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00:00:00

BW: This is an interview between Mrs. Rose Witkower and her son, Bernard. Mrs. Witkower has been a resident of Hartford, Connecticut for 85 years. Mother, let us start at the beginning. When and where were you born?

RW: Indeed I will. I would like to tell you about some of the interesting events of my childhood days. On September 24, 1889, I was born in a little white house on Rockland Street here in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a midwife, Mrs. Hannah Jacobs, who brought me into the world. No records were kept in those days of the newly born babies, so my birth was announced to the small Jewish community as another baby girl had been born into the Rosenblatt family. Mrs. Jacobs was a 00:01:00much need midwife for there were no Jewish doctors in those days. There was another woman who took care of the sick as well as being a midwife. She was called Mrs. Mimma Katz. Oh, Mimma Katz was a godly soul. Not only would she deliver babies or nurse an ailing person, but she would read to her patients and her ailing people, her special chicken soup, to strengthen and cheer them up. Mimma Katz was very proud of her babies, the ones she helped into the world, and kept a record of them on a little piece of string. She'd make one knot for one 00:02:00baby, two for twins and three for triplets. The knotted string swung from her apron and she gladly displayed it to all who would stop and ask her. Mimma Katz was so proud of that string that she insisted on it being buried with her. A few years later, Mrs. Tuch, mother of Dr. Morris Tuch, acted also as a midwife. In 1890, Dr. Mike Bailey and Dr. Slika became the much loved and trusted doctors to the Jewish community. Dr. Vincent Sissa joined them later. Dr. Sissa married one of the prettiest girls in the Jewish community, Rachel Cohen, much to the dismay 00:03:00of the Jewish community. To tell of my mother and father would make this story more interesting. My mother, Mrs. Paulina Hyman Rosenblatt, was born in Germany. She was a quiet pretty woman, very careful, and an excellent manager for a large household of children. My father was a well educated friendly man who, in his early life, traveled a great deal. At the age of 16 he left his home in Warsaw, Poland and came to America. The ship he was on was to dock at Ellis Island in the New York harbor. Due to the Civil War that was being fought then, the harbor 00:04:00was temporarily closed to all incoming ships, so his ship had to seek port of entry elsewhere. The ship headed south and finally entered the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. As the many passengers were leaving the boat, a gun was thrust into their hands. They were told that a war was going on and that they had to join the southern army. My father did not understand why the war was being fought, but when he did find out he went away from the southern army and joined the northern force. At the close of the Civil War in 1865, Father was discharged a non-commissioned officer, having taken part in 16 battles. He then decided to see the world. After traveling in North America, Siberia, Japan, 00:05:00China, the East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, the Samoan Islands, Mexico and South America, Father ended up his travels in San Francisco, California where he went into business. He married and became the father of three children, Ricky, Benjamin and Sadie. Politics interested him so he became a politician and was soon elected representative of the city of San Francisco, California. He was later nominated for Governor of the state. After the death of his wife, Father 00:06:00left California with his three children and came to New York. There he met my mother, a young widow, just arrived from Germany. He courted her and soon they were married. After living in several cities on the eat coast, they decided to live in Hartford, Connecticut, then a country looking city surrounded by small farms. Our family was one of the few families to move into a predominantly Irish neighborhood on North Front Street. Instead of being looked upon with suspicion and dislike, we were welcomed and soon became good neighbors and friends. When larger quarters were needed, we moved to North Street and remained there for a 00:07:00few years. When I was a little girl about six or seven years old, I was introduced to books and games by Miss Mary Jones, a ____________ Christian woman who came down from the hill to teach the children in our neighborhood the good way to live. She was indeed a blessing to many. We were taught sewing, cooking, and we had much talk on good characters. Many girls were encouraged to become teachers. One became a nurse. And I wanted to become of service to others.

00:08:00

BW: Tell us a bit about your early life and where you lived.

