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Interview with Anna Borsuk

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Borsuk, Anna ; Dobandi, Susan


Anna Borsuk talks about her early years, moving from Pittsburgh, PA, to Binghamton, NY, and working in hotels in NYC. She discusses opening one of the first beauty parlors in Binghamton, running a tourist house, struggles with failing health due to TB and raising her son alone. She remarks the help she received from welfare and the kindness of people working in urban renewal in her later years.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


34:55 minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Miss Anna Borsuk

Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi

Date of interview: 6 March 1978

Susan: This is Susan Dobandi, interviewer, and I'm talking with Miss Anna Borsuk, who lives at 24 Isbell Street, Binghamton, NY. The date is March 6, 1978. Anna, Could you tell us something about your early beginnings, where you were born, any recollections of your childhood?

Anna: Yes, I can—I can remember, oh, from the age of five or six, I guess, I remember.

Susan: Where were you born?

Anna: I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We moved from there to Mayfair, PA, and I was, I guess I must have been eight or nine years old. From there we moved again to Carbondale, PA, and I started to work in a hotel. I was there five years as a waitress and all-around girl. I'm ahead of my story, but let’s see, I got married before I started working at the hotel. I was married when I was sixteen years old and, ah, I had my son, my son, and then when he was a year and a half old I left and went to the hotel. I went to work as a waitress and I was there five years, and I met some good friends there who were salesmen—saw how hard I worked and how much money I was making and they felt sorry for me, and I—in the meantime my mother’s and father’s home burned down and they lost everything, and I felt very badly. While I was working some of the guests noticed me, that I felt badly, and they asked why I was upset, and I told them that we had lost our home—we lost everything—and they said, “Why do you stay here in Carbondale and work in this hotel? You work too hard,” they used to tell me, and ah, I really don't know whether to— “Why don't you move to Lestershire?” 

“We'll see.” So, Mr. Bennett, you know, he was a salesman for ladies’ hats and used to come around and show his hats around. In those days the salesmen used to bring their stuff to different hotels. They didn't have it the way they do now, and he traveled by train and then, so I came home and I told my mother the good news, and she was delighted to hear it, and she said, “Oh, Anna, please go to Binghamton. Your sisters are getting older now and they—they could work and help us.” My father was a miner and he wasn't getting any money, you know. So, mother had a garden and she had chickens and she had everything, we lived off that—rather, my family lived, of course I was working—and I came to Binghamton and it was June 15, 1915. I'll never forget that was a rainy one. I came here and I was soaked and, raining very hard that day and I was soakin’ wet, and my sister Julia which was next to me—

“If you come with me I'll find you a job.” So, while I was here—while I was here in Binghamton, I did not know a soul, nobody, and I stopped at the Press building and I looked in the dictionary to find out where the Russian are—I thought, wherever there are Russian Churches, then there are some Russian people and they would help me, and sure enough I—I took a streetcar and, I forget, an old factory, a cigar factory, people were in there and I could smell the odor from cigars, and that was something new—and I got off at the church right on Clinton Street, St. Michael's Church, and across the street I noticed a Russian name and I went in there and I spoke to him in Russian and he answered me, and I asked him that I'm a stranger and I'm looking for a house for my family and, ah, he said, “Well, there is—I don't know anything about it,” he said to me, “I couldn't tell you, but my wife is coming home. If you'll wait, she'll be here any minute,” and sure enough she came in and she said, “Yes, I'll take you to the lady on the corner of Charles and Grace Street, and the lady is giving up her apartment.”

