Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1919, when Daisy Schwartz was born

Daisy and Dorothy Schwartz, my mother and her twin sister, were born on December 4, 1919. This photo shows them with their older brother Fred and their mother, Hermina Farkas Schwartz, in 1923.

The photo was most likely taken in front of P.S. 62 on Fox Street in the Bronx, across the street from the apartment at 651 Fox St, where my mother grew up. Just a few blocks away was Teddy's Dairy, owned and operated by Theodore (Tivadar) Schwartz, Hermina's husband (my grandfather).

This part of the Bronx was NOT Fort Apache at the time. Later, it developed a reputation for violence and crime. However, in 1919, it was an enclave for families, with good schools and neighborhood shopping, plus access to public transportation such as trolleys and subways. The public library was in easy walking distance ("a twice-weekly jaunt we made in the summer time," my aunt Dorothy remembered in a 1984 letter). 

What was the world like when Daisy and Dorothy were born? Think pandemic, patriotism, prohibition, and more.
  • The pandemic was over but parents worried. Millions of people worldwide were killed by the 1918 flu pandemic, which by spring of 1919 was no longer the terrible threat it had been. Still, parents were afraid for the health of their children, especially in crowded NYC areas such as the Bronx, where all kinds of contagious diseases might spread quickly. No wonder Mom made sure that her children got vaccinations for everything.
  • Patriotism! The Great War was over and homecoming ceremonies abounded. WWI had ended in 1918 but parades, memorials, statues, etc were commonplace in New York City as most troops returned home in 1919.The League of Nations was formed. Patriotism was in the air, and immigrants such as my grandparents were excited about and proud of their adopted nation.
  • Prohibition?! The 18th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed alcohol but especially in New York City, this didn't seem to stop many people from drinking. Although my family wasn't big on alcohol in any case, widespread disregard for this law of the land influenced how people regarded "authority" when my mother was a child. She once told me, matter-of-factly, how NYC political party bosses routinely canvassed neighborhoods with offers of coal or something else in exchange for votes. Nobody batted an eye at these shenanigans.
  • Skyscrapers were a NYC wonder. The race was on to build taller buildings in Manhattan, where real estate prices were sky high. The Woolworth Building, finished in 1913, was a marvel and President Wilson personally pressed the button to turn on its new electric lights. Before Mom graduated high school, many of the most famous buildings in the world had opened in NYC (the Empire State Building, for instance, opened when she was about to enter high school). Later, my mother worked in the Chanin Building, one of the iconic skyscrapers built when she was a child.
  • Vote! My grandmother and mother always emphasized the importance of voting, which makes sense, since the 19th Amendment passed in 1919 and was ratified in 1920. Grandma was an independent lady anyway, working alongside her husband in the dairy store while bringing up three children. Daisy absorbed those values and exercised her right to vote. Me, too.

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