Interview with Jeanette Boyd
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Jeanette Boyd
Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi
Date of interview: 10 February 1978
Susan: This is Susan Dobandi, interviewer, and I'm talking with Mrs. Jeanette Boyd, who lives at 2 Duffey Court, Binghamton, NY. The date is February 10, 1978. Mrs. Boyd, would you please tell us something about your early beginnings: where you were born, something about your parents, any of your recollections of your childhood?
Jeanette: Well, I was born on Prospect Street in Binghamton in 1906, and ah, my father then was, ah, connected with the Broome County Humane Society and Welfare Association, and I went to Jarvis Street School, which is now closed of course, ah, and Laurel Avenue School and then to Helen Street School, which is now Thomas Jefferson. Graduated from high school in 1924 and—
We took street cars wherever we wanted to go, ah—to get to school I walked across, ah—ah, Glenwood Ave., where the trains would be stalled on the—on the crossings, and I would have to crawl through the trains to get to school on time and, ah, but we made it very nicely. I used to go skating down in Endicott. We had to walk to Main Street for a streetcar and go down to where Union Endicott School is now—we'd go skating and get all wet and come home on the streetcar and then walk home all the way in from Main Street. We had no cars then, and these days children would stay home and watch television rather than do all of that. And ah—
When I graduated in ’24, ah, I went into the Humane Society and worked there for three or four years, and ah, my mother didn't think it was the place for an 18 year old, and I really had a very liberal education. I, ah—I learned much about the birds and the bees and how everything, ah, worked or didn't work, but I survived it, and I'm sure lots of other people would too, but ah, we ah, we housed at that time the Girls Club. Ah, in fact my father started the Girls Club in that building and, ah, bought a building on the same corner for the Boys Club, to house that, and ah, we had clinics in the building. We had the first eye, ear and nose clinic that Dr. Roe had there, and Dr. Bolt, and we had a tuberculosis clinic and a heart clinic, all kinds of clinics in—in that building, and doctors volunteered their time, they were not paid for it, and of course the welfare work was done by my father and with a lot of George F. Johnson's money.
Susan: Give his name now.
Jeanette: Ah, Sam Koerbel, and ah, we also had Children's Court in that building and on the top floor we had a children's detention. He would not put the children in the jail, so we made a jail up on the top floor and had delinquent children up there and we had a colored family, a negro couple who ah—who were the attendants up there and, ah, so that the children did not go into the big jails the way they do now with the adults or anything of this kind. They did not go into courts. They went into just their own small Children's Court and the welfare work, as I say, was done there, the ah—ah, people who—the separated couples, ah, the men had, ah, to come in and pay each week, and then the women would come in and get the checks and so that we could know that they were paying their alimony and the people, their families were not going
Down in the basement George F. Johnson had a—had a clothing bank, and the children came in after school with their sizes that the teachers had written, sizes of clothing, and ah, we would give them coats, underwear, at that time they were wearing long underwear, and they would come in so wet and bedraggled, but we'd fit shoes on them. Then at Christmas time, of course, the school sent in many lists of sizes and we would do them up in bundles and deliver them to the houses. We had an English investigator, a lady, Elizabeth, I don't know what her last—Anderson was her name, Andy, and ah, she would go out and check the families that wanted welfare and, ah, if they were dirty she wouldn't give them one thing. She'd come in storming and she'd say, "Don't give that family one thing. I gave them some soap powder and some soap. Those kids have got to be cleaned up, the house has got to be cleaned up. I'm going back tomorrow, and if they're clean they can have some food and clothing, otherwise they can't have a thing.”
So, usually they were cleaned up, and I guess from that I say that families who are on welfare may not have much money, but they can be clean and I have not much use for—for dirty people, and I think maybe that Andy was at the bottom of that and, ah—
Susan: I might say they need an Andy now.
Jeanette: They do, oh, she was a little spitfire. She was English and she told those people what they could do and what they couldn't do, and they were scared to death of her.
I, ah—I don't know just exactly what, ah—what, ah, you'd like to, ah, hear. We, ah, in the office we also did dog licenses. We had to go through the, ah—the books once a year and, ah, we had to send the men out. Of course we—we had the dogs under our jurisdiction too, dogs and cats, and my grandfather was dog catcher at one time. In fact the way my father got started in the Humane Society was to become the dog catcher, for the first time way, way back, and ah, he ran away from home when he was eleven years old in Waterville, NY, and ah, made his way to Binghamton and worked in a grocery store here, then became dog catcher and eventually was the Humane Officer here.
