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Interview with Mary Shaughnessy

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Shaughnessy, Mary ; O'Neil, Dan


Mary Shaughnessy talks about her birth and upbringing on Henry St. in Binghamton, NY, in an Irish settlementan Irish settlement area. She speaks of working at the Hull Grummond cigar factory and later working for the Endicott Johnson shoe factory.  She recounts completing the nursing program at Wilson Memorial Hospital to become a registered nurse, as well as her training there. She then discusses working occasionally as a private duty nurse, and what a typical day was like in nursing, compared to the present day. She recalls her experiences with her religion and church as well.




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


32:48 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Mary Shaughnessy

Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil

Date of interview: 24 January 1978

[Note: Telephone rings in middle of interview, and Mrs Shaughnessys' sister, Mrs. Winifred Walsh of same address, enters room and is included in conversation and hereafter referred to in this transcription as Winnie.]

Dan: Ah Mary will you relate to me your life and working experiences in the community starting with the early days on Henry Street?

Mary: Yes.

Dan: OK.

Mary: Is it on?

Dan: Yes, you go right ahead.

Mary: Oh I was born at 208 Henry Street. It was an Irish settlement and ah most almost all girls that were around my age went into the cigar factory around there and ah we made we would get a $5.00 gold piece for our pay—we made around $5.00 a week and it was usually given in a gold piece and ah of course we walked to work and we walked back because there weren’t any cars then.

Dan: What cigar factory was it?

Mary: It was Hull Grummond.

Dan: Hull Grummond.

Mary: Corner of Water and Henry.

Dan: And you say you were paid $5.00 a week in a gold piece?

Mary: Around that amount—a little change maybe we had besides that.

Dan: Yeah, what was your job in the—

Mary: Rolling, setting the wrapper around the cigar.

Dan: OK.

Mary: By hand—no machines.

Dan: And this was you're paid so much a week or were you—

Mary: No, they counted how many cigars we done.

Dan: In other words it was piecework.

Mary: Yeah, piecework, that’s right.

Dan: OK so in other words this $5.00 a week in a gold piece they gave you that and whatever change over and above that, that you made in the piecework.

Mary: If I remember it, that was the way it was.

Dan: Uh huh, how were the conditions there, the working conditions?

Mary: Well they were good. We had ah they were nice people to work for. Some of them were from originally from Binghamton and some came with the company from out of town.

Dan: And you say you were how old when you started to work there, Mary? 

Mary: Ah about 14.

Dan: 14—OK.

Mary: Well I worked just a little while at on Wall Street—they had a factory there but then we went to Hull Grummond later.

Dan: Was this one on Water Street also Hull Grummond?

Mary: No that wasn't. 

Dan: Another factory.

Mary: That was another factory. They were mostly from out of town—the bosses were.

Dan: And you worked there for how long—just a year—Hull Grummond?

Mary: Probably 2 years.

Dan: 2 years OK and you were a roller.

Mary: Yes.

Dan: And ah you ah you don't know how the tobacco industry started up here do you?

Mary: How it was started?

Dan: Yeah.

Mary: No I wouldn’t know that. Just that we were glad that there was a place come to town that we could work. The only other work there would be was working in a home and you lived in with the people but ah I never I had gone in and helped sometimes in a great while but someone who needed help.

Dan: OK—now after you left Hull Grummond, where did you go Mary?

Mary: I went to Endicott Johnson shoe factory with the CFJ building—Charles F. Johnson building.

Dan: And what did you do there?

Mary: Heeling er ah putting ah heel lining in the shoe by hand.

Dan: Uh huh—OK—now how long did you work there?

Mary: Ah well probably I think about a year and a half or so.

Dan: A year and a half OK and from there what did you do?

Mary: Well I was home for a while—my husband was ill—he had tuberculosis.

Dan: Now you say you were 14 when you went to work in the cigar factory and you worked there 2 years—that would make you 16 right?

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: And then a year and a half at EJ?

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: That would make you 17 ½. 

Mary: How long—I was 24 when I got married.

Dan: Oh you were 24 when you got married.

Mary: Yeah

Dan: I see.

Mary: We went together of course.

Dan: Oh but you said you had to leave EJ because your husband was ill.

Mary: Yeah and he worked there too.

Dan: He worked there too.

Mary: Uh huh.

Dan: So you must have worked at EJ more than a year and a half though, Mary.

Mary: Yeah I think around that Haha.

Dan: Yeah because if you got married when you were 24—

Mary: Yeah almost 25, I think.

Dan: Almost 25, yeah OK—so you left there when your husband got ill.

