastern Avenue, Fall River].
RS: So, he knew how to speak French.
WM: Where did you live when you were married? Where did you live?
RS: Where did I live? [At 76] Globe Street.
WM: When you were married?
RS: I lived in one of my Father’s tenements; four bucks a week. My father wanted – we all did, all of us kids lived in the tenement – my father wanted to raise the rents; taxes were going up – my mother wanted to kill him. Four dollars a week. Oh, it was cute. Four-room apartment. I had it fixed cute.
WM: You, ah, you lived on Globe Street, and ah …
RS: All my life, like I told you. Until I moved [in 1963].
WM: To Swansea. But you continued to work, though, you retired around 1970, ’71.
WM: Tell us more about your career. Where did you [work] towards the tail end of your career? Did you stay with the same company?
RS: I stayed. Well, it changed over to their names. What the heck was it? What was it? Linjay [Manufacturing Corporation], Linjay.
JR: Oh, I’ve heard that, I’ve heard that name.
RS: Lynn was, ah, the other boss’s daughter’s name, and Jay was, uh, [Eugene Joseph] Rutkowski’s name, [his] son’s name. So they bought Linjay. The two kids’ – Lynn and Jay – it was cute. Yeah.
WM: At age fifty, after you retired, what did you do?
RS: Well, I had my car. I’d go to the beach. Go out for breakfast. And I was at this little restaurant, and do you remember the Rustic Pub [G.A.R. Highway, Swansea, Massachusetts].
WM: I do.
RS: Well, Russell [Winslow, Jr.], the son was there, in this little restaurant that we used to go for coffee and that, and we was talking and everything else, and he was talking, and I said, ‘Ah, don’t give me that bull, Russell. I’ll tell you one thing. If I went to be interviewed at that restaurant, do you think you would hire me at my age instead of a young kid?’ He said, ‘Of course, if you’re qualified.’ I said, ‘You’re full of bull.’ He says, ‘Yes, well, okay, seeing you’re so smart … we’re looking for somebody in the office to … book banquets, and to show the place out; tell them what we’ve got to offer and everything. It’s a nice little job.’ He says, he says, ah, ‘Why don’t you come down and get interviewed; see if my father [Russell Winslow, Sr.] will hire you, seeing you’re so smart.’ So, I was with my neighbor, huh, and, she’s sitting at the table, and everything. He called me and he’s interviewing me; I got the damn job.
JR: And how old were you then?
RS: Well, let me see, I was in my fifties. Oh, Christ. Well, I was up there, well, I wasn’t in my sixties. I had to be in either my late fifties, or in early fifties, something around there.
WM: How long did you have that job?
RS: Oh, for quite a while, and I liked it. I was having a ball. It wasn’t a full-time job. I’d go in around ten o’clock, ‘ya know. If he had any problem, he’d ask me to take care of it for him, over the phone and that, so – he was, he was a good boss to work for…. Then, he asked me to work New Year’s Eve. ‘Ya know, the son ruined that place when he got bands upstairs.
WM: I remember that.
RS: ‘Ya know, there was like an alcove up there, if you remember. I went with one of my friends one Saturday to have dinner. I went in next Monday, I says to Mr. Winslow, ‘Mr. Winslow,’ I says – He says, ‘How did you enjoy it Saturday night?’ I said, ‘I didn’t.’ He said, ‘What do you mean, you didn’t?’ I says, ‘We couldn’t even hear ourselves talk with that thing upstairs.’ I said, ‘That’s going to be the ruination of your restaurant whether you know it or not.’ And it was. And a nice restaurant like this, ‘cause it was a first class restaurant.
WM: It was; it was at one time.
RS: It really was nice. He built that all by himself. He worked hard, that man.
WM: So, you retired again?
RS: Yeah, retired again.
JR: I just have to jump back a little bit because somewhere in there, there was Social Security.
RS: Oh, I was on Social Security.
JR: Tell us about a union pension.
RS: I wasn’t in the union, so I never got no pension from the union. I got a pension from my job. He had something set up for us.
WM: Oh, he did?
RS: Oh, yeah.
WM: Well, that was unusual.
RS: And it didn’t cost us a penny. He put it all in.
WM: Was that profit sharing?
WM: Profit sharing?
RS: I don’t know how it was. He says, ‘Don’t worry.’ We had to sign, of course, and all that. He says, ‘You’ll be taken care of. I know you’re not a union member, ‘ya know, where you’ll get a small pension.
WM: That’s unusual for that time.