And another thing that might be interesting, ah, George F. Johnson had an office for my father down in the tannery office in Endicott, and out of that he worked welfare in Endicott. Or he would make arrangements for them to come to Binghamton for welfare work, then along in 1923 or ’24, I just don't remember, George F. Johnson had my father buy the Castle on the Conklin Road, and ah, at that time there was a lot of tuberculosis in the welfare families and, ah, July, for instance, they had girls and in August they had boys from these tubercular families, and ah, this was free, of course, and ah, in fact the first time that they had these, ah, little camps, my mother and an aunt had them right in our farmhouse there, where we used to go in the summertime, and ah, turned two or three rooms into dormitories—had the girls, ten or twelve, in July, and boys, and then out of these groups they, ah, had them stay all winter in this castle that they eventually bought, and the garage was made into a school and they had their own school teacher, and ah, there was an underground passage from the Castle to the garage that the children thought was wonderful, and of course the Castle has now been given by George F. Johnson to the Town of Conklin and it is town offices now, used for town parties and that kind of thing, but ah, it had, oh, a great big stove and, ah, of course they had a dining room with a lot of tables in there. It was a real school, and ah, one of the cooks used to bake angel food cakes on the ledge in the furnace and of course the children thought that that was wonderful. She said it was a nice, even heat, and she would put her cake tin right in there on that ledge and, ah, and then the—the, when the children were well and, ah, had been fed and fattened up a little bit, then they went home and the next summer another group would come in, and out of that they would choose the children that needed it the most and then they would stay a year, and this was all with George F. Johnson's money through the Humane Society and, ah, during the Depression. Oh, there, the Humane Society building was an old hotel and it had what used to be a ballroom and, ah, they had soup lines in there and we used to serve the people soup, mostly men as a rule would come, not families but men, and ah, then they—we would cook big—ah, big pots of pork and sauerkraut and, ah, then, of course as I said, they say, ah—they had the Girl Scouts there. They had showers for the girls, some of them never had baths any other time if they didn't take a shower then, and ah, the Humane Society originated, ah, in the City Hall, so I have been very interested in Alice Wales and her committee working to preserve the City Hall, because the policemen were on the first floor and I knew all of them by name when I was along, eight-nine-ten years old, and ah, the Humane Society offices were on the second floor and I used to stay there while my mother went shopping. I'd much prefer playing in that City Hall building so I have felt, ah, very interested in preserving that—that building, ’cause I think it's worth it regardless of the amount of money. I don't know if there is anything else that you'd like to know or not?
Susan: Well, I think it would be interesting to compare how the people felt about receiving help in the old days?
Jeanette: Well, of course they—they felt ashamed at that point to, ah—to have to go on welfare, although many of them had to during the Depression, but the men did work, uh, and were allowed to work even though they were receiving welfare. They were encouraged to work, which they are not, which doesn't happen these days. They don't encourage them to work at all. If they can get something for free, why, that's just great and, ah, but I think people have lost their—their sense of responsibility towards the public, to ah, they would rather go and collect their welfare checks and their food stamps and, ah, they have big cars and televisions, and in those days they were not allowed to drive up to get welfare with a car, neither did they come in taxis. They came on streetcars and they took their clothing home on the streetcars and, ah, they were given Christmas baskets from Volunteers and Salvation Army and the Humane Society, but they cooperated so that there were not duplicates and I—I think they try these days, but ah, not to have duplicates, but I think that the people are so grabby that they will take two or three baskets if it's handed to them, and I know I have taken, ah, families out just recently to buy things for Christmas, and it's amazing that some women are quite conscious of the price and what she buys for 50¢ or 75¢, while another woman, knowing that it's free, will ah, grab the highest price can of coffee off the shelf until I make her put it back. I don't buy that myself, but let’s buy something else instead of buying the best, you know, but they think they should have the best.
Susan: So many of them buy so much junk food and do not cook good nourishing meals for their children.
Jeanette: That's right, that's right. This family that I'm helping now is a family of twelve children. She never bakes her own cakes. She was getting a frozen pie and a frozen cake, and I said, "That's ridiculous, I don't buy those, they're too expensive. We'll buy a box cake,”—oh no, she wouldn't have anything to do with that, and I said, “Do you have a cake tin?”
“No.” So I said, “Well let’s—let’s buy something cheaper, we'll buy cookies then,” and well, she didn't bake cookies either, and I—I just can't understand this. I—I never went hungry, but I always baked my own cookies and my own cakes and my own pies.