Mary: Ah I left EJ and went in the mountains to be near my husband and took a job at the hospital and just helped out there.

Dan: What, what mountains were they?

Mary: Well, in the line of nursing but not, not too much so because I wasn't trained but I did help out and he said that he hoped I could be a nurse and of course I always remembered it.

[Phone rings]

Dan: Will Winnie get that?

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: Go ahead Mary.

[Phone rings again]

Mary: Winnie.

Winnie: I’ll get it.

[Phone rings again]

Dan: Now, you were there how long in the mountains—how long was he sick?

Mary: Oh he ah let’s see he was sick about he was first he went to Chenango Bridge he was 18 months up there in the TB Hospital and then he went to ah—well he worked for EJ, so we went to an EJ place they had in the mountains—not way up in the mountains—at the foothills of the Adirondacks and I went up there and worked until he died. I came home the day that he died that evening. I came home the next morning.

Dan: Then you weren’t married too long, Mary.

Mary: Oh no and we didn't live together too much because he was in the hospital a lot.

Dan: Yeah, so how old were you when he died.

Mary: Ah, let’s see oh around 30.

Dan: Around 30. Then what did you do Mary?

Mary: I went back to school and studied and went back to school. I went to East Jr. and took some subjects there that gave me credit and ah everybody was very nice and ah and ah let’s see I went to Buffalo for a short time.

Dan: Why don’t we turn this off? [Recorder]

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: Now Mary you said you went to East Junior.

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: Finish school?

Mary: What?

Dan: Finish school?

Mary: Well I went ah I had—Winnie, Winnie, don't talk.

[Winnie enters room]

Dan: That’s all right, that’s all right, that’s OK. That’s all right—now that’s all right.

Winnie: Did you want me?

Dan: Oh sure, sure.

Mary: You’re registered on here [Tape Recorder].

Dan: That’s all right, that’s OK. That’s all right—it makes it more interesting.

Mary: I ah remember.

Dan: East Junior is only ah East Junior High School is only about a year—that you went there.

Mary: Oh I studied subjects from Central but I didn’t go there, I studied them privately and took the examination.

Dan: What examination was this?

Mary: Well ah History I think was one. I went to night school for a while I can't tell you how long and ah.

Dan: Now is this in preparation for your becoming a nurse Mary?

Mary: Well I suppose yes.

Winnie: Had to get the credits.

Mary: I wanted to get credits.

Dan: Yeah, how far had you gone to school when you went toward—at when you first went to work?

Mary: When I went in training?

Dan: No, no, when you first went to work, you know at 14, when you first went to work at 14.

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: How far had you progressed in school at that time?

Mary: Oh to the 7th.

Dan: 7th grade?

Mary: Because you had to go to another building to the 8th grade see—down on Washington Street where the police used to be, remember?

Dan: Police, police station?

Mary: Police station on Washington.

Winnie: It used to be Washington Street school.

Dan: Oh Washington Street school, yeah, yeah, a little before my time (Chuckle). Yeah so OK, so then by going to night school, East Junior and Central, you got more credits.

Mary: Well you only had to have a year then but it changed considerably.

Dan: A year, a year outside of high school.

Mary: Ah a year of high school. Well you could get your ah credits for whatever way you got them, if you passed and received them from Albany you know you had a year’s credits.

Dan: In other words your training, th schooling—

Mary: Then I trained for two and a half years.

Dan: Oh you trained in a hospital.

Mary: In Wilson Memorial.

Dan: For two and a half years.

Mary: And graduated there.

Dan: And graduated in their nursing class, I see. In what year was that Mary?

Mary: 1931

Dan: 1931 Ok and what did you do?

Mary: Private duty for a while between Lourdes and City Hospital and Wilson wherever a patient might ask for a nurse and ah we put our names down and they'd call us if they wanted us. Mostly at Wilson and ah then I went from there to Psychiatries on No.

Winnie: You went to Windus’ first.

Mary: I went to Windus’ I went took care of a private patient and ah I was with him 8 years. With him and his wife of course.

Dan: What was his name?

Mary: I lived right in with them.

Dan: What was the name Mary?

Mary: Windus.

Dan: Windus.

Mary. Very well known around here.

Dan: How do you spell that?

Mary: W-I-N-D-U-S.

Dan: W-I-N-D-U-S. Windus, OK what address was that do you remember, Mary?

Mary: Well they owned a home on Chenango Street.

Dan: Chenango Street.

Winnie : On Helen Street.

Mary: Win, not them, no.