RW: We lived on North Front Street, North Street, and then we moved to Market Street. There we lived for 15 years. Market Street was then a beautiful street, lined with tall trees, small houses, each surrounded by a garden. The odor of lilacs and roses could always be smelled during the spring and summer. Again, we were welcomed by the German, Scotch and Irish neighbors. My childhood was filled with many happy events. Life was a very enjoyable time for the children. Although there was some chores and housework for us to do, there was always a playtime. Fresh air for the children was a must in the minds of the mothers. 00:09:00"Give them fresh air" was the advice of the health doctors, and fresh air we got. Out we would run into the dirt covered roads and there we would play out games. Horses and wagons would pass by us carefully. We played tag, jump the rope, jacks, hopscotch, run races, kick the can, play ball and cops and robbers, and playing and swapping the pictures of ball players and actresses was done at all times. We would always sit on our stoop and after paying five pins would listen to light haired Sophie Abuza sing. She was a happy-go-lucky girl, always 00:10:00willing to perform. We also enjoyed watching the lantern slide show of distant lands that were put on a dark corner of our cellar by my brother, Joe. That show cost us three horse chestnuts. We gathered horse chestnuts from a tree growing on Charter Oak Place. The tree grew close to the place where the famous old Charter Oak Tree had grown in the 1600s. T'was a long walk from Market to Charter Oak Place, but we enjoyed the fun we had along the way. The children had special fun for each season. As the snow was left on the roads all winter, we 00:11:00spent much of our time on sleds. We would tie the sled to the back of a peddler's sleigh and had a fine ride for two or three streets through the Jewish section. Coasting down Morgan Street hill and Pleasant Street hill was a joy. Many a friendly snowball fight we had with the Irish children who lived on the hill. After a snowball fight was over, we would all shake hands and promise to return the following day for another snowball fight. Then home we would go where 00:12:00a cup of hot cocoa and a slice of fresh baked bread and butter would be given to us. In the springtime a few children would walk across nearby Connecticut River covered bridge to pick violets, daisies and buttercups that grew in the large meadows surrounding the entrance to the bridge in East Hartford. Much time was spent in the spring studying and talking about the tests that would be given in our schools during May and early June and about the strict teachers. In the 00:13:00summer a wooden bathing house would be anchored in the shallow water close to the bank in the Riverside Park and used by boys, girls and adults. Different hours were arranged for them. Across the narrow gangplank we would go, each girl carrying an old dress or petticoat to be used as a bathing suit. The boys carried old pants that were made up by their mothers, and proud was a boy who possessed a pair of trunks. Here in the clean swiftly flowing Connecticut River water we would splash and swim until we were called out to make room for the waiting girls who had waited patiently for their turn. A towel and a small piece 00:14:00of Ivory soap was given us so the time we spent in the bathhouse was very beneficial to our bodies as there were no bathrooms in our homes. In the fall of the year we would go over the bridge again to pick up the apples that had fallen from the trees in the nearby apple orchards. This was done after receiving the consent of the friendly apple tree owners. A few of the owners would shake down some apples so that the kids could fill their large bushel size bags. Then we would put the bags in our own wagons and haul them home. Soon the odor of applesauce and apple pie would seep out from our homes to tease the appetite of 00:15:00the passerby. Of course, the main responsibility of the child was to learn. Learn, learn, learn was the constant demand of the parents, and this they did from school, people they met and experiences that they took part in. There were no pianos or dancing lessons to bore them, no doctors or dentists to scare them.

BW: Mother, tell us about some childhood events.