Susan: Well nowadays the popular thing is to go to McDonalds as soon as they get their checks.
Jeanette: Of course, of course.
Susan: Burger King—yes—Kentucky Chicken.
Jeanette: But I just couldn't believe it, that she didn't do any baking with twelve children. I said, “You can bake a cake for 50¢ plus two eggs.”
Susan: Are you still active in—n some form of welfare?
Jeanette: No. I just do—do some through the church.
Susan: Oh, through the church.
Jeanette: We have a used clothing bank there, and we send to four mission churches in the south regularly and help them at Christmastime, but it is also open to people on welfare in Binghamton, so that is, that's the way I became acquainted with this family of twelve children, that they had heard through the grapevine, I suppose, that we had clothing.
Susan: Is she the one you were telling me about the birth control pill?
Jeanette: Yes, yes, and she was quite upset—she wanted clothing too, and I offered her several coats but no, she wanted a short coat. She wanted a pants coat, you know, and I said, “Well, of course this is not a store, we have only, ah, what people bring in to us,” and I offered her some dresses and no, she, she'd rather have blue jeans, so she went away with nothing, and her husband did take some shirts and a coat, but ah, some of the things that I offered her, said, oh well, her children wouldn't like that, and I said, well, if it did keep her warm.
Susan: They' re very choosy.
Jeanette: I think that they should be very happy to have them, but I, they have a car and of course it's the only way that they can get around, I suppose, with twelve children. You do have to buy groceries. They live up on Front Street now, but they've moved four or five times in the two years that I've known them. Now I don't know whether they don't pay their rent or what happened to them. It’s most discouraging when you try to help somebody and, ah, then they—they turn you down with things that would keep them warm, at least.
Susan: They're talking about welfare reform and we certainly need it.
Jeanette: I'd like to sit on that committee, but I'm sure that I won't be asked, ha ha, but I—I do think that, ah—ah, maybe one with gray hair on that might do some good if they could go back to some principles, at least, and not feel that, well, these people have it due them—well, I don't think that they do if they don't work, I—I don't think that work ever hurt anyone, and I think that we should support ourselves as long as we can and as much as we can and, ah, these teenagers that get married and don't have jobs, I—I don’t think that they should be allowed to marry—
Susan: —or live together.
Jeanette: Ha. That's right, that's right, and ah, they go in with these food stamps ahead of me in line, college kids, and ah, I don"t think that's necessary, if ah—if they can't afford to go to college then there are loans, and I'm sure that some of their families, ah, are well to do, and yet the kids come up here and get food stamps, and I—I don't think that's right for our county or state to pay for this kind of thing.
Susan: For out of state students.
Jeanette: That's right, and ah, of course they go around looking like ragamuffins, so maybe that's the way they get their food stamps, but ah—
Susan: I think it's a way of getting a little pocket money.
Jeanette: It's a way of getting something, I'm just not sure what it is, but I—I think it annoys me because these college kids can get a job. They can work in the summertime, my grandchildren do and, ah, but why should they, when they can get food stamps and have it handed to them?
Susan: Is there anything else that you would like to go back over?
Jeanette: Well, I—I really can't think of anything else.
Susan: Oh, they never gave any, ah, cash to the people when in the early days it was just food and clothing?
Jeanette: That's right, we had—we had grocery stores that were available for this kind of thing, and of course they were independent grocery stores then, and food was, or we bought it, wholesale. There were wholesale, well, like Darling & Co., I don't know whether they were, I think they were still in business then, but at least we bought hams and turkeys and all of that kind of thing, wholesale potatoes, wholesale, and ah, then we would make up the baskets ourselves or, I mean at Christmastime, or we would just get an order at a store, and no, the people were not given cash and I don’t give cash to the people who help me—that I am helping. I go with them shopping, and I pay the bill, I—I don't trust them. I'm sorry but I, ha—I just don't. I—I think they would go out and buy beer and cigarettes, all that kind of thing. I don't think that's the way to help people.
Susan: Well, the principle that the system is working under now is that they are trying to teach them how to manage their money, but they do not pay for the things that the money is given to them for.
Jeanette: That's right. That’s right.
Susan: And I would like to see some changes made there.
Jeanette: Yeah. No. They won't, not the people these days.
Susan: The majority of them.