Winnie: Allen Street.

Mary: Allen Street in Johnson City.

Dan: Allen Street in Johnson City and you were with them 8 years and then you went to where—to psychiatric.

Mary: Yes, I think so—well I went to medical upstairs.

Winnie: She had trouble with her hands—couldn’t use the back rub. She got eczema on her hands.

Dan: So where was this medical upstairs—where?

Winnie: On Clinton Street.

Dan: Oh the annex you're talking about. The Wilson Memorial Hospital.

Mary: Yeah, I worked over there.

Dan: That, that psychiatric—oh I see.

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: And how long did you work there, Mary?

Mary: Oh I can't remember—I retired from there.

Winnie: ‘61 I think.

Mary: Must have been.

Dan: ‘61, so you were over there quite a few years—must have been over there about over 20 years then.

Mary: No it wasn't that long.

Dan: It wasn’t that long.

Winnie: Probably about 8 or 10 I think don't you? 8 or 10.

Mary: I worked in two different, I worked on medical over there. They had medical and psychiatric. I worked on medical for quite a while and ah we used to they used to send patients up on the Hill you know up to he State Hospital and I used to take them up in the ambulance then.

Dan: Could you give me an idea of the typical day in nursing back when you first started Mary so we could compare it to the present day methods?

Mary: You mean of how—

Dan: Nursing, you know like the medical profession has progressed quite a bit since the early days since when you know you graduated.

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: I was wondering if you could give me a capsulized—

Mary: I remember with the paperwork today.

Dan: Pardon?

Mary: There’s an awful lot of paperwork today.

Dan: A lot of paperwork today.

Mary: Oh yes on account of this—

Winnie: Insurance.

Mary: You know Social Security and everything - it’s a lot different.

Dan: Now outside of the paperwork, how did it differ?

Mary: Well not too much.

Winnie: Well when the patients left you had to do the beds.

Mary: Of course some of the nurses that I worked with had worked at Wilson when they had to go downstairs and take care of the fire at night—that long ago see if the furnace was going.

Dan: Oh was that right?

Mary: Which that doesn't happen today.

Dan: And that was what kind of heat—was it coal?

Mary: Oh I imagine so, yes it was coal.

Dan: Didn't they have a superintendent to take care of that?

Mary: Well maybe it was the night he was off—I don't know.

Winnie: It was just a house then.

Mary: I wasn't there then—that was before my time.

Dan: Before your time.

Mary: That was in the old wooden building which is gone now.

Dan: Yeah, but more of your time was taken up as far as patient, nurse to patient relationship.

Mary: Yes, much more time with the patient than there is I think today.

Dan: Today they have nurses’ aides and etc. to do the—

Mary: No they didn't and you had to do a lot of ah keep the utility rooms cleaned and all that, that you, a lot of things that have changed today.

Dan: Now how many were in your family Mary—how many brothers and sisters?

Mary: Oh there was 6 children in all—one was born dead.

Dan: One was stillborn.

Mary: Ah there’s 5.

Dan: 5 children—you said you had to go to work at 14, did your father and mother the ah did your father die at an early age?

Mary: No he was 84.

Dan: He was 84.

Mary: 83.

Winnie: He was sick a lot.

Dan: He was sick a lot so that would account for your having to go to work at an early age.

Winnie: Yeah, but you went to Pine Street School, grade school before you went.

Mary: It was Pine Street Grade School where Pine Haven is or Pine Haven.

Dan: That’s where you started in school?

Mary: Oh yes, I started in there.

Dan: And went to the 7th grade, is that right?

Mary: I left in the 7th grade. I don't think I quite finished it—I don't remember too well. I think that ah it was the 7th—that’s all they had there.

Dan: Anything about the neighborhood life or your family life at that time ah Mary that ah would be of interest?

Winnie: Well was mostly Irish on Henry Street then.

Dan: Mostly Irish Winnie.

Mary: Beautiful flowers and ah yards. They kept their yards up very nice—lovely.

Dan: About what year was this ah Mary?

Mary: About what year?

Dan: Yeah.

Mary: Oh dear.

Winnie: 14 take 14 from her age 14.

Mary: I think so.

Dan: 14 from what?

Winnie: 86.

Dan: 14 from 86 would be 72 yeah so your dad died when he was 84—

Mary: 83.

Dan: 83 uh huh and did your Mother live after or did she predecease him?

Winnie: She died in ‘25.

Dan: She died in 1925.

Mary: By that time the rest of the children went to work and my sister was very good to my mother and she went to EJ and she was there when they gave the big bonus and she saved that money and they built a home on Oliver Street later.