RS: Yeah. Oh, yeah, and it was nice, it was a pretty good pension.
JR: So, do you remember when Franklin Roosevelt came in with Social Security?
RS: I don’t even remember that. When was it?
JR: It was about 1935. [Social Security Act, August 14, 1935].
WM: You would have been a teenager then.
RS: I was a teenager. I didn’t give a damn about Social Security, all I was interested in was having fun.
WM: Teenagers don’t today, either.
RS: No, I remember when his…. Who was it that got buried in [Oak Grove Cemetery] that worked for Roosevelt?
WM: Louie, Louie Howe [Louis McHenry Howe].
RS: Because I hopped over a darn, uh, fence there, you know that, ah.…
WM: A granite wall?
RS: Yeah, hopped over that wall, to see. Well, I wanted to see [Louis McHenry Howe’s funeral, on April 22, 1936]. Hey, if I was going to go all the way from Globe Street, all the way to … the [Oak Grove] Cemetery, I want to see something. [Howe died at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington D.C., on April 18, 1936; his remains lay in state at the White House before being transferred to Fall River for burial.]
RS: Yeah, I forgot his name.
WM: Louie Howe.
JR: My father told me that his wife [née Grace Hartley, a Fall River native,] was the postmistress.
RS: Yes, for years, and years, and years, and years.
WM: The first female postmistress, I think, in the United States. [Mrs. Louis McHenry Howe was appointed as Fall River postmistress by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936.]
RS: But that’s when we had a big post office in the center. [In 1931, the imposing Custom House and Post Office building in Fall River, constructed in 1875-1880 at 55 Bedford Street, corner of Second Street, was razed, and replaced with a modern structure, which opened for business on July 18, 1932. Advocates of the new building claimed it made for more efficient use of office space.]
WM: Well, Roosevelt came to that, that; Roosevelt came to that funeral.
RS: Oh, yeah, that’s why we all wanted to go [to the funeral]. We wanted to see the President. We didn’t care that they were going to put him in a hole. Who cares? [President Roosevelt attended the funeral accompanied by his wife, née Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, his sons, James Roosevelt, and Elliott Roosevelt, and his daughter, Mrs. Curtis Bean Dall, née Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.]
JR: Yeah, he was, um, a political – the assistant to the President.
WM: Chief of Staff.
JR: Chief of Staff. [Close friend and chief personal advisor to the president, Howe was lauded as ‘The man who made Roosevelt.’]
RS: He was quite the man. Everybody liked him…. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t because of him – they all felt bad … but a lot of people would have gone anyhow, to see it, but it was because the President was coming down, and you know, who saw a President around here? They never bothered coming around here.
JR: That was a big thing. That was big.
RS: Yeah, that was a big thing.
WM: Did you have any children, Ruth?
RS: No, I was one of the unlucky ones. I had to have a hysterectomy when I was twenty-nine [years old].
WM: Wow, that’s young.
JR: Yeah, that was unusual. That was, that was [a] difficult operation.
RS: I stayed in the hospital three weeks. Now, they do it in a day and now you’re out.
WM: Where did you have that done – in Fall River?
RS: In Truesdale Hospital [Inc., 1820 Highland Avenue, Fall River]. I had a double uterus [Uterus didelphys].
JR: Oh, my goodness.
RS: The doctor told my husband that one out of a million girls are born with a double uterus. My, my ovaries were like two, black as two men’s fists. Well, at that age, we never had doctors to go to. They would touch you here, and there, and that was it, a regular doctor. Well, you’re alright.
WM: That would have been 1940, roughly 1940?
RS: I wasn’t married too long, and I even told my husband, ‘I can’t have children. If you want to split, go,’ ‘cause I felt sorry for him, because he loved kids. I did. We always had our nieces and nephews.
JR: Well, that’s what I was going to say. You probably had a lot of nieces and nephews, with all your sisters and brothers.
RS: Oh, only eleven….
WM: Your husband. When did he pass away?
RS: What is it? Three years ago, [in 2011,] at ninety.
JR: Were you still at home with him at that time?
RS: I was home after he died. I’m just here [Somerset Ridge Center, physical therapy clinic, 455 Brayton Avenue, Somerset, Massachusetts] a year, because I fell and broke my knee.
WM: At age – you’re ninety-five? Ninety…?
RS: No, I’m ninety-three [years old]. And [my husband] would’ve been ninety-four.
JR: You were, you were keeping a house up until about, a year ago….
RS: Yeah, I was in my own house [in Swansea], yeah.