RW: As we grew older, the children in our family were as busy as their parents were. The older ones went to work, one in a factory, one in the post office and 00:16:00one remained at home to help Mama raise the younger ones -- Abraham, Joseph, Rachel, Esther, Charlie and myself, Rose. There was always something to do -- getting the children off to school, cooking, baking, washing clothes in the large wooden tub that were kept in the cellar, starching and ironing the many petticoats and school dresses. My job was to fill the lamps, cut the wicks and keep the chimneys clean. After school my brother had a paper route. My sister and I helped with the housework. This was done in all the families. Reading was my pleasure and between jobs I would read everything I could lay my hands on. 00:17:00Reading is still my greatest pleasure. My home was a happy home. Life was so pleasant -- a large family consisting of two adults, nine children and very often a stranger sitting around a large table, an oil or a gas light lamp overhead and the warm heat coming to us from the large iron stove in the kitchen. And while we waited for my mother and older sisters to put the food on the table, my father would tell us about the Civil War, about his travels and of some of the fine people he had met. Always there was time to talk about G-d and the Golden Rule. My life was free from the restrictions of the European girl. 00:18:00Due to the belief of my much traveled father, I was taught to play and to visit girls of other races and religions. My dearest friend was Irish, Kitty Ahern, who could speak Yiddish much better than I could. To hear her speak to the storekeepers and the Jewish peddlers was music to my ears. Minnie DeNezzo, an Italian, was a school chum as was Molly Burns and a dear little blonde, a Swede. I was deeply interested in the affairs of my Jewish neighbors, and as some of 00:19:00them graduated from college and took their places in the activities of Hartford, I was as proud of them as their parents were. I remember this Dr. Morris Touch, Attorney Louis Katz, Attorney Louis Gaberman, Attorney Joseph Friedman, Attorney Nathan Friedman, Attorney Abraham Bordon, David Weinerman, Dr. Max Bumenthal, John and Charlie Sudarsky, the Honorable Herman P. Kopplemann, Miss Annie Fisher who became a teacher, Sophie Abuza Tucker who became an actress and Doris Schatz and Celia Goldberg who became nurses and civic workers. Much of the encouragement that urged these boys and girls on with their studies came from the principal and teachers of the Brown and the North schools. They talked with 00:20:00the parents of the smart children and begged them to see to it that their children went on to college. One of the boys had to walk most of the way to Yale College in New Haven to do so. Also, most of the students worked at college to help their parents to pay for their expense. Loans or scholarships were unknown. Principal Charles Ames, Miss Alita Clark, teacher of the graduating class, Miss Hannah Bailey of the seventh grade and Miss Shipman of the fifth grade of the Brown School were very dedicated teachers. Some of the children were taken out 00:21:00of school because education was considered unnecessary by many parents. One had to be 12 years old to be taken out of school. Then later it was changed to become 14 years of age and later still, 16 years of age.

BW: Mother, what do you remember of your younger days?

RW: At four years of age, I was enrolled in kindergarten at the North School. Here I played from nine in the morning until twelve and then walked home with my big sister who often had to carry me, a tired child, home. In the summer most of the smaller children would be sent to the nearby Riverside Park to play, to be 00:22:00out in the fresh air. In the winter we remained, unless at school, indoors. I was a very inquisitive child and oftentimes sitting on the curbstone in front of our home, I would watch the small groups of immigrants coming down the street led by my father, Mr. Meyer Kolitsky, Mr. Moransky, Holtz Cornfield, Herman Kopplemann, Mr. Cramer and other fine men who made that their duty _______________________________ that had just come off the boat that plied between New York and Hartford. They all carried something, a 00:23:00baby, a large box, a large bundle and usually a very large bundle packed in a sheet that was slung over the man's shoulder. The large bundle generally contained bedding, copperware, candlesticks, holy books and clothes. And always there was a torn valise. The poor newcomers looked so frightened and tired. My heart ached for them. But soon they were comfortably lodged with a relative or settled in a tenement prepared for them by a group of dedicated women under the leadership of Mrs. Jessie Kopplemann, Mrs. Dora Litman or Mrs. Melaned. Mrs. 00:24:00Katzman and other dedicated women assisted also.

BW: What was life like generally in Hartford in those days, Mother?

