The Great Depression


Because of the preoccupation with tracing the surname, family genealogical studies tend to gloss over, or even totally ignore, the feminine side of the house. However, I have found it fascinating to learn about the maternal side my family, e.g. with the Moravian Story and my mother's own memoirs -- which have been E-mailed to me by my brother. Here is a vignette, relating my mother's memories of the Great Depression. Perhaps it will strike a chord for those who lived through it.
-- Robert

[Note: Mr. Schwartz was Elinor's step father -- a Jewish gentleman who studied for the Catholic priesthood but decided not to go through with it.]

by Elinor Tyree

The depression hit Phoenix that summer. We had read about it being in New York in 1929. By 1931 visiting Californians were complaining of the pinch. It wasn't until 1932 that money dried up in Arizona. Suddenly people who owed Mr. Schwartz couldn't pay their bills; then Mr. Schwartz couldn't pay his. Mother put on a worried quietness. We moved into a rental house.

A small group of the girls from my school dropped by to make sure of my new address because they wanted to be able to find me when they got back from summer camp. Summer camp! It sounded wonderful. But I explained (with a little disdaining pride) that my father owned his own business, in which finances went up and down, and they were pretty down this summer. "Really," the girls chortled, "then we can get you in." They explained that the camp was the treat of some very wealthy families and was given to certain invited children each summer. Two of the girls had gone last summer; and they had led the sponsors to the others. I hadn't been asked because my family was thought to have the money to provide such outings for me themselves; but now ... Two days later, I received an invitation; and that week a chauffeured limousine arrived at my front door and I was off.

The camp was just outside Prescott, Arizona, one of the mountain towns from which Mr. Schwartz sometimes brought snow. In the summer however, the weather was just nippy: sweaters in the daytime and blankets at night in the screen porch dormitories of the camp building. There were approximately 20 girls in attendance. A number of servants were always around (some in white uniforms) who seemed to be enjoying the days as much as the youngsters. Several times lovely ladies came to see them and look in on us. There were trails and campfires with no regimentation. A nearby stable had horses enough for us all to ride, but in that we were subjected to regulations: we had to make reservations the day before, we could only ride for one hour and between the hours of 10:00 and 4:00 with no more that 3 in a riding party.

At the end, I floated back to Phoenix in a dream cloud. As the limousine which carried my little group (five I think) drove into town, I kept my face in the window -- and had the pleasure of waving from my lofty perch to two surprised boys I knew from school.

My surprise didn't come until we reached my house. The chauffeur carried my bag to the front door and rang the bell. No-one came. I looked in the window and saw the house was bare. I was frightened. I remembered an additional rental dwelling on the back of the lot. If someone was living there, they might be able to tell me where my family had gone. I ran to the back yard. Several of Mr. Schwartz' trucks were parked there. Mother's little driving- to-work coupe was there -- and finally my Mother, who stepped out of the little house. The chauffeur hurriedly left as a sheriff's car drove in and dislodged a driver who made his way to one of the trucks. "Hurry," Mother said, "we are being dispossessed; they will be taking my coupe next; get in!" It was then I noticed the car was loaded; Mother's sewing machine could be seen through the back window (surely the Sheriff's men had seen it too). I think I got right into the car; my brother came out of the house carrying the cat and dog; they and my Mother crammed in beside me. The car backed out the drive and dragged the side-walk as it bumped into the street and turned toward Highway 80.

On the outskirts of town we pulled into a filling station. Mr. Schwartz was waiting there. He gave Mother some money. She told him we would be at Aunt Mary's in Dallas, Texas. I didn't realize as we waved good-bye that twelve years would pass before I saw him again.

The trip to Dallas was uneventful except we had to stop while the dog delivered a litter of pups -- by the side of the road. Maybe it is good that the comic situation wells up in my memory first. And maybe it is just as well to dredge no further. At least the depression was bad for everybody.



Return to  Family Tree or  Home Page 


This website has been provided by