So, I went in there with Mary Driscoll, her name was Driscoll, and she spoke to the lady for me and I told her and she said, “Yes, I'm moving out right now,” but I thought, who owned the property? But I supposed that she was the landlord, and she told me that was Dr. Hutchings on Front Street so I went there, all in one day I did all that. I went there and I met this doctor and I told him my story, my sad story, and he was very kind and very helpful and he said, “Ah, I'll rent you this house as soon as you can get here and I'll help you all I can.” So he, ah, I said, “Well, we have nothing—nothing to bring over, because everything was burned down.” My mother was living with her sister and so I—I stayed here one day and then I went to the shoe factory, Dunn McCarthy's, and ah, I wanted to talk to the foreman or the superintendent, and ah, I met a very nice man and I—I should remember his name because he was, ah, wonderful to me. He talked to me like I was a child. He said, "My dear girl,” he said, “you bring your sisters here and I'll give them a job, and bring your father and I'll give him a job too.” So I felt, I was delighted, and ah, ah, I was on the verge to go back to the hotel because I know my manager there would be displeased that I left, and ah, I said, “Ah, I have to go back to Carbondale to my job and they gave me only one day off,” and ah, so we hurried, we hurried and hurried and I wanted to get off and, anyway, I had everything arranged, and we said, “Dr. Hutchings” —I think that was, ah, his name, Dr. Hutchings—they used to live by up there, it's hard to say up there, you know, from the corner, the third house up there, you know. I think probably it's still there. He said, “I won't charge you any rent, I won't expect anything from you, whatever you can do,” so I—I didn't have to pay any rent any—anyway, I didn't have any money and, ah, see, I don’t know what to say.

Yes—so this neighbor, the next door neighbor from the house that we were going to move into, they were Slavish [Slavic] people—I think their name was Kusmach. I asked them if my sister could stay there all night with them—with them while I go home and break the news and my family would come here right away, and then she stayed there, she began to cry, Julia did. She thought, she's among strangers, you know, and she was, oh, about fifteen years old and, ah, well anyway, Julia, you have a job and there are two girls in the family there and they have supported her too, because they were working too, so then I said goodbye to her and she cried and I cried too. I came to the station. I was on my way to the station in the rain the next day. I had to spend the night over in the neighbors’ house and, ah, the next day I was going to the station, and Mr. Hart and Mr. Bennett, the two salesmen that had told me to come here, I ran into them, or rather they ran into me, and he said, “What are you doing here, Anna?”

And I said, “Well, Mr. Bennett, you told me to go to Lestershire, so I came to Lestershire and I have everything arranged,” and they were very surprised that I did it so quickly, so then I said, ah, and then Mr. Bennett and Mr. Hart said to me, “Well, where are you going? What are you going to do?”

I said, “Well, I'm going back to the American Hotel because Mr. & Mrs. McCann will be cross with me that I'm taking off,” and they took me by the arm and they said, “You're not going back there, you're working like a slave there and it's too much for you. We're going to introduce you to a hotel manager here,” and they took me to the Bennett Hotel. That's the Bennett at that time, and it was a very nice hotel at that time. They introduced me to the manager, I think his name was Mr. Proseman, and his beautiful wife, and ah, Mr. Proseman said that I was a very fine girl and I was supporting my son, and he told them the story and, ah, they gave me the job right away and I was there for about a year, and when some other friends that recognized me in the lobby, some of the people who remembered me from Carbondale saw me there working there and, ah, Mr. Bennett, waiting on the table that I waited on the manager and his wife—I just had one table, just the family, and ah, so I felt kind of proud, you know, that they chose me among all the others, you know, so I felt kind of, well, I was, I was just, ah, very happy about it, that everything, that I had so many friends that were helping me and I was, they just, ah—they were so pleased I’d do whatever they suggested, everything. I and, ah, I, ah, I called, well anyway, I said, “All right, I'll have to go back to Carbondale and give my notice that I'm coming,” and I went back and the manager and his wife didn't want to let me go. They didn't want to pay me, but they said, “You gotta stay here,” and I said, “I can't, I promised I'm going there,” and I said, “My family is going there,” and my little boy was, you know, with my mother, and my son was going to be a year and half old and, ah, I said, “Wherever he's gonna be, I ought to be there too.” So they were very reluctant to let me go. They didn't like it and, ah, so as I said in the—I worked only one year at the Bennett and one of the other guests recognized me and they said, “We can find you a better place than this to work,” so they went to the Arlington Hotel and spoke to Mr. Turney—the old gentleman Turney was in there, you know, there at that time. They spoke to him and told him about me and that I was a hard worker and a very decent girl and all that, and of course they were giving me all that recommendation, I didn't have to tell them all that about myself, but ah, they all felt sorry for me that I had such big responsibilities, and the guests were always very nice to me in every hotel wherever I worked, and ah, finally, ah, I got the job at the Arlington and I left the Bennett, which was not a nice thing to do because they were nice to me, I had no reason to leave to leave, but ah, ah, they thought that I would do better at the Arlington, which I did because they gave me more money and that helped. I had to give so much money to my mother to help her towards my son's support and his clothes and everything, and ah, of course at that time, before that, I was separated from my husband but he wasn't supporting me. He was working on the railroad and he was drinking and he just didn't care about—about the baby or me or anything. He never gave me any money, so I just—I just left him—I couldn't—I didn't want to continue living with him and have any more—-

