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Story of My Sweet Mother as a Child in the 1920s of Milwaukee

Updated on February 27, 2016

My mother as a child

The cute little type in the wash barrel is my mother.
The cute little type in the wash barrel is my mother. | Source

My Sweet Mother

The cute little tyke in the wash barrel getting a bath is a photo of my sweet mother as a youngster.

My mother was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the mid 1920s. She had two older siblings, a sister that was 5 years older, and a brother who was 7 years older.

With her parents, this family of 5 lived on 40th street in Milwaukee during her younger years.

The family home was a duplex.

My grandparents who owned the entire house rented out the upper floor to tenants who happily lived there for many years. They were a couple of "old maid" school teachers. That was the terminology used back then for older women who had not ever married.

There was an attic in the house that was divided so both families could have access to private attic space as well as one floor of the house. In addition to the divided attic, there was a divided basement as well where each family had their wash kitchens, commode, furnaces and all important cabinets or shelving for the canned goods.

The attic and basement spaces were entirely private with separate entrances.

House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Early years spent in this home on 40th Street in Milwaukee
Early years spent in this home on 40th Street in Milwaukee | Source

My mother growing up as a child in the 1920's.

Baby Carol in her carriage
Baby Carol in her carriage | Source
Here she is at age 1
Here she is at age 1 | Source
Age 2
Age 2 | Source
Here she is with her favorite doll.
Here she is with her favorite doll. | Source
Riding her bike with family dog Jiggs.
Riding her bike with family dog Jiggs. | Source

My mother and house in Milwaukee and on the lake in Okauchee, Wisconsin.

Visiting relatives in Chicago
Visiting relatives in Chicago | Source
Summer cottage on Okauchee Lake
Summer cottage on Okauchee Lake | Source
Learning how to waterski
Learning how to waterski | Source
High school photo of my mother
High school photo of my mother | Source
Her High School years spent in this home in Whitefish Bay.
Her High School years spent in this home in Whitefish Bay. | Source
My mother
My mother | Source

It was common back then for houses built like this to enable giving privacy to two families or extended families. In this case, it provided an extra source of income for my grandparents who lived on the lower level plus had 1/2 of the attic and basement space.

The room in the attic facing the street was dedicated to be the bedroom that my fraternal great-grandparents used in the Spring and Fall of the year when they would come to Milwaukee from their home in California. They utilized it prior to going out to their larger cottage on Okauchee Lake where they spent the summers once the weather was warm enough to enjoy the lake.

They left their personal belongings in their space in the attic year round and it was "off limits" to the kids in the house.

My maternal great-grandfather who was a widower lived with my grandparents during his older years until he died.

My mother as a small child was instructed to walk around the block with her grandpa and hold his hand so that he "would not get lost." This was just accepted by her as normal and she often took her grandpa for walks when she was a little girl.

Washington Park was behind the house and provided endless pleasure for growing kids who wanted to play and run off some energy.

It was a huge city park built in 1891 on 124 acres and included a zoo, playgrounds, wading pools in the summer, ice skating rinks and snow covered hills for sledding and tobogganing in the winter, etc.

Bubblers (or water fountains as they are called in the South) were scattered throughout the park and ran continuously to quench the thirst of anyone enjoying the various activities within the park.

Famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead designed Washington Park. He also helped create Central Park in New York City.

The original home of the Milwaukee County Zoo was in Washington Park and operated from 1928 to 1946 when it was moved to a larger location. It was originated on a small scale housing miniature mammals and had a bird display.

Those were the days when house doors were seldom locked, or if they were locked, everyone knew that the key would be under the doormat or in an adjacent flower pot. Windows could be left open during the day and at night and children could safely play outside without an adult always having to look after them. Thus, the park was a big giant and safe playground which provided many fun memories related to me by my mother.

Of course neighbors knew one another and also looked out for each other's children back then.

My mother's parents also had their cottage on Okauchee Lake which was about 30 miles west of the city of Milwaukee.

Most of the summer activities when the kids were out of school took place there. My grandfather would go in to the city and work during the day and come back out to the lake to be with the rest of the family at night.

He used the train to go back and forth between the city and country during the war when there was a gasoline shortage.

My mother grew up knowing how to swim and was an excellent and strong swimmer.

My grandfather had a sailboat and before he would let any of the kids take it out by themselves, he wanted to know that they were capable of being able to save themselves if the boat capsized as happened on occasion. There was also a rowboat that was less tipsy.

No problem for my mother with her swimming ability as she was like a fish in the water.

At an early age she began babysitting and earned extra money doing that.

She was also very responsible and when her fraternal grandfather died, she was the one who was elected to stay with her grandma at the cottage to "keep her company" until the rest of the family moved out to their cottage for the summer. This was a short interval of time.

While this was not necessarily fun for her, she admitted to me that she learned many things from her grandmother.

Her grandmother was very self-disciplined and had her daily schedule. Prior to breakfast each day, one would be expected to be fully dressed with the bed made. After breakfast, chores would be done and only after that, one could swim in the lake.

Chores would depend upon the day and time of the week.

