Sep 3, 2012

What did your parents do for a living, when they were children?

My parents' families can be very tightlipped on certain subjects. For example: They still haven't told me my father was married & divorced, previous to marrying my mother. I'm 45 years old - I think I can handle it. They are all ancient now, I guess they'll never tell me.
So I wasn't surprised at Christmas dinner, a few years back, when my uncle mentioned that he and my father, and the rest of the family, spent every summer working as migrant laborers, picking crops all over the region. "When was this?" I asked. "Oh, our whole lives growing up," he said. This was in the 20's and 30's. They picked fruits and vegetables on the Delmarva peninsula, and in York County too. I asked him if he liked the work? "Nah." "How about my dad?" "He hated it." (Interestingly, both men had huge gardens as adults.) "Did the girls work?" "Everybody worked."
The other day, I came across the pictures below, made by Lewis Hine, in the employ of the Maryland Child Labor Committee. They show Baltimoreans, mostly Polish families from Fells Point, working in the fields in 1909. This was a few years before my father's generation, so I guess the Child Labor Committee didn't get very far with its crusade. The photographs below are from the Library of Congress. You can see more of them by clicking here and putting in the key words "Hine" & "Maryland." Any captions below are from the original pictures.

Off to the berry farms of Maryland. Taken on Fells Point, Baltimore, Md.
A street full of Baltimore immigrants lined up and ready to start for the country to the berry farms. Wolfe Street, near Canton Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland.
Typical cooking and eating quarters of berry pickers. Anne Arundel Co., Maryland.
Annie Bissie, a little picker in the fields near Baltimore.
John Slebzak
Three families live in this shack: one room above and one below. Bottomley's farm near Baltimore, Md.
Interior of a shack occupied by berry pickers. Anne Arundel County., Maryland.
Interior of one family room in upper floor of one of the berry-pickers shacks, Bottomley's farm, near Baltimore.
Groups showing a few of the workers stringing beans in the J. S. Farrand Packing Co., Baltimore, Md.
A canning machine and some of the boy[s] Small boys work at and around these machines some of which[?][ are dangerous. J. S. Farrand Packing Co., Baltimore, Md. Witness--J. W. Magruder. July 7, 1909.
A strawberry field on Rock Creek, near Baltimore. Whites and negroes, old and young, work here from 4:30 A.M. until sunset some days. A long hot day.
These children are representatives of the two families that occupy this one room in a shack on Bottomley's farm, Baltimore, Md.
Marie and Albert Kawalski. 615 S. Band [Bond?] St., Baltimore, Md. Albert is 10 and Marie 11 years old. They worked, with mother, last winter, shucking oysters for Varn & Beard Packing Co., Young Island, S.C. (near Charleston). Mrs. Kawalski did not have things represented to her correctly and she found that all the children that had fare paid were compelled to work for the company. Other smaller children worked some and went to school some. Maire and Albert have worked several summers in the berry, beans and tomato fields packing houses near Baltimore.
Laura Petty, a 6 year old berry picker on Jenkins farm, Rock Creek near Baltimore, Md. "I'm just beginnin'. Picked two boxes yesterday. (2 cents a box).