Jeanette: I—I think before, we had a lot of foreigners, a lot of Slavić people over around the first ward, and I know when my husband died I—I sold real estate for a couple of years, and I went up on the hill, ah, back of Glenwood Ave., and there was an old German, I don't think she was German, at any rate she was foreign, and ah, the woman with me introduced me and she said, “I—I think you, ah, probably knew this woman's father, Sam Koerbel.” Oh, then the woman spoke very brokenly and, ah, she said, “Oh, Sam Koerbel, we just couldn't have lived through the Depression without him,” so you see, it was mostly first ward people that, ah, that we helped for some reason or another. We did others, too, but I—I think my memory is, is more of the foreign class that perhaps came over and couldn't get jobs, or couldn't get enough work for their big families, and ah, some of them were E-J workers and if they didn't have the work, why, then of course we helped them out, but ah, we were busy all day long with the people coming to the—to the, ah, windows there and taking their histories, and it would be all through a child's life until they were up to seventeen or eighteen years old. I know a lot of them now that we had on welfare, I see their names and they're in business and they've made names for themselves.
Susan: Made names for themselves, not third and fourth generation welfare—
Jeanette: That's right, that's right.
Jeanette: Yeah, they were willing to work, and I think, to go back to Andy, maybe her teaching of cleanliness—
Jeanette: You've got to be clean and you've got to help yourself or you don't have any welfare, and I think that just maybe, maybe they were taught the right way, I don't know, and being helped in the clinics and the delinquents. I know one, one in town who is in business now, was definitely a delinquent. He was on parole for, oh, two or three years. He'd come in every week to, ah—to sign in and tell us what he was doing, you know, but he learned his lesson the hard way. Yeah.
Susan: Do you want to comment on the difference in the children in the old days as against the, ah, now generation?
Jeanette: Oh, well, the children were disciplined, and they didn't find fault with their teachers and they didn't talk back to their teachers. If a teacher told you to do something, you did it. You, ah, you didn't question it, and it was the same with your—your parents, of course. The one reason that there was welfare, to talk about discipline, I—I think that the men would get their checks and they would go to the saloon and, ah, down on Glenwood Ave. there was a saloon that my father raided periodically and, ah, he would finally have the women come in, and the men would have to bring their checks in to us and then the women would come in to get them, but ah, the ah, I know my grandmother was helping a family right close to us, and they were Slavić and he was a drunk and didn't have any money for—for food, and my grandmother was so mad she went right down, and he was a little bit of a thing and she just shook him, she just shook him practically off—off the feet, ha ha. She came home laughing about it and she said, “Well, I don't think Pete's going to get drunk right away again because I shook so hard,” and he had been beating up his wife, and you know, I don't know whether it did any good, but I often think about seeing my grandmother shake this man, and you don't do that these days, if you went in and shook anybody and tried to make them behave you'd be taken into court.
Susan: There are too many rights to be—
Jeanette: That's right and that's too bad, that's too bad. I know one night my father had a telephone call around 10 o'clock and they said, “Sam, there is two or three young boys gone up into the cemetery in back of us and they've been trying to get into my house, but I saw them run up in the cemetery,” and my father just casually got out his gun and walked up the road and said, “You fellows come on out, I've got a gun on you,” and they walked out, and you know you wouldn't dare do that these days, you'd get the police force, the FBI, and everybody else out, but he just came down, he called the patrol and they came and got them and took them over to his—his, ah, detention, and the next day he had them in Children's Court. I—I believe they were scared to death of him. “I'm Sam Koerbel, come out, I've got a gun.” Everyone knew him. So they just, ah, they just did it as Sam Koerbel said, and even now my children will say, “Well, I'm sorry that those kids don't have a Sam Koerbel to put them right.” I—I just wish that he was around, I wonder what he'd do. Well, I think he'd put them to work first. I—I don't believe I have anything else.
Susan: Well, I think it's been very enjoyable talking with you. We agree on a good many points, Mrs. Boyd. Thank you very much for the interview.
Jeanette: You’re welcome, you’re welcome.
Susan: Mrs. Boyd, could we go back a little bit and give us a little more information about, ah, after you left your father's office and went on with your own personal life?