RW: In 1890 and the early 1900s, living in Hartford meant confusion and hard work for the Jewish people, everything so different from what they had expected, but hope that perhaps tomorrow would be better than today encouraged them on. And tomorrow was indeed better for some of them. Every day one could see new people on the streets. One could tell their station in life by the hats they wore. Tall silk stovepipe hats worn by the man and an ostrich feather covered 00:25:00hat on the woman meant they were rich. A man who wore a derby and a woman who had a lace shawl on her head was a business couple. Caps for a man and a woolen shawl for the woman meant a peddler or a factory worker. A small fur hat brought from Europe worn by the man and a sheitel for the woman meant that they were newcomers. We called them greenhorns. The Jewish people, the older folks, had their fun too. They would wait all year for Molly Picon to come to play at the 00:26:00Germania Hall. Molly Picon was a very famous Jewish actress in those days and who could tear your heart out for 50 cents in the balcony and a dollar on the main floor. Nobody could tear your heart out like Molly Picon. The Jewish people began to spread out over the north and west side of Hartford and they prospered. The younger men, now professional and business people, took over the responsibility of running the Jewish community, and it grew in leaps and bounds. New synagogues were built to take place of the old ones that were formerly held in halls and stores. Many downstairs tenements were made into stores. Six family 00:27:00brick buildings were built. Streets were paved and oil lamps were discarded for gas lamps and horses and wagons were put aside for automobiles. Old conditions also were replaced by new ones. Everyone was in a hurry to get rich. The time, sights and smells would alert a child that the holiday was on its way, and a holiday meant much to the children for it meant good food and new clothes. The children became more helpful and attentive to their parents with the hope of 00:28:00receiving a new dress, a pair of shoes, a suit, a cap or even a new pair of stockings. When the shofar and the sounds of the choirboys' voices as they rehearsed their hymns was heard coming from the synagogue, it told us that the High Holidays would soon be here. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur meant many things to the girl. It meant she had to run more errands, help to clean the house, wash the windows and help with stretching the long lace front room curtains. Then they had to pluck the chickens and keep the small children out of the way of the 00:29:00very busy mother. Much cooking and baking was done for the holidays were really a festive affair. As the older folks remained in the synagogue for the full two days of Yom Kippur, their offspring would go in to visit them and to show off their new clothing. Proud was a mother in her upstairs seat to display her offspring and always took a deep sniff of the smelling salts to quiet her nerves. The boys visited their fathers who sat on the main floor. Many compliments the children received along with the wishes for him to have a good bar mitzvah, a successful future and to grow rich. Fainting was often caused by 00:30:00the lack of food on the day of Yom Kippur, and the fainting persons were brought into my home to be revived. Again, the smelling salts were used. And after resting a while the woman would return to her friends in the synagogue. When we saw the menfolk carrying several baskets of grapes and later smelled the aroma of pressed grapes, we knew that they were being prepared for Sukkah. Wine was to be served in the little huts that were built next to the family's house and near the synagogue. Much joy was had in the gaily fruit decorated huts. Much wine was drunk and honey cake eaten. The quacking of chickens in the butcher markets told 00:31:00the little children that the women were looking for fat chickens to render their fat into delicious schmaltz to be used to fry the latkes for Chanukah. Passover was indeed a busy time -- such throwing away of things, such scrubbing and, if one could afford it, the kitchen and pantry walls were painted. Everything had to be spotlessly clean for Passover. And then it meant also no school for the children who, after the Holidays were over, were more than glad to return to 00:32:00school. The cheese kreplach that were made for Shavuous smelled good and tasted good too. The humantashen that were on display at __________ or __________ bakery set our mouths awatering. There was something good always to look forward to. The simple parties at the synagogues were lots of fun for all. Year after year we waited for these holidays to return. An especially fine one and full of fun was--

BW: What religious activities were there?