WM: As you look back at things, at age ninety-four, what would you have done differently if you had it to do over again?
RS: If I had to do it over again, gee, I don’t know. Like I told you, I was one of the lucky ones that had a good, good life, all because of brothers and sisters, which were able to do a lot and give me a lot. And I don’t know if, at that time, I ever appreciated it. But, no, no, they were all very, very good to me, my brothers and sisters, I will say. That’s why I went to all their funerals.
WM: Otherwise, you wouldn’t have gone?
JR: That’s wonderful.
RS: Hey listen, out of ten kids, to say you stayed together, that was something. Because it’s not the kids, because if there were any problems in, say – it wasn’t the brothers and sister – it was always the in-laws. This in-law didn’t like this in-law. So what did the brothers have to do? They had to stick up for their wives, or the girls had to stick up for their husbands, so, ‘ya know, it was tough. But I was friendly with, I was friendly with them all. I could call any one of them up and say, ‘Hey, I need help.’
WM: What else would you like to tell us? Do you have any advice for the young people today?
RS: The young people today? Get out and enjoy themselves. Do what they want to do and don’t wait ‘til they get older because it never comes. It’s true because you say, well, I remember saying it to my husband. ‘Oh, let’s not do it now. When we retire, we’ve got plenty of time, we’ll do it.’ We were lucky, we did have plenty of time. But others don’t. He lived to ninety and I lived, I was eighty-nine when he passed away. So that was….
JR: Did you do any traveling with him?
RS: Oh, yeah, we used to travel. Yeah. But always to historical places. We were the type, we didn’t like the showy, we wanted to see things.
WM: Well, you’ve had an interesting life.
RS: Oh, yeah. I did.
JR: I want to jump back a little bit to, ah … some of the years when you were growing up. I’m just kind of curious, how did you heat your home? I know when I grew up with my grandmother, she had a coal stove.
RS: Yeah, a coal stove. You had one coal stove and it would be in the kitchen because it would be one of these black ones where you could cook on the top…. You’d buy coal and wood; you’d get it by tons, coal by tons. There’d be a horse and wagon, at first, and they’d put the coal in a chute from your basement window into the cellar. And you’d have wood to start it. I never had to do it, but….
JR: Your brothers did, maybe?
RS: Oh, yeah, of course, they wouldn’t let my father do it when they got old enough.
WM: Well, you were the youngest one.
RS: Yeah, I was the youngest one. Then, as soon as gas came in, well, they [family members] were working for the [Fall River] Gas [Works] Company, so we got it right away ….
JR: Did your mother teach you how to cook?
RS: I did not cook. My husband did the cooking.
JR: Oh, oh.
RS: Oh, he was a good cook; I did the baking, I could bake very good. And I made the golabki [a traditional Polish cabbage roll]. But, the baking I did, right from scratch. Not from the box, right from scratch. See, when I bought my house [on Old Warren Road, in Swansea, Massachusetts], the house next door [350 Old Warren Road] … had a nice garden – he was a Portuguese man [Bento Gomes] – he had a nice garden. When the [Wampanoag] Golf Course came in, the golfers used to go into his garden, so he decided to put a fence along, and he put a chicken wire fence. And I got a brand new house, and a chicken wire fence around, [and he] painted the posts yellow. So, so we’re reading the Sunday paper, and Roger says to me, ‘Ruth, we’re going to go to Warwick, [Rhode Island] today. We’re going to take a ride to Warwick’. I said, ‘What for?’ ‘They’ve got blueberry bushes for ninety-nine cents; count the posts.’ I counted the posts. We planted a blueberry bush right in front of every post … we planted blueberry bushes. They’re still there; some of them died. It was horrible. Yellow; I almost died when I seen him painting it. Hey, it was his property – he could do what he wanted.
JR: I just have another couple of questions, because we didn’t touch on these. Did you drive a car? Did you learn how to drive a car?
RS: Oh, I was driving, yeah.
JR: Did your parents have a car?
RS: Well, my parents didn’t have a car. My brother Walter [Władysław Stasiowski] had a car, then the older boys got cars. But my Dad never had cars; they walked.
JR: Trollies? And you took trollies?
RS: Oh, they were nice. The open trollies. I remember them.
WM: Now you would remember the electric trollies, right? You don’t remember the horse drawn trollies?
RS: No, no, no, the electric ones. I remember the old ones from Jerome Dwelly School, [59 Foote Street, Fall River]. We’d have our picnics all the way, and then trolley cars, all the way to Lincoln Park.