Jeanette: Well, I was married in 1927 to a man that I had, ah, grown up with from the sixth grade and, ah, they had been neighbors of ours, and ah, we had two children, ah, Richard and Shirley. Four years apart, and ah, shortly after we were married, six months, we discovered he was a diabetic, so for the thirty-five years that we were married, ah, we battled diabetes, but ah, he was the kind that said, “I've got it and we will not talk about it.” So, we never did, so we just lived with it, and of course we had our two children after that and we lived on Floral Ave. at that time, on the second floor of my father's house. During the Depression, ah, my husband was out of work so we went into the heating contracting business, and ah, we ah, eventually, well, he installed oil burners and stokers at that time, and ah, we eventually through the years had an oil fuel oil delivery service, and I did all of his office work and made all my children's clothes, of course. In those days you didn't go out to the store and buy things, and ah, he finally worked into just industrial work and school work within a hundred miles and, ah, in 1951 my mother sold that house, my father died in 1947 and in ’51 she sold the Floral Ave. house, and we built and we went over on Stone Road on the south side, we built a house and she had her apartment on the second floor, she became an invalid, and my children, ah, graduated from Central High and North High. Dick went on to RPI on a scholarship, and ah, he has been an electrical engineer for Stromberg Carlson in Rochester and, ah, for them went to Denver and worked on some government work and into California and back to Rochester, and then he went in with TRW Systems, and he has six children and he has moved ten times in twenty years and, ah, every time they move I go and babysit, since my husband died fourteen years ago. I go wherever they are and I babysit, and so that I've gotten around the country pretty well, and my daughter, ah, married a electrical engineer in Stromberg, went to Rochester and she still lives there and she has two children, and ah, they both have good jobs now, and he went into the printing business and lost a great deal of money, but we pulled out of there after three or four years, and I’ve—he’s had a sick mother, and I’ve gone up for a week or two at a time and helped take care of her and, ah, we are a very close family. Ah, if I hear of bad weather on the coast we call and if, Dick called me the other morning at a quarter after seven, his time, and of course my first question at that hour of the day is, “What’s wrong? When do you want me?” and ah, so that, ah, he's concerned about us too, and I have done Y.W. work. I was on the board with the, oh, Peg Prentiss, and oh, a lot of the women, you would know if I could name them, for twenty or twenty-five years, ah, on and off the board on all kinds of committees through reorganizations, ah, to conventions. I did Girl Scout work when Shirley was working—I, err, was growing up—I ah, had a Girl Scout troop, she didn't have a leader, so I went to their, ah, training sessions and had thirty-five girls for three or four years while she was growing up, and my husband and father-in-law were in Boy Scouts work, I, they made headdresses, and I had feathers all over my house because the boys would come there and work in the living room and in the kitchen and I, I just wondered if I'd turn into a Boy Scout myself, and of course they all went to Boy Scout and Girl Scout camp. Church work, I've done a little bit of everything in, in church work. I've been an elder and a deaconess in the Presbyterian Church and, ah, when Rick and his wife, ah, were in Rochester, they helped start a Presbyterian Church there in Kenfield and it’s still going, and Horky and I gave them their first Communion set, ah, for the church and ah, oh, I don’t know, we've done so many things and, ah, we did a lot of traveling after our children were grown up. We'd take the month of May and just travel, and then when my husband died I took a course in real estate and sold real estate for two years, but that was a little bit rough for me. I—I couldn't quite manage real estate and I answered an ad—a blind ad, of course, in the Press, and ah, got this job at the Herlihy Trucking Co., and I’ve been there now, well, it will be twelve years in September, and shortly after I was there, about a year after I was there, the only other woman in the office, the bookkeeper and everything, was found dead in bed, so I was sort of thrown into bookkeeping and I am still in it, only two and a half days a week, and I tell them I'm really not needed, but they say, “Who would boss us if you weren't here and who would keep us in line?” So I'm still going.
Susan: At 72.
Jeanette: At 72.
Susan: You're going to be 72.
Jeanette: I will be 72 next week, uh huh.
Susan: Well that's wonderful.
Jeanette: And I drive to Rochester, ah, when I feel like it, winter or summer, and people say, “You drove up?” and ah, when my son was in Virginia I drove down there, it was six hours and I’d just pack up and go. I—it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. I'd always done it and it just never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it, and ah, I don't know that there is anything else—my daughter is a busy in church work and she, ah, often says in some of her problems and she’ll write or call up and she'll say, “Well, I pulled a Jeanette Boyd today, I just told them what they were going to do.” (Chuckle.) And so I have a real reputation, I guess, even with the bowlers, ah, we bowl on the grandmothers’ team and, ah, one girl that I—I didn't know that she ever paid any attention to me, and ah, we got up from our coffee break and I said, “All right, let’s get going here, let’s get going,” and she said, “There she goes again on her soap box,” so I—I guess I have a reputation of being a boss, but I—l don't mean to be that way.
Susan: You're a very active person and you can be very, very proud of yourself, Mrs. Boyd.
Jeanette: Well, thank you.
Susan: Thanks again, this gives us a better idea of the kind of person I have been interviewing. Thank you. Bye bye.