Jolan Frazzetta is very happy with her Social Security payment each month. It helps make life easier for her and others who live in the senior home in Waldoboro. Her happiness with this vital part of her income springs in part from her very clear memories of the Depression.
Articulate and relentlessly cheerful, she paints a picture of life’s struggles at that time in her hometown on the Connecticut coast.
“Both my mother and my father were born in Hungary, and my mother, in her own way, was already showing an interest in the general society and behavior of people, even when she was in Europe. Then she married my father and they came to America,” she recalled.
Her parents were enterprising. Her father, trained as a blacksmith in Europe, adapted to a new career in forging automobile parts for a man who owned a garage. Jolan’s mother, a seamstress in Europe, did her best with the three children who arrived after the couple had settled in South Norwalk. Then she got really busy.
“My parents accumulated some money and they bought kind of an old, old house,” Jolan said. Her mother was good at making clothes, so she contributed a little bit to the income. The multi-story house they bought had apartments, plus a storefront on the first floor. Her mother eventually gave up the sewing and opened a little restaurant. “And not far from there,” Jolan added, “we had a small factory, a hat shop.”
At the restaurant, she remembered, her mother would hear the stories of the struggle of people looking for work and how things were. She’d hear even about problems affecting miners in Pennsylvania.
“There was one time when the miners went on strike, mainly because of accidents and so on,” Jolan said. “So people in South Norwalk organized a truck that was parked in front of our house because people had an idea that my mother would be helpful. That was there to collect clothes and canned food for the miners. So I could already see how she felt; she was into this struggle of people , whether they were working in the mines or working in a hat shop or had a family with a lot of children. All these were problems of the time.”
Asked how elderly people coped in the days before Social Security was signed into law (1935), she said, “I don’t remember them moving in with any of their kids. I think they just ate bread and potatoes. Or some of them took in boarders, you know, young single men. Or they would develop something that had been a hobby and try to make it work for them. It was really very hard. I was very lucky; I was under a safe roof and there were three meals a day.”
In her late teens, after her mother’s early death from cancer, Jolan met and married her husband, who insisted that the young couple move to Bridgeport, his hometown. Like so many, he was out of work. Jolan recalled him giving private violin lessons to help make ends meet.
“In Bridgeport we applied for relief. We had a two-room apartment in an attic space—we paid $10 a month in rent. The relief was in the form of a box, with canned fruit, canned soup, some stable vegetables, like potatoes, and maybe canned milk. No money, just a box. You applied for it; you went to the city and there you signed up, and it was delivered to you. A whole lot of people in Bridgeport was on that relief. As time went on, they started to work out a program in which they could get fuel to heat the house and to cook with.”
As the need became more outstanding, more applied,” she said. “They had the food stamps. And that works program (Works Progress Administration), where they would fix the streets and do other things. For the office worker, or people who were at some higher level of education they had the writers’ project (of the WPA).
“My husband happened to be a pretty good writer, so he was able to apply for that. It was just a few dollars more than the other guys got. The writers group was writing stories about the city and the state. The government was making a job for these people. And then they got around to opening dispensaries, also under the program of assistance. And here again, you had to go to the health department to apply and they gave you a card, and then you could be admitted to the dispensary.”
After a struggle through the Depression years, the family, now including two children, got back on its feet, courtesy of the factory jobs opening up at the beginning of World War II.
Jolan said she had received Social Security “for a while now,” adding that “it was a big help.”