WM: I was going to ask you if you went to Lincoln Park.
RS: These kids don’t have nothing like that. ‘Ya know, what have they got to remember – that I was on a computer all day?!
WM: I know, I know. The trolley companies actually built Lincoln Park.
JR: Now, I want to bring you back to the days on Main Street, when you went downtown shopping.
RS: Beautiful. That’s where you met your friends; you talked and that. You’d go in these stores. The sales ladies were so polite, very helpful.
JR: And well-dressed.
JR: And the sales ladies were well-dressed.
RS: Oh, yes. In McWhirr’s [R.A. McWhirr Company, department store, 165 – 193 South Main Street, Fall River], they were dressed a certain way; I forgot whether it was, skirts, with the name tag. Then, you went upstairs to the other level where the kids’ clothes were. It was beautiful, and the old thing, where you put the money in and it would go … do you remember that? [The store was equipped with a pneumatic tube system].
WM: Did you ever sit on Santa Claus’s lap at McWhirr’s?
RS: No, no.
JR: I did. I have, I have pictures of me with Santa Claus in McWhirr’s. [A beloved Fall River tradition].
RS: See that.
JR: And, how about your favorite stores. What was the favorite stores downtown?
RS: Cherry & Webb [Company, ladies’ and misses’ ready-to-wear clothing, 139 – 149 South Main Street, Fall River]. That was, that was ‘the’ store … you’d go to these little stores, and I never believed in them little stores. My mother always traded, the girls [her sisters] always got their clothes in Cherry & Webb; the boys always got them, in … what was it?
WM: The Hub?
RS: The Hub. Yup. [The Hub Clothing Company, 162 Pleasant Street, Fall River].
RS: That was the place; they got their clothes there, and up to, Christ, I think when they were getting married, they would go there; just automatic, since they were so used to it since they were kids. My mother, Cherry & Webb’s. I remember, she felt so – because my husband, well, he was my boyfriend – ‘cause my boyfriend was going overseas, and she felt so sorry for me, she says, ‘Mildred, [the interviewees sister, Mrs. Eugene J. Ivers, née Emilia “Mildred” Stasiowski] why don’t you go and buy her a fur coat? Make her feel better.’ Fur coat; I didn’t want no fur coat.
JR: Did you get a fur coat?
RS: I had to get it.
JR: In Cherry & Webb, I bet. They had a fur salon.
RS: Of course. Of course, Cherry & Webb. You wouldn’t go anywhere else. When I was getting married [in 1947], Nelson [Reed] Cherry [treasurer, Cherry & Webb Company] was the one. When I got my gown, he was – when I was trying on wedding gowns, Nelson Cherry, he was right there. And Miss [Piche]? Remember Miss [Piche] from the hats [department]? [Marie Anna Piche, later Mrs. Roland S. Fontaine, was the buyer for the Millinery Department at Cherry & Webb Company.]
RS: They had a veil there, a long, long veil that was going to be in one of the trade shows, and Nelson Cherry said, ‘No, that’s for Ruth. That’s for her, for her gown. You don’t put that in the style show.’ I had Nelson Cherry …
JR: Wow. I don’t know anybody that had Nelson Cherry working on their wedding. That’s something.
RS: Well, that’s because my mother had four of us, and everything, everything was bought there.
WM: That’s good business, for sure.
WM: You know what I wanted to ask; I forgot to ask. You lived down the Globe. Do you remember the Park Theatre, [1425 South Main Street, Fall River]? The Park Show?
RS: Of course, I used to go there.
WM: Tell us about it.
RS: Twenty-five cents to get in. I knew ‘Marquee’ Gosciminski [likely Chester J. Gosciminski, who was employed as a projectionist at the Park Theatre from 1931 to 1947]. He and my girlfriend – ‘Marquee’ was keen on his station, so we used to go; ‘Marquee’ used to get us into the show for nothing. Well, we used to go to Park Show, that’s something, for dishes [so-called ‘Dish Night’].
JR: Oh, yeah.
RS: One day you’d get a cup, one week you’d get a cup, next day you’d get a plate, and you’d get a whole set of dishes.
JR: Well, if you had ten children, you could all get a plate and a cup.
RS: Oh, no, they didn’t all go to the show. I used to go with my Mom. The others were kinda older then. I was the youngest; I would go with my Mother. We would walk up Globe Street and go to the show, and my Mother thought it was great because she didn’t know any better. Sorry to say, but it’s true.
JR: Were you crazy about the movie stars?