I stayed at the Arlington for five years, then I went to New York City and I started working at the Statler Hotel, which was only there two years before, and I, ah— I was there only a year at this hotel, and then I noticed they were opening up a beauty parlor on the mezzanine floor and I had an interview myself, I kept thinking about my poor sisters working in the shoe factory and I thought, what a wonderful idea it would be if they would take, ah, beauty parlor work and, ah, go into that kind of work. I couldn't afford to—to work at the salaries that the learners in those days, they didn't have beauty—beauty schools like they have now, ’cause we had to work in the beauty parlor as an apprentice and you only got $12.00 a week. A girl that just took up hair and keep the box filled, and so I got my sister in New York and she got the job at the President, at the, they called it “Pennsylvania,” the Statler Hotel, and she was there for a while, and I had to leave her because my mother had a big twelve-family apartment in Binghamton and she thought that I should be with her, that I, that she couldn't get along without me being there to help her with the, and she wrote me that I'm breaking up her home by taking my sisters away, and I left the Statler Hotel to be with my mother, to help her with that big property she got. And my sister liked New York so well she stayed, and she had been modeling and—and ah, she made good money and she stayed about two years, but while I was here trying to help my mother with that big twelve-family apartment house and she came back—finally she came back and then I said, “Well, I'm going to look around Binghamton and see if we can find a little place where we can start a little beauty parlor.”

Of course my sister took up marcel waving, we were the first people that had that method, you know, when we came here. She took that up in New York, and of course Dorothy, too, was a manicurist and—my second sister—and so the two of them had a little training and so I found a location in a beauty parlor, I ran around Binghamton and asked different people what to do with it. Get a good place and my lawyer, my family lawyer, Mr. Polletta, told me to talk to Mr. Tyler, which was the superintendent of the Press building at the time, and I spoke to Mr. Tyler, rather, Mr. Polletta spoke to him first, and he gave me a little room that had only two chairs and two dryers and two manicuring tables—of course I had to buy my equipment in New York. They didn't have any equipment up here in Binghamton and so I had to order it there, and Mother came to New York and gave me the money for the equipment and begged me to come home with tears in her eyes, and I agreed to come home and bring the girls back home and so they, my sisters wanted to stay away because they found more opportunities, and finally, when I opened the beauty parlor and Martha and I were the first two that were working there.

Susan: Can you recall any of the prices at that time?

Anna: Oh yes, the manicures were 50¢ and our shampoo was 50¢ and of course the only big item, they were the highest, was the permanent wave, which I was doing, that was my specialty—I charged $6.00. I had the beauty parlor where I'd have to go to New York to the hairdressers’ show every six months, take, just take up the Eugene Wave by Mr. Eugene himself, personally gave me the instructions. That was the marcel wave, the permanent wave, they used to call it a Marcel, so then my sister Martha was Miss Martha, she was giving a marcel with an iron, you know, but I was, so we made a big hit in Binghamton, and then we outgrew the beauty parlor, it was too small for the business. It just boomed the first year that we were there. We were there only a year. I spoke to Mr. Tyler that—that I'd like to move into a larger room, and he said that Judge Parson is moving away from—he's giving up his position and he's right on a corner, he has two rooms. Then he said I could take the partition down and you could enlarge it, would be an L-shaped beauty parlor for you, but you could have as many booths as you want, so I said that would be fine, so Mr. Tyler the superintendent was very nice to me. He suggested it and I—I thought, of course, it was a good idea, so I said, “I'd appreciate it very much, I think, if you would do that, because I have two other sisters that are ready to come in with me, and we wouldn't fit in this little room we have here.” They did it in a hurry, and they did special piping for us and also drains from each booth, from the shampooing booth. We had seven shampoo booths and three manicuring tables and one barber chair—hair-cutting chair, and I have some pictures of that and, ah, we did very good business, and, and of course all my sisters were in by that time, they, all four of us—five of us, and I—I was about, I used to give six and seven permanents a day, and I got terribly run down and I got a cold one day, and I just thought, “Well, maybe I need a change, I'll go to New York, maybe I just need a change,” I thought, you know, because I had so much responsibility, so I packed my little bag and I went.