RW: There were no classes for girls in those days. Boys could receive some 00:33:00learning at the Hebrew cheder were they went to study for their bar mitzvah. After I was married to Israel Witkower, we joined the Conservative Emanuel Synagogue, formed by a group of young men. In 1927, Mr. Witkower became a member of the board of trustees and chairman. He remained on the board for many years. He became chairman of the Sunday School Committee. In the sisterhood I became active and a worker, and was elected president in 1930-33. Our children, Irma and Bernard, received their religious education under the supervision Rabbi 00:34:00Morris Silverman.

BW: Mother, why don't you tell us a little bit more about what life was like in early Hartford in those days?

RW: The needs and wants of the children were very simple. Hand-me-down clothing was used by many families to keep their children clothed. We had plain food but very tasty and as much as we wanted. The only ice cream we ever had was the frozen top of the creamy milk that rose about two inches above the milk left on the doorstep by the rosy cheeked milkman. If a child needed attention, he was 00:35:00given something by the kindly drugstore man. When castor oil was needed, the good man would enlist the help of his talkative polly to keep the child's attention away from dislike ______ medicine. When a tooth had to be extracted, the drugstore man would tie a long string to the doorknob of the door and the other end to the trembling child's loose tooth. He would then move the child over to the polly's cage, give the child a cracker and tell the child to talk and to give the cracker to the polly. Then the man would dash back and close the door quickly and out would come the tooth. The wise man always had a piece of 00:36:00candy ready to soothe the scared feeling in the child, and the "good boy" squeak of the polly put new life into the child. After giving the youngster his tooth to show to his friends, the child was sent happily home. The older folks really had to work hard to earn the money to support their large families. Many were arrested for unorderly drinking __________, especially peddlers and small shopkeepers. Then someone would come to our home shouting, "Mr. Rosenblatt, Mr. Rosenblatt! Come quick to the police station. Mr. So and So has been arrested." My father, who spoke five languages, had been made interpreter at the police station. He would grab his hat and his cane and hurry down to the station to 00:37:00have the unhappy man released. None of the immigrants spoke English so they were often in difficult situations. Once a year the older folks had good times. That was in the summertime. Then they would have their picnics and pack a large basket of food, take their children on the trolley and away they would go to the picnic grounds and spend a day out there in the fresh air. One of the important things in the men's life were their meeting lodges, their meeting associations. 00:38:00And many of those associations and lodges were formed in the front room of our home on Market Street. There in that front room after much discussion my father would explain the United States' laws and to many peddlers or small shopkeepers, the rights of the citizen, and he urged the men to become citizens and voters of the United States. Then he would take them to the court where they did become voters and citizens. There the sick benefits, the loan, the cemetery lodges were formed, and they are still in existence. Mr. Kempner, Mr. Holstein, Mr. 00:39:00Moransky, Kopplemann, Kaplan, Chesky, Wiegel, Cramer, Holtz, Roosevelt were some of the names that I heard over and over again, so loud that the neighbors complained, and the men were forced to move into a small hall. Mr. Katzman was a very prominent worker on those days.

BW: Mother, was there any Zionism or socialism or any organizational activity in those days?

RW: They were not in my family. We took no part of them. Most of the activities of my father was helping people to find jobs, old friends, food and homes. My remembrance of Zionism was a small group of people walking down the road of Market Street led by two highly respected young men, Mr. Wolfe Silver and Mr. 00:40:00Louis Silver, and assisted by Abraham Bornstein and Ruben Taylor. Socialism was a much feared and avoided issue as it was not popular with most Jews who were trying to forget the terror of state owned countries.

BW: Why don't you tell us something about your general education?