JR: Did you like the movie stars?
RS: In them days, yes. They were movie stars. Not today. They’re not actors and actresses today. They’re scum – the way they dress. No, no. There’s no need of that.
JR: You like the glamour. You liked the glamour of that period of time.
RS: Oh, yes. I liked the shows that they had, and everything else. Even on TV now – what is there on TV? Nothing. You know what I watch? The Portuguese Channel.
RS: I see nice parades, I see beautiful women dressed in nice costumes. Very religious, of course, but that goes beyond [saying]. You got to give ‘em credit. Beautiful.
WM: The Globe. Was the Ukrainian Club [Ukrainian National Home, restaurant, 482 Globe Street, Fall River] active then? Do you remember the Ukrainian Club?
RS: Oh, the Uke Club? Oh, the food.
JR: The food, yes.
WM: Did you go there?
RS: Oh, all the time. I knew, I knew … the cook. He graduated from eighth grade with me. The big, fat cook.
WM: I remember him, sure. How about the Polish [National] Home, [872 Globe Street, Fall River]?
RS: The Polish Home didn’t have much. My father had shares in it. Nothing ever come out of it…. That burned down and they got nothing. Not a thing.
WM: You know what’s still around, down in the Globe? Still there, down the Globe is Hartley’s Pork Pies [1729 South Main Street, Fall River]. Still there. Do you remember that? It’s a hundred years old. [The business was established by Thomas Hartley as a bakery in 1900.]
JR: Hartley’s, Hartley’s Pork Pies. [The pies are a Fall River tradition, considered a delicacy by many.]
RS: Oh, I knew, I knew ‘Porky,’ [John Russell Hartley.] He wanted to take me to the [B.M.C. Durfee High School senior] prom and I wouldn’t go with him because he was too short.
WM: His name was Porky. What else, what else would his nickname be? [According to the 1939 edition of The Durfee Record, he was also called ‘Russ.’]
JR: I’m just going to jump back a minute to high school. Did you take the commercial course, or …
JR: So you thought you were going to go into …
RS: Well, I’ll tell you what. During World War II, my brother got me – my brother Al [Albin “Albert” Stasiowski] worked at Quonset Point [Quonset Naval Air Station, North Kingstown, Rhode Island]; not at Quonset Point – in one of the islands. He got me an application to work in Newport [Naval Station Newport]. I filled out the application and everything else, and I told my boss that I was gonna leave, and I was going to work, and he said, ‘No, you can’t leave.’ ‘What do you mean I can’t leave?’ He says, ‘You know, if you leave,’ he says, ‘you won’t be able to work for, I don’t know how long.’ I says, ‘Why’? He says, ‘Well, if you know, we’re making nurses’ uniforms for the [United States] Government, and we’re working for the Government, so you cannot leave unless you stay out of work for so long. Then you can go to your job.’
JR: Ah, he had something over your head.
RS: So, I says to my brother Al, ‘Al, forget it.’
JR: I’m thinking that, being a supervisor, there had to be a lot of stress for you because I think the owners wanted a lot of production. And did they hold you responsible?
RS: Oh, yes, we had to report to them why production was going down; why [in] this operation there’s so much trouble going on. ‘Why? Because of you people, for Chrissakes. You want, you want – these girls are working like slaves, and you want more?’
JR: Did you often feel that you were in the middle, [that] you were caught in the middle between them and the employees?
RS: Well, uh, uh, I was pretty – the employees knew I was with them; I think in a way, they knew.
JR: I think we’re going to be wrapping it up a little bit. Is there anything you think we may have forgotten? Anything you want to tell us?
RS: Well, you people were kind of interested in our work and like I told you I worked for twenty-five cents in Kresge’s, and then I graduated to fifty cents.
JR: And when you finished, when you retired, how much were you making?
RS: I was on a salary.
JR: Ah, all right. You’re not going to tell us what it was. Okay, I won’t ask.
RS: You wouldn’t believe it.
WM: One question I had – as a supervisor, did you do any hiring?
RS: No, I didn’t do any hiring, but I did the firing.
WM: They made you fire.
RS: The dirty jobs, you did. The good jobs, they did.
RS: But, I, I really got along – the Portuguese girls, the Portuguese women, I really got along with them. There was some way….
JR: Okay, we’re going to, we’re going to wrap it up now. Thank you very much, Ruth, because we’ve learned a lot. We have learned a lot, a lot of detail. It’s been really a pleasure to meet you.
WM: Great interview. Thank you.