My mother didn't approve, my sisters didn't, nobody approved of me going, but I said, “I'm getting away from everything, I can't take it.” I didn't realize I was sick, although my doctor kept telling me that I'm going to get sick and he threatened me that I'm going to get sick. He told his wife was a customer of mine, his daughter was my customer, and his aunt, and they all saw how hard I worked. I used to work from 8 o'clock until 10 every night and I never had time to eat my lunch, and if I did I—I had indigestion, and the doctor said before I go to lunch, to lay down for a minute before I go—he said, “If you don't be careful you're going to get TB.” Dr. Arfonse said that to me, and I said, “Ah, no,” I said, “I'm not going to get TB. I'll be all right.” 

So I just packed my suitcase and I went to New York and I went to Sachs Fifth Avenue, New York, and I talked to the manager there about a job and he gave it to me. I was working there about four months, when one day I had a spell while I was on duty and, ah, there were two—four girls there, they were Russian girls there, they were from Russia, and they were only shampoo girls, they were really, they came, they were refugees from Russia here and they didn't know nothing about hair work, but the only thing they could do was wash the hair, and they saw that I looked sick and then they took me over to the clinic, it was on the ninth floor, and the doctor and the nurse said they had one room, just like a hospital, and they found that I had TB. They sent me away for a year and then I came back home cured, and I couldn't go back to the beauty parlor because there was something about the cosmetics that I would cough and I—I thought, well, I'd sit at the desk and just get the appointments, prepare the customers, and let the girls do the rest. We had thirteen girls working there by that time, colored girls, too, and we were teaching girls beauty work, and I know my uncle came here from Pittsburgh and he'd say, “I don't know why you’re teaching anybody, they're going to take business away from you,” which they did, but it—it didn't hurt us, and ah, because the business kept booming and, ah, so I, ah, was managing it from the house, and the girls would come home and tell my mother that “Anna's coughing too much,” and they were trying to keep my condition secret from my customers, nobody didn't know, so then my mother said, “Why don't you stay home, Anna, and we have a big house, a 22-room house on Court Street there, why don't you do something with this? You seem to know what to do,” so I said the only thing I could think of is start a tourist house now that I'm sick and can't work in the beauty parlor anymore for another year, the doctors say I can't go to the beauty parlor for another year until they pronounce me arrested—my case arrested. I had to go to the doctor every month to be X-rayed and questioned, and so I started the tourist business, and that business boomed, you know, and I ran that for thirteen years.

And talk about, my mother got sick, gallbladder, and she, she didn't get up in time, she got this palsy, you know, so that when she got down here she needed me, so I was a nurse, I was taking care of my mother and I was running the tourist house. I used to have thirty people in my house every night during the summer, and I had to show them the rooms, go run outdoors and show them where to park the cars. I did that for thirteen years and then my mother passed away and then, you know, she passed away, and ah, then I had another breakdown after she died, with pleurisy on my bad lung, and I was in the hospital eleven weeks, and the doctor hollered at my doctor and he shook his finger at me that I'm not being fair to myself, but he pulled me through—I—I—I had a 103 temperature for eleven weeks and he called my daughter-in-law, by that time my son was married, and he told my daughter-in-law the things that that I did, but ah, by that the family wanted to sell the house, they thought it was too much for me and they all wanted to get out and on their own, they were getting married and I didn't want to sell it because I wanted a home, I wanted something, if I knew I was going to live to this age I would have fought it more, I would have kept it, but I thought, “I'm finished,” because my family gave me up so many times, then I had a second breakdown after we sold the house I had another breakdown of my lungs and I was at Chenango Bridge and I'm still here and, but I still didn't give up, I got back on my feet and started working again and, ah, I, ah, the family pressed me so hard to sell, sell, sell, that I finally gave up and I sold it. So then I wasn't welcome anyplace, I—I just didn't know what to do. What am I going to do? I—I—

Susan: So what year did you come to the high rise?