RW: I received my schooling at the Brown School on Market Street in Hartford. When my father died, I was forced to go to work at the age of 13. However, I continued my education by attending night school, reading good books recommended 00:41:00by the excellent librarian, Miss Carolyn Hughes, at the public library, having tutors, attending lectures and much traveling. When I was a year old I started my traveling by falling off the second story back porch into the apron of Mrs. Singer who was washing her clothes under the porch. She happened to step out to hang up a towel and saw me coming down. In a few moments I was safely back in the arms of my terrified mother. Mr. Singer, who warned his living by selling kerosene oil house to house, from a three wheel homemade cart, ended his 00:42:00business life as president of a large oil concern. I have been in North America, South America, Europe, England, the West Indies, Israel, and soon I shall finish my traveling by taking a trip up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Cincinnati.

BW: Mother, going back a third time now, you said you went to work when you were rather early. You want to tell us something about what it meant like to work in those days?

RW: Going to work at the age of 13 was a frightening experience to me. It meant that for the fist time in my life I would go into a new world of Christian 00:43:00people and be among them all day. In the 1890s all children were kept close to their homes, their own religion, their own race. "Maturnit" which means "you mustn't" was often in the lips of the Jewish mother. My first job, as work was called in those days, was as a cash girl, an errand girl, at Wise-Smith and Company, a large department store on Main Street. The young girl looking for a job had to be at the store at 7:00 in the morning every Saturday for several weeks before she was hired for 50 cents a day. She or he worked from 7 a.m. until 10:30 p.m., an hour off for dinner and an hour off for supper. After I was 00:44:00hired for a steady job, the wage was $1.50 a week, from 7 in the morning until 6 p.m. during the week and 10:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. And every day during Christmas season week we worked until 10:30 p.m. I found the work exciting and pleasing. I knew the money I brought home to my mother in its small sealed envelope was needed, and walking in the store among colorful and beautiful merchandise was stimulating. I had never seen such, the delicate 00:45:00dresses, hats, underwear, hosiery. Yes, everything was just beautiful. Although I would go home very tired, I would be looking forward to the next day's work so I could run more errands through the beautiful store. The older clerks, mostly Christians, were very kind to the cash girl. A few years later I went to work at G. Fox and Company starting at two dollars a week. One of the attractions of working for G. Fox and Company was that we had to be in the store at 8:00 in the morning instead of seven, and they gave us a week's vacation for which they paid.

BW: After your marriage did you continue any of your organizational work?

00:46:00

RW: Yes. I helped on many projects. Among the following organizations I spent much time and energy. In 1916 I was urged by a dear friend, Mrs. Ella Seidman, to become a member of the National Council of Jewish Women. The humanitarian efforts of the organization appealed to me, and after helping with a few drives to collect money for worthy causes, I did join the organization. Miss Christine Haas, a brilliant lovable woman, was its president. Her fineness made a great impression on me and she became the pattern for my future volunteer work. I served as program chairman of the council for a number of years and helped on 00:47:00many projects. Among the following organizations I spent much time and energy. I was teller of the Daughters of the Grand Army of America, helping the Red Cross, the Goodwill Club of Boys, gave service through three wars, acted as president of the sisterhood of the Emanuel Synagogue and a worker for many years. I was president of the Friendly Social Club, a club for seniors sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women. Also, I was president of the Hebrew Convalescent Home organization and chairman of the program and building 00:48:00committee of the Hebrew Home which was then on Washington Street. As secretary of the Children's Home, I served for a number of years, and for several years I was on the board of the West Hartford Women's Club, president of the Simcha Club for senior people and for 10 years during the Depression was advisor and helper at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Albany Avenue where they served free hot lunches to hungry schoolchildren, both black and white.

BW: Well, Mother, I suppose there were many other organizations that you helped 00:49:00and you took part with.

RW: Yes, there were a number of them where I acted as an advisor and also as a helper.

BW: This concludes the interview between Mrs. Rose Witkower and her son this Sunday, May 18, 1975. Mother, did you have some final words you would like to say?

RW: Well, I would like to say that I have indeed had a very exciting and interesting life and that I am very happy that it was so.