Dan: Now going back to Hull Grummond, you say you worked there about a year and a half, is that right?

Mary: I think about that.

Winnie: I don't remember.

Mary: No—she was awful young then.

Dan: You were employed as a roller on a piecework basis. Ah Mary, do you know of anybody else that’s living today that worked in the cigar factory?

Winnie: Fannie, Fannie the German woman.

Mary: Who?

Winnie: Fannie.

Mary: Oh yeah. That’s a girl over in the hospital now—she isn't a girl anymore but she's a German—she came from Germany and ah I don't know her last name now—when she married of course, she has a grown husband.

Winnie: Is it Winkler?

Mary: Huh?

Winnie: Is it Wlinkler?

Mary: I don't think it’s Winkler—I'm not sure but anyway she was ah about my age and she ah is still living and ah oh—

Winnie: Mabel is still living.

Mary: Mabel, yeah, Mabel Fry lives in Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio. I have been to see her different times. She's ah she was my age and she worked in Barnes and Smith, which was another cigar factory by local people.

Dan: Yeah, but you don't know why they went out of business, do you Mary?

Winnie: I think cigarettes were, don't you?

Dan: Cigarettes—well I heard that the Union—they tried to unionize it.

Mary: Well yes I think that did have something to do with it.

Dan: Why did you go from Hull Grummond to EJ Mary—was it an increase in salary or something?

Winnie: Yes there was more money from the cigar factory to the shoe factory.

Mary: Huh?

Winnie: From the cigar factory to the shoe factory there was more money.

Mary: Oh yes, yes that’s right.

Dan: In other words what prompted you to change jobs?

Mary: Yes, yes.

Dan: Yeah OK and you met your husband when you were there.

Mary: Oh I, he was in our neighborhood—I knew him when I was in the lower grades in school.

Dan: He worked in EJ too?

Mary: Yes he did.

Dan: OK, then you were only married a year and a half when he got sick.

Winnie: He was sick 5 years.

Mary: He was sick 5 years about that I think.

Winnie: He died at 33.

Dan: Anything else Mary that you can think of that would be of interest at all? You mentioned in your class at Wilson ah there were some Griffin girls, the Griffin girls. Who were some of your classmates at Wilson?

Mary: Ah.

Dan: That took training—went into training with you.

Mary: Oh there was quite a few then.

Winnie: They were also were younger.

Mary: They were a lot younger than me you know.

Dan: Yeah.

Mary: Yeah ah Tom McAvoy’s wife she was she sat next to me in class and ah then she took up anesthesia and she was an anesthetist when she married.

Winnie: Dr. Occhino’s wife was in your class.

Dan: What year was this class here—1930?

Mary: 1931.

Dan: 1931 and how old were you when you graduated from this class, Mary?

Mary: About 36 wasn’t I or 37?

Winnie: I think you were about that.

Mary: I went in and I didn't quite have credits enough and I had to go back and get more credits. That’s when I took some subjects at Central High School—I can’t think of that teacher’s name.

Dan: But you only needed to qualify to go into training a year of high school?

Mary: That’s right.

Dan: Is that right? You had a year of high school and then you went right in the hospital for 2 ½ years in training—right.

Mary: Tender, loving care.

Dan: Tender, loving care and then you were awarded your certificate or whatever your license to register—a Registered Nurse, right?

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: Anything, any one of your patients very famous at all in the community that you nursed?

Winnie: Well there were some ministers.

Mary: Huh?

Winnie: Didn’t you take care of some ministers?

Mary: Ah who?

Winnie: Any of the ministers in Johnson City.

Mary: Oh yeah, Mr. ah Noah.

Winnie: You were working on the floor then.

Mary: Noah I know him very well only he worked in the—he was in and out of the hospital a lot—he was a friend of mine is all. Mr. ah an Episcopal minister.

Winnie: You took care of Leonard Steed’s wife’s mother.

Mary: You know Edith Steed?

Dan: I’ve heard of her.

Winnie: The boys that are doctors.

Dan: Yeah, yeah, Actually the one that stands out would be this Windus.

Mary: Yes, Mr. Windus.

Dan: Mr. Windus who lived on Allen Street in Johnson City.

Winnie: Do you tell him he was President of the Bank, Mary?

Mary: He was Vice-Pres—when his brother died, I think he was President.

Dan: Mr. Windus was—he was Vice Pres.

Mary: They started the bank down there.

Winnie: Workers’ Trust—Vice-Pres.

Dan: Vice-Pres of Workers’ Trust.