Anna: Well, I came to the high rise in 1968, when they just opened it. I'm here ten years, and well, well, first I—I traveled with a suitcase, I went all over, you know, and the money that I had from the property, you know, seventeen years I was doing nothing, just traveling with a suitcase, trying to make myself live someplace. I didn't know where I belonged, and ah, as for a job, they said they didn't want anybody at my age, which was around forty, and I was around forty, and ah, I, no matter what I did, I was a telephone operator, I worked on a switchboard, worked at the New York City hotel and I worked at the switchboard in the front here and I had all this experience and they didn't want to give me a job because of my age, so I said, “What am I going to do?” I just retired. Well I lived off the few hundred thousand dollars that I got for seventeen years but then the money was gone, so, I was older and I said, “What am I going to do now?” so I had another good friend at the Bennett Hotel, and he, and I told him my story and he and his wife—and he was Mr. Lamb, I guess everybody in town knows him and about my story—and he says, “Well, I can help you, all I can say is a good work for you to go on welfare,” so I said, “Yes, I will go on welfare,” but I didn't—my family and my son didn't know anything about it, that I was doing that, I was very independent, I never went to any of them for a dollar or a coin—or anything, I'm kind of independent and I was too spunky, you know, my mother and father used to say to me, “I never seen anything like you, if you make up your mind you’rer gonna do it.” I still do, but ah, so then people were very kind to me, the urban renewal people, ah, ah, Margarette, ah, ah, what's her name? She's in the office over here. I can't think of her name now, she was very kind to me and she said I was living at the Arlington, I was on welfare already and of course welfare were giving me only $85.00 a month and I had to pay $50.00 rent, so what did I have left? So I used to do—I used to help a lot of little old ladies take them someplace and they'd buy my meal and, ah, or I used to sew, I could sew. I was a dressmaker for three years and then my eyesight failed—failed me, and I managed that way, but I always meet nice people that were always very helpful to me all the time, not that I—I didn't go to them purposefully to tell them my sad story, but ah, I—I wanted to get along as best I could, so then, ah—ah, well, we were living at the Bennett, you know the place was condemned, the Bennett hotel, and we were living there. There were about twenty of us ladies living there, and ah, I couldn't make—I couldn't make ends meet so I used to take care of another sick lady, but ah, retired from Washington, from the Pentagon, and she—I used to escort her around and she used to buy my lunches for me. I used to escort her around town, and well, after that we had to move out of there. We were there, I was there about six years at the Bennett, and then the Urban Renewal moved us to the Arlington. We were supposed to be there only one year, but instead of that we figured two years waiting for this to be finished, so then, ah, they'd moved me here, they ah, Urban [Renewal] moved my furniture and they bought furniture that I have here. It's from the Arlington, they bought it for me through the welfare, I don't know who paid for it, and some of the odd pieces were given to me that I have, but ah, so I have been here ever since.

Susan: Well, Anna, I think that we can close by saying that you have a very lovely attractive apartment so that you are comfortable.

Anna: Well, a lot of people say that to me, but ah, when, ah, I was running the tourist house, you know, the guests used to come in and say that I had the cleanest house, that I used to have the cleanest rooms of any tourist house that they ever had, and they always came. We used to have a lot of flowers around the house. I had a lot of boxes, and I know I had a hairdresser from New York City stop and he said, he had his family with him and he said, “We went all over Binghamton and my family wanted to go in that house where all the beautiful flowers are,” so they would come in, and they would come in and they saw—I must say so, but I had the flowers, and everybody that came in that had children, they said that it was the cleanest, neatest place, and I had fifteen rooms to rent, sometimes I had thirty people in one night in the house, and I had all that laundry to take care of and I had all those beds to make myself. I was doing it myself, too, and, but then I did break down after my mother died.

Susan: Well, now let's finish the story by telling the people how old you are—you've lived through a great deal.

Anna: Yes, well I—I'm 87 years old now and I don't know how much longer I'm going to live, because everybody tells me I don't look my age.

Susan: You don't look your age, you're a very, very attractive woman.

Anna: But ah, I have this, ah, chest condition—chest pains now, and I don't know, lately it's been kind of, they've been kind of, although I have a very good doctor, he shakes his finger at me.

Susan: Well, let's just hope for the best. Thank you very much for the interview, Mrs. Borsuk.

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Date of Interview



Dobandi, Susan


Borsuk, Anna


34:55 minutes

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Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Borsuk, Anna -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Binghamton (N.Y.); Pittsburgh (Pa.); Beauty shops; Tuberculosis -- Patients -- Interviews; Single mothers -- Interviews

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