On a daily basis, floors would be swept, bed pots emptied and cleaned, dishes washed and dried and put back in the cabinets and the house dusted.

If it was Spring cleaning time, additional chores might include airing out the mattresses and rugs, cleaning windows, etc.

At least once a week (in the city) the laundry would be done. It was not as simple a chore as it is now-a-days with our washers and dryers.

Everybody had clotheslines back then and after the clothes would be washed and hand-cranked through the wringer which was like two cylinders that would express most of the water from the garments, they would then be carried outside in big baskets and hung out to dry on the clotheslines in the wind and (hopefully) sunlight. When dry, they would be taken off of the lines, taken back inside and most everything had to be ironed.

In the country, bathing suits and other small items of clothing would be hand washed and dried on the lines.

The older version of a washing machine in the country was a wooden one which had a lever which had to be hand cranked back and forth to move the blades which would swish the cloths back and forth inside the machine. It was much more labor intensive. After sheets would be dried on the lines outside they were put right back on to the beds.

My mother was very happy that year to return to her own family's cottage when the rest of the family moved there for the summer. She was then allowed to invite a girlfriend every so often and her siblings were allowed to do the same on an alternating basis.

It was a busy and happy household.

During the summer, once the weather was warm enough, she and her siblings and invited friends often lived in their bathing suits.

There was a garden in the backyard of the house in the city as well as in the country. So during the time of the year when things could be grown and harvested in Wisconsin, there were always fresh vegetables available.

Canning was done in both places when the harvested produce outpaced what could be eaten.

Both my mother's maternal grandfather as well as her father loved gardening. Her mother did all the canning and preserving of the food which helped feed the growing family all year long. Naturally as my mother became old enough she started helping with the canning process and it served her well in later years.

Their faithful dog, Jiggs, accompanied them everywhere and added to the family frivolity.

He was quite the dog!

My mother, being the youngest, and also being separated by a number of years from her older siblings spent a lot of time listening to family stories that her mother related and became the family historian of sorts.

When she was high school age, her parents moved to Whitefish Bay, a suburb of Milwaukee. She developed good friendships that lasted a lifetime with some of those high school buddies she met there.

My mother in muskrat fur coat and Tuffy the dog.

My mother with her muskrat fur coat and dog Tuffy draped over her shoulder.
My mother with her muskrat fur coat and dog Tuffy draped over her shoulder. | Source
Stamp on envelope from that day and time.
Stamp on envelope from that day and time. | Source

Okauchee, Wisconsin where my mother swam in the summertime and met my dad.

A markerOkauchee Lake, Wisconsin -
Okauchee Lake, WI, USA
get directions

Tour of Okauchee Lake

Working years prior to marriage...

After high school my mother went to business college and ended up working for the Louis Allis Company in Milwaukee in a secretarial position.

From that point on she would ride back and forth with her dad to their summer cottage during that time of the year.

During the war years companies were needing much extra help because so many of the men who would usually hold down the jobs were off soldiering.

So after her day job was finished at Louis Allis Company, she walked to the U.S. Rubber Company and put in a few extra hours. What they did there was to wrap little pieces of things that would be assembled elsewhere. The idea was that if an airplane or ship would go down, the important pieces that were sealed would also float in the water and could be recovered. She and the other workers never knew what these small pieces of metal would ultimately become, but obviously they were important to the war effort.

My mother also took a Red Cross Home Nursing course. With that training she volunteered her services at the Milwaukee Hospital. At the hospital all sorts of jobs were done, but one she particularly remembers is transporting patients back and forth to sessions of hydro-therapy. She would be responsible for getting them out of bed into wheelchairs and taking them to their therapy sessions and afterwards returning them to their rooms. She had been trained in how to safely lift patients so as not to injure them or herself.

My mother had a great interest in nursing and actually would have enjoyed becoming one. Her father discouraged her from that endeavor as nursing did not have the status it has this many years later.

Once she was earning her own money she purchased her clothing and bought the muskrat fur coat that she is pictured wearing in the photo above. Years later she donated that coat to an Indian tribe and she would not be caught dead wearing animal fur today.

The dog draped over her shoulder was the family dog named Tuffy.

My mother met my dad at Okauchee Lake where he lived with his mother. He was a paratrooper during World War 2 and was back home from the war.

My mother had a very interesting and fun childhood which she remembered fondly.

Hope that you enjoyed this look at my sweet mother who was born in the mid-1920s in Wisconsin and a portion of her early years spent in the City of Milwaukee and town of Okauchee.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin where my mother grew up as a child.

A markerMilwaukee, Wisconsin -
Milwaukee, WI, USA
get directions

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 21 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello delia-delia,

      Nice that your daughter lives in Whitefish Bay. It truly is a lovely area. My mother is now gone but I have so many lovely memories of her and the lessons she taught me are alive and well. So glad you liked this. Appreciate your comment.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 21 months ago

      A very heartfelt and enjoyable read....your mother sounds wonderful!

      I also wrote about my mom, but unfortunately she only lived to be 60, a short life but an incredible life. My youngest daughter lives in Whitefish Bay, a very nice exclusive little town.

