Saturday, October 9, 2010

Messenger Girl

Cele's 8th grade class. Dad drew the arrow.
Dads always draw arrows on photos.

Cele told us that she quit school after eighth grade, a source of embarrassment to her.

She said she earned this set of classics in a spelling bee.
It's one of the few things of hers we still have.
The chrome dog bookend is also hers. I've lost the other.

AT&T Building at 195 Broadway

The story we heard about her leaving school was that she accompanied a friend to a job interview and she got the job instead of the friend. Because the family needed the money (this would be about 1925) she took the job at the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and commuted from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Most remarkably the job description involved roller skates. She delivered the mail on skates.

I remember Ben telling us he noticed her whizzing around the floor (he was about 17 or 18, she 16 or 17) and here we are....*

Rollerskaters in California, the '40s

Like so many of the other stories we can’t corroborate, this one always seemed a bit dubious. We’d heard of roller-skating carhops but mail girls on skates was a little farfetched.

Messenger girls on skates

I looked around on the internet , however, and found a few memoirs mentioning a job category called a messenger girl. It was an entry level job, one of the few thought appropriate for females.

Here's a job description from an employment manual:
Messenger girls at Douglas Aircraft in the early 1940s
"The messenger girl, as her name implies, carries messages from one part of the store to another and runs errands for nearly all persons on her floor, for example, when a check is to be signed, orders are to be certified, or a transfer is to be carried to another department....The nature of the work depends upon the arrangement of the store and the mechanical devices in operation."

In a memoir a woman named Helen Grottola remembered working as a messenger girl in the same building that Cele did:

"My sister and I both worked at AT&T in New York at 195 Broadway as messenger girls. We made fifteen dollars a week and we paid three dollars and fifty cents a week for commuting to the city. We were just surviving..."

195 Broadway Today
Skates were apparently optional.
 It wasn't a good job, but it was a job. I imagine she moved on to better paying jobs before she quit AT&T in the 1940s to have a family. It's hard to remember how few options there were for women---or 14 year old girls.

Cele (second from left) and some of her friends,
 possibly friends she worked with at 195 Broadway, in 1929

*Jane recalls Ben telling her that he noticed Cele in an AT&T talent show strumming the ukulele. Both memories could be right. She was noticeable.

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