Mary: They started the bank down there, they started down in Hallstead and had a bank up there Hallstead or Great Bend and they were from around ah I went through their town one time—can’t think of the name of it.

Winnie: Well you know the Behan house on Riverside Drive?

Mary: He owned that but he didn’t want to live in it.

Dan: He’d rather be in Johnson City.

Mary: He owned that beautiful, that beautiful home in Hillcrest. That’s where we were.

Winnie: Romy Haskell’s home, the big white home up there.

Dan: Huh.

Mary: That’s where she was sick so long.

Dan: Yeah.

Mary: But I didn’t take care of her there. I didn’t take care of her at all, but she had nurses around the clock for 16 years.

Dan: Is that right and you went to St. Mary’s Church, Mary?

Mary: Well I don’t go there now.

Dan: No I know you don’t go there now but did at one time.

Mary: Yes.

Dan: On Henry Street but ah things have changed quite a bit now.

Winnie: Well when we lived on the East side we still stayed with St. Mary’s.

Dan: Still went to St. Mary’s, yeah, kind of get used to it you know.

Winnie: Yeah I know.

Mary: I ah could tell you something amusing about that. They called it Old St. Mary’s.

Dan: Is that right?

Mary: So I got up one night at a meeting and I said, “Well I don't like to say this but ah it is not Old St. Mary’s. I was baptized in Old St. Mary’s on Chenango Street—a skating rink that was made into a Church on Sunday—they brought the altar in and it was across from where St. Paul's is now and ah you walked up and carried the baby or the godmother did and the godfather and ah walked back. They thought nothing of walking and ah that’s where I was baptized and that was the first St. Mary’s Church.

Dan: That was right across from where St. Paul’s is now?

Mary: Across the road.

Dan: What was it—a wooden building?

Mary: They took it down long ago.

Winnie: I think it was a garage and they had a fire or something.

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: So in other words they carried the all the the altar appointments up there and ah had the Sunday Mass there before they built St. Mary’s?

Mary: These priests don't even know that I don't think because they were young men.

Dan: This was prior to—let’s see the cornerstone on St. Mary’s Chuch I think is around 1890 something ‘92—this would be prior to that wouldn't it?

Winnie: Just before that.

Dan: Just before that.

Winnie: You were born in ‘91.

Mary: Dick was one of the first babies baptized in St. Mary’s.

Winnie: John and you were baptized up there.

Mary: Father Hughes called him “Richard the Third.”

Dan: Father Who?

Mary: Father Hughes.

Dan: “Richard the Third.”

Mary: He called my brother “Richard the Third.”

Dan: Oh, Richard the Third.

Winnie: He was named after his uncle.

Dan: Was Father Hughes the first Pastor of St. Mary’s? I think he was.

Winnie: When I was here—

Mary: I think so, Father Drummond. There was a Father Drummond Pastor but I think he was after.

Dan: Who was the priest that used to take a and have Mass across from St. Paul’s before St. Mary’s was built?

Mary: I don't know that.

Dan: But you were baptized in that church.

Mary: I was baptized in that church.

Dan: And that church was across from St. Paul’s.

Mary: It was a church on Sunday and a skating rink all week.

Dan: Must have been quite wide open wasn't it?

Mary: Haha there’s a lot of changes.

Dan: A lot of changes I guess so.

Mary: Now they've got their second viaduct.

Dan: True, true. St. Mary’s has changed too.

Winnie: Oh I don't know anybody—about 2 or J people.

Dan: Well is there anything you would like to add Mary that you think would be of interest at all?

Mary: Dear, I'll probably remember them after you go.

Dan: Well if you do, call me up and I’ll be glad to come back.

Mary: Haha, all in all my memory is pretty good you know considering I'm 86.

Dan: 86.

Mary: But I’m very active although I fall.

Dan: Well that’s wonderful, it’s remarkable I mean years ago ah you know starting out at $5.00 a week you know was big money. 

Mary: Yeah.

Dan: Big money—you know kids today they think, “Oh Gee it's nothing.” Well Mary I’ll play this back for you and if you should think of anything that you'd like to add, why we can just turn it on again—how will that be?

Mary: OK that’s good.

Date of Interview



O'Neil, Dan


Shaughnessy, Mary


32:48 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Shaughnessy, Mary -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Binghamton (N.Y.); Cigar industry; Endicott-Johnson Corporation -- Employees; Nurses -- Interviews; Tuberculosis; Hull Grummond; St. Mary's Church; Irish; Wilson Memorial Hospital

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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.



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