Interview with Sarah Burbank
Is Part Of
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Sarah Burbank
Interviewed by: Susan Dobandi
Date of interview: 12 July 1978
Susan: Mrs. Burbank, could we begin this interview by having you tell us something about your early beginnings? Where you were born? Something about your parents, what they did, and your early life in the community?
Sarah: Well, let’s go back a little further to my mother. Ah, Mother was ah, one of twelve children, Welsh, all Welsh, and ah, she went to, ah, Bloominburgh to a school to be a teacher and ah, my grandfather and grandmother were very interested in the Church, Congregational Church, and they used to entertain the, ah, minister, you know. Well, one day they had him at the house for dinner and, ah, he said to my grandfather, he said, "Oh, Mr. Jones, you have a wonderful family,” and my grandfather said, "But you haven't seen our Gertie." That was my mother, and as soon as Gertie came home he married her—I mean, not as soon, but they—they fell in love and he married her.
Well, he was a Minister from Wales. He, ah, got his degree from Yale and ah, he got very sick. He died before I was born, and so mother of course went back to my grandmother's and, ah, she taught school and so my grandmother raised me. So that was the beginning, of course, of a spoil, because there were a lot of aunts and uncles and, ah, I loved my grandmother. I didn't like my mother much because she did discipline me. She wouldn't have me spoiled when she was home but grandma used to teach me things, and one thing—this table, which is a marble top table, she taught me how to dust it. I was dusting it, you know, just back and forth any old way and she said, "Oh look, you must go into those little holes there and dust it thoroughly,” that's one thing, and then she let me iron but I had to get the—the handkerchief straight and iron them straight, fold them perfectly straight, and I remember those things and I think they've stuck by me. Maybe made me a little prissy, I don't know, but I don't see the youngsters doing it nowadays, but ah, anyway mother married again and took me away from my grandmother, and at the time I didn't like it one bit but I can see now that it was better for me, and so ah, my father—I called him “Father”—stepfather was as good and better than some fathers I know. He was a wonderful man but, ah, Mother took out an insurance policy for me to go to school ’cause she had gone to school, and if I remember what she told me, it cost her $500 to go at her time. You're smiling. It doesn't seem possible, and then when I went she took out this policy for $1,000, which would come due when I was of age to go, and I went down to Drexel when I went to school.
Sarah: Drexel, Philadelphia to take Home Economics. At that time, I went in ’18 and I think—1918—that was a new course, and it wasn't thought too much of right then, cooking and sewing, you know, you could learn that at home. Well anyway I went there, and ah, I don't know whether I got through, ah, for a thousand dollars or not, but I know I helped to wait on table, ah, to make a little more money, and in those days I made $4.00 a week but it seemed like a fortune to me and, ah, well, that was in 1919. I had two years and then I went to teach in Pennsylvania, and Cockinville was the name of the place, down there near Philadelphia, and ah, I went for $1,000 a year, that's what I was paid, nine months, and then I moved up to, ah, Brooklyn, Pennsylvania, which was another little small, but then I taught this Home Economics, that was three years, and then I came to Binghamton, and I taught one year here, but then I was married and our daughter was born and I stayed home.
Susan: What did Mr. Burbank do?
Sarah: He was an insurance man for Prudential and ah, I, ah—I stayed home about five years, I think, until one day Mr. Maston, who was manager of WNBF here, the only radio station we had then, ah, called and asked me if I'd be interested in doing a cooking school of the air. I didn't know what it was all about, but you know youth, well I say, they're brash but they don't have any nerves and they're not afraid of anything. I wasn't then, but I said, "Well we'll try it," and we had to go through voice tests and reading tests and things like that, and finally we started.
I thought it would be for, oh, a few weeks, because they had cooking schools in the schools. I mean they would have a woman come—Home Economics, and she would do it for two or three days, I don't know if you knew that or not, but then ah, I started and went on for a year and, ah, then they decided to just have it radio, and so from then on, well, I think I was doing that for twenty-one years.
Susan: That long?
Sarah: I thought it would be for about two years, but in the meantime of course my daughter was growing, but I was very fortunate to have a woman come in and take care of her when I was gone, you know, and I was able to do the work, ah, for the week. I mean, she would come clean through, you know, and if Rachel, my daughter, was sick, why, she would come over and stay with her while I was gone, but I wasn't gone too long doing radio, you know. Ah, well, the Cooking School of the Air finally went into television, and I didn't want to do that. I'd had—that's a lot of work. (Chuckle.) I don't want to do a lot of work, but you know—- Well, did you ever do any?
Sarah: Well, you know what you have to do. I did it because I wanted everything to come out right. I had a girl helping me on the cooking school, and she'd help me here. We'd make something what we were going to do that day. We'd do it, oh, quite a few weeks ahead, because ah, we made a recipe folder to give out and they had to be printed and I had to try them first, then ah, we'd go down there the morning of the school—go down to the store. It was in McLean's Silver Salon up on the fifth floor. I'll bet you don't remember that either?
Sarah: Well, they had their fashion shows and all sorts of things there, and then we'd do that in the morning again so the women could have it to taste, and then in the afternoon we'd do it in front of everybody, so it was too much work for the few of us who were doing it, you know, but of course we had sponsors, too, and we had to, well, we had to give them quite a bit of time. I think some days I'd have as many as seven or eight.
Susan: You did your own commercials?
Sarah: Yes, yes, and they would send them to me, the material, and then I could do it whichever way I wanted to, and that went through all the time I was on radio, but ah, it was very interesting. I enjoyed it very much meeting the people, you know, and I had guests on the—on the air, I had them on the cooking school, too, but it was a lot of fun.
Susan: What was the name of your program?
Sarah: The Sarah Burbank Show. Well, Mr. Maston thought that was best. I left it all up to them, I just did what they thought would be better, and that was, I can see now that was better, because we changed time, sometimes it would be fifteen minutes, and again they'd make it twenty minutes and change the format a little bit, but during that time my daughter, ah, grew up, graduated and from high school and from college. She went to St. Lawrence and then she married.
Susan: What did she study?
Sarah: Well, she studied business—business administration, but, but never did work at it, she got married, ah, she graduated in June and was married the next February, and ah, has two children, and I enjoy them so much, the grandchildren, they’re wonderful. We've had a very full life, my husband and I—we, ah, didn't do extensive traveling, but we went to Florida after we both retired, out to California, Canada, and just have a cottage, and so it's been a very full life—very enjoyable, and it's been wonderful.
Susan: Are you active with any of the local clubs?
Sarah: Not now, I was, ah—I was on the board of the YWCA for a while, and on the board of the Civic Club, too, and of course PTA when Rachel was in school, but ah, no others and not now, not too much now. Well, you know, you give over to the younger people and let them do the work now. It's only fair.
Sarah: Yes, I think so, and ah, I don't feel as though I could do very much, that is, to keep on, you know, like I used to for the different clubs.
Susan: Mrs. Burbank, it's been very nice chatting with you, and if you don't have anything more to add to this, why, I think we'll close the interview.
Susan: Thank you very much.
Sarah: Thank you for coming.