      Thanks for sharing this story of your mother living in Milwaukee....

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi peachpurple,

      My mother surely was a great mom. She had such a kind and generous heart and did so much for others. Everyone loved her. So glad you enjoyed reading this and also like her recipes.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      Your mom is such a great mom, I also enjoy reading your hubs especially about your recipes and mom

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Virginia,

      That must be wonderful to be able to read about your mother's stories in your self published book. I have never considered doing that but it is a great idea! So glad you liked this.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 3 years ago from Central Florida

      I greatly enjoyed this tribute to your mother and look forward to reading your other family history pages. It is so important to record the times and the family experiences.

      I've made a lot of pages too on these topics and compiled my mother's stories into a self-published book which is a good way to preserve these.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pearl,

      Thank you for the compliment. I have never thought about consolidating these independent articles into book form. If I had children and grandchildren I might be more motivated...but will just let these bits of history and family history stand alone at this time.

      Interesting that your mother also attended a secretarial school and married her husband after he came back from WW2. Appreciate your comment and votes. My mother was a beautiful person inside and out! Thanks for that compliment as well. :))

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 4 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      Peggy, I really enjoyed reading about your Mom and her childhood. So many things echoed my own Mom's, even though she grew up on a farm. Mom went to secretarial school and secured a position as a bookkeeper. She met and married my Dad after he returned from serving in the army in Europe during WWII.

      You have written so many interesting articles; have you ever considered consolidating them into books? The gift of writing is yours for sure. Voted Up, Interesting and Beautiful, as was your Mom!

      ;) Pearl

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi James,

      My mother had such fond memories of her childhood and I loved hearing the stories. She was a wonderful and caring individual and I am certain that her relatives and friends who preceded her in death, including my dad and both brothers, are happy to have her with them in heaven. Thanks for taking the time to let me know that you enjoyed this glimpse of her early years.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      I enjoyed this glimpse into the life of your mother. She was a lovely lady, to be sure. Thank you for publishing this little gem. :)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi again jboland,

      My grandmother had a stole with the same body parts of the minks. I agree with your assessment as to how it affected kids viewing it. That was apparently the style back then! Ha! Will take a look at your website.

    • jboland profile image

      jboland 6 years ago from Chico, CA

      Hi Peggy, there's a link to my 1920s fashion website on my profile.... My grandma had a mink coat with the full bodies, paws, claws, tails, it was creepy and intriguing to me as a kid.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi jboland,

      Yes, muskrat coats were the rage back in those days. What is the purpose of your website?

      In later years my mother would not be caught dead wearing animal skins. She donated that coat so that someone could stay warm. It was nice and toasty she said.

    • jboland profile image

      jboland 6 years ago from Chico, CA

      Wow, this is a wonderful tribute to your mother. I'd love to feature a story like this on my website. Muskrat coats... haha!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello gmwilliams,

      So nice to hear that you enjoyed reading this hub about my sweet mother when she was a youngster growing up in Wisconsin. She is now in heaven with my dad and both of my brothers along with other relatives and friends of hers. I still miss her! She was such a caring, wonderful person who always sacrificed her own needs for those of her family and friends. Thanks for your comment.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Beautiful hub about families. I enjoyed reading about your lovely mother. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Glad you liked it Glass Bubbler Review. Those were truly more innocent times than today. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • profile image

      Glass Bubbler Reviews  8 years ago

      Great Real Americana! Wow whats the nice pictures and scenes all have some innocents in thier attitude than present....our technology is only well wisher but not the war, proverty and the way I like this pictures

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a sweet thing to say Marilea. Now...relating it to my you need glasses? Ha!

    • profile image

      marilea 8 years ago

      seeing mom then----is just like as i see her today------no wonder you have such good looks----big hugs---m.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Melody,

      She and her sister often talk about their wonderful childhoods. Considering that they were all coming out the other side of the Great Depression, their parents did as much as they could to minimize the effect on the children.

      My grandfather (for instance) resoled their shoes. My grandmother made all their clothes until they could afford to start buying their own clothes, etc. All the gardening and preserving of food, etc...

      Still........they certainly had it better than many others in that day and age and they realize that.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      Wow, your mother has lived a wonderful life...and you have expressed it so well, thanks for sharing, Peggy.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks Ashley. Not only was she a pretty lady but she became a great mother. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

    • AshleyVictoria profile image

      AshleyVictoria 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Those old photos are beautiful. What a pretty lady !

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete,

      Yes it least as it was back then. Thanks for the comment.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      Real Americana

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi G-Ma, That is what I thought also.

      Many years ago the great majority of family photos were lost due to my parent's home being flooded after Hurricane Beulah. So while the selection of photos may not be the greatest, I thought that not only is this one way to preserve them, but also capture some of the memories while my mother is still alive and can remember things to tell me.

      Thanks for your comment, and hugs to you.

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Loved all this and the photo's are wonderful... I have some , this is agreat way to record family history too...Thanks for sharing such a nice  family time...:O) Hugs